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.
Glenora Single Malt Whisky

Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.
Scottish Review

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

Days at the Coast
Wemyss Bay and Largs


Thou speak’st a woman’s, hear a warrior’s wish.
Right from their native land, the stormy North,
May the wind blow, till every keel is fixed
Immovably in Caledonia’s strand!
Then shall our foes repent their bold invasion,
And roving armies shun the fatal shore.
Home’s “Douglas.”

In one of his most beautiful and patriotic letters, Robert Bums gives expression to a wish that he might be enabled to make one long and loving pilgrimage to the song-haunted streams and principal battle-fields of his native land. This desire of the bard was only partially gratified. Neither the time nor the means necessary to its accomplishment were allotted to him during his brief but eventful life. By many a “howlet-haunted biggin’,” where “the wa' flower scents the dewy air,” it was happily his, however, to muse in pensive solitude. By many of the song-hallowed waters of Scotia he was privileged to stray, and on at least one field where freedom was won in blood, that of Bannockburn, he was permitted to muse on the brave days of old, and to revel in the inspiration which such scenes are calculated to excite. The result of that visit was the heart-stirring “Scots wha ha’e wi* Wallace bled,” a strain which has for ever associated the memories of Bruce and of Bums—the patriot hero and the patriot bard. When such was the golden fruit which sprung from one visit to a locality where the battle of liberty was fought and won, who would not wish that other spots of kindred interest had rejoiced in the presence of the ploughman poet? Who would not wish, for instance, that the green slopes of Largs, where the Norwegian invaders were driven into the sea by our heroic fathers, had been hallowed by the song of his genius ? The meed of poetic immortality, indeed, was never better earned than on this elder Bannockburn, where the fierce Bea kings of the North were so effectually humbled. The red lesson of that day has never, through all the intervening centuries, required a repetition. Previously to that important epoch in the history of Scotland’s independence, our shores were perpetually infested by these fair-headed marauders, but from that time forth they and their descendants have wisely stayed at home. Surely such a subject was in every respect entitled to the recognition of old Coila’s muse. Unfortunately, however, Burns never spent a day on that lovely and most interesting portion of our coast over which we now proceed in pursuance of our devious pilgrimage.

We have just passed Inverkip—sweet sylvan Inverkip —embosomed in hills, and beautifully enveloped in a far-spread and high-swelling surge of foliage. The old castle of Ardgowan is utterly drowned in leaves, while the modem mansion, like a bold swimmer, lifts its head and shoulders for a brief space above the green waves, and then, almost “ere ye can point its place,” it dips again from sight. As for the village, it is as completely lost in verdure as a fair girl when she “is low down amang the broom” with her lover (“evil to him that evil thinks”), or playing at hide and seek with her merry mates in a fairy forest of brackens. The Kip, that rich brown wanderer from the moorlands, which “maketh sweet* music to the enamelled stones” of many a summer dell, is all unseen in his shadowy course, save that we catch one transient glimpse of his waters just as they are slipping quietly into the bosom of the Frith—“a moment seen, then lost for ever.” A delicious picture of sylvan quietude and loveliness, indeed, is that which Inverkip presents to the passing steamer! and surely no one with even a spark of taste in his composition can gaze upon it without desiring in his heart of hearts to cultivate a closer acquaintance with its beauties. But the Lady Kelburne seems to have no sympathy with our musings upon Inverkip, and while we are thus casting <fc one longing, lingering look behind,” she is pushing on with all her wonted speed and vigour. How gallantly she breasts the whitened ripple, leaving woods, and fields, and headlands, and bays, with all due rapidity, in her rear  The good Lady, be it understood, is bound to kiss the foot of Goatfell before the sun commences his descent, and, therefore, she cannot brook delay. For our accommodation, however, she condescends to pause for a few moments at the neat little wharf of Wemyss Bay, where we bid her for a time good-bye, and make our way to terra firma.

