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Summer at the Lake of Monteith

Inchmahome, the subject of the present volume, is a beautiful little island, of about five acres in extent, situated near the centre of the Lake of Monteith, beautifully-adorned with trees, and contains the ruins of one of the most ancient priories in Scotland. The Lake of Monteith is a beautiful sheet of water, near the south-western extremity of Perthshire. Situated in one of Scotland’s fairest vales, and adorned with three isolated islands, this charming lake becomes at once an object of placid beauty, surrounded by a touch of real grandeur. On the north, tower the heath-clad hills of Monteith, the home of the wild cat and the eagle—the abode of the wolf and wild boar of old—the hiding-place of the outlaw and war-chief of other days. Here the kilted warrior met his steel-clad foe; for,

“Of later fields of feud and fight,
When, pouring from their Highland height,
The Scottish clans, in headlong sway,
Had swept the scarlet ranks away;”

when the fern-covered rocks re-echoed with all the thunders of war—sounds long since chased away by the music of the herdsman’s pipe, or the song of the shepherd’s daughter. On the west, are the rugged passes and scattered crags of Aberfoyle, with the heath-capped hills of the country of Rob Roy. On the south, are the dark forests of Cardross, where the roe roams free and the ospray rears her young; and on the east, mansions dot its pebbled shores, with the lone country highway winding along the sandy beach, like a huge native adder in its coils, cooling its poisoned tongue in the silvery waters. Landing on Inchmahome, one hundred feet from the shore, the Priory looms before you in gloomy grandeur, the melancholy wreck of its former glory—hoary, holy pile, gray with age, crumbling to decay before Time’s withering hand, but still a monument of the zeal and industry of its early founders!

The eastern gable of the Priory is thirty feet wide and three storeys high, and is supported by strong buttresses. There' is one beautiful window in this portion of the building. It looks towards the lake, and the arches, five in number, are still standing.

The north wall is one hundred feet long, from the eastern gable to what is called the “Bell Tower,” and twenty-one feet again from the corner of the tower to the western gable. This wall has four windows; these, however, are of plain workmanship. The north door, situated near the centre of the building, is also of plain work. The holy water basin stood at the north corner of the entrance-hall, leading up towards the grand altar; and from this point there seems to have been a direct communication with the Nunnery, situated on a more southern portion of the Island, and it appears to have been arched over, as part of the arches still remain. The holy water basin was a beautiful relic of the past, and might long have remained to point the mind back to the days that are gone, had not an ignorant native taken it into his head that money was concealed below it, and smashed it to pieces. The marks of this murderous pick are still visible. This basin was hewn out of solid stone, beautifully ornamented; and, until recently destroyed, was as perfect as when it left the chisel, seven hundred years ago.

Between the corner, where stand the remains of the basin, and the “ Bell Tower,” there had originally been four arched gateways, complete trophies of the exquisite chisel of the mason of old. Two of these alone now remain, but are sufficient to convince us of their beautiful and delicate workmanship. An image, in a most entire state, stands on a broken arch near to the tower, and is said to represent St. Colmicus. This stone was found a few years ago, imbedded among the ruins, and placed in its present position by the proprietor.

The Bell Tower appears to have been of later construction than the Priory, as one of the aforementioned arches is completely covered by it, the tower having been built in its direct front. This building is twelve feet square inside, and is four storeys high. The top was reached by a winding stair; and, from the “Bellman’s window,” a fine view of lake and mountain scenery could be had. The lower portion was used by the last Earls as a dungeon.

The western gable is thirty feet wide; and the principal object of attraction is the main gateway, a perfect triumph of Gothic architecture, which displays, in a wonderful degree, the perfection of ancient masonic art. There is here an exhibition of masonic skill rarely to be met with, even in old monastic buildings. Being much exposed to the weather, however, the fine grooving and minute chisel work are slowly but surely crumbling away. The wall over the archway has been adorned with five images, but the ravages of time have very nearly defaced them. One or two of these are entirely worn off, but on the remainder, the faint outlines of a face can yet be traced. The doorway is twelve feet high and six feet wide; and, in our boyish days, some large trees had their roots on the ruined wall immediately above, and spread their gray antlers wide to the breeze, but these have been cut down to preserve the building. One large root still, like a mighty serpent, creeps among the aged stones, and hides its head in waving ferns.

