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A Day in the Upper Ward of Clydesdale
By Rev John Ker D.D.


My dear Sir,—I have just received your note with a request for an article for the October number of the Young Men's Christian Magazine, and, on thinking of what might be most suitable, it has occurred to me that what is freshest to my own mind may be best for your readers, and so I shall give an account of a visit I paid the other day to the little town of Douglas, not far from your own great city, and of two things that specially interested me there. I must first, however, tell how I reached Douglas, and what I saw on the way. It can be visited most directly from Glasgow by the railway to Lanark, and the branch from there to Muirkirk and Ayr. I came upon it, however, from the opposite quarter. My residence has been for a few days at Abington, a small village on the Clyde, and a station on the Caledonian Railway. Abington is a model of cleanliness, comfort, and general good conduct, where the people retain much of the old Scottish character of a church-going, and, as I trust, God-fearing kind, with a spirit of independence that respects the rights of others, while it knows its own,—a very different thing from the jealous, boisterous self-assertion that sometimes passes for manliness. I was glad to see on this visit that Sir Edward Colebrooke has been adding to the number of the cottages, or rather houses, for their superior accommodation and appearance take them out of the class of the old cottage. It is pleasant to see something of this process going on, for, much as we may think of Glasgow, its wonderful expansion and intelligent energy, we need a balance in the country districts if we are to preserve national health, both physical and moral. We want small towns, villages, crofts, for calming the pulse. The city may be the heart of the nation, but there is such a thing as enlargement of the heart, and that is a dangerous disease. The landlords then are wise who try to reverse the march of depopulation which has made so many Highland and Lowland glens grassy solitudes, and has added ‘ field to field that they may dwell alone,’ instead of making ‘families like a flock'. There is, of course, wisdom required as to ways and means, but the peopling of the country districts should be kept in view by proprietors for social and moral reasons, which means, in the end, economical and political ones. It will tend to the equilibrium of society and the good of us all, and so we hope Sir Edward Colebrooke’s example will be largely followed. But to my story.

The road from Abington to Douglas is, for the greater part, the old coach highway from Carlisle to Glasgow. It used to resound often to the ‘ clanging horn,’ but now, left aside by the railway, it is more familiar with ‘ the whistling of plovers, and the bleating of sheep.’ It quits the main valley of the Clyde, passes one of its tributaries—Duneaton Water (the water of the hill of fire), and then stretches, like a white ribband, over the brown moorlands of Crawford-john. Those who feel an interest in how it strikes a stranger should read a book published a few years since—the Journal of Dora Wordsworth, the sister of the poet, who came here, with her brother and Coleridge, to explore Scotland, which was then, to them, an unknown region. It was a curious piece of almost Quixotic adventure, with their own simple-minded pony, which took the place of Sancho, and with something attached to it which was neither cart nor carriage, an object of as great wonder to the natives as any of them could be to the travellers. They came in this fashion from Cumberland, up Nithsdale, through one of the grand defiles that lead to Wanlockhead and Leadhills, and then over the ridge of Glengonnar—the stream of gold—to pursue this road to Lanark and Glasgow. We are particular about their route, because the genial editor, Principal Shairp, has mistaken it from not knowing the country, and sends them round by Elvanfoot and Crawford. The charm of the journal lies in the quiet insight of the strangers into the heart of the scenery and the people, and, almost as much, in their happy ignorance of all they were to see, which fills them with a constant surprise. Black’s Picturesque Tourist's Guide had not been born, and they wandered into Scotland like Adam and Eve into the world, when it was all before them where to choose, and nobody to tell them what to admire. One drawback they certainly had, that they seem to have had as little knowledge of past associations as if they were exploring Africa, and as if Wallace, and Bruce, and the Covenanters had been among ‘the brave men who lived before Agamemnon.’ But Wordsworth got it somehow in this tour, and it came out afterwards, with fresh dew on it, in his Scottish sonnets. In our journey we had one advantage over them in the best of guides, Mr. Logan, the Free Church minister of Abington, who knows every nook that touches the story of Cavalier or Covenanter. It was a bare wavy upland of moor and moorland farms for miles on miles, and a wavy circle of great hills folded round it, with glens running away at every ‘lurk' and all the hills and glens fuller of histories than of people. They had been the battle-ground of eighteen hundred years, since Agricola entered them by the pass of the little Clyde, till Claverhouse sent his dragoons through their mosses, and made them, in the words of Hen wick, ‘all flowered with martyrs.’ There was the Arbory hill, with its threefold ring of fence peering over the top, within which the old Damnonii, of British stock, watched their enemies—Romans, were they, or Saxons, or Danes, for these valleys have had all in turn? There was the ancient kirk of Crawford, with Constantine, a Culdee saint, at its foundation, and not far off, concealed by the bend of the Clyde, the ruins of Crawford Castle, where ‘ wight Wallace ’ performed one of his feats of arms, himself by name and birth a son of the primitive race, not de Vciux, as some would have it, but Walcis. Sweeping round by the Lowthers, their sides glowing in sunshine and heather of the deepest purple, were the massive mountains that enclose Dalveen and the Enterkin, the Menoek and the Crawick, the first three the wildest, the last one of the most beautiful passes in the south of Scotland. On the extreme boundary, like an outflanking buttress, was Cairntable, on whose skirts the Douglas boasted he could keep himself against English Henry and all his host; and, nearer and higher, Tinto, with the mist slowly rolling up under the sunlight, as if it promised to show us the far-famed ‘kist’ and the ‘caup’ in it. For a lesson in the romance of landscape and of history, I do not know any place in the three kingdoms where one could learn more than on this bit of road, and he is no true Scotsman who would not feel his heart rise at the reading of it. Within the circle of the hills there are many things worthy of notice, were there time. At a little distance the primitive village of Crawfordjohn lay on its ‘knowe,’ like Jerusalem 'set round about with mountains,’ but not ' compactly built together.’ It looks like a cluster of boulders from a past epoch, or the town of Kendal, of which Gray the poet has said, ‘It must have been built on the plan of partners in a dance posturing to one another in all directions, and petrified in the act.’ ^Nevertheless, Crawfordjohn has a good repute for worthy people, and it has curious stories of the old times, of Prince Charlie’s Highlandmen as they passed in the ’45, and of Covenanting celebrations. The lie-formed Presbyterians, better known as the Cameronians, seem to have chosen this district for their renewals of the Solemn League after the Pievolution. At Auchensaugh in 1712, the year of the imposition of patronage, a declaration of principles was issued which had historical significance in that time - honoured Church. There, or at Crawfordjohn, I forget which, the meetings and sermons continued three days, till provender failed, and the occasion got the name of ‘preach-hunger’ But it is time to get on our way.

