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Byways of Scottish Story
The Tale of a Quiet Strath


HARDLY is there an acre of all broad Scotland that has not been the scene of some incident of tragedy or heroism, hardly a foot of earth that has not echoed at some time to the drums and tramplings of past centuries. One has but to read a little, and remember, and down the narrow glens and across the peaceful fields, where the coin is stooked to-day, he will see once more the marching of armed men, and hear again the clamour and the battle-cry that at some time or other have made the spot historic.

The shores of Loch Lomond have probably attracted less attention from antiquarians than any district of the West of Scotland, yet they are rich enough in diverse associations to furnish a long chapter of most varied interest. Centuries before the clan feuds of Macgregors and Colquhouns, of Macfarlanes and Buchanans, made these shores notorious, Haco, the 'Norse king, drew his boats across the isthmus from Arrochar, and swept the loch sides and the islands, where the inhabitants of the hills had taken refuge, with ruthless slaughter and fire. And thee crossing of the loch in a single boat that "wald bot thresum flit" by the fugitive Bruce and his company at a critical period of their fortunes forms one of the most picturesque incidents in the life of the hero-king. Interest also of another sort is to be found in the story of the Fairy Loch among the hills above Inveruglas, a very pretty example of the elfin lore of the Highlands. The "good people," it seems, had for years acted as dyers to the clansmen there, never failing to produce the colour required in the material left out over night to their operations. At last, however, they were insulted by the demand of some freakish person to dye the fleece of a black sheep white; upon which they cast their dye-stuffs into the mountain torn, abandoning their kindly service, and imparting to the waters of the torn the lovely colour of transparent green which is its characteristic to the present day.On the south shore of Loch Lomond, in the short distance between Balloch and the Endrick's mouth, the memories are most various, and they possess the additional advantage of descending in a chain to modern times.

The Earls of Lennox of Bruce's time and earlier had their chief stronghold at Cotter in the eastern end of the strath, and their great Hill of Justice, still rising there, with its heading-pit and gallowsstone, must itself hold the ashes of many a tale. And high on the lonely moors behind, a landmark known as the Common Kist, with its four stone sides open now to the shy, had once, no doubt, either as a treasure cache or a chieftain's battle-grave, a story Human enough. But dramatic memories, more definite and detailed, still live in the tradition of  the district. To this shore belongs a story of Highland second sight, not generally known, which affords one of the best instances of the exercise of that mysterious faculty, and imbues with uncanny interest a house still standing there.

It appears that after the collapse of the Jacobite rebellion of 1745 the Marquis of Tullibardine, elder brother of the Duke of Athole, was flying from the Government troops. Being in great straits, and hard pressed by his pursuers, he bethought himself of Buchanan of the Ross, in whose neighbourhood here lie had arrived, and upon whose former friendship he felt assured he might. safely count. Accordingly lie knocked at the door of the Ross, informed the laird of his trouble, and begged the favour of a temporary asylum. "Be at ease in your mind," said Buchanan; "there is danger perhaps in harbouring a fugitive rebel, but the loyalty of the Ross is beyond suspicion, and under this roof you are safe." And carrying his guest to a room upstairs, lie for greater safety locked him in. Whether Buchanan intended treachery from the first is uncertain, and the motive which induced him to break the law of hospitality-perhaps the most sacred obligation of the Highlander also is unknown. But tradition bears that he rode straight way to Dunbarton, and informed the officer in command there of his valuable capture. That officer, with a small detachment of men, at once proceeded to the Ross, and surprising Tullibardine in his fancied security, forthwith made him prisoner. The captive was being dragged over the threshold of the house, when he suddenly perceived what had happened. He beheld his host standing guiltily by, and making no attempt to help him. Upon this, fired with indignation at the base deception by which he had been betrayed, he was wrapt out of himself, and, his eye darkening with occult vision as he regarded his false friend, he pronounced the ominous words, "There'll be Murrays on the braes of Athole when there's ne'er a Buchanan at the Ross." This has been known ever since in the neighbourhood as "the Murray's curse," and whatever may be the credit accorded to the Highland faculty of which it is a traditional instance, there is no room whatever for doubt that its meaning has been realised. Scarcely a generation had passed away when in an hour of wrath the male line of the Ross came miserably to an end. The story runs that Buchanan, as the result of a family quarrel, was mounting his horse on the lawn with the intention of riding to Edinburgh to disinherit his daughter by acknowledging the child of a previous Scots marriage, when the animal shied, and he broke his neck on the "louping-on stane." A lawsuit immediately ensued, with the result that the estate was divided. The action of the "curse," however, was apparently not vet exhausted. One of the advocates-Hector Macdonald, famous as the friend of Sir Walter Scott who had taken a leading part in the case, married the heiress, and became proprietor of the Ross; but though he had a numerous family of sons and daughters, the sons every one died in Youth, and a second time the estate passed to other hands through marriage.