A considerable portion of the south wall has succumbed to time, and has fallen down several feet. This is much to be regretted, as it gives a sort of ragged appearance to the otherwise entire building. There have been four arched windows in this portion of the building. Two of these, however, have been thrown down, but the remaining two prove that they were moulded by the same cunning hand that adorned other parts of this ancient edifice.

The choir of the church has long been used as a burying-ground, probably for five or six hundred years; and here repose the dust of earls and chiefs of clans, and men who, in days long gone by, had measured lances on the hillside, when clan met clan in deadly feud. We enter the “lonely biggin’,” and, as the massive gate reels back on its hinges, ravens croak and owls flap their wings. Hush, ye tenants of the air! ye disturb the slumbers of the “ mighty dead.” We step lightly, for we are treading on the dust of heroes of other days. It requires no marble slab on the ruined wall to tell of your ancient glory: the dark and misty track of five hundred years has failed to efface it—the memory of the Stewart, the Drummond, and De Graeme can never perish! Here, below each moss-covered stone, are men of fame and graves of historic renown. Before us, in “sculptured stone,” arm in am with his Countess, rests the hero of Largs; on our left, ar the graves of the Grahams of Gartur, Phaedal, Rednock, Leechtown, and Soyock; on our right, the Grahams of Gartmore, Glenny, Mondhuie; and, close to the north wall, sleep the founders of the ducal house of Drummond, the descendants of the Hanoverian King. And here too (but, dear reader, only whisper it!) rest the ashes of Sir John Menteith, the betrayer of Wallace; but all trace of his grave has been lost—in fact, wilfully forgotten.

A few yards south of the Priory stands the burying vault of the last Earls of Menteith and Airth. This has been a two-storey building, with arched vaults, the latter being seated round with hewn stone. There are two very entire windows in this building, the one of three arches, the other of two. The entrance to the vault was by a grand arched hall, one hundred feet long, and led. in from the west. On each side of the gateway stood the crests of the Earls of Menteith and Airth.

Adjoining the aforementioned vault, and on the south side, stand the ruins of a large nunnery, said to be the oldest building on the island. It measures nearly one hundred feet long, and the lower storey has been arched over. One of the apartments, the kitchen, is still standing —the large chimney and fireplace being very entire. The windings of a stair which has reached to some high portion of the building can also be traced.

On the south-western portion of the island, and surrounded by a broken-down wall, is the original flower garden of the Earls of Menteith. This plot of ground is thirty-five yards square, and in the centre stands a fine old boxwood tree, said to have been planted by Queen Mary. Notwithstanding its having weathered the storm of ages, it is in a fine healthy and growing state. This tree measures upwards of three feet in circumference, and has beautifully spread branches.

On a gentle rising knoll, at the western side of the aforementioned flower-plot, stands what is called “Queen Mary’s Bower,” said to have been planted by her own tiny hand; and such a spot could only be chosen by a Queen. This most interesting little spot measures thirty-three yards round the outside, and was originally adorned with a row of boxwood trees, planted at regular intervals, with a thorn in the centre; but through neglect, the plun-

This building is traditionally called “ The Nunnery,” but for what reason I cannot discover, there being no note in history that there had ever been a nunnery or nuns on the island. Graham of Duchray says it was the “dwellings of the churchmen.” dering of tourists, and the blasts of three hundred years, only five of those hallowed relics of the past wave their green heads over the ancient playground of the Royal Maiden. Several years ago, the thorn succumbed to the gale, but happily a tender shoot sprung from the torn roots, and now stands, like a young queen, on the spot where its parent stood of old. A neat modern railing now secures this sacred spot from profane hands, and a row of young boxwood from the parent stems grows green around it. We linger long near this ancient bower, the only living emblem of a long unhappy past; for our fancy delights to roam amid such scenes, and wander back to the time

When monarchs, far from din of court,
Did to thy fairy shades resort;
And maiden queens, with joyous smile,
Sported through the sylvan isle.

