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Summer at the Lake of Monteith
Cardross—Its Mosses—Their Age and Treasure


The ancient and fine estate of Cardross is beautifully situated in the centre of that most charming of all charming districts, the district of Monteith. On either side lies stretched the luxuriant plains, teeming with Nature’s glories, and hallowed by historical and traditional associations. Around it the hills rise, the glens dip deep, lakes repose, and rivers roll their dark waters. The serpentine Forth pursues its sluggish course for miles through and around its southern marches, the silvery waters of the Lake of Monteith, and the historic Goodie, wash its northern boundaries, while the heath-capped Grampians throw their shadows over it.

The historical and traditionary associations that linger around its ancient walls, where sage kings sat and youthful queens frolicked; its noble park, with its grand old trees, spreading wide their hoary arms, and rearing high their antlered heads; its well-kept garden, clad with down and rose; and the waveless loch, where the swan with zephyr-ruffled wing floats proudly along, and the heron, springing from the reedy inlet, tend to make it, to the historian, the traditionist, and Nature’s worshipper, one of the most interesting estates in the kingdom.

Cardross, in Gaelic, signifies “The Fort on the Promontory.” It was originally a Roman station, and on each side of the mansion-house can yet be seen the old Roman pathway. During the great historic period, Cardross was the haunt of many of the greatest men in Scottish history. King Robert Bruce spent some time here, between the time of his coronation and the battle of Bannockburn; and one account says he slept in the house the night previous to his great victory. Some historians state also that the renowned king died here; but that event, I am inclined to think, happened at Cardross in Dumbartonshire. Bruce’s sword is still carefully preserved in Cardross house, and this extraordinary weapon is traditionally stated to have been left by Bruce on one of his visits. Whether or not it belonged to the hero-king can never be correctly known, but there can be little doubt that it is a sword of the period. It measures over all 6 feet 2½ inches, blade 4 feet 7½ inches, breadth at hilt 2½ inches, and weighs no less than 10 lbs.

George Buchanan, the great Scottish historian, spent his boyhood on the estate of Cardross. George’s father having died in early life, the family was taken in charge by James Heriot, their maternal uncle, who leased two farms from the earl of Mar for behoof of the widow and family. The lease, dated and signed, is still preserved among the Cardross papers. John, seventh Earl of Mar, along with James VI., was afterwards educated by George Buchanan. Rather curious that the King of Scotland and an earl’s son should be educated by an orphan boy, the son of a tenant on Cardross estate! Queen Mary was a frequent visitor at the house, during the time she resided with her guardians on the island of Inchmahome.

Cardross was garrisoned by a detachment of Cromwell’s army after the battle of Aberfoyle, in 1653; and here General Monk issued an order to the Earl of Monteith to cut down the woods of the Glashard, as they gave great protection to the royalists, and also to raise men to guard the passes of Monteith and Aberfoyle. He collected from his estate “forty-two” Grahams, who were known in the district as “the forty-twa,” or “the black watch.” The men were never disbanded, and this was the original foundation of the now distinguished “forty-second” regiment. The original order is still preserved among the Monteith papers at Gartmore house, and is signed George Monk.

The renowned Marquis of Montrose garrisoned Cardross for a short period, and an interesting original letter of his was discovered by the present proprietor, when searching for material for this article. “Prince Charlie,” during the rebellion of 1745, and while on his route from the north to Stirling, called at what was then known as the “Ferry Inn,” and partook of some refreshment. Near this was the once celebrated “Gout Well,” the waters of which were famed for curing the gout. During the palmy days of this inn, the well was regularly visited by numbers of cripples who were affected with that disease; but whether the “impotent folk” drank of the well, or waited for the “moving of the waters,” I have been unable to determine. One thing, however, seems certain, that after the present bridge was built, and the inn demolished, believers in its virtue became “small by degrees and beautifully less,” and now the crystal spring gurgles over the primrose bank unheeded and unknown.