Some miles over the moor brought us to a little glen, bare at first, but beautifully green, and then widening and filling with wood,—birch and rowan and oak,—till it led us into Douglasdale. It was like the entrance to it, warm with plentiful trees, and rich also with yellow fields among them, and the peewit gave us over to the corneraik. Prom the look of it we could believe what we were told, that the vale of Douglas is a fortnight before the country round it. For the name, the legend of ‘Sholto Douglas,’—‘ See the dark, grey man/—must, I fear, be given up, and we must have recourse to the colour ' dark grey ’ or ‘ dark green/ found in the genius of the place. It may have been the water, or if it was on an autumn day like ours that the first Celt looked on it, the foliage of oak and ash deepening into the forecast of fall, and the blue-green Scotch firs glooming more heavily in the sunshine over their red trunks, would bring the word Winglas, to his lips. On the way up to the town, the ‘Castle Perilous' or the place where it stood, is seen through the woods. Only a fragment of the original fortress remains near the modern mansion, and it is hard to say what made it a pride and a terror. It has no frowning rock or lofty mound, and we must set down its strength to the moats and marshes which old Scottish keeps coveted, or still more to the hearts of the race that manned the walls. But we have to do to-day not with the castle but the town. It is a queer irregular place, with its High Street in the lowest part, winding narrow and sometimes narrower among houses of all shapes and sizes, some with signs of old dignity, and some of plain modern monotony. In the middle of the town, on a swelling knoll which looks down on Douglas Water and a fair green holm, is the first thing we have come to see, the old Church of St. Bride, by whom the mighty Lords of Douglas were wont to swear when they meant never to go back. It was once a stately edifice, but little more is left than the chancel, restored by the late Countess with a pious care for the graves and monuments of her ancestors. The remains of many of the long line repose below, and the monuments of some fill niches in the chapel. Chief among them is that of the good Sir James, whose story is known to every Scottish schoolboy, and whom we always rank next to "Wallace and Bruce in the heroic times of the national history. He lies there in dark stone, considerably maimed, but still conspicuous in the act of drawing his sword with the right hand, while the left holds the scabbard. A man of giant strength he was, skilled in all the accomplishments of his time as a gallant and gentle knight, with a dauntless heart and stedfast soul to match, dashed in word and deed with a grim playfulness. This last feature comes out in his compeers, Bruce and Wallace, as we read the old chronicles,—the dry humour that survives in many a Scot to this day, though Sydney Smith had not the eye to see it, and Englishmen are only beginning to find it out through Dean Ramsay. But the first quality in Sir James was moral, invincible loyalty to a cause that must often have seemed a lost one, but which was the cause of his country, for the oppressed against the aggressor. All we see of him is in keeping with our first glimpse at Erickstane, when in his youthful enthusiasm he threw himself before the uncrowned Bruce and owned him king at the hazard of land and life, down to the time when, far away, he cast among the thickest of the Saracens the heart he had often followed,—‘Lead on, as thou wert wont to do,’—and followed it to die. Xor must we forget that fine touch of a noble nature on the eve of Bannockburn, when, having gained leave to help Randolph in his pressing peril, he held back when he saw victory, least he should steal a flower from his friend’s chaplet. ‘The times then were great, and the men,’ to adapt a phrase of Pochter’s, and we cannot doubt that these things found their way into the country’s heart deep down, and long after came up in other shapes.