This is a watering-place of modem origin, and as yet of moderate population. The bay upon which the new saut water settlement has been founded, is a lengthened and gentle curve, bounded at either extremity by an old red sandstone promontory of no great elevation, but weather-worn and honeycombed by the action of the waters. A considerable extent of the beach is also composed of the same ruddy formation, intermingled with a coarse conglomerate and dikes of trap, but in several places it relaxes into a kind of rough gravel or shingle, which forms a convenient footing for the bather, and affords an easy launching-place for small fishing boats and other kindred craft. The houses, of which there are little more than a score in all, are principally situated on a level strip of land adjacent to the shore, and closely girt on the landward side by a range of well-wooded heights. There is probably some “ method” in the laying out of the infant village, but as yet it has not very clearly manifested itself. The edifices are dropped here and there, with but little apparent attention to regularity, while each is in itself a distinct architectural study. There is no end of cottage designs now-a-days, and every particular laird seems resolved to have something decidedly original in the construction of his own domicile. Some of the specimens at Wemyss Bay are sufficiently pretty and tasteful, others are abundantly fantastical, while in several instances there is plainness even to a fault. The latter, we may mention, however, are not of the most recent origin, and seem to have been erected before the prevailing mania for quaintness had commenced. On the eastern shoulder of the bay a castellated mansion of some pretensions has just been erected. It is in the old baronial style of Scotland, and is really a study of considerable beauty, with its pepper-box turrets, its crawsteps, and its other peculiar and picturesque features. The site, also, is very commanding, and embraces many of the choicest prospects on the Frith of Clyde. This edifice, like the majority of those in the vicinity, is built of the indigenous red sandstone of the locality. Altogether there is an aspect of repose and comfort around Wemyss Bay which is exceedingly pleasant to contemplate; and had we not, with our usual sagacity, reflected that care and the other “ ills that flesh is heir to” will intrude themselves into the fairest homes of earth, we should certainly have been in danger of breaking the tenth article of the decalogue, and coveting the possession of some one or other of these flower-environed cottages. But, after all that we have seen, and all that we have heard, we are too much of the coward to envy any brother in the bonds of clay. He was a philosopher, take our word for it, as well as a poet, who said,—

“If every man's internal care
Was written on his brow,
How many would onr pity share,
Who raise our envy now!
The fatal secret once revealed
Of every mortal breast,
Would prove ’twas only while concealed
Their fate could seem the best”

Around Wemyss Bay there are many delightful walks. The lover of nature can here range at pleasure by the sounding shore, or plunge at will into the shadowy recesses of some sequestered wood, or thread, as fancy dictates, the mazes of the dinsome bum, as it steals down from the green hills, amidst banks of beauty, to the wide blue Frith below. If the visitor to the spot, however, cares for none of these things, then we can at least promise him delectation of another kind, in a prettily situated and blossom-girt hotel, where may be found in plenty such “creature-comforts” as might well awaken a gustatory spirit, even under the ribs of death. What wondrous feats of knife-and-forkship, of cupping and homing, we, our unworthy selves, have performed in that beautiful sanctuary of good cheer, it becometh not us to say (our companion could u a tale unfold an he would), but let it suffice for us to hint, as in all modesty we do, that on leaving the hospitable shade of “mine inn,” we went upon our way rejoicing.

