Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed. Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

Days at the Coast
Gourock and Inverkip


It is now the very noon of summer—the season of brightest sunshine in the fields, of deepest shadow in the woods. Every wayside is now a study of scented beauty, every dell a haunt of joyous sounds. The winds, as they play in mimic surges over the green corn, or linger among the purpled meadows, or steal athwart the bloomy ridges of the bean, are redolent of odours that for sweetness might well have come from the spicy vales of “Araby the blest.” Soft and low are the murmurs of the shrinking streams, as they creep in lazy and tedious windings beneath the fierce radiance of July, or shelter themselves from his beams among the flickering shadows of some friendly wood, or seek a cooling refuge in the deeper recesses of some sun-defying glen. There is sunshine on the hills, sunshine on the waters, sunshine everywhere, and the landscape, as Tennyson well expresses it, is absolutely “winking through the heat.” There is also a golden smile of summer on the city, which, like a panting monster, lies sweltering in its own fetid breath. Blazing shafts of day even pierce the duskiest vennels and closes, where misery and vice have their homes, and where sunshine but seldom finds an entrance. Thanks to our noble river, however, and to the facilities of transit which modem science has provided, there are now comparatively few amongst us who may not go forth to revel in the enjoyment of caller air, and to enrich their minds with memories of the beautiful. A day at the coast is now a cheap luxury, and who that can find a snatch of time, or has a stray shilling or two to spare but would gladly avail themselves of the privilege? The children of toil cannot have their cottages by the shore, it is true, as the wealthier classes have, but their stolen visits to the sunny Frith are probably enjoyed all the more from the rarity with which they occur, and we doubt not they are, at the same time, more vividly remembered.

Let the reader imagine himself by our side, upon a sweet summer morning, making our way across the quay of Greenock to the roaring steamer which impatiently awaits our coming. The train from Glasgow has just arrived, and a blithe, but somewhat motley, stream of “saut water” people are hurrying, helter-skelter, to the blowing monster, whose hour is come, and which is evidently straining upon the leash in eagerness to be off. Soon the last item of the living cargo is safely deposited on board, the cable is thrown loose, the funnel suddenly waxes silent, and its white steamy mane becomes darkened with smoke, a spasmodic plunge is heard on either side, and through the churning waters we are gliding on our way. Leaving Greenock on our lee, with its docks, and its shipping, and its building-yards, and its wilderness of smoking chimneys, we meet the fresh sea-winds, which come as if in kindness to fan our glowing faces. How delicious the sensation to such half-baked townlings as ourselves, who, through these scorching days of highest summer, have been “in populous city pent,” and quite exposed to all the pitiless peltings of this truly tropical July I How we yearned, while panting under his hot rule, for the cool rippled Frith, with its balmy breezes and its lazy ships, and its glancing birds, winch flit about in the sunshine like snowy things of winter, or breast the dancing waves like shreds of the “ saut sea faem! ”Memory haunted us then with visions of past delight. And now reality is once again before us— before us spreads the sunny Frith, with its long lines of cottages gleaming on the shore; with its yawning lochs all agape, and its brown hills rising in majesty to the sky. Vessels with huge bellying sails are coming and going on the watery way; steamers are passing eagerly to and fro; and, as usual, at the “Tail o' the Bank,” that field of many farewells and many a blithe return, a scattered group of shipping is riding at anchor, each tall bark with its tapering and uncanvassed spars,

“As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean."

But let us glance at the shore along which we are gliding. Greenock, it will be seen, sends down a lengthened line of comfortable houses in this direction. As in other towns, the wealth and the comfort, the rank and the fashion, have here an obvious tendency to the setting sun. To the east, Greenock has her suburb of Cartsdyke, with its useful but smoky and filth-producing industries, but here all is tidy and tasteful in the extreme, while there is an air of beinness over all which sufficiently indicates an abundance of the good things of this life. Verily, they are wise men who come from the east. As we proceed downwards, the range of hills which runs parallel to the shore, approximates more nearly to the water, and at its base we have a large edifice of somewhat peculiar achitecture, and rather morose in its general aspect. This is a charity of recent origin, and designed, as we understand, for the reception of aged and reduoed masters of vessels belonging to the ports of Greenock, Dumbarton, and somewhere else. As in other cases of a similar nature, a large proportion of the funds has been swallowed up in the erection of a palatial edifice, and it is whispered—whether truly or not, we shall not undertake to say—that comparatively little remains to carry out the charitable intentions of the founder. It is also said that the privilege of admission is so hedged about with restrictions, that very few, indeed, can ever be entitled to the enjoyment of its benefits, whatever these may be. Its tenants are consequently few, and for a considerable time after its completion it had neither governor nor governess, and was to all intents and purposes “a house to let.” It has now been provided with a governor, however, but, from the causes we have mentioned, there ib too mnch reason to fear that his duties cannot be particularly onerous. Pity it surely is, that an ill-judged extravagance should thus fetter the open hand of charity, and degrade into a monument of folly what must have been designed as a lasting source of practical benevolence. A little farther on, and close to the beach, is the famous Fort Matilda, a plain and rather contemptible-looking erection, which was intended by some military wiseacre as the principal defence of the Clyde in the event of an invasion being attempted. Thanks to our wooden and to our iron walls, we are not likely to be subjected for some time to a hostile visit, but should such unfortunately ever occur, we shall certainly have little faith in the defensive capabilities of such a paltry bulwark. It is well for us that we can still say with Campbell—

“Britannia needs no bulwark—
No towers along the steep;
Her march is o'er the mountain wave—
Her home is on the deep.
With thunders from her native oak
She quells the floods below,
As thev roar on the shore
While the stormy winds do blow.”