Another tragic, though less uncanny, memory of the neighbourhood is its connection with the ill-fated expedition of the Earl of Argyle in 1685. In opposition to the Romanising policy of James II., and presuming upon the unpopularity of that monarch, the Puke of Monmouth raised the standard of insurrection on the Dorset coast. At the same time Argyle made a descent in the Protestant interest upon the North. Landing at Eilean Greig, a small islet within his own territories in the Kyles of Bute, and gathering a considerable force of men, he had marched eastwards in the hope of reaching Glasgow, and establishing himself there at the headquarters of the Covenanting interest. The time, however, was ill-chosen. The king was not vet sufficiently alienated from the goodwill of the people to render a rising feasible, and, suffering misfortune after misfortune, Argyle found himself at every step entangled deeper in the mesh of difficulties. In anticipation of his landing, all the considerable gentry of his clan, upon whom he might have relied for help, had been thrown into prison, his aims and ammunition were cut off, and his provisions seized; and while two ships of war cruised off the coast to intercept his retreat, a third part of the militia of the kingdom, numbering 7000 men, was marching to oppose him. Pushing forward amid all these discouragements, he had crossed Lochlong and Gareloch - the intervening arms of the sea-and fording the Water of Leven at Balloch, had marched along the south shore of Lochlomond, when he received a serious check. Coming in the late afternoon to a burn which runs there across the road, he saw beyond, amid the turf enclosures of Kilmaronock village, the. red coats of the Government troops. As these appeared to be in force a council of war was held. Argyle himself was in favour of directing an attack at once, and had this been done there is reason to believe, from the vigour of the Highlanders and the indifferent discipline of the forces opposed to them, that the onset would have been successful. It was at least the only hope for the insurgents. A successful encounter then would have rallied the country to their colours, as again and again, forty years earlier, success had rallied followers in the brilliant and desperate enterprises of Montrose. But, as Macaulay asks, who ever heard of an army proving successful that was commanded by a committee in the field? Argyle's counsel was overborne. Shirking an immediate encounter, it was resolved, by a night march over the moors, to avoid coming to a direct issue with the enemy till an accession to the ranks had been secured at Glasgow. Accordingly, as soon as night fell, the insurgents collected the peats which were plentiful at the place, and kindling large camp fires to deceive the Government troops, set off to the right across the hills. It happened, however, to be a very black night, and amid the bogs and the darkness many of the disheartened clansmen, now doubting the success of the enterprise, took occasion to break off and make for home, so that, when the rendezvous at Old Kilpatrick on the Clyde was reached next morning, Argyle found his forces reduced to 500 men. With so small a number it was impossible to proceed, so, disbanding his array on the spot, he gave up the expedition. Making his own way in disguise across the river, he was attacked presently by two labourers in the grounds of Blythswood; and, betraying himself by the exclamation "Unhappy Argyle," was seized, carried to Edinburgh, tried, and executed. It is the picture of this nobleman on the night before his execution that is familiar under the title of "The Last Sleep of Argyle."

In the days of James V. the neighbourhood played a part in a famous romance. Sir David Lyndsay tells the tale in his poem of "Squyer Meldrum." At that time Boturich Castle and lands belonged to the Haldanes of Gleneagles. Haldane himself had been slain at Flodden, and Marion, his fair and amorous widow, was dallying with Meldrum in her castle of Gleneagles itself, when news arrived that the wild Macfarlanes had seized Boturich on the lochside here and were plundering its lands. Upon this, Meldrum at once undertook to drive them out, and hastening westward did so in a manner worthy of the knight adventurer he was. Mill of Haldane, a hamlet in the district, still commemorates these old landlords.

A still earlier episode of the old and evil days may be recalled for its connection with this quiet corner of the country.