Wemyss forms part of the fine estate of Kelly, now, we believe, the property of James Scott, Esq., of Glasgow, and we have scarcely passed from the hotel, on the Largs road, when we find ourselves on the verge of the extensive and beautiful policies attached to the mansion of the laird. At this point an impetuous streamlet comes brawling down a precipitous channel, and makes its way with a refreshing murmur to the neighbouring beach. The name of this little water we cannot well make out, a circumstance which we regret very much, as we love all living waters, and always endeavour, as a mark of respect, to address them by their proper names. A decent “sunburnt” countryman, who chances to pass, cannot give us the name for certain, but scratches his head, and says he “thinks it is I'innock or Fingle, or something geyan like that” On consulting our pocket-map, we suspect it may be the Daff, a suspicion which our companion (who has his besetting sin) thinks likely enough to be correct, “as the bit bumie before us,” he remarks, “seems unco fond o’ daffin.” Pretending not to observe the puny attempt at word-wit, we pass through a little gateway into the enclosures of Mr. Scott, with the intention of stealing a sly glimpse of their beauties. On our entrance, however, we are somewhat staggered by seeing a detachment of gigantic foxgloves drawn up in our front, and apparently prepared to dispute our passage. There may be a score or two of these giants, each at the very least from five to six feet in height, and purpled to the very crown. We can scarcely believe our eyes, yet there the tall strapping fellows are, towering like a troop of guardsmen in her Majesty’s service. Standing beside them we feel ourselves exceedingly crestfallen. Only to think that our old friends of the “deid man’s bells,” whom we have known no taller than our knee, should thus presume to outgrow us. Everything here, however, seems beyond measure luxuriant. The trees are tall and stately; the ivy deliciously green and glossy; while the honeysuckle climbs with its scented blossoms to an unusual altitude; and the very ferns are beyond compare umbrageous. The bum, the sweet nameless bum, knows little of the sun here, but sports among its pretty linns and pools in almost unbroken shadow. Then what a picture of an old bridge we have here! It is literally dad in verdure. There is the wild thyme, and the speedwell, and the gowan, creeping over its divot-clad ledges, and, as we live, the ripe red fruit of the wilding strawberry. How delicious is the prince of berries, even in his native condition! “Doubtless,” said old Isaak Walton, “doubtless God could have made a better berry than the strawberry, but doubtless He never did.” We quite agree with the rare old fellow, on this as on many another point, and while we regale ourselves with a handful of the blushing fruit, we find ourselves unconsciously reechoing his words in our heart.

About an hundred yards farther down the Clyde is the mansion-house of Kelly. It is situated on a natural terrace of no great elevation, but commanding a beautiful look-out upon the Frith. The house, although spacious, has but little pretensions to architectural elegance, and has been erected apparently with a greater regard to comfort and convenience within than to external show. The estate of Kelly was conferred by James the Third upon a family of the surname of Bannatyne, for services which are not recorded. In their hands it continued until the close of the last century, when it was purchased from the representatives of that day by John Wallace of Neilstonside and Cessnock. This gentleman commenced the erection of the present mansion in 1793. His son, the late Robert Wallace, Esq. of Kelly, and for many years M.P. for Greenock, completed the structure and greatly improved the estate, by means of timber-planting and the reclaiming of waste lands. Ultimately Mr. Wallace, it is well known, became embarrassed in his circumstances, and was under the necessity of parting with his beautiful patrimony. Mr. Scott, the present proprietor, is a self-made man—one of that class which is in a great measure peculiar to our own day, who have raised themselves from the ranks by industry, perseverance, and enterprise. The spinning-jenny, the steam-loom, and the forge, indeed, are gradually but surely winning back the broad acres which were formerly appropriated almost exclusively by the red right hand of a titled rapacity.

The southern extremity of the Kelly estate is bounded by Kellyburn, a small rivulet, which also forms the line of division between the counties of Ayr and Renfrew. The streamlet flows from the bleak hills beyond, through a beautifully wooded glen, to the sea. Had time been at our command we should certainly have spent a few hours in threading the mazes of this inviting watercourse; but, as it is, Kellyburn must remain in the meantime unvisited. Some of our readers may have heard of an old Scottish song of which u Kellyburn braes ” is the scene, but the greater number of them, we dare say, are in happy ignorance of this most wicked effusion. It is, in very truth, a sad libel upon matrimony, but as it has sufficient wit to redeem its wickedness, we have no hesitation in chanting it for the delectation of our bachelor friends; so here goes:—

THE CARLE OF KELLYBURN BRAES,

I.

There lived a carle on Kellyburn braes,
(Hey, and the rue grows bonnie wi’ thyme),
And he bad a wife was the plague o' his days,
(And the thyme it is wither’d, and rue is in prime).