But rounding its eastern shoulder, we now enter the beautiful bay of Gourock, which, like a huge half-moon, is spread in one bold yet graceful sweep before our gaze. The tide is at the full, and the lipping billows seem absolutely desirous of kissing the tempting fringe of grass. The water is all alive with boats, and women and children are lounging in idlesse on the shore. The town, which is situated on the western haunch of the bay, has a most pleasing effect from the water, as it is seen with its church and its castellated mansion, and its tower-crested hill swelling proudly beyond. The houses are mostly ranged along the shore, or straggling to slight elevations on the rising ground behind. In a finely wooded recess to the south, and surrounded by gardens and green lawns, is the mansion of General Darroch, the principal local proprietor and grandee par excellence of the neighbourhood. The structure, which is rather plain and unim-posing, was erected about the middle of last century, near the site of the old Castle of Gourock, which was then entirely demolished. At Kempock Point, the western shoulder of the bay, is the wharf, a commodious and modern erection, which occupies the site of an older structure of the same kind which had existed from time immemorial. Here our steamer comes to a pause, and we make our way to terra firma. As usual at the watering-places, where time seems to hang heavily on the hands of the habitues, there is here a pretty numerous muster of idle spectators, to scan the new arrivals, and take cognizance of all that passes. There are, indeed, crowds of ladies, old, young, and middle-aged, with parasols and “uglies,” and round masculine hats, on the look-out for expected papas and brothers, and, haply, in some cases, for even more tender connections. What pretty little sentimental welcomes are going on around us, with silver laughters, and badinage, and “blude-red” blushings! There is also a perfect swarm of “bairns-maids,” with chubby pledges in their arms, and tawny juveniles holding fast by their gowns, but with all their eyes about them in search of pater familias, and ready to start to assist that blessed individual with their services in carrying the pregnant carpetbag, or some one of the many parcels with which he is loaded like a very porter. There is also a sprinkling of veritable natives, who do not seem to be “very thrang at hame,” but who are quite ready to make themselves generally useful, of course in the hope of thereby earning "a consideration.” A stray dog or two, and a detachment of indigenous children complete the picture, which, on the whole, is one of considerable bustle and cheerfulness.

Making our way from the quay, we seek a few minutes rest and a modicum of refreshment in the small change-house of our old friend John Hall, a well known and much respected resident of the village, and a bit of a wag to boot. The landlord’s laugh and the landlord's joke ever lend an increased zest to the wee drap. Mr. Hall, speedily and with a blithe word or two, brings ben the bread and cheese, with a weel-tappit hen, which we shall leave the readers to discuss at their leisure, while we take a brief retrospective glance at the past of Gourock. The history of the locality, however, presents but few features of particular interest. The lands of Gourock, at an early period, formed part of the barony of Finnart, which was then in the possession of the great Douglas family, who, it is well known, held for centuries the lion’s share of Scotland. Their vaulting ambition, however, having ultimately u o’erleaped itself,” in the .fifteenth century, their broad lands were forfeited and conferred upon a variety of hungry favourites of the crown, among whom was Stewart of Castlemilk, who was put in possession of the estate of Gourock. It afterwards continued in the hands of the Stewarts until 1784, when it was sold to Duncan Darroch, Esq., whose son, or grandson, we are not very sure which, still rejoices in the lairdship. The bay of Gourock has been long held in high esteem as a safe and commodious harbour for all kinds of shipping. Long before Greenock or Port-Glasgow had begun to lift their heads in pride, as important commercial communities, the merits of Gourock were known and recognized by the great ones of the land. This will be rendered evident by an extract from the law records of 1494, from which it appears that James, the fourth of that name, engaged to sail from this port on an expedition to the Western Isles, for the purpose of reducing certain wild clans of M'Leans and Macdonalds to order. The document alluded to is in the form of an indenture or bond, which was entered into on the king’s side by the redoubted Sir Andrew Wood and others, and on the other side by “Nicholas of Bour, maister under God, of the schip Yerdour.” In this it was stipulated “that Nicholas sail, God willing, bring the said schip Yerdour, with stuff for them as officers, to the Goraike on the west bordour and sey [sea], aucht myles fra Dumbertain or thereby be the first day of the moneth of May nixt to cum, and there the said Nicholas sail, with grace of God, ressave within the said schip, three hundreth men, bonden for weir [that is to say, accoutred for war], fhrnist with their vitales, harnes, and artilzery, effeirand to sae mony men, to pass with the King’s hienes, at his plessare, and his lieutennentes and depntis, for the space of twa moneths nixt, and immediat followand the said first of May, and put them on land and ressave them again.” In all probability, therefore, although tradition is silent on the subject, the hair-brained but most unfortunate monarch, whp afterwards fell at Flodden, visited Gourock on this occasion, and embarked in the “Yerdour” at its little wharf. The subsequent history of Gourock is a quiet unostentatious record. It has no tales of murder, or battle, or siege. The inhabitants have been for centuries industrious fishermen and artisans, and the red pen of the annalist takes small cognizance of such. In 1694 Gourock was erected into a burgh of barony, with the privilege of holding a market every Tuesday, and two fairs annually. It is also remarkable as the first place in Britain where red herrings were cured; a fact which, we have no doubt, the epicure will appreciate at its proper value. Walter Gibson, an enterprising Glasgow merchant, and provost of the city in 1688, was the individual to whom Scotland was indebted for the introduction of this humble, but by no means to be despised, article of diet. The trade, however, has long been discontinued in the locality. Rope-spinning, and the quarrying of Whinstones for pavement, have also been carried on by the inhabitants, as was also, though unsuccessfully, mining for copper ore. For many years the village has been a favourite sea-bathing resort, and for this purpose it is admirably adapted, while the walks in its vicinity are delightfully varied, and command in every direction glimpses of richest scenery. No other place on the coast, indeed, has been so long frequented for saut water purposes as Gourock; and though the modem facilities of transit have tempted many to “fresh fields and pastures new,” it still attracts a large proportion of those money-spending flights which annually leave the precincts of the city, “when summer days are fine.”