A gentle eminence, on the south-eastern corner of the island, bears the name of the “ Nuns’ Hill;” and on this knoll, it is said, the nuns used to disport themselves, and gather pebbles on the shore, during the intervals of their holy functions. A communication from the Nunnery—by a walk, guarded on each side by high walls,

[Nun's Hill. Universal tradition sets this knoll down as the “Nuns’ Hill,” and the tradition regarding it is a rather singular one. A nun, who having fallen in love with a son of one of the first Earls of Menteith, resolved to throw aside the veil, break her vow, and leave the dungeons of Cambuskenneth for the sweets of Talla. A meeting had been arranged on this particular spot, and a boat provided on the eastern shore to take the nun to Inchmahome. But alas for love! a neighbouring clan invaded the Earl’s domain, and leading his father’s clansmen against the foe, the brave youth fell on the dark braes of Mondhuie. In his last moments, the youth unconsciously divulged to his confessor his meeting with the nun. Enraged at the insult offered to his church, the cruel monk resolved to be revenged. Disguised as the young nobleman, he watched the arrival of the runaway nun. Well, ’twas a clear moonlight night when the monk threw aside the gown and cowl for a warrior’s dress, and took his place on the appointed spot. By-and-by a small black speck is seen on the Inchie shore; ’twas the nun in her lover’s boat. She, footsore and weary, had trod the plain from Stirling to the lake, and was now pushing her scallop over the tiny waves. Shortly the boat touched the sand, and the fair lady sprang into her supposed lover’s arms; but, alas! it was only to be hurled back to perish in the blue waters. Next day the monks on the island had the body taken from the lake, and interred in an upright posture on the knoll—hence the “Nun’s Hill.” A large stone near the top of the hill marks the supposed spot. At a certain hour in the evening, tradition says, a dark figure may yet be seen treading the “Nuns’ Hill.” ]

and still called the “Nuns’ Walk”—led to this place of retirement, and completely screened them from the vulgar gaze. This mound appears to have been partly natural and partly artificial. It has finely sloping sides, with flat top, and a large oak tree spreads its withered arms around its summit; while, at the east side, a beautiful specimen of native fir hangs its green tresses over the ancient walk, once trod by holy feet alone.

Between a point on the south side of the island and the adjacent “Talla” or “Earl’s Isle,” there is an echo that will repeat several words at a time; and oft has this “hollow sound” returned the holy voice of a monk or nun, and sent back the thundering tones of a belted knight or warrior, or whispered from isle to isle the lisping accents of the virgin Queen, as the fairy thing sported along the pebbled shore.

The Island of Inchmahome is beautifully wooded; many of the trees have attained an immense size, and have spread their antlered heads for ages over its hallowed soil. A number of these monarchs of the forest have yielded to the gale, and their gigantic trunks lie scattered over the soil that gave them birth, telling the spectator that the most noble of earth’s productions will eventually pass away. The western half of the island united with “Talla,” the Earl’s residence, to form the Earl’s demesne; and, but a few years ago, Inchmahome could boast of a rare and beautiful orchard, but which has unfortunately been allowed to fall into decay. The tourist no longer looks upon the trees beneath whose boughs earls roamed, or monarchal hands plucked the golden fruit. Brighter' days, however, are dawning on the “ Isle of rest;” and we trust that the good work of restoration already begun will go on until every breach be repaired, and the rubbish, that lies scattered like the wreck after a debauch, be swept away.

There is much in Inchmahome for the instruction of the tourist, the study of the geologist, and the admiration of the antiquarian. As a place of beauty and retirement— where Nature has richly displayed her varied charms— combined with the ever hallowed associations that are heard in every echo, that linger in every glen, that rest on the .heathery hillside, and are wafted back by every balmy breeze which floats around its shores — the Lake of Monteith, and the fairy islands that nestle on its bosom, stand alone in their glory.

The era of monasteries is a date long gone by, “far off and dim,” a story of an early age; and it is only when we look back along the dark and misty track of history, that we ever and anon get a glimpse of the time when those “oases in the natural and moral wilderness” reared their heads throughout the dark corners of our land. We must note the era of these as the dawn of civilisation among a warlike and savage people, and in those dark ages they must have spread a healthful influence around them. The monks tilled the soil, and the peasants followed their example. At early dawn and dewy eve they chanted the praises of God; and warriors, attired only in their kilts, with naked swords, bowed their heads to listen. By their example, industry was promoted, and holy religion spread throughout the land. But, alas! time changed with the roll of centuries, and, through the gifts of the great and the good, monasteries swelled into magnificence. Instead of “growing in grace,” however, they became the abodes of revelry, riot, and dissipation; their glory faded; and the day arrived when they had to be swept from the earth as an abomination, and only left behind them those noble weeks — standing stark, like gigantic skeletons — the wonder and admiration of later years.