II.

Ae day as the carle gade up the lang glen,
(Hey, and the rue grows bonnie wi’ thyme).
He met wi* the devil; says,"How do ye fen*?
(And the thyme it is wither'd, and rue is in prime).

III.

44 I’ve got a bad wife, sir; that’s a’ my complaint
(Hey, and the rue grows bonnie wi thyme),
*4For, saving your presence, to her ye’re a saint;”
(And the thyme it is wither'd, and rue is in prime).

IV.

"It’s neither your stot nor your staig I shall crave,"
(Hey, and the rue grows bonnie wi’ thyme),
"But gi’e me your wife, man, for her I must have,”
(And the thyme it is wither’d, and rue is in primo).

V.

"O welcome, most kindly,” the blithe carle said,
(Hey, and the rue grows bonnie wi’ thyme),
"But if ye can match her, ye’re waur nor ye’re ca’d.”
(And the thyme it is wither’d, and rue is in prime).

VI.

The devil has got the auld wife on his back;
(Hey, and the rue grows bonnie wi’ thyme),
And, like a poor pedlar, he’s carried his pack;
(And the thyme it is wither'd, and rue is in prime).

VII.

He’s carried her hame to his ain hallan-door;
(Hey, and the rue grows bonnie wi’ thyme),
Syne bade her gae in, for a bitch and a whore,
(And the thyme it is wither’d, and rne is in prime).

VIII.

Then straight he makes fifty the pick of his band,
(Hey, and the rue grows bonnie wi’ thyme),
Turn out on her guard in the clap of a hand;
(And the thyme it is wither’d, and rue is in prime).

IX.

The carlin gaed thro* them like ony wud bear,
(Hey, and the rue grows bonnie wi’ thyme),
Whae’er she gat hands on came near her nae mair:
(And the thyme it is wither'd, and rue is in prime).

X.

A reekit wee devil looks over the wa';
(Hey, and the rue grows bonnie wi* thyme),
"Oh, help, master, help, or she’ll ruin us a’,”
(And the thyme it is wither’d, and rue is in prime).

XL

The devil he swore by the edge o' his knife,
(Hey, and the rue grows bonnie wi’ thyme),
He pitied the man that was tied to a wife;
(And the thyme it is wither'd, and rue is in prime).

XII.

The devil he swore by the kirk and the bell,
(Hey, and the rue grows bonnie wi’ thyme),
He was not in wedlock, thank heaven, but in hell;
(And the thyme it is witherd. and rue is in prime).

XIII.

Then Satan has travelled again wi' his pack;
(Hey, and the rue grows bonnie wi’ thyme),
And to her auld husband he’s carried her back;
(And the thyme it is wither'd, and rue is in prime).

XIV.

MI ha’e been a devil the feck o’ my life
(Hey, and the rue grows bonnie wi’ tnyme),
“But ne’er was in hell till I met wi’ a wife;’
(And the thyme it is withered, and rue is in prime).

A more bitter satire than this upon the state of double blessedness was surely never penned; yet our single friends —those cowards who have not the pluck to pass the Hymeneal Rubicon—need not plume themselves too much upon their happy condition. M Quiet to quick bosoms is a hell,” as a certain well-known poet truly observes, and a good wife in the "het hame” of the old gentleman alluded to would no doubt be found quite out of her native element. A decent woman, indeed, would be an encumbrance on his hands; but there are few “single gentlemen,” we suspect, who once pass that awful bourne who need entertain any hope of meeting with such a scaithless discharge. In spite of her faults, the “crabbit auld carle ” would, doubtless, after her brief absence, be very glad to see his help-mate restored to him.