Last time we were in the domicile of Mr. Hall, we were introduced to an old and intelligent residenter named John Ritchie, who was a kind of living chronicle of the locality, and was familiar with everything that had occurred in it for at least half a century. The old man, alas 1 has since gone the way of all living, and, we doubt not, has carried with him, into the final bourne, full many a racy anecdote and interesting reminiscence of other days. He had seen the first steamer that ever ploughed the Clyde, and remembered well the excitement which its strange appearance on the bay created among the villagers. Its progress was so slow, he said, that a single rower in a small boat could easily have gone round it. What a contrast to the rapid motions of the modern steamers! At first, the very fly-boats, those prodigies of tardiness, passed the strange creation with jeers and laughter. Improvement trod upon the heels of improvement, however, and the laugh was turned the other way. The fly-boats in the race were “ nowhere,” and their proprietors began to fear that their occupation was doomed. “A’e day,” said old John, “as the ‘Comet’ was paddling doon the water, she o’ertook a fly that was taigled wi’ a cross wind. As the steamer was sliding cannily past, her crew began to jaw the captain o’ the fly, and facetiously to order him to come alang wi’ his lazy craft.” “Get oot o’ my sicht,” was the indignant answer; “I’m just gaun as it pleases the breath o’ God, and I’ll never fash my thumb how fast ye gang wi’ your blasted deevil’s reek!” But old John Ritchie had other and sadder tales of Gourock. He had a most vivid recollection of that awful night when the “Comet” went down, and sixty human beings perished at one fell swoop, within a few yards of the shore. This melancholy occurrence, if our memory serves us right, took place either in 1825 or 1826. The “Comet” was on her return from the Highlands, and while about to round Kempock Point in the dark, was run into by another steamer, and almost immediately thereafter went to the bottom. Mr. Ritchie, along with others, was engaged in recovering the bodies for several days, and the pictures of death which he could draw in his own homely way were sufficiently appalling. Showing us the spot, which is just round the Point, he remarked—"Lod, I never look into that blue water yet, and it’s lang, lang bye now, but I think I see their cauld, purply faces an’ their stark staring e’en, coming surging to the tap. Oh, it’s perfectly gruesome!” He also spoke of another disastrous collision which occurred a little farther down the coast. The ill-fated vessel on that occasion was the “Catherine,” of Iona, which was run down by a steamer in 1822, when forty-two persons, out of forty-six who were on board, were lost. A considerable number of the bodies were recovered, and, along with those taken from the “Comet,” they now rest in the burying-ground of Gourock, a small enclosure which is situated at the south end of the village. John Ritchie also sleeps there, in silent communion with those whose ashes he rescued from the waves. There are many who will miss his u old familiar face” in the locality where he was so long known and respected.

There is little of a noticeable nature in the village of Gourock. The older portions, extending round the western side of the bay, are, for the most part, of the plainest architecture, and consist of two-storeyed houses of the most homely aspect. There are also a few villas, of recent erection, and of greater pretensions to taste. The drainage in this quarter is said to be defective, and, whether justly or not, we have heard the lord of the manor bitterly blamed for neglecting the sanitary requirements of the feuars. It is at the west end of Gourock, however, that its finer features are to be seen, and where the rank and fashion of its migratory population most do congregate. In former times, Kempock Point was a bare and sterile promontory, free from buildings, and forming, as it were, the boundary of the village in that direction. It is very different now. Gradually the houses have crept over the Point, and extended downward in one long and beautiful row to Ashton, where Sir M. Shaw Stewart has said to the builder, “hitherto shalt thou come, and no farther.” Stopped thus in their downward march by an adverse landlord’s fiat, the seekers for sites are looking up-hill, and a number of fine cottages are already perched in commanding situations on the bosom of the brae.

