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Days at the Coast
The Holy Loch and Kilmun


We know not any scene more beautiful and more varied than that which greets the eye when the steamer, hushing the roar of her funnel, turns from the pier of Gottrock and churns her way to the Highland side of the Frith. All the loveliness of river and lake, of mountain and glen, are here concentrated within the range of the' horizon; and although for twice ten thousand times we may have scanned the features of the landscape, they never fail to excite a new surprise—a fresh delight—in the bosom of the spectator. Over the glittering ripple of the expanding river—with its passing ships and its snowy birds afloat or on the wing—we have the long line of the Cowal coast spread out before us from Strone, the giant sentinel of Lochlong and the Holy Loch, unto the far point of Toward. Strewn along the margin of the Frith, and adapting itself to every turning and indentation—every promontory and bay—is one lengthened straggling string of mansions, and villas, and cottages, clustering here and there in groups, or standing apart and peeping sweetly from their nooks of green upon the waters —fending the added charm of human association to the sunny shore. Immediately behind rises the old brown hills, now heaving in gentle slopes and undulations, and anon swelling far away into a very tempest of fretted peaks and wild fantastic ridges. At one glance the eye commands the most genial and the most terrific aspects of nature. Here we have the soft shelving beach, the green lawn, the garden, and the bower; there the yawning glen and the fierce ravine, the mountain clad in mist, and the moorland sterile and hoar. Nor is the landscape to the observant eye devoid of soul. On the contrary, it is full of strange and ever-changing humours. It is seldom for an hour together in the same temper or mood. At one moment it is all smiles and sunshine; at another, the smile and the tear are to be seen in playful conflict upon its countenance; and, again, its frown is terrible to contemplate. Thus, as the clouds come and the clouds go, changeth the spirit of the scene —hours of glory succeed to hours of gloom—and anon we have

“That sweet uncertain weather.
When gloom and glory meet together.”

And even thus it is with that inner landscape—that world which passeth show. External nature reflects as in a mirror the lights and shadows of the human soul; and he who does not, or cannot feel that such is the case, is indeed of the earth earthy, and ail unfitted for a true and adequate appreciation of the beautiful.

While we are thus musing, however, the steamer is gradually rounding the promontory of Strone, and entering the sacred precincts of the Holy Loch. Touching for a moment at the neat little wharf which has recently been erected at Strone, we may mention that the term literally signifies, in the Celtic language, “a nose” or projecting point. The descriptive appropriateness of the expression is abundantly obvious, as Strone is emphatically the nose or projecting point which terminates the lofty ridge, Finnartmore, separating the waters of the two adjacent lochs. Finnartmore Is also a descriptive Celtic word, signifying a “large boat or vessel;” and any one who glances at the huge ridge alluded to, especially from the opposite or Dunoon side of the loch, will at once perceive that it presents a remarkable likeness to a vast hull turned keel uppermost. Until within the last dozen of years or so, there was not such a thing as a human residence upon this commanding and picturesque promontory, if we except a few straggling and primitive huts and cottages. Few and far between were the wreaths of household smoke which then curled from that lonely shore. Gradually, however, its capabilities as a site for the erection of “saut water” villas and cottages began to be appreciated. A nucleus, it was seen, was all that was required to render the new settlement a great success. This was at length formed, and from year to year the line of edifices has gone on extending, until now the entire promontory may be almost said to be girdled round about with tidy and commodious structures, some of which are architectural studies of great beauty. With the increase of population, there has been, of course, an increase of comforts and conveniences. Establishments for the supply of domestic necessaries, &c., were speedily opened; a wharf, as we have remarked, was erected; and an excellent drive was formed, extending from Kilmun to Ardentinny on Lochlong. Provision was also made for the education of the young, and more recently, we understand, a movement for the erection of a place of worship has been instituted. One disadvantage, it has been remarked, pertains to the locality. Owing to the abruptness with which the adjacent heights rise from the shore, the recreative propensities of the residents are somewhat “cabined, cribbed, confined.” They may stroll along the beach, or range at will the coppices with which it is so plenteously fringed, but unless they choose to scale the mountain’s brow, there is no other scope for outdoor exercise. To those who have sufficient muscular vigour and energy of lung, however, we should say, "By all means get up in the world, and place your foot upon the crest of Finnartmore.” The toil, after all, is but a trifle, and the reward will abundantly recompense any exertion that is required. From this spot, although of no great elevation, a most extensive range of scenery is commanded. At the spectator’s feet, as it were, extends the spacious Frith, which reveals in succession, as he turns himself around, all its islands and its lochs, all its towns and its villages, all its mountains and its plains, from the brown rock of Dumbarton to 'where Ailsa Craig rises in the blue of distance,

“Far ont upon the melanchply main."