Cardross is also celebrated as being the traditional scene of the old “tragical ballad” of “Sir James the Rose” and “Matilda Erskine.” The tragedy is supposed to have been enacted some short time after the battle of Flodden, and during the time the estate was held by the Buchan family.

About thirty years ago, when levelling the ground for an artificial flower garden, at the south-west corner of the mansion-house, a very considerable quantity of human bones were discovered, and only a very short space below the surface. Whether or not these were the remains of Matilda and her lovers, is now beyond being set at rest, but, all things considered, they certainly give a strong colouring to the old and interesting tradition.

On Cardross estate lies a large track of that remarkable deposit called “Flanders Moss,” which extends from the village of Gartmore to a point opposite the village of Thornhill, embracing in extent some thousands of acres, and varying from five to twenty feet in depth. Graham of Duchray, writing in the year 1724, says the moss extended from the hill of Gartmore to “within two or three miles of Stirling, on both sides of the Forth.” The persevering industry, however, of a century and a half since the laird of Duchray wrote, and the last fifty years of that period— fraught with all that science and modern ingenuity could invent—have told its wonders, as the beautiful and fertile Carse of Stirling now shows. On Cardross alone several hundred acres of the very finest land have been reclaimed, now yielding to the landlord from one to two pounds an acre, whereas his ancestors failed to realise as many farthings.

The whole level tract of country extending from Stirling to the heath-clad Lennox moors, was no doubt at one period a large inland lake, and that lake the last declining remnant of a great ice-bound sea, which has left its traces in the grooved and smooth surface of the rocks of our hills and lake shores. That this district of country was covered with water, and navigable by the early inhabitants, is abundantly proved by the discoveries of the remains of ancient canoes. Some time ago a very perfect specimen of a canoe was discovered under the moss beneath the village of Gart-more; and in 1724 there was, at the Firhill of Gartmore, a stone with a large ring in it-—at that time called the “Clachnan Loang,” or the “Ship or Boat Stone”—and traditionally said to have been used for the purpose of boats or ships making fast.

The vulgar traditions regarding this moss, its name and origin, are rather amusing. One of these is, that it floated from Flanders, and hence the name; another is, that the country originally paid taxes to Denmark for the use of the moss, and it was only got quit of through the great sagacity of George Buchanan, the historian, threatening the authorities there, that if the tax was not cancelled the moss would be immediately returned. Whether the great historian meant to do this by bringing on a “roarin’ spate,” I have been unable to determine. Many and conflicting are the theories propounded regarding the age, origin, and composition of this moss. One sort of popular idea is, that it is the wreck of ages, gathered by overflowing rivers, and washed down by storms from the hills and higher grounds, and lodged in the valleys beneath. My own opinion, however, is of a different character; and from a somewhat intimate knowledge of the district, borne out by minute inquiries of those who have spent long and laborious lives in clearing away the different mosses of the country, I have formed the following conclusions on the matter; but should any of my readers hold opposite views I shall be glad to hear them explained:—

Considering, then, that this level tract was originally an inland lake, after the gradual subsidence of the water the land would become partially drained, by the water sinking into natural ruts in the clay, and which in a great measure would pave the way for the great and rapid growth of heavy timber which appears to have immediately followed. This timber comprises oak, fir, birch, and hazel—chiefly the former as large wood, and the latter as underwood. On the farm of Parks, on the estate of Cardross, there seems to have been a considerable quantity of fir. Previous to the invasion of Scotland by the Romans, this formed part of the great “Caledonian Forest,” and was cut down by the Roman army to drive the Caledonians from their retreats. This is abundantly proved by the Roman roads found on the clay, and in the neighbourhood of their camps. Many of the tree roots bear the marks of the axe as complete as they did nearly two thousand years ago, and considerable numbers the marks of fire; while some have been discovered around which were small stones, as if children had been at play. In consequence of the great masses of cut timber, and the natural softness of the soil, there could be no cultivation, if such a thing at that early period existed in Scotland; but, sheltered by the fallen trees, and nurtured by a salubrious climate, vegetation grew rank and strong; and as the seasons came and went, and years rolled on, the tall coarse grass sprung up, grew, and died, and as lair after lair fell and rotted, it added, however slowly, so much to the gradually increasing substance; and now, after the lapse of about two thousand years, we have that great mass of decayed vegetable matter called “moss.”