The next spot in Douglas belongs to a subsequent time and a different struggle. "We had heard, in an incidental way, that the house was still standing in which the head of Richard Cameron was kept for a night when the troops were carrying it, along with the prisoners taken at Airsmoss, to Edinburgh. We found the traditional house, with a face over the door enclosed in a dull yellow border, intended for the sun and explained by the sign, the ‘Sun Inn.’ It is a quiet, respectable house, and we were kindly shown through the rooms connected with the incident. On the ground floor is a cellar which is said to have been the town prison, and the thick walls, the heavy vaulted roof, and the iron grating on the original window attest the truth of the tradition. Directly above is the room associated with Cameron’s name, and known in the town as the ‘ stone-room,’ the only room in an upper story paved with stone, and thus fitted for securing prisoners in a firmer grasp. While the head and hands of Cameron were kept above, the prison chamber below seems to have held Hackstoun of Rathillet, reserved for the scaffold which he afterwards mounted in the Grassmarket of Edinburgh. On the wall of the house behind, joined to the prison, but apparently at one time a separate tenement, is the date 1621, with the initials I. H.—A. C., the builder and his wife, long forgotten. Wodrow in his History gives a letter of Haekstoun’s in which he tells that, when he was at Douglas, Janet Clellan was kind to him, and brought a surgeon who stanched his wounds. The name Clellan belongs also to the brave and good soldier from this district who fell in the last fight of the Revolution time. Might the A. C. on the old house be a member of the friendly family ? On leaving the place and passing down the High Street, we saw an old man considerably above fourscore, sitting before the door of his house and enjoying the cool of the day. On speaking with him, we found, curiously enough, that he had been born and brought up in the house we had just left, and had heard from his father the story of ‘the stone-room.’ This carried us fully more than half-way across the interval, and to a time when all the events were very much in the thoughts of the people. It is a pity they should be forgotten, for we need their memory in these days when principles hang loose. The history of Airsmoss should be read over again in this year of grace 1880. It is exactly 200 years ago, on the 22nd of last June, since a small body of horsemen, early in the morning, rode from the hills into the quiet town of Sanquhar, and there, at the market cross, where an obelisk now stands, read the famous declaration in which they renounced their allegiance to the perjured profligate and tyrant, Charles II. It was a desperate act forced on them by desperate wrongs, and those who blame them should remember that it was only the flash before the stroke of 1688, of which we now enjoy the results. A month after, on the 22nd of July, when a company of the Covenanters was met at Airsmoss, not far from where John Brown of Priesthill was afterwards shot by Claverhouse, they were attacked by the dragoons. The hill vapours were lying low, and ‘ the bridle reins rang through the thin misty covering ’ before the wanderers were aware. Cameron, who was among them, broke into the memorable prayer, ‘ Lord spare the green and take the ripe,’ and, in the deadly struggle which followed, he was killed, and Hackstoun and others captured. The lingering and barbarous death inflicted by the orders of the Council upon the prisoners, and especially on Hackstoun, cannot be now put into type with proper regard to feeling. The head and hands of Cameron were taken to his father, then in prison in Edinburgh for the same cause, and he was asked if he knew them. His words are surely the most touching of all the memories of that cruel time. ‘ I know, I know them! they are my son’s, my dear son’s! it is the Lord: good is the will of the Lord, who cannot wrong me nor mine, but has made goodness and mercy to follow ns all our days.’ After which, by order of the Council, his head was fixed upon the Netherbow port, and his hands beside it, with the fingers upward —a kind of preaching ‘at the entry of the city, at the coming in at the doors' that told more for his cause, and against the persecutors, than all the words he could have spoken.

