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The History of Stirlingshire
Chapter XXXIII – Hills


The Campsie Hills have taken their name from the place where the village of Old Campsie now stands; and, therefore, were probably so called only in the later times of Gaelic dialogue south of the Forth. They are also known as the Campsie Fells. Fell is, by Dr. Jamieson, defined "a precipitous rock, a rocky hill." He remarks that Suidas uses the Greek phelleis for mountainous places. Hardinge, about 1460, calls Dundaff hill "the fell" above "the foord of Frew," and speaks of

"the high Ochhilles,
Which some men call montaignes, and some felles."

The general surface of the Campsie district may, in the strictest language, be described as highly undulated, and these undulations follow each other in regular succession. They are of great length from south to north, and nearly all run in that direction. The general contour of these lengthened hills, individually, although somewhat uncommon, is not peculiar to this part of the country. Each hill has a considerable degree of curvature, the convex of which is uniformly presented to the west; while the central part of that curve forms the highest point of their elevation, and they gradually slope towards the extremity of the segments which their curvatures form. Upon their eastern sides, they rise with an equal acclivity of from 20 to 30 degrees; the rapidity of which, in some measure, diminishes as it approaches the summits, where they are somewhat roundbacked. Their central or highest points seldom or ever exceed an elevation of from 1200 to 1500 feet above the level of the sea; at which height their western faces generally become abrupt and broken, and continue to be precipitous for a considerable depth under the lip of the hill. They seldom show, however, more of the stratification than that of the trap, which in such situations evidently points out its strong tendency towards columnar form. At the bases of these precipices, a long and rapid slope of debris succeeds, which is frequently covered by vegetation. The troughs or hollows, between the undulations, generally form narrow dales or glens, but some few of them have a sufficient breadth to entitle them to the denomination of valleys. The most extended of these are the vales of Campsie and Fintry. Most prominent among the heights is a hill of somewhat conic appearance called the Meikle Bin. Situated a little to the south of the road which leads from Fintry to the Vale of Campsie, it towers above all the other heights of the district, and rises superior to them at least 300 feet. From its top, is one of the most extensive, beautiful, and variegated views in the country, part of fourteen, if not of sixteen counties, and perhaps one-half of Scotland, being at once under the eye. At a moderate calculation, the area of the whole view is said to be 12,000 miles.

As far as this tract of country has been dipped into, the geological materials of which it is formed are as follows: - A surface of vegetable soil; trap; sandstone; limestone; shale, or slate clay; blue clays of various tints and of various consistencies; bituminous shales; clay iron-ores, some of which are thinly stratified, and others are embedded in the shale in lenticular form; coal and clay marle; all of which have been arranged by nature in the order here given, from the surface soil downward.

The north side of Ben Lomond, like that of the west, is very steep – in one part, a dreadful precipice of more than 1,800 feet, and firm must be the nerve of him who can look down unmoved. The perpendicular height of the mountain above the surface of the lake is 3,240 feet, and the average height of the lake above the level of the sea 22 feet, which, added to the former height, gives the perpendicular altitude of the Ben, above the level of the sea, 3,262 feet. In height it is surpassed by other mountains; but the difference is more than compensated by the elegance of its insulated situation with regard to the neighbouring hills; its form being that of a huge truncated cone, and its appearance, from whatever part it is viewed, much more noble and magnificent than that of the other neighbouring mountains. Ben Lomond is chiefly composed of gneiss, or granite, interspersed with great quantities of quartz. The latter substance is found near the top, in immense masses, some of which weigh several tons. These appear like patches of snow upon the mountain, even when seen from Luss. Considerable quantities of micaccous schist, shining like silver beautifully undulated, and in some places imbedded with quartz, are also at the top, and many rocks towards the base are entirely composed of this substance. To the south, the ridge continues with the same characters along the eastern side of the loch, but nowhere rises into summits of distinguished height. One of these, which is of some elevation, is called Conic Hill, beyond which appears the Hill of Ardmore, the final termination of the chain.