To a sharp and experienced eye, each year’s growth can be distinctly traced for several feet. At my request, a friend of mine made two different calculations of its apparent age, and the system followed was this:—He first took a part of the moss of an average depth, and carefully examined the lairs as far as possible; then, if a certain number of feet or inches gave so many years’ growths, how many did the whole depth give? The first result was something more than eighteen hundred years, the second about twenty-one.

The “water of Guidi,” now vulgarly called Goodie, which flows out of the Lake of Monteith, and washes the northern boundary of this moss, joins the Forth a little beyond its present termination, was anciently a lake, and in many old writs is styled the “Loch of Guidi,” and on its banks stood the ancient Pictish city “Guidi.” Here, in the eighth century, the Piets were attacked and routed by the Scots. The Scots in their turn were overpowered, and their country overrun by the Danes, who very naturally would introduce Danish names and customs, and there can be no doubt but the name “Flanders’ Moss” is a corruption of some Danish word with which we are not familiar. The reverend editor of the “ History of Stirlingshire,” says it derives its name from the Danish “Flyn,” a flat—“Flynder,” a flat fish, &c.

Many interesting and valuable relics have been discovered under this moss. Graham of Duchray says, there was found in the year 1723, in the Forth, near Cardross, a large bone, between six and seven feet long, one foot three inches thick, and one foot one inch broad. He also mentions the discovery of some immense horns—so large that a farmer used one of them as a foot-bridge over a syvre between his barn and byre. Two years ago, when cutting the moss to the east of the house of Cardross, what appeared, to be the skeleton of a horse was brought to light, and at a depth of about fourteen feet below the surface. The bones were completely “mossised,” being perfectly black, and were nearly all destroyed before being observed, part of the skull alone having been saved, which is now in the possession of a gentleman of antiquarian tastes. Beside the skeleton lay an entire hazel wand, which crumbled away on being exposed to the air. The fact of the stick would suggest the idea that man was present at the death.- Not long ago part of an untanned cow-hide, with portions of hair adhering, was found on the clay beneath the moss on the estate of Cardross.

The most important and interesting discovery, however, made in this moss, was the laying bare, a few years ago, in the “Colniemoien” portion of it, of an ancient native encampment, made after the present gipsy fashion. The different articles were found on the clay soil underneath several feet of solid moss, the ribs of the tent or camp being still fixed in the clay. Their number could be counted, and the round shape of the abode easily distinguished. Adjoining the encampment were a considerable quantity of bones completely blackened, and which crumbled away on their exposure. Near it also was found an iron hammer, with a round ring at the end for attaching to the girdle: hammers of this kind were carried for close-quarter fighting. In the immediate neighbourhood of the encampment were discovered several pieces of peculiarly dressed wood, which, when fitted together, made a complete and ingenious armchair. Whether this was a Roman or native Caledonian “tent ” it is now impossible to tell. I should think, however, it is more likely to have been the abode for the time being of a native family, and possibly attacked by invaders. The fact of the bones would suggest this, they having all the appearance of human bones—in all likelihood the remains of the inhabitants of the “tent.” On the other hand, the make of the hammer would lead us to believe that it had belonged to a party considerably advanced in science, above what the natives of that early period could be expected to be. A great number of Roman roads have been laid bare from time to time under this moss; these, however, are generally observed in the vicinity of their “peels” or encampments, and frequently passing between one camp and another, and across the low marshes between two higher grounds. The most perfect of these, in this quarter, stretches from a camp which stood on the farm of East Garden, under the moss, on Parks farm, and crosses the Forth below the house of Cardross.


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