The Monastery of Inchmahome is the very earliest Augustinian monastery in Scotland, and was an extensive and noted one, the existing ruins bearing proof of its once ancient grandeur. The Priory was founded by Edgar, King of Scotland, who succeeded to the throne on the death of his father, Malcolm III., in the year 1098. The Priory belonged to the Canons regular of the Augustinian order; it was originally connected with the Abbey of Cambuskenneth, and had four dependent chapels. It does not appear that Edgar did more than establish religious men on the island during his reign, for it is certain that the church at least was either erected or rebuilt by Walter Cumyn, Lord of Badenoch, who married the eldest daughter of the Earl of Menteith. And from the document authorising Cumyn to build a religious house on the island, it appears that it was originally in the diocese of Dunblane; for, says that paper, “the said Bishop of Dunblane, in the name of his church, for himself and all his successors, shall renounce all right which the said bishops or their predecessors, in the name of the church of Dunblane, have, had, or might or could have, in lands, or money-rents received from lands, and in all revenues and rents annually drawn in name of pensions from the church of the Earldom of Menteith.”

Inchmahome was united by James IV. to the Chapel Royal of Stirling, but was afterwards dissolved from the College, and bestowed by James V. on John Erskine, third son of Lord Erskine. Erskine having outlived his brothers, succeeded his father as Lord Erskine. He afterwards acquired the title of Earl of Mar, and was elected Regent of Scotland. It appears from an Act in the reign of James VI., that Cardross, in Monteith, belonged to the Priory; for, according to said Act, entitled “Act of annexation of Forfaulted Landis and Rentis to the Crown,” the lands of Cardross are therein described as “feu lands of Inchmahome.”

That Inchmahome had long been an occasional royal residence is fully authenticated by history. We find from Buchanan that Duncan II., King of Scotland, was murdered here in the year 1094, by M'ender, the Earl of Mearns. M'ender was bribed by Donald Bane, the deposed monarch, to assassinate his king, and being a factious nobleman, marched to Monteith, under the cloud of night, and succeeded in killing Duncan and afterwards making his escape. Tradition asserts that King Edgar, who reigned from the year 1098 to 1107, resided frequently on the island. There is, however, no other historical notice of royalty having been on the island till Bruce’s visit on the 15th of April 1310, and it was then the scene of his issuing some royal prerogatives. One of these is the confiscating of all the goods, moveable and immoveable, of John de Pollox, who is described as an enemy of the King; and concludes, “Given at the island of Saint Colmocus, the fifteenth day of April, in the year of grace one thousand three hundred and ten, and fifth year of our reign.” Queen Mary was carried to Inchmahome by her guardian, the Marquis of Montrose, and Lord Erskine, immediately after the battle of Pinkie, in September 1544. It is not correctly known how long Mary resided here, but there is a space of three months from the date of Pinkie to the time when she sailed from Dumbarton for France, and it is generally believed that the most of that time was spent on Inchmahome, where she planted the boxwood bower that still retains the name of its royal founder.

James VI. is said to have been the last crowned head that sought the sweets of retirement in Inchmahome, and this is supposed to have been when the King was on a visit to his old class-fellow, the Earl of Mar, at Cardross House.

Among the many royal sports practised on the Island of Inchmahome, none is said to have been so popular with the “ crowned heads,” as that of fishing with geese. This singular and original mode gave much amusement to the spectators, and was of a most interesting kind. A number of geese were let loose upon the lake, each having a line with hook and bait attached to its leg. The poor goose would not proceed far before some huge pike would pounce upon the bait, and then began “the tug of war.” As soon as the fish found itself hooked, it would dart far amid the blue waters, dragging the unwary goose below the surface; but, instantly recovering itself, the noble fowl would flap ,his wings and make the vain endeavour to fly off, but would be again and again drawn back. By-and-by, however, the distinguished member of the farm-yard would prove too much for its adversary, and the floundering pike would be landed in triumph.

