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The Moor and the Loch
The Spirit of Glencroe


Who has not heard of the Pass of Glencroe? The hills rising perpendicularly on both sides, gray to the top with immense masses of rock, that look as if an infant's touch would roll them from their insecure basis. It was my hap to live for a summer close to this savage gorge. When the weather was dull and rainy and the clouds hung low upon the mountain-tops, the frowning grandeur of the scene could scarcely fail to depress the most buoyant spirits : and even when the day was fine and clear, a feeling of awe at least was inspired.

When I first came to the neighbourhood of Glencroe it was in early summer, and, of course, the Scotch mists were thick and frequent ; but, overlooking the greater angling attractions of Loch-Lomond and its neighbouring streams, I generally took advantage of the fine days to wander, fishing-rod in hand, up this lonely and favourite haunt, to the little moor loch at its head.

The "Lochan Rest," so called from being close to the top of the glen, where a stone is set up with the well-known inscription, reminding the weary wayfarer to "rest and be thankful," does not hold out many inducements for fishing. The trout, although well fed, and of a very uncommon colour, are not large ; and it is most probable that the "lochan," but for its situation, would have been seldom visited by me. After loitering up the glen, where was nothing to relieve the dreariness of the scene but the plaided shepherd, accompanied by his uncouth half wild-looking dog, I generally spent an hour or two in filling my creel, and then slowly retraced my steps. The lochan was immediately under one of the most stupendous precipices in the pass, round the base of which the angler must try his casts.

In desolate regions like this, where the silence is only interrupted by the hoarse croak of the raven, or some other equally wild inhabitant of the mountains, the slightest sound, which otherwise might pass unheeded, will often arrest the attention. Such was the case with me on my first excursion to Lochan Rest. While screwing together my fishing-rod, I heard a low and peculiar whistle from the precipice above. Fancying it might be some shepherd, I took little notice; but as the same strange call was repeated at intervals during the whole time I was fishing, my curiosity was somewhat excited ; I strained my eyes along the crags in every direction, but nothing was to be seen.

A few days after I again slung my fishing-basket on my shoulder for Lochan Rest, and I must confess that the invisible tenant of the cliff had some share in attracting me back so soon. Scarcely had I wet my line, when I heard the mysterious whistle, which continued as before until I left the loch. I tried to ascertain the exact spot from whence the sound proceeded, but was only the more baffled, as I had no doubt it was from a perpendicular and totally inaccessible rock. At last I became so accustomed to it, that I should as soon have expected to miss the trout from the loch as this wild note from the hill.

Summer was now advancing, and several engagements prevented my returning to the lochan during my residence in the neighbourhood; but about the same season two years after, when showing a friend some of our Highland scenery, amongst other places I took him to Glencroe, and, in walking past the little loch, I almost started when I heard the well-remembered whistle ! I had before given up hope of finding out the cause, and it had even occurred to me that it might possibly be some echo occasioned by the wind among the rocks. With this absurd solution I was fain to rest satisfied ; and it was only last spring, when passing a steep and craggy hill in Perthshire, that the true one was discovered. A small bird flew out before me, and, perching on a detached piece of rock, struck up its wild peculiar note. It was the Spirit of Glencroe ! With cautious steps I wound round the crag to get a nearer view of the bird, when I caught sight of its white breast, and, immediately detecting the rock-ousel, felt sorry that my charm dissolved.

I had once or twice in spring met with the rock-ousel on the moors, but had never heard it make any call beyond a harsh grating chirp.


The little incident mentioned above gave rise to the following stanzas, which I may be excused for inserting :

THE heather-bell was blooming fair,
And gaily waved the yellow broom,
And many a wild-flower bright and rare
Lent to the breeze its choice perfume.

But lonely, lonely was the scene,-
Grim rose the heights of dark Glencroe,
And, though the sunbeam smiled between,
They scarce returned a kindlier glow.

Above me frowned the jutting rock,
The wimpling burn beside me played;
Around me stared the mountain flock,
And asked - " Who dared their rights invade?"

A whistle strikes my startled ear !
A pipe of shrillest, wildest tone;
But human footstep, far or near,
None could I see - I stood alone !

Still and anon, with every breeze,
I caught that sound so strangely wild;
And who may tell what visions please
The wayward mood of Fancy's child ?

Oft I returned, when skies were fair,
To ply my fisher's task below,
And long the viewless tenant there
I named the Spirit of Glencroe !

Once more this thrilling call I heard,
As far I climb'd the misty hill;
Then past me flew a little bird,
With that same note so wild and shrill !

Spirit I deemed it long, and still,
With its white breast and airy form,
It sat like spirit of the hill,
Above the cloud, and mist, and storm !

There is a stone which marks Glencroe,
To weary travellers known the best;
It bids them, ere they further go,
Tarry a-while by Lochan Rest.

Hast thou no message, herald lone,
Perched on thy lofty turret-brow ?
"Rest and be thankful," says the stone,
Bird of the rocks ! what sayest thou ?

"Rest to the weary-rest for men
Through earth's dark pass worn wand'rers they -
Rest is the Spirit of our Glen,
But ah ! that rest lies far away !

"'T is far away, 't is far away !
Above my watch-tower lift your eyes ;
Rest, weary wand'rers, rest ye may,
But rest not till ye reach the skies !"


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