On our way to Inverkip we shall have a passing glance at Ashton; but, in the meantime, we must introduce our readers to old “Granny Kempock.” This is the local designation of an upright slab of rock which from time immemorial has occupied a prominent position on the ridge of the Point. The houses have interfered with the old lady’s “look-out,” however, and, unless sought for, she is not unlikely to remain invisible. Indeed, Mr. Robert Chambers, in his Picture of Scotland, published in 1826, specifically mentioned that old “Granny” was then no more. She is still here for all that, and any one who wishes to make her acquaintance may find her, as we do, perched upon an elevation in the rear of one of the houses, taking a sly peep at the Frith, which she has so long overlooked, and (“ if a’ tales be true ”) on which she once exerted considerable influence. There is neither inscription nor device on the stone, and the legend which tradition attaches to it is not very well defined. According to one authority, a monk of the olden time earned a good living by giving his blessing on the spot to departing navigators; while others hold that a certain witch, a kind of Noma of the Fitfulhead, set up shop here for the sale of winds to the mariners who frequented the adjoining bay. Be this as it may, there can be no doubt that for centuries the “Kempock stone” was believed to exercise a mysterious influence over the winds and the waves. Melancholy evidence of this fact is to be found in the legal records of Scotland; for in 1662 a young woman named Mary Lamont was actually burnt to death as a witch, for conspiring with others to throw the stone into the sea. According to the confession of the poor creature, which is still extant, and which was in all probability wrung from her by torture, she and some other women, in compact with the devil, “held a meeting at Kempock, where they intended to roll the long stone into the sea, and thereby to destroy boats and ships.” For this imaginary offence, as we have said, she was actually put to death at the stake in the eighteenth year of her age. Alas, alas! for poor human nature, when such things were possible; and yet, even in this Scotland of ours, there have been thousands of such sacrifices. Bah! the very thought of it puts us out of temper with old Granny Kempock, and makes us give her an indignant and curt good-bye. Yet there are still witches on Kempock, and dangerous witches too, as our young readers may find to their cost, if they venture hither. Witches with rosy cheeks, and ruby lips, and eyes at which a conflagration might easily be kindled. Said witches may not tumble old stones into the sea for the purpose of sinking our gallant steamers, but they have charms which, unless due caution is exercised, may sink unhappy wretches over head and ears in a sea which shall be nameless. The locality, we are afraid, is still uncanny, so we shall at once be off, nor stand upon the order of our going. So once more, old Granny, good-bye! and if you really have a good wind to spare, let it by all means waft us on our way to Inverkip.

Having taken leave of “Granny Kempock,” that lingering relic of an older day, we now enter on our sea-side pilgrimage to the sweet and shadowy seclusion of Inverkip. Ashton, one long line of architectural loveliness, lies before us. This is the fashionable and sea-bathing suburb of Gourock. Gradually it has crept out from the old village on the shoulder of the bay until it is now about a mile in length, and, in summer at least, has a population of greater numerical strength than the parent community. The houses are generally of the most elegant proportions, and of the most tasteful design, with flower-plots in front, and narrow patches of garden in the rear. Here and there are handsome shops for the sale of those creature-comforts which your well-to-do citizen, whether at home or abroad, knows so well how to appreciate. Bailie Nicol Jarvie always minds the “flesh-pots” of his native Saltmarket. There is also something like a kirk, but whether really a kirk or only a school, we cannot tell, and close upon the shore a kind of battlemented terrace, which rejoices in the somewhat ominous name of "Bentley’s Folly,” and which is said to have owed its existence to an individual who subsequently dropped from affluence into the direst poverty, dying miserably in that last sad refuge of pauperism, the poorhouse. The individual who has thus earned an unenvious posthumous fame is not the first, alas! who has built himself out of house and home; nor is he likely, we are afraid, to be the last. There are many who have still this hunger for stone and lime, and who will yet sacrifice all to its gratification. Wise men, witness poor Scott and Abbotsford, have been guilty of this folly. We know not whether to bless or ban our stars that our wisdom is not likely to be tempted to error in this direction. The want of means to do wrong often preserves people in the paths of rectitude, and enables them to thank Heaven that they “ are not as other men.” Let this consideration prevent us from flinging a reproach at the memory of poor Bentley, or looking with a too self-complacent pride upon his “Folly.”

A pleasant lounge, on such a summer noon as this, is the beach at Ashton. The snowy Frith is before us, with ships, and steamers, and little fairy boats passing to and fro upon its glittering ripple; and sea-birds are flashing in the radiance, as they hover in air or sweep in airy circles over its blue depths. On the farther shore are the white straggling lines that indicate Kilcreggan, and Strone, and the Earn, with the huge mouth of Lochlong yawning between, and the brown old mountain ranges rising in stormy grandeur beyond. Around us on the shore are gladsome groups of women and children; some at rest, and some in lazy or in playful motion. Bright eyes are peeping from the open casements of that prettily christened cottage (for the cottages have all pretty poetical names here), and occasionally a merry laugh is heard, or a gush of music comes pouring forth and makes richer the air of noon. There are shadows also in the picture. Pale faces come across our path at times; young faces in which there is no summer; old faces on which the coming winter of death has plainly set its seal. That thin, and wan, and tremulous young man, leaning upon his woe-worn mother’s arm, is actually shivering in the smile of July; and what a deep, dark meaning there is in that half suppressed cough—half-suppressed because of weakness and of pain! Poor broken reed, thy brief tale will soon be told! Ere the first yellow leaf has fallen, thy mother’s mission of weary watching will be over, and only the hope which stretcheth beyond time shall be hers. u Mother, I am weak, weak, and want home,” he whispers as we pass; and carefully, and tenderly, and slowly, and with such kind offices as only a mother can bestow, she leads him gently back. His home is not far distant.