Among the landmarks which we have ourselves distinguished in this spacious range of landscape were, to the eastward, St. Rollox, that monarch among chimneys, Dalnottar, Dun-glass, and the bold bluff of Dumbuck at the opening of the Frith, with the Braes of Gleniffer and the ridge that separates Kilmalcolm from the outer world. To the northward, Ben-lomond, Benvenue, and the Cobbler, with many a kindred peak, and many an intervening ridge and ravine. To the southward the Renfrewshire and the Ayrshire ranges of hills, tame in comparison to those of the Highlands, but infinitely more fertile, and to the eye a world more fair. In the far west the soul-filling heights of Arran; within the middle distance the gentler slopes of Bute and the twin Cumbraes. Such are a few of the detached features in this noble picture, or rather gallery of pictures, as we should have said. Let those who would study it in all its details take our advice and master the summit of Finnartmore.

The Holy Loch, or, as it is called in the Celtic language, Loch Seante, is of much more limited extent than any of the other lochs which the Clyde sends out 44 into the bowels of the land.” Compared with it the Gareloch seems an immense sheet of water, and Lochlong assumes the dimensions of a sea. The Holy Loch, indeed, is, properly speaking, rather a deep bay than a loeh. At the mouth it is about one mile in breadth, while its extreme length at full water is only about two miles. When the tide is out it is considerably less, as the water recedes for a considerable distance, leaving a large portion of the bottom, consisting of a nasty, slimy shingle, intermingled with patches of sand, exposed. It is said, indeed, that the loch is slowly but surely becoming filled up, as the mountain streams at its head are constantly carrying down fresh contributions of sand to its bosom, which the current from without keeps as constantly silting up into additional beaches and banks. If such Is really the case, the process must be somewhat of the slowest; so that our friends on either side the inlet need be under no immediate apprehension of losing their “saut water” privileges. There is still a capital anchorage in sixteen or seventeen fathoms of water, and we may very safely allow the Eachaig and his mischievous mountain assistants a few centuries to effect the obliteration of the devoted loch. Meanwhile the shingly beach alluded to affords a spacious feeding-ground to innumerable aquatic birds, and the observant ornithologist, amidst the curlews, and herons, and sea-mews, by which the spot is frequented, may occasionally obtain a glimpse of some more rare and interesting visitants.

Leaving Strone, the steamer at once pushes into the bosom of the loch. On the one side we have the lofty ridge of Finnartmore—lofty, but somewhat monotonous—with its brown and moorish wastes above, and its verdant slopes below, gradually growing greener and more green as they descend, until they are lost in those shadowy masses of foliage immediately above the shore—in the recesses of which are the nestling-places of many a lovely home— many a sweet retirement from the cares and bustles of the world. On the other or Dunoon side, we have the fine lands of Hafton, with their stately mansion (the seat of James Hunter, Esq.), and the old Lazaretto, where ships from “foreign parts” used to ride quarantine ere they were permitted to ascend the Clyde. An extensive range of stores were erected here by government for the reception of infected goods, with houses for the superintendent and his assistants. Quarantine now-a-days has fallen into disrepute, and the establishment is consequently deserted. It is a lovely spot, and lovely is the scenery around, but we doubt not that many a weather-beaten tar has cursed the locality as to him a dreary prison, and longed in bitterness of heart for the hour when the vessel might be permitted to depart. The neighbourhood of the old Lazaretto would make a capital site for a watering village, and we observe there are already symptoms of its being appropriated to some such purpose. Here and there along the shore we can mark a cottage or two arising. Farther on is the village of Sandbank, nicely situated on the Hafton shore. Few of the cottages are of particular mark or likelihood, but the village has a splendid look-out upon the loch, with Kilmun on the opposite side, and the heaven-kissing hills beyond. In a landward direction, also, the residents of Sandbank have abundant scope for rural rambles and recreations. There are several beautiful sylvan walks in the neighbourhood. One of the most delightful of these is that which leads by the little fresh water lake of Dunloskin to Dunoon. Every turn of the way, only some three miles altogether, is a new pleasure to the lover of landscape, but to our mind the sweetest spot of all is that solitary little tarn—the favourite home of the water lilies. Never shall we forget the thrill of delight which we experienced when its bosom of bloom burst upon our gaze. We had many a time and oft previously met with the white water lily (nymph&a alba) in the quiet waters of some solitary moorland or glen; we had met them in small tufts and patches, and we had admired them exceedingly; but at Dunloskin there were absolutely acres of the surface covered with the broad, glossy, heart-shaped leaves, and the snow-white blossoms of the plant. So wondrous to our eyes was the sight that Tor a time we stood entranced, rejoicing in quietness in nature’s joy. Verily Dunloskin is the favourite haunt of the plant, and he who would see—

