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
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
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