We must, however, leave these lights and shades behind us. Our way is downward, but (laugh if thou wilt, most suspicious reader) it is the breadth rather than the length of the way which generally troubles us on our travels. We have a special aptitude for digression; and to prove it, ere we have passed Ashton a few hundred yards, and before we have passed “M‘Inroy’s Point,” we propose to turn aside to the left for a short space. Our purpose? A very foolish one, you may think; but neither more nor less than to pay a passing visit to a pretty little dell on the brow of that wooded ridge, and to do devout homage to the queen of the ferns, who every summer holds her court therein. Well, passing this old kiln, and leisurely scaling the heights, a five minutes’ walk brings us to the ante-chamber of her majesty. See how the wild red roses are clustered around the spot, and sweetening the air with their odorous breathings! The foxglove is also here, bending its purpled head, as if doing honour to the cryptogamic queen; while the St. John’s wort, and the thistle, and the meadow-sweet, and a very crowd of scented summer things are congregated like a body-guard around the regal presence. We are privileged, however, to enter; and stepping through the blushing throng, we make our way into the balmy dell. How refreshing the shadows of the lady birch, and the hazel, and the alder, while the low sweet trickle of the bumie, “as ower a rocky scaur it strays,” falls gratefully on the ear as we approach, and the yeldrin’s plaintive song comes fitfully on the breeze! But, hats off gentlemen! here we are in the very presence of the lovely and stately plant of which we were in search. The osmunda regalis, or flowering fern, is very rare in Scotland. We have never seen it, indeed, unless in this little dell, although our acquaintance with the bracken family is pretty extensive. In many a glen and by many a stream it has been our lot to wander, but the regal fern we never saw until our steps were led hither by one of the most devoted botanists and one of the warmest-hearted men that ever trod the “west countrie,” or—to use a bigger phrase, and that in no irreverent sense —“that ever God made.” We love the plant and we love the man all the better for their association in our heart one with another. We are only sorry that he isn’t a Scotchman, and that the plant has a greater regard for his country (the “nate little isle”) than it has for ours. We are compelled in candour to admit, however—although we cannot on any rational theory account for the fact—that there are actually good plants and good men in -other parts of the world than Scotland. But to the osmunda. It is popularly called the flowering fern, but as none of the ferns have any flowers, of course it hasn’t. On the summit of the plant, which varies in height in various localities from four to ten feet, are masses of spores or seed-vessels of a rich yellow or bronze colour, which have all the effect of floral richness, while the fronds or leaf-blades are broad, massy, and deliciously verdant. It is, in truth, a most beautiful plant; and by the lakes of Killamey, where it attains its full altitude, we have 110 doubt it presents a most imposing appearance. In our fair dell it rises from four to five feet above the surface of the green plateau upon which it has its throne. One poet at least does honour to its beauty, and that poet is Wordsworth. With his words on our lips, we shall take leave of her golden-crowned majesty. They are as follows:—

“Plant lovelier In its own recess
Than Grecian Naiad, 'seen at earliest dawn
Tending her fount, or Lady of the Lake,
Sole sitting by the shores of old romance.”

But wherefore should we take leave of our favourite fern, and of the fairy dell where she holds her court, in the pompous language of the Rydale bard? Is there no familiar Scottish muse to sing her praises in our own sweet doric? In such a spot the veriest worldling might well find a muse; why, then, shouldn’t we, who lay the flattering unction to our souls that we are not altogether “of the earth, earthy?” Let us try, by all means, for the amusement of the thing:—

Oh ken ye the dell where the hazel and birk,
Like twa winsome lovers, lean couthie together,
Where the red lippit rose scents the bonnie green mirk,
And the violet blinks sweet as the e’e o' a mither;
Where the burn draps in fuem ower the brown-breistit steep,
Where the shilfa lilts blithe ower his slee-nested cleckin,
Where the winds fauld their wings an’ fa’ gently asleep?
’Tis the lane leafy dell o* the yellow-plumed brecken.
Oh ken ye the dell where the first breath o’ spring
Gars the slaebuss bloom braw in his mantle o* siller,
Where the summer loves best a’ her treasures to fling,
While the wee mirly birds a’ are thrang pipin* till her;
Where the sweet laden’d hairst aft in pride sits her doon,
A’ her sheaves and her red cheekit apples to reckon,
While the ripe berries purple her rich yellow goon?
Tis the lane leafy deu o’ the yellow-plumed brecken.
Gae fawn as ye will on the wealthy and great,
We ne'er kent the gate o’ the palace or castle,
Stieve-hearted, unbending, we’ll close wi' our fate,
And gie the anld carlin a dainty bit wrastle;
But here ire will kneel to the wild forest Queen,
On this green grassy dais that the sunbeams are flecking,
For the fond serf o’ nature our heart aye has been,
And nature seems proud o’ her yellow-plumed breckcn.