“The water lily to the light
Her chalice rear of stiver bright,”

must make a pilgrimage to its sedgy shore. Apart from these, its silver trappings, the loch has but few attractions to the casual eye. It is of no great extent, and the margin all round is densely fringed with reeds, bulrushes, and other rank species of aquatic vegetation, in which the water hen that tenant of solitary waters, lives, moves, and has its being unmolested.

Another walk in the vicinity of Sandbank is to the site of an ancient Cromlech, which lurks somewhere in the woods, but which we, with all our sagacity, were unable to discover. For the information of others, however, we may mention what we have since learned, namely, that the Cromlech is situated on the farm of Ardnadam, that the ancient Druid oaks still screen the spot, and that the pillars and topstone still occupy their proper positions. This interesting relic of the far past was, according to popular tradition, the grave of a king, who was named after Adam, the progenitor of our race. The name of the farm on which the structure stands (Ardnadam) was undoubtedly so called in accordance with the tradition. Be that as it may, certain sacrilegious people determined, a number of years ago, to ascertain whether it was really a burying-place or not. There were doleful prognostications of the results in the neighbouring village, which was then but the nucleus of what it has since become. In spite of these the ground was opened, when it was immediately discovered that no burial could have taken place there, as the subsoil had evidently never been disturbed before. The stones have been re-erected, and are now considered to be the rude fragments of a Druidical altar. The superstitious feeling which prompted the villagers to augur evil from the desecration of the spot—a feeling handed down from age to age—has probably tended to the preservation of the relic. Would that a similar feeling had prevailed in other localities!