Interesting as every spot on the Island of Inchmahome is—its^ ruined walls, its “sky-roofed halls,” the King’s walks, and the Queen’s garden,—yet there is none so full of deep interest, and that tends to carry the mind back to the dark vista of time when the mantle of oppression hung its thick and sable folds deep around1 Scotland, than the last resting-place of the heroes of other days. Side by side sleep those early champions—warriors who had robed themselves in martial glory in their country’s cause; and though many of them live but in tradition, and on the stones that cover them, their memory will for ever find a place in the bosom of an ever-grateful native population.

The first grave that attracts attention, is one immediately in front of the entrance-gate, consisting of two figures in sculptured stone, executed in bas-relief, representing Walter Stewart and his Countess. This Walter Stewart was son of Alexander, the High Steward of Scotland. He • married the second daughter of the Earl of Menteith, and succeeded to the Earldom on the death of Comyn, who was married to the eldest daughter. The historian of the house of Buchanan asserts that he was married to the heiress of Comyn. This Walter Stewart was a very prominent man of his time, and took part in all the leading incidents of the day. He commanded a part of the army at the battle of Largs, when Haco, King of Norway, invaded Scotland, in 1213. He was a distinguished Crusader under Louis IX. of France; and was one of the arbiters on the part of Bruce, in his competition for the crown with John Baliol. Walter had two sons, Murdoch, his successor, and Sir John Menteith of Rusky, the betrayer of Sir William Wallace, and the ancestor of all those of the surname of Menteith. There is here, perhaps, the greatest contrast between a father and son to be found in the history of this or any other country. The father, it would seem, during the whole tenor of his days, had but one grand object next his heart—the welfare of his heartbroken bleeding country; and the strength of his interest and the prowess of his arm were used in securing for Scotland her lawful rights, and ridding her shores of foreign oppressors;—the son selling, for a paltry reward, the greatest hero that ever trod its soil!

The next spot that attracts attention, is the last resting-place of the illustrious members of the house of Drummond —the tombstone being of the most ancient and interesting kind. This remarkable stone is executed in bas-relief, and the carving represents the figure of a knight in full armour, accompanied by the archangel Michael, and St. Colmocus trampling on the dragon. The inscription is much wasted by its great age; and, by the gross carelessness of those in charge of the island some years ago, the stone unfortunately got broken. It reads thus:— “John of Drumod, son of Malcolm of Drumod. His widow, that she may loose their souls from punishment and the sting.” The intelligent reader will understand that “ Drumod” is the ancient Celtic pronunciation of Drummond. This stone is proof that the Priory was dedicated to St. Michael; and St. Michael’s fair used to be held on the farm of Miling, on the shores of the lake. Sir John Drummond, represented on this stone, was son-in-law of Walter Stewart, Earl of Menteith, and brother-in-law to Sir John, the betrayer. Sir John succeeded his father about the year 1278. He was said to have been a man “of great parts and influence.” He was the eighth chief of his family, and Thane or Earl of Lennox. At the hot discussions and violent contests that raged in Scotland about the succession of Alexander III., he took a prominent part in Bruce’s cause. His son Malcolm was a keen supporter of Robert Bruce, and distinguished for his opposition to the English king. Malcolm was, however, taken prisoner in the year 1301, by John Seagrave; and so great was the joy of the English monarch, that, on the 25 th of October of the same year, he offered public thanks in the Cathedral of Glasgow for the “good news.” Sir Malcolm was, on this occasion, compelled to swear fidelity to Edward, and was afterwards set at liberty. On his return to Monteith, however, he renounced all alliance with the English king, and repaired at once, with his vassals, to the standard of Bruce; and thus we find him once more face to face with his old enemy. He afterwards took a prominent part in the battle of Bannockburn, which resulted so disastrously to the English. Immediately after the battle, he was gifted with extensive grants of lands; and being of a very pious turn of mind, he conferred upon the Priory of Inchmahome his estate of Cardross.