Returning to the shore road, we now pursue our westerly course. There is a fine cool breeze from the water, which seems to tempt us gradually onward, while the ripple of the beach falls gratefully upon the ear. There are wanderers also passing listlessly to and fro, as if they knew noil what to do with themselves, and who are too evidently tasting the bitter curse of idleness. Alas, for those who come forth to enjoy a few weeks of relaxation from business, but who know nothing of the wonders which nature has so plenteously unfolded by sea and shore! We are very apt to envy the inhabitants of these cozy little cottages, and to say, How happy the individuals must be who can command such pleasant places of abode I But we think not of the demon ennui—the evil spirit of do-nothingness, which too often haunts these sunny spots. There the butterflies are, lounging about in utter listlessness, and counting in sickness of heart the weary hours, and the thrice-weary days, as they pass with tedious steps along. Yet in these shadowy woods, and on that pebbled shore, there are materials sufficient for the study of many years. "M^Inroy’s Point,” which now lies before us, is a rocky promontory of no great elevation, but demanding attention from the peculiarities of its geological structure, and the strange fantastic forms which the wild waves have worn on its rocky surface. A soft sandstone and a sturdy whin have here been heaved up in dikes together, in some strange convulsion of nature. The sandstone has subsequently been worn away by the ceaseless washing of the waters, while the harder whin has obstinately kept its ground. The result is, that perpendicular walls of the one formation remain, while the other has in a great measure disappeared. The tide has now retired, however, and we can descend below the watermark and scan the diluvial operations of the rising and the falling waters of many ages.

Even the hard rocks of the primitive eras are honeycombed, leaving holes and pots where the lovers of the algae, and of marine zoology, may find abundant specimens of their favourite plants and animals. Each of these little shells is a natural vivarium, where vegetable and animal life may be seen in all the strange varieties which characterize the margin of the great deep. On some future day we shall linger over the living wonders of the “ littoral zone,” as the pathway of the rising and the falling tides is called; but, in the meantime, we must keep within the precincts of terra firma. Passing the “point” we have named, a few hundred yards brings us in front of Leven Castle; and here once more, with the reader’s permission, we shall turn for a short space aside. We have a passion for u auld howlet-haunted biggins, and here is one of the prettiest specimens which an antiquary could wish to inspect. It is hidden from the road, however, partly by masses of foliage, and partly by the elegant modem residence of Mrs. Crooks, a lady who generously permits such wayward wanderers as ourselves to spend a passing hour or two in the tower of other days.

Leven Castle is situated on a gentle but commanding site, within a few hundred feet of the Clyde. It must have been a place of considerable strength, in the days when the voice of the cannon was unknown in the land, and such things as mortars and shells were among the improbabilities of human invention. The structure consists of two sturdy quadrangular towers, which united, form, as it were, two sides of a hollow square. One of these is ten yards in breadth by twelve in length; the other is only eight yards in either direction. The walls, in some places, are from six to seven feet in thickness, and perhaps from twenty-five to thirty feet in height. Around the summit is a finely finished comice, which is still in excellent preservation; while the structure generally shows but few symptoms of yielding to the u rains and the winds of time. The finger of ruin is more observable in the interior. Roofless chambers, and time-worn stairs tell a sad tale of the encroaching elements; while the nettle domesticated on the silent hearth, and the wall-flower nodding in the yawning crevices, are emblems of the utter desolation which reigns in the silent halls of other years. Yet there is a stem beauty even in death. Around this lonely edifice the great mother has wrapped her own green mantle, as if to veil the harsher features of decay.

“Creeping where no life is seen,
A rare old plant is the ivy green."

Whoever would see the ivy in all its glory must visit Leven Castle. Like a great massy shroud it hangs over the walls, and creeps into each loophole and casement. Without, it is green and glossy, but behind the scenes within, the brown stems are to be seen twisting, and twining, and crawling like the coils and the convolutions of some mighty snake. In at doors, and out at windows, and returning through the gaps and the crevices of decay, are the dark cord-like ligatures of the never-dying ivy.

Standing in the shadow of the rent and crumbling wall, let us ask, who were the inhabitants of this dreary pile before the glory had departed? Who? who? is the question; and echo answers, “who?” Canning’s knifegrinder was but a mortal type of Leven Castle. It has no tale to tell, or, at least, only a tale of which a modem gravestone might well be ashamed. From Crawfurd and Semple’s History of Renfrewshire, we learn that Leven Castle was anciently a possession of “a family sumamed Morton,” which failed in the person of Adam Morton in 1547. It afterwards, with the adjoining lands, passed into the hands of William, Lord Semple, and ultimately became the property of the “ Shaw-Stewart ” family, which, by fair means or foul (God knows which), has taken unto itself a share of bonnie Scotland which is perfectly “prodigious.” Old Semple, writing in 1782, gives the following description of the spot, written in a style which, as our readers will doubtless observe, is somewhat akin to the famous “Groves of Blarney.” “The lands,” he says, “are now the property of Sir Michael Stewart of Blackhall, and have been the property of that family for many years. Fart of the ruinous old castle is still standing. The land adjoining thereto is of light mould, but fertile and well enclosed between the river Clyde and the mountains; from the top of said mountains is a fine view of Lochlong and the Helie [Holy] Loch, as being opposite thereto. Betwixt the two lochs are all the possible variety of Alpine scenery exhibited; with all the horror of precipice, broken craig, or overhanging rock; or insolated pyramidal hills, contrasted with others whose smooth and verdant sides, swelling into immense aerial heights, particularly what is called Argyle’s Bowling-Green, at once please and surprise the eye. The boundary of the tremendous precipitous rocks, with heath vegetating from the numerous fissures, seems to take part with the extremities of the said lochs, clothing their bases even to the water’s edge, where small cataracts trickle down thereto. Mountains (the resort of shepherds) close the prospect of these beautiful lochs, and form an amphitheatre almost matchless, with downy fronts and lofty summits.” Now, gentle reader, is not that a most pretty picture? Never say, after this, that fine writing is confined to the present age. Our fathers, it appears (at least when a subscriber was to be secured), could do a bit of the grandiloquent as well even as ourselves. Yet the old buffer was, in the main, exceedingly near the truth. Just come and see the prospect from the spot where now we stand, and you will at once forgive the good old historian for his heterogeneous raptures. In recent times Leven Castle, with a number of adjoining acres, has come into the possession of a family named Crooks, who, as we understand, are of Glasgow origin. In their hands everything is preserved in the most tasteful and elegant manner. The old castle, while it is now secured from mischievous dilapidation, is open at all times (Sunday excepted) to the inspection of the passing stranger.