But there is metal even more attractive to the antiquarian at Kilmun, on the opposite shore, to which we now proceed, and where we propose to linger for a while. Kilmun is charmingly situated on the eastern margin of the Holy Loch, near the shingly curve in which it finds its termination. Until recently it consisted principally of an ancient ecclesiastical edifice, part of which is still extant, and a few humble Highland cottages, most of which, with a fine old baronial house in the vicinity, are still in existence. The modern village, a somewhat straggling, and by no means very picturesque congregation of houses, was commenced in 1829 by David Napier, Esq., Glasgow. This gentleman, struck with the capabilities which the locality presented for sub-feuing, purchased an extensive feu of lands along the shore from the late General Campbell, of Monzie, and immediately commenced building. His example has been since extensively followed, and the process is still going on. No general plan, however, seems to have been laid down as in other quarters, and the consequence is a certain degree of Tegularity, both as regards the laying out of the grounds and the architectural designs of the respective edifices, a circumstance which undoubtedly detracts somewhat from the amenity of the locality. Still Kilmun is a most pleasant place of habitation, and when seen from the water, with its handsome new church and spire, and its hoary church tower of other days, and its time-honoured and stately rows of trees, it presents, on the whole, a delicious picture of quietude and retirement. Then it possesses many conveniences both for the resident and occasional visitant. It has its churches and its schools, its comfortable inn and its commodious wharf; while, above and beyond all other watering-places of the Clyde, it commands facilities for walking or driving, and in affording convenient outlets into the wildest magnificence of nature to the lover of the picturesque. The drive along the shores of the Holy Loch and Lochlong to Ardintinny, and home by Glenfinnart and Locheck, is one of the finest which it is possible to conceive. It is a perfect circle of the beautiful, comprising all that is loveliest in Lowland, all that is most sublime in Highland scenery. The Garelochhead is beautiful—that of Lochlong, with its peerless Cobbler, impressive in the extreme. Lochgoilhead also is rich in wild and romantic scenery; but, to our mind, the head of the Holy Loch surpasses them one and all in its command of nature's wildest grandeur. Three mighty mountain glens here converge and send down their tributary streams to the bosom of the loch—three vast and yawning glens, each flanked with a rugged and towering mountain range, here open their ponderous jaws sublime, and invite the wanderer into three separate regions of the wonderful. There is first the valley of the Eck, with its many-winding stream, leading through many a sweet and sylvan nook to the loch of the same name—a thing of beauty in its own way unexcelled—and from thence to Strachur and Lochfine. Then there is Glenmessen—with its fierce mountain torrent chafing into forms the most fantastic the everlasting rocks —and its terrible boundaries of huge overhanging peaks and ridges—the home of solitude, sublimity, and awe. Beyond, but still tributary to the Holy Loch, is Glenlean, a wild and sterile gulf, but leading through its dim and shadowy, recesses to the softer beauties which encircle the head of Loehridden. Three noble portals are they, and each easily accessible to the denizen of Kilmun. Then, if the said deni* zen is a man of aspiring tastes—if he has a spirit which revels in the immense—let him ascend Benmore—the ancient deer forest of Argyle, and quite adjacent to the village—and assuredly he shall be contented if extent and beauty of prospect can afford content. If, on the other hand, he is a lover of nature’s softer and more, serene beauties, let him seek the sylvan glades and the green fields of Hafton (on the farther shore), and he must be fastidious indeed if he finds not satisfaction. But why thus dilate upon the charms of this delicious, this well-known neighbourhood? It is, in brief, a perfect centre of landscape beauty, and any one who says the reverse is—not a man according to our taste.

The Holy Loch!—Why is this particular branch of the Frith called the Holy Loch? Are not all the branches equally holy? By no means, gentle reader, and we shall give you the reason why. Once upon a time, the good people of Glasgow—always addicted to commerce—sent out a vessel for a cargo to the East. It wasn’t fbr wines, or currants, or dates, or coffees, or fine linens that the vessel went. In the days of Saint Mungo the Glasgow people didn’t care for any of those vain luxuries. This distinguished saint, according to the most trustworthy of the monkish annalists, determined to found a cathedral on the banks of the famous Molendinar (the predecessor of our present “Hie Kirk”), and that it might be rendered all the more sacred, he thought it desirable that the foundation should be laid upon a deposit of soil from the Holy Land. For this purpose the ship was chartered, and in due time despatched. Under the influence of favouring gales—the saints sometimes managed the bellows in those days—the voyage out was a great success. A cargo of first-class Jerusalem day and gravel was taken on board, and the gallant ship set out on her return to the Clyde. All went right until she arrived in the Frith, when a storm arose, and she was driven into this very loch—no holier than its neighbours then—where she became an utter wreck. The precious cargo was partly engulfed in the waves (which thus became sacred), but the remainder having been saved, was deposited on the very spot where the Church of Kilmun was afterwards erected. The loch is therefore indebted for its name, and Kilmun indebted for its church—at least, so say our authorities—to the unhappy stranding of Saint Mungo’s devoted vessel. Let us hope that the loss was either wholly or in part covered by insurance.

Such is one of the traditionary stories of the origin of the ecclesiastical establishment of Kilmun. But there is another, and perhaps quite as probable a tradition^—namely, that a holy man named St. Munde or St. Mun took up his residence, and built a chapel at this spot. According to the supporters of this theory, the word Kilmun simply signifies the cell or chapel of the venerable Mun. Of the life, actions, or character of this personage—if such there really was—we must, with all humility, confess ourselves to be really ignorant. Our acquaintance with Butler’s invaluable Lives of the Saints is, we are ashamed to say, somewhat of the slightest, and therefore it is quite possible that we may have overlooked even greater names in the calendar than that of our sainted countryman. We can scarcely agree, however, with the Rev. Dr. M‘Kay, late minister of Dunoon and Kilmun, who attempted to ignore the existence of the saint altogether. The rev. doctor, who evidently had but a small degree of reverence for Romish saints in general, affected to consider St. Mun as a mere myth, and even talked sneeringly of a Glasgow steamer which bore the name. At the same time he attempted to put an etymological extinguisher upon the ancient patriarch. Denying the ordinary derivation of the term Kilmun, Dr. M‘Kay says, M in Gaelic it is invariably pronounced cill-a-mhuna.1' u Muna or munadhhe continues, u in that language signifies instruction or teaching, and by common figure of speech, learning; and the word muin, to teach or instruct, in still used in versions of our Gaelic psalmody.” u Cill-h-mhuna,” he concludes, "therefore, Anglice, Kilmun; Latinh, cella doctrinarium, the sacred place of learning or instruction, may be considered the real signification of the name.” In this ingenious manner the rev. doctor attempts to dispose of poor St. Mun. We must leave our readers to decide whether u the attempt and not the deed confounds the doctor,” or whether we have hitherto been giving “ to an airy nothing a local habitation’’ at Kilmun.