There was another true defender of his country, Sir John, son of the above Malcolm Drummond. This Sir John had a mortal hatred of his cousins, the Menteiths of Rusky, the grandsons of the betrayer. And it requires no great stretch of fancy to imagine how this would occur, seeing that the family of the Drummonds were warm adherents of their country, and the others its mortal and direst enemies. Whether it was to revenge his own private quarrel, or for the purpose of punishing the Menteith family for the disloyalty and the disgrace brought upon the country, we have no means of knowing, but history affords us a clue to the terrible results. The traditions of the country are, however, that it was a bold and determined plan, on the part of Drummond, to destroy, at once and for ever, every seed of the obnoxious family. Accordingly, early in the year 1360, he attacked the Menteiths near Rusky, with a strong band of his chosen vassals. The Menteiths collected in strong force to defend themselves, but were unable to cope with the fierce character of Drummond, and they received at his hand a terrible chastisement, three out of five brothers of the Menteiths being slain, besides a great number of their followers. Some short time after this deadly fray, an agreement was effected between the families, and Sir John Drummond renounced to the youngest of the two surviving brothers of the Menteiths, as compensation for the slaughter, the estate of Roseneath. The treaty between the chiefs of the two families, is dated “Banks of the Forth, near Strivelyn, 17th May 1360.” Sir John was married to the heiress of Montifex, and their only daughter was the accomplished Queen of Robert III., and said to have been born at Drumnacaistal, near Drymen, and for which the people of Drymen ought to feel justly proud.

“The Story of the Drummonds,” as it is called in tradition, is a curious and singular one, and had a very important bearing on the early history of Scotland.

During the reign of Malcolm III. of Scotland, there was staying at the Court of the King of England a young foreign prince, the son of the King of Hungary. He was pious, young, and brave, and was a great favourite at Court. The King, too, had an only daughter, the affianced bride of the King of Scotland; and when the time drew near when she was to leave her home and her fatherland, to become the Queen of the northern monarch, Maurice, “the young Hun,” as he was called, being soldier and sailor as well, was selected chief of the staff that was to escort the fair maiden to her distant home. With tears in his eyes, and his heart at the breaking, the old monarch handed his young daughter over to the charge of the prince, and he sailed away from England’s shore. When the maiden’s heart grew weary, and longed for her father’s Court, he cheered her up with hope, told her stories of love, and sung the war hymns of his native land. All went well, and at last the shores of old Scotia dawned in view. It was the last night at sea; the sun sank behind the still waters with unusual splendour; and all but one spoke of a happy landing on the shores of their new home. There was one old sailor there who shook his head, stroked his grey beard, and whispered doubts of the morrow, as he scanned the western sky. During the night all was still; but in early morn the stillness awoke into a breeze, the breeze broke into a storm, and with daylight came the hurricane, and all around was tempest and roaring sea. The wild waves rolled, the wind howled, and the sails flapped; while the frail bark creaked from stem to stem, and drifted fast ashore.

Hope fled from every breast. Behind was the raging sea; before, the rugged rocks; around was heard the cries of drowning sailors, the crash of falling masts, and the din of floating timber. Calm and unruffled stood the young Hun, with the tender maiden half dead in his arms. One wave rolled past; and he gazed at it, but hesitated. Another, greater than the first, came rolling on; but still he only looked on its foaming surface. Another, greater than the two, came hissing after; and, lifting his heart to Him who had brought him safe from fiery foe and battle-field, he sprang amid the angry tide and was rolled ashore, and, with the grasp of despair, clutching the rock, and dragging himself and the unconscious maid up on to the crags, he landed England’s Princess and Scotland’s Queen safe on land.

He took the three waves for his coat of arms, and for his bravery he received from the Scotch King extensive grants of lands. So says tradition; history tells the rest. He was gifted by King Malcolm with the lands of Drummond, and was afterwards known as Maurice De, Drummond. All the early chiefs of the house of Drummond are interred in the choir of Inchmahome. There is another remarkable gravestone in the choir, it is also executed in bas-relief, and bears the arms of the Grahams, with the following initials carved upon it, “ G. D. E. D.” being the initial letters of the words “Gloria Deo Esto Data;“ Let glory be inscribed to God.” This stone is also of antiquity, and appears to have been the burying-place of the first Earls of the name of Graham.

He had also Cardross, Balfron, and Roseneath.

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