The shore walk from Wemyss Bay to Largs, a distance of some six miles, is one long line of beauty. On the one hand is the wide-spreading Frith, with the Cowal Hills swelling beyond, and the islands of Bute, Cumbrae, and Arran, stretched out in their loveliness upon the bosom of the waters. The landward view is “cabined, cribbed, confined,” by a range of wooded heights, which run nearly parallel with the road; forming a perfect wall of verdure, and only retiring where some playful streamlet seeks a passage to the main. In such gaps there is generally a tract of arable land, with a mansion, and a few scattered farms and villas, embowered among trees, and redolent of gardens and flowers. The most noticeable of these loopholes in the embattled heights which skirt the shore is that in which is situated the venerable castle of Skelmorly; an ancient seat of the Montgomeries, and now in the possession of the Eglinton branch of the family. Seen from the road, or from the passing steamer, this relic of other days has an extremely imposing appearance. As it is only about half-a-mile or so from the line of our march, we turn, of course, aside to. indulge ourselves with a closer inspection of its features. The castle is girt with sylvan magnificence. All round it is a grove of stately trees, among which our attention is particularly attracted by a number of handsome old planes, the thick brown stems and dense foliage of which indicate a lengthened span of existence, and fling a shadow across our path, that seems to speak of the days of other years. There is also an air of tangled wildness around the spot, which but too surely tells that the lord of the manor is a stranger here. A fine old hedge of holly is left to hang as it grows; and, consequently, presents a wild and unkempt appearance; while the walks are rough and untrimmed, and the straggling weeds are left to flourish at their own sweet will. Skelmorly Castle was built partly in 1502 and partly in 1636. Originally it belonged to a family of Montgomeries, who took their title from the locality. Afterwards, on the failure of the line, it fell into the hands of the Montgomeries of Coylsfield; and latterly it has become, as we have mentioned, a possession of the Earls of Eglinton. The castle is a stately but unadorned example of the architecture prevalent at the time of its erection. It has the crawstepped gables and small irregular windows of the period, with a projecting doorway, over which is a carving of the Montgomerie arms,

in as excellent a state of preservation almost as if it had but yesterday left the hands of the artist. The initials R. M. would seem to indicate the name of Robert Montgomerie, the founder of the castle.

Returning to the road, we pursue our way to Largs. The day is what in common parlance is called a “ broken day.” It is neither wet nor dry. Sometimes we are in sunshine, sometimes a shadow comes over us. At one moment half the Frith is glittering with a golden ripple, while the other is “deeply, darkly, beautifully blue;” at another all is sparkle and brilliancy, and anon there is a solemn frown upon the far-spreading waters, which brings the white sails of the passing ships prominently out, and lends an added lustre to the flash of the sea-bird’s wing. Then there are huge spots of gloom passing slowly and silently over the distant hills—those dreary, dreary shadows, which in their quiet progress so vividly suggest the passage of sin and sorrow over the fair face of nature. . Anything like sickly sentimentality we detest, but in the “shows and forms” of the external world there are surely sights and sounds which harmonize, and as it were sympathize, with the world which lieth within. Shifting shadows upon a shifting sea, and shifting shadows upon the unshifting hills, what are they both but emblems of the heart of man, and of man’s progress over a stage which, in comparison with his life, is eternal in its duration? Like the broad blue deep, our spirits have their moments of brightness and of gloom; while on earth, we “come like the shadows of the summer-doud, and even so we depart, leaving not even a wrack behind.”