“We come like shadows, so depart.’*

Other writers, we may add, speak with every confidence of the personal existence of St. Mun, although with commendable prudence, they generally refrain from quoting their authorities. Camerarius, an old writer, gives St. Mundus a high character, and asserts, that by his numerous miracles he had become famous all over the province of Argyle, where many churches and monasteries had been erected to his memory. Dr. Smith says St. Munna was one of the most eminent of the disciples of St. Columbus; while Archdall asserts that St. Mun had one hundred and fifty disciples in his own train, and was altogether a very renowned personage. Some idea of the value of these accounts may be formed when we mention that Camerarius makes his death occur in \A.D. 692, while Archdall sets down the same event as having occurred in 634—the former also makes him a native of Scotland, while the latter ascribes his origin to a neighbouring isle.

One thing is certain, that from a very early age Kilmun has been the site of an ecclesiastical establishment—a monastery or church, and burying ground, both of which have always been popularly associated with the memory of a St. Mun. At what period this institution was established history has failed to record. The first authentic notice that we have of Kilmun is in a charter, dated 4th August, 1442, whereby Sir Colin Campbell of Lochaweside—ancestor of the Argyle family—engages to found a collegiate church at Kilmun, “in honorem Sancti Mundi Abbatis, and pro salute animfe quondam Marjories conjugis mece et modernce consortis mece, et quondam celestmi Jilii mei primogeniti.” This establishment, which was duly erected for the “soul’s health” of the donor and his family, accommodated a provost and six prebendaries, and must have formed a handsome addition to the previously existing institution. The charter of the foundation was confirmed at Perth by James ll., on the 12th of May, 1450. Nor was this the only grant of the Argyle family to the Abbey of Kilmun. A gift to the church was then a golden key to the gates of bliss hereafter, and the successive chiefs of the Campbell race seem to have been well aware of the fact. From the chartulary of Paisley Abbey (with which the institution was ecclesiastically associated) we learn that Kilmun obtained from time to time a variety of valuable grants from the family, and that ultimately it became a place of considerable importance. What the structure may have been in its days of pride we know not. The plan, the size, and the architectural style of the church are lost. Only one crumbling fragment remains. This is the church tower—a dreary-looking structure of a quadrangular form immediately adjacent to the modern place of worship, which was erected so recently as 1816. The design of the tower is somewhat plain, but it contains the vestiges of a stair of very peculiar and ingenious construction. The entire structure is fast falling into decay, but as the poet has said,—

“I do love these ancient rains;
We never tread upon them, but we set
Our foot upon some reverend history;
And questionless, here, in these open courts—
Which now lie naked to the injuries
Of stormy weather—some men may be Interred
Who loved the church so well, and gave so largely to
They thought it should have canopied their bones
Till doomsday. But all things have an end."

