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History of the Town of Greenock
Part 14


The walks about the place are unequalled in the vicinity of any other town in Europe, and they may be had of any length. The traveller may have mountain saunterings or level rides in different directions, and without almost ever losing sight of at least some peep of the beautiful and picturesque scenery of the Clyde.

Although from no point in the neighbourhood can the stranger be disappointed of a charming prospect, perhaps the best is from the bank of the Shaws Water Canal, which has a most inviting level foot-path, all along from its source at Loch Thom (or what has been called the little Caspian) to its termination. From it any person of taste, should he walk along it, will derive a high degree of gratification, he may ascend by the zig-zag line given to it by the Deling Burn, for the accommodation of the mill-falls; and, as he moves upward, and is made acquainted with the whole design, he will become in some measure interested in the speculation, and not withhold his tribute of admiration of the suggestion, that first led to the accomplishment of so magnificent an undertaking by enterprising individuals, in concert with the lord of the manor.

Who could have supposed that a water, apparently not at all having such an elevation, and stealing along, in its lonely course, through a mossy wild, at the back of a rugged range of hills, scarcely known but to the solitary angler, could be brought to glide six or seven miles gently along their edge, and to pour down, from its heathery elevation of 600 feet, so many, powerful and foaming cascades?

View of Greenock

When he has got above the mill stations, and entered upon the path, the fascinating panorama will then be seen spread out before him in all its varied grandeur, and cannot fail to arrest his attention. On east, his eye will be carried far away up through the channel of the Clyde, over all landscape,till it is lost in the aerial perspective of the sky. Sweeping it nearer on side, the broken descent of the laud in many which are enriched with woods and gentlemen's villas, slopes to the edge of the river, and offers many beautiful sketches to the pencil. Port-Glasgow and Greenock on side, and Dumbuck, with the ancient town and fortress of Dumbarton, on the other, will particularly attract his notice. But, as he carries the eye northward, it is met by the endings of the Grampian chain, where Benlomond and Benledi, with others less high, become conspicuous objects, and give a peculiar interest to the scene. As he moves westward again, the tumultuous grandeur of the Argyleshire mountains present themselves in all their highland majesty. here and there, the different lochs are seen shooting away up among them, and from their shining surfaces reflect their dark shadows, which, to those unaccustomed to such romantic prospects, must be peculiarly pleasing. As he turns southward, the land is seen to flatten in many parts, and to break into points and islands, diversifying the picture. All the way downward, the maid, it indulging in reflections on active pursuits of man, will find much entertainment, on so many vessels, of all sizes, pursuing their various courses on the water, from above Dumbarton till where Ailsa is seen far, far away, like a solitary watch-tower guarding the entrance of the Clyde; and here and there the steam-vessels make their

"Circling paddles ply,
And send their smoky pennants through the sky."

A very agreeable and picturesque walk turns to the right at the low Innerkip toll-bar; and, after ascending to the elevation above Caddel Hill, the residence of Alexander Thomson, Esq., it commands a beautiful prospect. Immediately below, and on a fine rising ground, stands Mr. Heron's Observatory, which was erected in 1819, for the purpose of accurately finding the time. This was in some measure indispensable; for as chronometers were becoming more generally in use among the Clyde navigators than heretofore, it consequently became a matter of importance to have a suitable building, with proper instruments, in order that the rate of going of these valuable machines might be determined in the most perfect manner. Considering this erection to be an object of public utility, and intimately connected with the Commercial interests of the port, the late Sir Michael Shaw Stewart granted to Mr. Heron a suitable piece of ground, free of the customary fen-duty, and subject to only a small rent.

The building is of an oblong octagonal form, and has two apartments. The eastern one is the observing-room; in the middle of which stands one of the pillars that formerly supported the ancient West Quay Shade, but which now carries a transit instrument. Besides the transit and a circle—both made by that unrivalled artist, Troughton—the observing- room contains a sidereal regulator ; a three-and-a-half feet achromatic, and a six feet Newtonian telescope; a cornet-glass, wind-dial, and all the usual appurtenances of a properly furnished observatory. The regulator has an escapement of a peculiar construction, which, as it offers up resistance to the ascent of the pendulum, may be reckoned perfectly detached. Our celebrated townsman, James Watt, when he last visited Greenock, examined it, and pronounced it to be different from any he had seen. The western apartment is occupied as a library and sitting-room.

The building was scarcely completed when the comet of 1819, which excited so much attention, appeared. Observations were made here on it, as early as at the great observatories of Europe. These were continued as long as it was visible, and the results appeared from time to time in our Local Journal. Since then, the ordinary work of the observatory has been carried on with little interruption.

It has been acknowledged by every traveller who has visited Greenock, that for varied beauty of scenery it is almost unparalleled. There is not a height in the suburbs that does not afford a panoramic view of such a character as to call forth the admiration of every one not absolutely dead to the lovely picturing of nature. Accordingly, the observatory, being placed on an eminence at the south-west quarter of the town, commands a prospect in the hi-hest degree interesting; and of which some idea may be formed front annexed view, taken by an artist not insensible to the beauty which he has delineated.

