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Sketch Book of the North
Cadzow Forest

High on the edge of the crumbling cliff here, like the grey eyrie of some keen-winged falcon, hangs the ruined keep of Cadzow. Bowered and all but hidden by the leafy luxuriance of "the oak and the ash and the bonnie ivy-tree," with the Evan roaring down its rocky bed far below at the foot of the sheer precipice, there is enough left of this ancestral home of the Hamiltons to give some idea of its ancient strength. Perched where it was, unassailable on one side save by foes who had the gift of wings; on the other hand, the deep moss-grown moat and the massive remains of thick walls tell how secure a refuge it gave to its possessors. Secluded, too, in the depths of the old Caledonian forest, the fastness had endless facilities for secret communication and for safe hiding in case of necessity, and the deeds of its owners need have been subject to the curiosity of no prying eye. Who can tell what captives have languished in the dungeons into which now, at places through the broken arch, the sunshine makes its way? Birds have built their nests, and twitter joyously about their callow young, where once only the sighs of the prisoner were heard and the iron clank of his chain. Alas! he had not the linnet’s wing to fly out and speed away along these sunny woodland paths.

But not vindictive above their peers were the chiefs of the ancient race that held these baronies. Rather has the gleam of romance come here to lighten the records of their gloomy age. For it was within these walls, tradition says, that Queen Mary found an asylum upon the night following that of her escape from Loch Leven Castle—a tradition the more likely to be true since the Hamilton Palace of that day was but a rude square tower. And it is easy to imagine how in that sweet May morning, the second of her new-born liberty and of her fresh-reviving hopes, the eyes of the fair unfortunate Queen may have filled with tears of happiness as she gazed from this casement forth upon the green waving forests and the silver Evan in its gorge below, and heard in the courtyard and the woods behind the tramp of horses and the ring of arms. Alas! whatever her frailties, she suffered sorely for them. There are few perhaps whose errors lie so much at the door of circumstance. From the Rout of Solway, which heralded birth, to the last sad scene at Fotheringay, her life was a walk of tears; and the student of her reign is tempted to think that had she been a less lovable woman she might have been a more successful queen. That was the last gleam of sunshine in her life, the eleven days between Loch Leven and Langside. Short was the respite, but it must have been sweet, and doubtless these Hamiltons made chivalrous hosts. They fought for her gallantly at any rate, if in vain, for they were the foremost to rush against her enemies’ spears in that steep narrow lane at Langside.

And at last she rode away from this place, surrounded by a brave little troop of nobles, their armour glancing in the sun as they caracoled off along these grassy forest glades. Then amid the restored quiet, only the whisper of the woods about them and the murmur of the river far below, the women waited here, listening. Presently, sudden and ominous, they heard a sound in the distance— cannonading near Glasgow, ten miles away. The Queen had been intercepted on her journey to Dumbarton. There was not much of the sound, and it died feebly.

Hours afterwards, anxious waiting hours, down these forest avenues, slowly, with drooping crest and broken spear, came riding the lord of the castle, haggard, and almost alone. For of the gallant gentlemen who had followed him to Langside many had fallen upon the field, and the rest were scattered and fleeing for their lives. What sorrowings then for those who would never return must there have been within these walls! what aching hearts for those who had escaped! The smoke of the houses in Clydesdale, fired by the victorious army of the Regent, could almost be seen from here; and day after day news came of friends taken and friends in flight, until it was whispered that the Queen herself was a prisoner in the hands of the English Warden. A weary and anxious time it must have been; but the danger passed, and the hour of reprisal came.

Through these woods, according to the tradition preserved by Sir Walter Scott, on a January afternoon less than two years after the battle of Langside, a hunting-party was returning to the castle. Amid the fast-falling shadows of the winter day they were bringing home their quarry—the wild bull whose race still roams these glades—and the rest of the party were making merry over the success of their sport. There was the jingle, too, of hawk-bells, and the bark of hounds in leash. But their lord rode in front silent, with clenched hand and clouded brow. He had not forgotten the misfortune that had befallen his house, and news of a fresh insult had but lately quickened his anger over it. The estate of one of his kinsmen, Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh, had been confiscated to a favourite of the Regent, and the new possessor, it was said, had used his power with such severity, in turning out Bothwellhaugh’s wife and new-born infant on a freezing night, that the poor lady had become furiously mad. Brooding darkly and bitterly on these evils, the chief was drawing near the castle, when there was suddenly heard approaching the heavy gallop of a horse, and in another moment Bothwellhaugh sprang to the earth before him. His face was wild and pale, and his steed, bespattered with foam and blood, drooped its head in exhaustion. Vengeance swift and dire had fallen upon the Regent, and, twenty miles away, in Linhithgow Palace, the birth-place of the sister he had dethroned, he lay dying. It is for a higher Judge than man to say whether his death was that of a martyr or of a miscreant; but at the time there were not wanting those who held that Bothwellhaugh satisfied with one blow his own private feud and the wrath of Heaven over the distresses of the Queen. The brass match-lock, curiously enough a rude sort of rifle, with which the deed was done, lies yet in the palace of the Hamiltons.

Three hundred years ago and more it all happened, and the moss grows dark and velvety now on the ruined bridge over which once rang the hoofs of Queen Mary’s steed; but the grey and broken walls, silent amid the warm summer sunshine, recall these memories of the past. There could be no sweeter spot to linger near. Foamy branches of hawthorn in spring fill the air here with their fragrance; and in the woodland aisles lie fair beds of speedwell, blue as miniature lakes. Under the dry, crumbling banks, too, among tufts of delicate fern, are to be seen the misty, purple-flowering nettle and the soft green shoots of brier. Overhead, in summer luxuriance, spread the broad, palm-like fronds of the chestnut; close by, the soft greenery of the beech lets the tinted sunshine through; and amid them rises the dark and sombre pine. But, venerable above all, on these rolling forest lands, the shattered girth of many an ancient oak still witnesses to an age that may have seen the rites of the Druids. Monarchs of the primeval wilds, these gigantic trees, garlanded now with the green leaf of another year, need acres each for the spread of their mighty roots; while as withies in comparison are the cedars of a century.

And down these forest avenues, the home of his sires from immemorial time, where his hoof sinks deep in the primeval sward, and there is no rival to answer his hoarse bellow of defiance, comes the lordly Caledonian bull. Never yet has the race been tamed, and the cream-white hide and black muzzle, horn, and hoof bespeak the strain of its ancient blood. There is a popular belief, indeed, that when the white cattle become extinct the house of Hamilton will pass away. Here, then, is the forgotten solitude, where seldom along the grassy woodland ways comes the foot of the human wanderer, the mountain bull keeps guard with his herd over the scene of that old and sorrowful story.

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