Leaving the old castle behind, we continue our downward course, and soon reach the Cloch. At this point, which is a landmark on the Frith, there is a stately lighthouse, in the shape of a tall white tower, eighty feet in height, and showing in the night a stationary light of star-like appearance. This elegant structure was erected in 1791, and in dear weather it acts as a beacon to the mariner for a distance of twelve miles. The Cloch is somewhere about four miles north-east from the point of Wemyss, and six miles northeast by east from the point of Toward, where another light sends its radiance over the Frith. The Clyde Trustees have no further jurisdiction on this coast than the Cloch, although the Cumbrae light, which is much farther “out at sea,” still owns their surveillance. From the Cloch the coast trends away in a southerly direction, and a fine broad view of the expanding Frith bursts upon the gaze. On the opposite shore, Dunoon, in all its length, with its steeple and its Castle Hill, and its far-spreading cottages, rises pleasantly above the waters, while the brown heights of Cowal swell picturesquely beyond. Seaward is a vast stretch of water, with the isles of Cumbrae, and Bute, and Arran clustering on the horizon, and apparently intercepting the further progress of the swelling Clyde. On the Renfrewshire side, along which we are now journeying, there is a lengthened and dense range of wood approaching close to the beach, and for miles and miles barring the landward prospect. Immediately behind this, as we observe from occasional gaps in the planting, the surface sweeps rapidly upwards into a bare and continuous ridge of trap hills. There are farms also along the slope, with fresh green fields, and cattle-crowded pastures, and comfortable looking homes, scattered here and there each with its own group of old trees leaning kindly over it, and its own wreath of blue smoke curling quietly towards the sky. Along our path, as we pass, the wild red roses are plenteously blooming, while the foxglove peeps at us over the wall, and the tall silken grasses, those lovely though neglected children of the forest and the field, nod gracefully unto us as we pass, as if in silent recognition of a friendship which owns no recent date. A more enchanting walk than that which we are now threading it is impossible to imagine. Earth, and sea, and sky, indeed, seem each to have contributed their choicest features for its adornment, and the worshipper of the beautiful finds at every step some new combination to excite his gratitude and love. Nor is the eye alone pleased. The cool breezes come with a rich marine aroma from the waters, which are murmuring softly on the fretted beach; and the merry chant of summer birds rings ever in the green recesses of the adjacent wood. A trickling runlet here and there steals across our path, with its own faint lullaby, hastening to the sea; or a tiny spring rises sparkling in the sun, and invites us to a refreshing libation.

Passing Lunderston Bay, a gently curved indentation of the coast, the country opens out into a broad and fertile expanse of woods, and lawns, and fertile fields. The hills retire and separate, forming as it were a spacious amphi-theatre, down which the river Kip finds its way to the Frith. Another rivulet, named the Shaws Water, once intersected the same fertile and most beautiful arena, but it has been diverted from its natural channel, and now finds its way into the Clyde at Cartsdyke, after doing an immense amount of drudgery for the Greenock people on the heights above their town. On a fine terrace, in the centre of the spacious amphitheatre we have alluded to, is couched the lordly mansion of Ardgowan. This spacious edifice is completely screened from the view by woods of stately growth, unless in front, where the house looks out upon the Frith, and commands an extensive sweep of its surface and the mountain lands beyond. The grounds around Ardgowan are of great extent and beauty, comprising the most pleasing combination of woods, and lawns, and tree-dotted parks. Many of the individual trees, indeed, are perfect sylvan studies, and of themselves would repay a visit to the locality. In the vicinity of the mansion are the remains of an ancient quadrangular tower, formerly the residence of the lords of the soil. The date of this sturdy old keep, which promises to bid defiance for a long space yet to the tooth of time, is now unknown. In the troubled times of the Bruce, the fort of Ardgowan was held for some time by the southern invaders—how long we cannot tell, but probably not very long after Bannockburn. The result of that day must have been many an English flitting, and perhaps the unrighteous tenants of Ardgowan were wise enough to take timely advantage of such a red notice to quit. Old Barbour, the poet, tells us expressly that Sir Philip Moubray, after being vanquished by Sir James Douglas, fled to Ardgowan for refuge among his countrymen. The English fugitive, as the old minstrel plainly indicates, came by Kilmarnock and Kilwinning to Ardrossan, and

“Svne thron the Largis, him alane,
Till Ennerkyp,”

which, as we are further informed, was "stuflyt all with Inglessmen,” who received him “in daynte.” We know not that Ardgowan tower is further associated with tradition or history, nor when it was consigned to the bats and the owls by the progenitors of its present lord. It now forms a pleasing and not insuggestive feature in the landscape of which it was once the central object, but which has now been invested with a vastly increased degree of dignity and importance.