On leaving the observatory, and walking along the ridge of bill till above Gourock, the prospect widens and varies at every half mile. It is never seen to such advantage as at the close of the when the descending sun brightens and gilds the ridges of hill on the opposite side, as with a stream of gold. You are particularly struck with the pointed hill known as Benarthur, or the Cobbler, which rises near to Arrochar; and, stretching away further to the west, the Duke's Bowling-green is exceedingly marked. But the most majestic of all is the high and noble- looking bill which divides Lochgoil from Lochlong. This hill can be seen at an immense distance, and can be distinctly observed from Arthur's Seat and Edinburgh Castle. Looking farther down, the shores of Cowal, with their heath-brown hills, darken the atmosphere; while Dunoon and Bute are distinctly visible. But the prospect—which is here seen in all the variety of mountain, lake, and river—is at once bounded by the huge hills of Arran, which seem standing in sullen grandeur, gazing on the beautiful scene.

Another delightful and no less varied walk, commences about the spot where the frontispiece, or eastern view of Greenock, is taken. In ascending this hill, in almost a direct line, all that we have already stated can also be seen. But the prospect becomes more ample, as regards the scenes up the Clyde. On reaching Corlic top, the view is truly enchanting; and though only 800 feet above the level of the sea, gives an exceedingly fine outline of the hill of Ardmore, Gairloch, Lochlong, and all the surrounding objects. Going farther back, there is a hill, the top of which is called Prospect Point; and from this elevation portions of the shires of Lanark, Dumbarton, Stirling Argyle, Ayr, and Bute, while the waters of Loch Lomond, and part of one of her many fine islands, can be seen. To direct the traveller to every object worthy of regard would be tedious; and he must be cold of soul who can range along the hills of Greenock, with- out being more than struck with the glorious sight which everywhere here opens upon him. The lover of nature's beauties has every where the sublime and beautiful; and on looking down at the bottom of the hill towards the south-west, Loch Thom displays its infant pride, as if it had been one of those lakes which nature planted in its "bed of hill."

It is said that these hills abound with copper ore and at a place called the Cove, a gentleman of science commenced, at an early period, the searching for this and other precious metals, which he declared the hill to abound with. About 1781, the labourers who were collecting the various springs reached this place, and discovered several implements hitherto unknown, and which were seen by the late Mr. Crawford of Hillend. It is said that government interfered, and put a stop to the work. Tradition also says, that there is a subterranean passage made, and by search will be found to exist, under the upper terrace, where Watt's monument is to be fixed, communicating to that shaft or mine. A company, at a later period, began the search for copper ore ; but this was abandoned, from the scanty supplies which they got.

In 1707 the first search for coal took place, and about five years ago various bores were made to a considerable depth; but the chance of success was so very unfavourable, that it was abandoned. In regard to minerals, the Rev. Mr. A. Reid, in his ''Statistical Account," published in 1793, says,-

"With respect to fossils, the parish of Greenock, as far as has been hitherto discovered, affords none that are any way remarkable. Along the coast, freestone, mostly of a red colour, and sometimes beautifully variegated with regular spots of a light grey colour, occasionally intermixed with a great variety of what is called sea-pebble, of different shapes and hues, is most common. The strata of this stone on the shore, and a great way above it, as if the vaults of caverns below them had some time fidled, are very irregular, scarcely ever horizontal, but dipping or inclining at different angles in every direction, and chiefly towards the south. Limestone, though much needed for building, and improvement of coarse stiff grounds, has only been of late discovered, and but in small quantities of sand is of the best quality, being mixed with a considerable quantity of sand. Farther search, it is to be hoped, will be rewarded with better success. In the steep banks of some of the numerous rivulets from the lulls, and in a thick bed of schistus, these appeals a thin scam of it, divided into pieces about the size of a man's head, and of excellent quality. These, as they fall, (for the expense of ground and labour would far exceed their value,) are carefully collected, and used with good effect by the attentive farmer.

Whether it would be advisable to make trial for coal in any part of the parish, those skilled in that business will be best able to determine. From the vast quantity used in Greenock and Port-Glasgow, and annually exported by the merchants of both places, a mass of that necessary commodity would, it is evident, be a source of great wealth to the proprietor, and a very great benefit to the inhabitants of these towns, and the places adjacent. Iii digging pretty deep wells, &c., there have occurred strata of earth, clay mixed with shells, sea sand, gravel, freestone, whin, &c., but no appearance hitherto of that valuable fossil. The hills, for the most part, seem to be a mass of whin, very compact and solid in some parts; ill others, especially toward their summits, chiruly and friable. In not a few places, the rocks seem once to have been in a state of fusion, and loose stones scattered here and there, exhibit so much the appearance of the cinders of a smithy furnace, that there can be little doubt of their having undergone, some time or other, the action of fire. 'What minerals the Greenock hills may contain, is not known. The deep chasms made in them by sundry rivulets, which, alter heavy rains, descend in torrents, have been carefully examined. In the drought of summer, the loose stones, pebbles, and sand, in the channel of these streams, have been examined by the writer of this sketch; but excepting ironstone of a poor quality, which is frequently found, and a little copper rarely in freestone, no metallic substance has been hitherto discovered."