Pshaw! we are forgetting our mission! As we approach Largs we pass the ancient Castle of Knock—which is no longer, however, an ancient castle. Close to the site of this “time-honoured” edifice, a bran new castle, and a pretty one, too, has just been erected. This is all right enough. Why should our contemporaries not erect castles as well as their forefathers? We have quite as good a taste in such matters as they had, and, thanks to our greater industry, we have more means. Yet it does seem somewhat ridiculous to erect edifices in our quiet times with “all the pomp and circumstance of glorious war.” What mean those battlements, and turrets, and embrasures? those loop-holes, and winding stairs, and narrow windows ? All show and mockery. Let one Russian frigate come up the Frith (which, God and our good tars willing, it never shall), and this castle of cards would very soon be numbered among the castles that were. But there was a genuine old castle—a castle meant for real work here at one time. The skeleton of it we have seen ourselves. Where is it now? Why, transformed into something else, by the new laird! We scarcely knew our old acquaintance, indeed, with his new roof and his glazed windows. Yet there he is "amaist as gude as new,” fulfilling the office, we suppose, of a smoking saloon to the modern proprietor. Alas! for our venerable friends the bats and the owlsi But onward, onward! is the cry of our most wise and hungry companion. “There are good things in Largs,” he says, "and why should we tarry by the way to glower on a rickle o’ auld stanes?” An inward monitor, we regret to say, most heartily seconds the motion; and as we always give in to a majority, we are compelled to “move on.” And now the beautiful amphitheatre of Largs bursts at one sweet swoop upon our gaze. The wall of hills along which we have hitherto been travelling, suddenly recedes, and permits us to grasp in our “mind’s eye, Horatio,” as lovely a prospect as bonnie Scotland can present. There is the Bay of Largs, a beautiful half-moon, with the town in its bosom and the braes rising in gentle slopes all around—the pretty green braes, with their patches of wood and their deep shadowy glens, and their pasture-lands stretching away up to where the blue sky seems to come lovingly down to kiss the dark-brown earth. “Out of the world and into Largs,” seems an appropriate expression, as the gathering hills cluster on every landward side, and form as it were a wall of partition between it and the strange lands beyond. We could fancy a Largs boy imagining this spacious enclosure, and the adjacent Cumbraes, to be the whole world. Largs men, and we suspect Largs women, know something different ; at least we have heard of Largs lassies, in the shape of wives, finding their way into other localities.

Before entering the town of Largs, we have to cross a pretty little streamlet, which, we are sorry to say, does not rejoice in a very poetical name. Indeed, we are utterly ashamed of the names conferred upon their waters by the good people of Largs. This beautiful wanderer from the hills they have actually dubbed the “Noddle;” and another at the other end of the town, which is equally lovely, they , have nicknamed (for we cannot call it anything else) the “ Gogo.” Just think of that! It is really no wonder there are no poets in Largs. An individual bora on the banks of the Tweed, or the Yarrow, or the Lugar, or the Doon could hardly help rhyming about such musical streams; but to think of putting two lines together with regard to the streams of Largs is altogether out of the question. Let us try:—

“I courted sweet Girzle for many a day,
Bat I found after all it was ‘ no go;’
So I packed up my traps and I took to the way,
And for aye said farewell to the Gogo.”

Dreadful! dreadful! even Burns could have made nothing of it, and the chances are, that if the said ploughman had been born in Largs, he would never have left the stilts. Then there’s the “ Noddle:”—

“If fortune or fame I wad win in the game,
Afar from this spot I maun toddle;
For the bard that lives here, he maun tak’ to the beer,
As the only thing fit for the Noddle.”

Now, just think of that! Why, the thing’s utterly preposterous, and the sooner the Largs people take to a rechristening of their streams the better will it be for all concerned! We had intended, as in duty bound, to do all honour to the bums of Largs, but really, after hearing their names, our enthusiasm, like the courage of Bob Acres, oozed out at our finger-ends.

But once more to assume the serious (which in reality is our true character), we must make our descent upon the town of Largs. Well, then, the said town is a pretty little thing, stretching along the shore, in the shape of a fairish street, with a kirk and a steeple somewhere about the centre, and a series of most enviable villas* running away among trees and flowers, on either hand. The town also extends backwards in irregular streets and lanes, all of which, as we learn, have names, but the cue to which we cannot by any means discover. There are also abundance of hotels and lodging-houses staring you in the face, and inviting you to come in and partake of their good cheer. In fact, Largs is just the very place where a stranger could take his “ease in his inn,” and make himself at home. Even on a Sunday there must be no lack of the 44 manna,” as we count in our perambulations no fewer than four places of worship, viz., the Parish Kirk, a kirk that we take for a "Free,” with a U. P.; and, judging from the cross upon its gable, a chapel devoted to the old faith. The indigenous inhabitants, amounting in all to about 3,000, are partly weavers, partly fishermen, and partly agricultural labourers of various kinds. House-letting to the saut water folk, however, is very commonly added to the ordinary sources of income by the good people of Largs. Between the shore and the lengthened front of the town, there is a spacious esplanade, where visitors may recreate themselves, and which, as we pass, is all alive with walkers, young, old, and middle-aged, who for the most part are apparently strangers, and determined to make the most of their money and their time by inhaling the largest possible draughts of the "caller air,” and by "douk-ing ” at every available opportunity in the brine.