From an early period the Church of Kilmun has beep the burial-place of the now ducal family of Argyle. When yet the Lamonts were lords of Cowal, and the Campbells were simply lairds of Lochaweside, the first of the race was, as a matter of favour, permitted a resting place at this spot. From an old Gaelic rhyme, it appears that a scion of the Lochawo family, having died in the low country, was, at the request of his sire, allowed the privilege of a grave in the churchyard. According to the composition alluded to, “the great Lamont of all Cowal,in consideration of present necessity—a snow-storm prevailing at the time, and preventing the transport of the body to its native district—conceded the boon desired by the knight of Lochawe. Afterwards, when the Campbells became lords of Dunoon, Kilmun became the family place of sepulture. The place of interment was for centuries within the ancient church, and the only access to it was through the body of the edifice. At length, in 1793 or 1794, the present vault—a plain, unostentatious structure, adjacent to the modern church—was erected. This has ever since continued to be the favourite repository of the ducal dust. The entrance to the vault is by a doorway entering from the church-yard, on either side of which there is a small Gothic window. The place has a weary and woe-begone look, and at the time of our visit, it is securely boarded up. In former times the prying stranger was occasionally permitted a peep into the interior, but this is now strictly forbidden. The place has been described, however, by one who was privileged to enter the mansion of the mighty dead. He says,—w On entering, there appears on either hand a broad dais, covered with large stone slabs, and about three feet in height, which extends the whole length of the sepulchre, and on which are laid the coffins, five in number, and containing the ashes of four dukes and one duchess. Upon a lower and narrower dais, formed by a niche in the wall, that runs across between the church and the sepulchre, repose, side by side, the statues of a knight and a lady. The warrior lies armed eap-a-pie, with a huge sword by his side, while above him is a boar’s head (the armorial emblem of the family) divided into two parts, and also a number of pieces of rusty armour, such as iron beavers, war gloves, swords,” &c. Such is the interior of the last home of the proud dukes of Argyle,—

“See yonder hallowed fane: the pious work
Of names once famed, now dubious or forgot,
And bailed midst the wreck of things that were;
There lie interred the more illustrious dead.”

Adjacent to the church, and extending from it towards the head of the loch, is a fine old avenue of stately trees—plane and lime—harmonizing beautifully with the shattered tower of other days, and reminding the visitor of the grandeur that is gone. Tall, stalwart, and majestic, they heave their leafy arms on high—huge and shadowy masses of foliage, which cast below u a dim religious light,” which recalls to mind the solemnity of a vast cathedral. No lover of sylvan beauty and grace should fail to visit the leafy choir of Kilmun, and to doff his hat as he listens to the anthems of the breeze among the overhanging boughs and the rustling masses of green.

If Kilmun has lost her abbots and her prebendaries, her monks and her priests, she still retains a specimen of the genus hermit—almost as great a curiosity in those days of railways and steamers. On hearing of this worthy, as every one is sure to do who visits the locality, we immediately determined to pay a visit to the hermitage, repeating to ourselves as we went upon our pilgrimage the lines of Parnell:—

“Far in a wild, unknown to public view,
From youth to age a reverend hermit grew;
The to088 his bed, the cave his humble cell,
His food the fruits, his drink the crystal well
Kemote from men, with Heaven he spent his days;
Prayer all his business, all his pleasure praise."

Unlike his poetical prototype, we found that the hermit of Kilmun had pitched his tent at a very short distance from the haunts of men—in fact, within half-a-mile or so of the village, and quite close to the highway to Locheck. A curious enough abode is that of the hermit—a tiny Highland hut or bothy, flanked by two circular patches of garden ground, densely hedged in by a thicket of thorns and whins and hollies, and other repulsive bushes. On our approach we trod lightly, lest we might disturb his hermitship at his devotions. We might have saved ourselves the trouble. Duncan, as we have since learned, is none of your praying hermits. In fact, we guessed as much when we observed with fear and trembling the following tremendous announcement, stuck up in the vicinity of the hermitage,—

TAKE NOTICE!
NO ADMITTANCE!!
BEWARE OF FIRE AND SWORD!!!

Here was an end to our poetic reverie. We found, however, that admittance could be easily obtained; that the hermit was quite a man of the world; that he had a keen eye to number one; and that for "a consideration” something better even than a cup from the crystal well could be procured. We cannot say that we were particularly edified by the conversation of this solitary man—this star that dwells apart; and we came away, it must be admitted, with rather an indifferent opinion of the genus to which he belongs, and not at all sorry that the Queen had civilly returned, the other year, a couple of goats which Duncan had most loyally and disinterestedly, we cannot doubt, sent for her acceptation. The age is emphatically a selfish one, and even the hermit’s cell, we are afraid, is not altogether free from the besetting sin.

Returning to Kilmun, we find the steamer roaring at the wharf, and, stepping on board, we are soon steaming our way to the sunny shores of Dunoon.


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