One of the first objects catching the eye of the tourist as he sails up from the mouth of the Leven is a modern castle among the trees on the steep lochside looking northward. Below it, in the haugh by the side of the Leven, as it quits the loch, is yet to be seen the moat of the original Balloch Castle, an ancient residence of the Lords of Lennox; and on the south end of Inch Murren, the island opposite, may be seen the ivied rain of another fortalice of the family. It was in Balloch Castle that Isabella, Duchess of Albany, was staying when, on the 24th of May, 1424, she was made the recipient of terrible news; and it was to the keep opposite that she presently retired to mourn the downfall of her family, and to drag forth her sorrowful life upon a moiety of her once great estates, granted her by the consideration of the king. The tragedy which had overtaken her race was probably well deserved, but it came upon her not less cruelly. The incident has already been referred to in these pages. Robert, Duke of Albany, had been as able as he was unscrupulous, and after securing the seizure of Prince Tames at sea by the English, an event which broke the heart of old King Robert III., he had hastened to secure himself in the regency by affording the nobles every licence at the expense of law and order, and by bribing them with great concessions out of the revenues of the Crown. The seeds of anarchy sown in this way bore their natural fruit after the Regent's death, when the reins of Government had been grasped by the weaker hands of his son, Duke Murdoch; and when at last James I., small thanks to his ruling cousin, obtained his release and came north with his bride to assume the sceptre, he found the Crown all but bankrupt, and the kingdom a field of rapine, the sons of the Regent Murdoch being themselves among the worst aggressors. Thereupon the king is said to have sworn an oath that, though lie himself should lead the life of a dog, he would make the key keep the castle and the bush the cow throughout Scotland. For eight months Tames kept his own counsel, enacting wise laws and silently informing himself of the state of the kingdom. Then the blow suddenly fell. While Parliament was sitting at Perth in March, 1424, arrest was unexpectedly made of Murdoch, Duke, of Albany, his two sons, Walter and Alexander Stewart, and his father-in-law, the Earl of Lennox. In the same hour James took possession of Falkland Castle, and the fortified Palace of Doune, in the latter of which, Albany's favourite residence, the Regent's -wife was found and made prisoner. Though confined at first in the castle of Tantallon, this unfortunate lady must very shortly have been set at liberty, for she was at Balloch Castle when, two months later, the news of her kinsmen's fate reached her. Their trials took place before the king and a jury of twenty-one of the highest nobles of the realm at Stirling, on the 24th and 25th of May, and, being found guilty by their peers, they were led forth successively to the heading hill by the castle wall, and suffered the last penalty under the executioner's axe. Albany and his two sons are said to have been men of gigantic stature, and "of so noble a presence that it was impossible to look upon them without an involuntary feeling of admiration," while Lennox, then in his eightieth year, commanded veneration by his dignity and his white hairs. If the fate of these nobles, who, notwithstanding their faults, were favourites with the people, excited deep feelings of compassion and sympathy in the breasts of the spectators, what must have been the emotions of the hapless widow when the dismayed messenger, riding westward, brought to the gates of Balloch Castle tidings of the fate of her father, her husband, and her two noble sons? Peace be with her, poor lady! Inch Murren is consecrated by her tears.

If it were desirable to go further back, something might be discovered of the life of another lady who found an asylum on an island off the south shore. Kentigerna, mother of St. Fillan, renouncing the world, retired to Inch Cailleach, and there established a convent, of which the ruin-mounds may yet be seen in the little island graveyard, where the clansmen still bury their dead. And to that early time also belongs the visit of St. Ronan, whose residence has given name not only to the parish here, but to Kilmarnock in Ayrshire, and to Kilmaronaig on Loch Etive. These, however, are incidents of which the details are vague and distant.

A warmer interest belongs to the neighbourhood on account of its connection-hitherto little known-with certain incidents in the life of Sir Walter Scott. The owner of Ross Priory in the first decade of this century was, as has been said, the Edinburgh advocate Hector Macdonald, and on their journey to and from Inveraray the Lords of Circuit found entertainment here. In this way, and upon more personal grounds, the author of "Waverley" came to be a frequent guest at the Ross. The influence of his acquaintance with the district is to be traced distinctly in his writings. Especially is this the case in "The Lady of the Lake" and in "Rob Roy." In the former, it will be remembered, the Seer of Clan Alpin wraps himself for occult purposes in the hide of the white bull of Gallingad, which is vigorously described:

His hide was snow, his horns were dark,
His red eye glowed like fiery spark;

and it bespeaks the painstaking efforts made by Scott to keep true to local fact that the farm of Gallingad, in the parish, has always been famous for its breed of cattle. The boat scene, also, in "Rob Roy" obviously owes its verisimilitude to the author's acquaintance with this neighbourhood, the Bailie and young Osbaldistone being landed on this shore on their return journey by the Macgregor boatmen. But the most interesting point in connection with Scott's visits to the neighbourhood is an incident which, occurring there, led, among others, to the popular identification of the author of the Waverley Novels. The story throws considerable light upon Scott's marvellous faculty for acquiring characteristic local folk-lore and turning it to account. -Upon one occasion, while the authorship of "Waverley" was still matter of conjecture, among the guests invited to meet the poet at Ross Priory was the minister of the parish of Balfron. Buchlyvie was at that time included in the charge of the Balfron minister, and after dinner, the conversation turning upon the ancient hospitable duties of the Scottish houses of quality before the institution of separate hostelries, that gentleman repeated a local rhyme relating to this part of his district. The lines, which will be familiar to most readers, ran:

Baron o' Buchlyvie,
May the foul fiend drive ye,
And a' to pieces rive ye,
For building sic a toun,
Where there's neither horse meat,
Nor man's meat,
Nor a chair to sit donn.

Scott's attention was caught in a moment. "Would you mind repeating the lines?" he asked, and the minister, no doubt glad to have interested so distinguished an antiquary, did so, whereupon the subject dropped. But when "Rob Roy" appeared, some time afterwards, the worthy cleric's surmises may be imagined when he discovered his local folk-rhyme forming the heading of the twenty-fourth chapter of the romance.

Such are some of the memories which belong to a quiet strath - a district which makes no appearance in the guide-books, and which, upon first acquaintance, promises to furnish nothing beyond the most commonplace human interest. With experience of this and other similar neighbourhoods it does not appear too much to say that in all Scotland there is no corner so obscure as not to yield to a little research some story "of old, unhappy, far-off things," of the joys and sorrows, the eager ambitions, bold ventures, and keen despair which make up the thrilling, drama of the past.


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