Largs is historically famous as the scene of a great battle between the Scots and the Danes, or Norwegians, in the thirteenth century. Previously to that time, the coasts of Scotland seem to have been periodically visited by the marauding Norsemen, who, so far as we can learn, made their descents upon the devoted inhabitants with the greatest possible coolness, carrying off their flocks and herds, and too frequently leaving a bloody trail behind them. The battle of Largs, however, terminated this reiving work. It originated in a claim made by Haco of Norway upon the sovereignty of the Hebrides, including the islands of the Clyde. Alexander, the third of that name who bore sway in Scotland, resisted the demands of the Norwegian monarch, and prepared to defend the integrity of his dominions. Haco, with the view of enforcing his ambitious projects, sailed in the autumn of 1263 from Norway with a large fleet, and, entering the Frith of Clyde, anchored between Largs and the Cumbraes. The Scottish king, who had been in expectation of such a visit, collected a force of, it is said, some 1,500 cavalry, and a large body of infantry, with which he took up a position upon the high grounds overlooking Largs. Negotiations took place between the parties, and every endeavour was made to induce the indomitable Haco to resign his iniquitous pretensions. He was not to be moved, however, and both sides prepared for the deadly conflict. On the evening of October the 1st, there came on a great storm, which blew right up the Frith, and drove a large number of the enemy’s vessels upon the shore. Under these circumstances Haco attempted a landing, which, with great difficulty and loss, he ultimately effected. While the Norwegian invaders were mustering, cold and dispirited, upon the shore, the Scots, who had been eagerly watching their movements, swept like another tempest down upon their devoted ranks, driving at the first attack a large portion of them into the sea. The Norsemen, however, fought with the greatest bravery; and even when vanquished, the survivors retired sword in hand, fighting for every inch of ground. The contest indeed was not terminated until darkness separated the combatants, when a shattered remnant of the invading force withdrew to their ships. Next day Haco obtained leave to bury his dead, and having performed this last sad ceremony of battle, he sailed with the relics of his fleet to the Orkneys, where he shortly afterwards died of a broken heart. To borrow from the beautiful old ballad of “ Hardyknute,” which is founded upon this sanguinary fray,—

“In thrawls of death, with wallowit cheik,
All panting on the plain,
The fainting corps of warriors lay,
Neir to aryis again.

Neir to return to native land;
Nae mair with blithesome sounds
To boist the glories of the day,
And schow their shyning wounds.

“On Norway’s coast, the widowit dame
May wash the rocks with tears—
May lang look ower the echiples seis
Befoir her mate appears.

“Ceise, lady, ceise to hope In vain—
Thy lord lyis in the clay;
The valyiant Scots nae reivers thole
To carry life away.”

A little to the south of Largs is a large plain, whereon, it is said, the deadliest of the struggle took place. The writer of Hardyknute says,—

“There on the lea, quhair stands a cross,
Set up for monument,
Thousands full fierce that summer day,
Filled kene waris black intent"