Sir Michael Shaw Stewart, the lord of these broad lands, and of several fine estates in other quarters, is lineally descended from Sir John Stewart of Ardgowan, a natural son of Robert the Third, King of Scotland. The royal father was specially bountiful to the ancestor of Sir Miohael. On the 20th of May, 1390, he bestowed on him the lands of Achingown; in 1396 he conferred upon him the lairdship of Blackhall, near Paisley; and in 1404 he crowned his regal favours by the lordship of Ardgowan, with its castle and other valuable appurtenances. It was something to have a king for father in these days, even though the parentage happened to be on the wrong side of the blanket. Nor have the Stewarts of Ardgowan been in any way prodigal of the gifts thus easily obtained. The original lands are still safe in the possession of the family, while by judicious intermarriages, and by no less judicious purchases, the estates have been largely extended. Many of the adjoining lairdships have been from time to time incorporated with the original Ardgowan heritage, and the present fortunate proprietor can, perhaps, boast as handsome a rent-roll as any in the West of Scotland.

Let us now turn to the sweet little village of Inverkip, or Auldkirk as it was long called, and still may be, for aught we know, in the adjacent country. This name it received in consequence of its church having been for centuries the parish place of worship for a large district, which includes within its boundaries the now important town of Greenock, with Gourock and the adjacent farms and villages. Inverkip owes its name to the nature of its site. Kip is a pretty little stream, which here &lls into the Frith, and Inver signifies the outlet, or issue of a river. The village is of no great extent, and consists principally of two parallel rows of plain looking edifices, with a few of rather elegant appearance. It has a handsome church -of modem erection, the old edifice having been removed some years ago. At a short distance from the church is an old and sequestered church-yard, surrounded by trees, and studded with old and lichen-crusted gravestones. Here also is the mausoleum of the Shaw Stewart family, rising proudly among the humbler houses of the dead, and revelling in a profusion of funereal foliage. A more lovely place of rest it is not easy to imagine. The most striking peculiarity of Inverkip is its extreme leafiness. Seen from the passing steamer it appears perfectly embowered in woods, and sheltered by hills of the most bosky magnificence. On a closer acquaintance, it loses nothing of its lovely sylvan character. There are trees, and hedgerows, and gardens everywhere, while the most delicious and varied walks may be enjoyed in its immediate neighbourhood. On the one hand are the glories of the Frith, with its ships and steamers ever coming and going; on the other, a perfect congregation of landscape beauties. A most delightful, and withal somewhat intricate, little glen invites the lounger, in the immediate neighbourhood, to hours of solitary and undisturbed musing. Down this picturesque defile the Kip flows rapidly to the sea, dashing in its course over rocks, and stones, and beautiful cascades, which a painter would love to make his own. Fine walks have been formed along the rugged and leaf-covered banks, and seats are formed for the accommodation of visitors, wherever any feature of peculiar attractiveness may bring them to a pause. Hours and hours have we spent in this sweet secluded vale, and still we felt that its beauties were not half exhausted.

The village of Inverkip has little or no history. It seems, indeed, to have been always very much of a pendicle to the adjoining lordship. It was made a Burgh of Barony before the Union, and obtained the privilege of holding three fairs annually. In former times Inverkip had an unenviable notoriety for its witches. According to an old rhyme,—

"In Inverkip the witches rid thick,
And in Dunrod they dwell;
The grittest warlock amang them a*
Is auld Dunrod himsel.”

So bad, indeed, were the witches of Inverkip in 1662, that they caused extreme annoyance to old Ardgowan, and, worthy man, to his reverence the minister. An application was consequently made to the Privy Council, and a Commission was issued to inquire into the matter. The result was, that a large number of cases were brought to light, and several offenders were consigned to the tar-barrel and the stake. A number of the witches made open confession, it appears; but we are not told whether the thumbscrews were used to sharpen their recollections. Most probably they were; at least, it is difficult to believe that any sane being would voluntarily emit such absurd statements as appears in the published confessions of the poor creatures alluded to. One of them, for instance, Marie Lamont by name, and only eighteen years of age, depones in presence of Archibald Stewart of Blackhall and J. Hamilton, minister at Inverkip, “That she had lived long in the devil’s service; and that she and Katrein Scot had taken milk from their neibours’ kine by some develish cantrip. She continued further to mention several meetings which she had with the arch-enemy, sometimes in the shape of a black man, and at others in that of a large brown dog.” But we must quote the very words of the document, which is still in existence. “She confesses that she was at a meeting in the Bridylinne with Jean King, Kettie Scot, Margrat M‘Kenzie, and several others, where the devil was with them in the shape of a brown dog. The end of their meeting was to raise stormy weather and hinder the boats from fishing. She confessed that she and the same party went out to sea, betwixt the land and Arran, to do skaith to boats and ships that sould comalongs. They caused the storm to increase greatly, and did rive the saills of Colin Campbell’s ship.” The poor creature also confessed to other meetings of the weird sisters and the devil, who occasionally kissed them in the most gallant manner, and even treated them at times to a specimen of his vocal powers. How pitifully absurd is all this; and yet for such ravings hundreds of poor wretches were put to death in a manner which, even to imagine, makes one shudder in perfect horror ! Poor Marie Lamont met with no mercy, although she was only eighteen years of age when she accused herself of these impossible crimes. What a sad thing it is to think that such dreadful doings should ever have occurred in so sweet a spot as Inverkip!


Return to Book Index Page

 


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus

Quantcast