The ascent to the top of Ben Lomond, directly west, is steep, but from the south it is more gradual, until near the top, and then it becomes more precipitous. The view from the summit is inconceivably interesting and grand. At the bottom is seen the beautiful lake, stretched out like a map, its islands having lost their rugged forms and appearing as flat substances amidst the bright expanse. The banks of the lake are at hand, ornamented with seats and cultivated grounds. Looking towards the east, the rich plains of Lothian and Stirlingshire are distinctly in sight. Casting the eye from thence to the south, and pursuing the view towards the east, the high grounds of Lanarkshire, the vales of Renfrewshire, with the firth of Clyde, and the wide Atlantic, with its islands, are clearly discerned; while the Isle of Man and the coast of Ireland blend as it were with the sky, being scarcely visible. But, to one unaccustomed to Highland scenery, the most striking view is undoubtedly on the north side, which may with truth be termed fearfully sublime. The eye, from where it first discovers the Ochil hills near the east, ranging along the north until it comes near the Western Ocean, sees nothing but mountain upon mountain, elevating their summits in almost every variety of shape.

The Alpine plants are found here. Amongst others, a species of the bramble, the cloud-berry (rubus chamaemorus), is got in great profusion. The blossom is a purplish white. The fruit is a bunch of red berries, ripe in July, and well flavoured. The Laplanders store it in the snow, and preserve it from year to year, eating it with the reindeer’s milk; and it sometimes graces the festive board of the Scottish Highlander. But there are also the Silene acaulis, or moss catch-fly; the Sibbaldia procumbens, or procumbent silver-weed; the Rhodiala rosea, the Azalea procumbens, the Trientalis (in the weeds overhanging the lake), and the statice. Vegetables abounding below, assume here a new habit – the Epilobium, the Alchemilla or lady’s mantle, the saxifrages, and the Cerastium. Near the bottom of the mountain two plants are found which catch flies, and kill the insects, by closing their leaves upon them – the Drosera rotundifolia, or round-leafed sundew, and the Drosera angelica, or great sundew.

On the precipitous side of Ben Lomond, where, ascending from the south, the stranger would imagine there can be no footing, a safe path descends by a deep ravine, leading to the farm-house of Comar, and thence to Aberfoyle. Along the eastern shore of the loch, and the western side of the Ben, or what is called Craigrostan, a narrow Alpine road conducts through scenery of gigantic features. Here tradition, countenanced by Barbour, has assigned to Robert Bruce a cave, in which he spent a night when passing from Strathfillan after the nearly fatal combat with MacDougal of Lorn. Here, too, a steep shelving rock is pointed out as "Rob Roy’s prison," where that Highland Laird is reported to have stowed such of his vassals as he had adjudged to durance. North of Craigrostan is what is said to have been his "Cave," in which he rendezvoused with his followers in the exploits attributed to him. Many tales, indeed, have been told of this unfortunate man, for which there is no evidence and no foundation. Of his cage, or prison, an anecdote is mentioned, for the veracity of which we do not pledge ourselves, but which we report as illustrative of the tradition, true or fabulous. One of his tenants had not paid his rent when it had become due. Rob, suspending him on a rope by the shoulders, let him down into the fastness. Having drawn him up at the end of twenty-four hours, he told him that, if he failed to pay by a particular time, he should draw him up by the neck.

That portion of the Ochils which extends into the parish of Alva, when seen at some distance from the south, appears to be one continued range, with little variation in height; but, as the mountain slopes towards the south, it is intersected by exceedingly deep and narrow glens. From this circumstance the foreground is divided into three separate hills, distinguished by the names of Wood Hill, Middle Hill, and West Hill of Alva. Wood Hill rises immediately from its base to the height of 1,620 feet, and continues still rising gradually for about two miles further north, until it reaches the top of Bencloch, or Bencleugh, the highest point of the Alva hills; and the summit of all the Ochils being, according to an observation 2,420 feet above the level of the river Devon, and 2,300 feet above the level of the Forth at Alva. The view from this summit is very extensive; but the Wood hill, the Middle, and the West hills are incomparably the most beautiful of the whole range, from Glen-Devon on the east, to their termination near the bridge of Alva on the west. They are not so steep, rugged, or inaccessible as those immediately westward in the parish of Logie, and they present a more regular, noble, and bold aspect than any of those that lie immediately on the east; besides which they are clothed with the richest verdure at all season, and produce grass of the finest quality and in the greatest variety. The summits of the central parts of the Ochils, particularly Bencleugh, are composed of granite, both red and grey, many varieties of which are extremely beautiful, and contain distinct crystals of black schorl.


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