One cannot help weird, dreamy thoughts about that old house at Douglas, on the night of Airsmoss, the martyr’s head in the room above, the wounded prisoner in the dungeon below, Earlshall and his troopers proud of their prize, and confident of their power to hold Scotland down. But the good Sir James of ‘the bleeding heart ’ and Cameron’s gory head belong to the same set of events in history,—instances of seeming losses thrown by courage and faith forward as pledges of victory,—only, the latter is higher and more sure. We cannot help thinking that, had Sir James of Douglas belonged to that later time, he would have been with Argyle and Warriston and Baillie of Jerviswood— certainly not with Claverhouse and Earlshall and Lag. The great men of the war for national independence, Wallace and Bruce, Douglas and Randolph, and Walter Stewart, were the forerunners of the Reformers and of the sons of the Covenant. They made room for them in Scotland where they might ‘grow and stand' and they bequeathed them their hatred of oppression and their dauntless spirit. They show us how the kingdoms of this world rise up, in another time, into the kingdom of our God and his Christ, and how the laurels of chivalry prepare for a nobler flower in the faith and patience of the saints; for the struggle of the Covenant was the old battle in a more sacred cause which ‘ raised the poor out of the dust and set them with princes, even the princes of the people.’

If our Scottish nobility wish to prove themselves worthy of their ancestry, they will go back over the degenerate selfishness of the Stuart line, to those who gained the reverence and affection of the nation by showing that they shared its sympathies. It would make the task of patriotism in coming times more easy. It is pleasant to think, in this connection, that the spirit of the good Sir James did, to some extent, influence his successors; though they did not identify themselves with the oppressed, they used their power to shield them. Douglas-dale was filled with Covenanters who were comparatively safe. So much was this felt that, when the Marquis of Douglas threw in his lot with the Government of the Revolution, 800 men, the flower of the West country, placed themselves under his orders, and formed the famous 2Gtli or Caineronian regiment. Its first review took place on the green field beside Douglas Water, under St. Bride’s Church—its first fight, at Dunkeld, when it drove back the far superior force of Claverhouse, who had just fallen in the pass of Killiecrankie. Who can doubt that the memory of Richard Cameron was with these men when they fought, and with their brave leader Cleland when he fell? The Covenant struggle was carried to its end chiefly by young men who filled up the ranks of those who fell in great numbers at the Restoration, or shortly thereafter. Of these, three have left their mark most distinctly, Hugh M'Kail, Richard Cameron, and James Renwick. M'Kail is known to us chiefly by his seraphic song on the scaffold. Death silenced while it transfigured him. But Cameron and Renwiek have left us some of their living utterances; they are evidently imperfectly reported, taken down in hasty snatches amid flight and fight, by men who had often to lay down the pen for the sword. But enough remains to let us see that, while Renwiek followed as the milder Elisha, under the Ahabs and Jezebels of the time, Cameron was the Elijah, the lonely burning prophet of our Scottish Cheriths and Horebs. The poet has caught it, when he speaks of ‘ the word by Cameron thundered, and by Renwiek poured in gentle strain.’ An idea of Cameron’s power may be gained from an extract given by Dodds in his lectures on the Covenanters, and an idea at the same time of the power that carried these men through that long weary wilderness march—the manna from the skies, the water from the rock that followed them. Nothing else, nothing less, could have done it. Richard Cameron is perhaps, taken all in all, the main figure in that heroic period of the Scottish Church. The most remarkable thing is that he died very young, probably not more than thirty, for his exact age is not known, and that the period of his active effort covered only months, not years; but in that short burning life he transfused his spirit into the heart of the people, and had his name borne long after as the watchword of men willing to dare all and lose all for conscience’ sake. And so we could not but regard with special interest ‘the stone-room’ of the town of Douglas.

The moral of our story shall be brief and practical; I am sure also it will be pleasant. It is that the young men of Scotland should make themselves acquainted with this period of the nation’s history, acquainted with it so as to drink it in. There are many works that lie to hand—those of the two [‘Cries, father and son; Pollok’s Tales of the Covenanters; Simpson’s Traditions; Dodds’ lectures, with which may be conjoined his Lays of the Covenant, lately issued; Miss "Watson’s Lives of Cameron, Cargill, Peden, and Henwich; for those who wish to go deeper, the publications of the Wodrow Society offer an abundant store ; and for those who would understand the richness of old Scottish theology there is the admirable volume of Dr. Walker of Carnwath. The next thing is that they should visit the scenes, not as blind pilgrims of Loretto or Lourdes, but with an intelligent love that will draw courage and faith from these noble memories. Few cities have the heritage of Glasgow on the Clyde—the lower windows of the house looking down through the magnificent Firth among lochs and Highland mountains and winding shores, shut in by distant Arran—and the upper chambers opening on visions of the ‘valleys that run among the hills,’ filled with records of a past which may give patriotic spirit and Christian nobility of soul to all who have a heart to learn.


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