The “cross” is no longer on the spot; but we understand that one of the stones of which it was composed is still religiously preserved in the garden of Curling Hall, which is in the immediate vicinity of the old battle-field. The huge graves of the buried Norwegians were also to be seen for centuries on the spot, but they have now, in the march of local improvement, altogether disappeared, or are only distinguishable by the keen eye of the antiquary. We seek them; but, alas ! they are not to be found, and one or two of the Largs people, of whom we ask information regarding their “whereabouts,” do not seem to have ever heard either of the battle or the burial mounds. In the cairns and tumuli of the Largs, however, there have been found many fragments of bones and weapons, old bridles, and other relics, to remind us of the “glorious victory” which was here achieved, and which delivered Scotland for ever from the annoyance and rapacity of the Northern kings. Most of these interesting memorials have been dispersed through private channels, and are therefore lost to the public; but, fortunately, there is at least one interesting relic of Haco’s defeat preserved in the museum of the Scottish Antiquaries. This is a bridle-bit, which, with the remains of a horse and his rider, were found several feet below the surface in 1822, while they were levelling May Street, in what is called the new town of Largs. This specimen of u auld-warld horsegear consists of two plain bronze rings, three and three-quarter inches in diameter, and united by a double link of iron.

The old kirkyard of Largs was specially commended to our notice by our good friend the author of the Burying-grounds of Ayrshire, but unfortunately we cannot effect an entrance into its precincts. On ordinary occasions we can manage to scramble over a dike, when we are inclined for meditation among the tombs, but in Largs we find this to be an utter impossibility. The field of graves is closely girt round by houses, and is besides effectually defended from intrusion by a high wall. We try gate after gate in succession, but find them all fast, and on inquiring for the key, are informed that it is quite safe in the possession of the bedral, who lives at the other end of the town. Of course we have nothing for it but to indulge ourselves with a quiet peep through the bars of the “firm-fixed yett,” and take our departure from the spot. We regret this, because the burial vault of the Montgomeries of Skelmorly is described as a memento mori of a peculiarly quaint and interesting description. It is the only remaining aisle of the old church, and was built in 1636 by Sir Robert Montgomery of Skelmorly, who, with his good lady, Margaret Douglas, is deposited therein. It is richly carved (as we learn from the kirkyard work we have mentioned), and adorned with emblematic devices. Around the aisle are eighteen pillars of the Corinthian order, surmounted by the figures of cherubim. On the roof are the twelve signs of the zodiac, several views of Skelmorly Castle, and a group representing a lady receiving a deadly kick from her horse. Thereby hangs a tale, to which we shall have occasion to allude some other day. In various parts of the structure also, there are scutcheons and texts of Scripture referring to the transitoriness of mortal life. It is said, by tradition, that Sir Robert, while living, was in the habit of spending whole nights in this doleful vault, a circumstance which is countenanced by a Latin inscription, of which the following is a translation:—“I predeceased myself; I anticipated my destined funeral; alone among all mortals, following the example of Caesar.”

About two miles to the north of Largs, in a narrow little valley, and near the banks of the Noddle, is a grave of a peculiarly interesting description. All strangers, indeed, visit the lonely grave of the plague-stricken minister. The Rev. William Smith, whose ashes repose in this quiet spot, was minister of Largs in 1647, at which period the plague was raging in Scotland. The reverend gentleman, in the exercise of his professional duties, was laid low by the fatal distemper, and, according to his own request, was interred at this place. Two holly bushes grow close by the grave, and, according to local tradition, it is said that the minister, before his death, had prophesied that so long as these hollies were kept from meeting over his grave, the plague should never again visit the parish. To prevent the return of the pestilence, the bushes have been repeatedly subjected to a severe trimming, but whether the visitations of the destroying angel have been thereby averted, is more than we shall undertake to avouch.

But now our “Day” is far advanced, and the "Lady Kelburne” is seen advancing between the Cumbraes with a long trail of smoke darkening the atmosphere in her wake. We take a farewell glance at the heat little town, and at the spacious amphitheatre by which it is so delightfully surrounded. We gaze once more, also, at the lovely Frith as it glitters in the declining sun, and on the islands that sleep upon its breast, and upon the old brown hills which overhang its farther side. The spectacle is indeed sublime; and as sublimity is somewhat difficult to digest, we step on board our steamer, and at once proceed to the steward’s department for something to allay our emotions.


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