Of the soil he also observes :-

"The soil, close upon the shore, is, in general, very light, sandy, and full or gravel, requiting frequent showers to produce tolerable pasture. After rest, however, and the aid of a little manure in favourable seasons, sea ware, for instance, of which from time to time, by strong westerly and northerly gales, there is no small quantity thrown on the shore, it produces very good crops of oats and barley; and (which annually becomes a great object of culture) large quantities of potatoes of the best quality. In the ascent, to a considerable distance from the flat ground on the shore, there occur soils of various kinds, earth, clay, till, &c. Farther up, and towards the summit of the hills seen from the shore, the soil for the most part is thin, in some places mossy ; the bare rocks here and there appearing. On the other side of these hills, except a few cultivated spots in the ascent to and on the banks of Grife, heath, commonly tall, and a coarse benty grass prevail."

Since the period this was written, labour has certainly done much for the soil. We have as beautiful and fertile spots as can be found any where; while the specimens of flowers, fruits, &c., as reared in the open air, and exhibited at the horticultural societies, are not only nearly as early as other places, but of equal qualitv and beautv.—Mr. Reid goes on to state, that:-

"The uncultivated part of the parish affords pasture for black cattle and sheep, and abounds with the different sorts of game common in this part of the country. In severe and continued frosts, vast flocks of wild ducks repair to the frith for their subsistence, and in snow, sometimes large flights of rooks frequent the shore. The food of the former is long grass, for which they dive to a considerable depth; of the latter, wilks or periwinkles, which, having raised about fifty feet, they let fall among Stones, stooping instantly after their prey. If the shell is not broke, they lift it again and again. Their, toil is amazing, and their gain very small, where there is as much wind as carries the wilk out of its perpendicular direction. Frauds in this business, as well as in that of building their nests, are attempted among them, which, when discovered, meet with instant and condign punishment.

"To this, and other hints of natural curiosities in the parish, given above, several others might be added. from the scooping of the rocks, for instance, a good way above high water mark, the fine polish of the gravel, and shells of the same kind with those which are at this time found on the shore, it is evident that the sea has greatly receded. The contexture of' sea-pebbles, as they are called, which are scattered on some parts of the shore, and some pretty large blocks of greyish whin, scarcely yielding to any force but that of gunpowder, and in texture perfectly resembling Shakespeare's 'unwedgeable and gnarled oak,' it will not be easy to account from the principles of any of those theories of the earth, which in succession have been, with too much confidence, ushered into the world. Though some of the springs, with which the Greenock hills abound, are, in some degree, impregnated with iron, in general they emit the purest water, which is collected into sundry reservoirs, and thence conducted, in leaden pipes, to the different parts of the town. In widening the crevices of the rocks, from which the water issues, one is surprised to observe sometimes ten or a dozen flags of different sizes, and of a dark colour, forced into day by the increased stream. Whether they were natives of the place from whence they came, entered in their tadpole state, or soon after, it is certain, that if the opening had not been enlarged, they could not have gone out; and it is remarkable, a circumstance on which one might moralize, that all of theta make the utmost effort to return to their cold dark dungeon."

The communication which Greenock had with other places, till about 1812, was with sailing packets and coaches. Six coaches used to run regularly between Greenock and Glasgow, independent of the tedious passage by covered boats, called "fly-boats;" but which used often to occupy a day and a half in what is now done by steam in little more than two hours, since the introduction of steam-boats, the first of which, the Comet, appeared oil Clyde in 1812. This was the first built in the kingdom, and plied regularly between Glasgow and Greenock. The person who built this boat was Henry Bell, who, we are happy to state, has at length been rewarded according to his merits, by a pension from government, as well as private donations. The steam-boats which now ply upon the Clyde are numerous ; and some of them built by our ship-carpenters here are truly beautiful models. They, as well as our ships, are admired wherever they go, for the fine taste which has planned and executed them. The largest steam-vessel built, and certainly the most beautiful, was the United Kingdom we have already said she was launched from Messrs. Robert Steele & Co.'s building-yard. The next in size was The Chieftain, built by R. & A. Carsewell. It was from this port that time first steam-vessels which navigated the open sea between Dublin and Holyhead, were fitted out, and subsequently those which run betwixt the Clyde and Mersey. Steam-vessels leave our harbours regularly for Dublin, Liverpool, Belfast, and Derry, independent of those which call at the intermediate ports. In 1827 the number which plied was estimated at about sixty, and in 1829 they certainly have not decreased.


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