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Summer at the Lake of Monteith
From Stirling to Inchmahome

The clock had tolled the death-knell of April; the last echoes of Spring had just been thundered from the steeple clock, and had died away amid the dark recesses of the town; it was still; naught was heard save the tread of the lonely sentinel, or the wail of the tawny owl as it floated around the Castle rock; the night watchman at the station, with muffled form and lamp in hand, had just signalled the last train of the night, and as it dashed through the gloom, snorting like some mighty steed, with a tread like the roar of thunder and eyes of flame, you heard its shrill scream, like the cry of the wild eagle, sending its echoes far among the Castle rocks, till the Abbey Craig whispered back the sound. We mused on the past, and smilingly looked on toward the future. We had made up our minds for a week at the Port, and although not in actual possession, still in a great measure we were enjoying the beautiful reality. In fancy we were climbing the hill, rambling through its ferny glens, or catching the finny tribe in the silvery waters of the lake. Early on the morning of the ist May, we could be seen, basket on back and fishing-rod in hand, pacing the platform of Stirling station, anxiously awaiting the ringing of the last bell.  Long looked for comes at lastno sooner had the last bell given its first tinkle, than my companion plunged into a first-class carriage—I, of course, following hard at his heels—placing ourselves under the care of “old Hugh.” All now seems bustle and animation—porters running with luggage, passengers taking their seats, while the bang of the carriage-doors lends music to the scene. Suddenly the short “ All right!” sounds in our ears, a sharp, shrill whistle is heard in front, while the clankling of the couplings tells us we are on the road; and in the twinkling of an eye we are sweeping round the Castle rock and entering the rich Carse of Stirling. As we roll past, we look on the old grey face of the Castle, and think of the changes—the fetes and the fights that have ever and anon been enacted on its summit, since the Roman Eagle first spread her wings on its bald head! Onwards dashes the locomotive; and as we look out of the carriage window, we can see the smoky spires of Stirling fast dying in the distance. On our right rolls the sluggish Forth; and Craigforth, that proud usurper of the Pass, rears its head in the morning sunshine. On our left stretches the dark hills of Touch and Boquhan; and as our eyes scan their rocky face, we see the falcon hunting after his morning meal. Approaching Kippen, we get a glimpse of the famous glen of Boquhan—famous in traditional and historic lore, and

“Where to the skies
The riven rocks fantastic rise.”

By-and-by, we reach the Port of Monteith station, and instantly we are out on the platform. The train disappears, and we hear its hollow sound dying in the distance, like the echoes of distant thunder. We are now left to ourselves; and we look around us on the prettiest of all country stations. We gaze on the flowers and the green fields, with the dark blue hills beyond,

“Lending enchantment to the view.”

The dark green woods at our side are loud with the din of birds, as they pour forth their morning songs of praise. Happy native!—let him “bless his stars.” Away from the din and turmoil of the city, he roams a free subject of the woods and fields! Here nothing disturbs the quiet serenity of Nature, save the thundering of the “iron horse,” or the wild whistle of the locomotive. We pass on our way to the Port, where the road is beautiful and every foot is classic. Half-a-mile from the station we pass the old bridge of Cardross, famous in prophecy and tradition. Near to it is the place where Rob Roy crossed the Forth with his stolen steed, when pursued by a troop of dragoons. Near to it, also, in days of yore, stood the “Ferry Inns,” in which Prince Charles Stuart refreshed himself, or, as some say, slept a night, when on a visit to Buchanan of Arnprior. Near to it, also, is the gentle flowing spring of the once far-famed “Gout Well of Cardross” On the left hand side of the road there is a considerable knoll, from the top of which we have a beautiful view of the surrounding country. We see the Forth roll on in queenly pride, while on her downy banks graze the sober cattle. We pass the Lodge of Cardross, and, farther on, the hamlet of Dykehead, which boasts of a school, a smithy, and wight’s shop. Children are playing at the school-door, the joiner grating away at his bench, while the clank of the smith’s hammer lends a chorus to the rustic scene. . The road in front of us is beautifully shaded with stately oaks, skirted on the right by the well-kept grounds of Cardross. On our left is a dark forest, some miles in length; and we can see the simple roe bounding for protection far amid its dark recesses. Here we get a beautiful glimpse of the Hill of Glenny, its top rising high above the trees, as if it threatened to stop our northward passage. We now reach the sequestered and romantic cottage of Tomavhoid (or Courthill), where, in days long gone by, the neighbouring lairds sat in final judgment on the offending wretches of their estates. We look around, and our eye rests on a hoary ash, sending its grey branches wide to the breeze, whose old boughs served the purpose of our new-fashioned scaffolds, when the rustic native of the cottage performed the part of modern Calcraft. Our thoughts wander back some hundred years; imagination paints the assembled throng,—the proud laird, with sullen and merciless face, wielding the sceptre of his relentless feudal power—the pitying looks of his attendants, as they turn their eyes to gaze upon the fellow-mortal on his way to the drop;—ay, methinks I see the poor culprit, as he kicks high and dry upon the branch! But why fatigue the imagination with scenes like these? Feudal days are past, the court has vanished, and the mark of the rope has disappeared.

Leaving Tomavhoid, we have a beautiful, varied, and interesting view of the Lake of Monteith and surrounding country. To the left we get a fine prospect of the west Grampians—Ben-Lomond keeping watch and ward over nether land, with an outstretching plain of cultivated fields, dark forest, and barren moor between. In front are the green knolls of Inchie—the lake and the blooming heath-clad hills of Monteith beyond. On our right are the mansions of Rednock and Blairhoyle, embosomed among fine old trees are the famous Moss of Flanders. Around it the historic Gudie rolls smoothly along. Beyond are the sunny braes of Ruskie, with the dark outline of the Ochils in the distance. Passing Inchie House, the scene deepens, and the sight becomes charming. The lake, with all its loveliness, bursts upon our view. On the south side of the lake we get a glimpse of Lochen House, surrounded by stately trees—the pleasure-grounds skirting the water. Farther on, we see the romantic Arnmauch, covered with her dark waving pines, and stretching her long arm far into the deep,—attempting to shake hands with the isle. In the background we see the mansion of Gartmore, with the dark fir hill beyond. Farther north, we see the rugged pass and scattered crags of Aberfoyle. We pass on; our eye dazzles with the beauty of the landscape, our mind is pleased with the calm grandeur of the scene, our soul is filled with instruction, and we are anxious to get to the hotel. And as we walk along the lake’s pebbled shore, and gaze upwards, onwards, and around, beauty skirts us on either side. On our right are the wooded slopes of Rednock, where the creeping fern entwines itself with the green moss, and the “blue bells of Scotland” fill the air with their fragrance. On our left lies the silvery waters of the lake, with Inchmahome resting on its bosom, and the blue heavens and grey towering clouds mirrored in its glossy surface. The sea-gull skims along its bosom; the wild swan spreads her wings to catch the floating zeyhyr; while the cormorant feeds among the reeds. We see the osprey, as the noble bird soars above the waters, eyeing some sportive pike, and pinioned in mid air, as if transfixed between the heavens and the earth; then, with a swoop like a flash of lightning, he disappears below the blue waters, and again, with triumphant scream, soars away with the finny prey to his mate 011 yonder rock. Before us stands the church, the mausoleum of the house of Gartmore, and the graveyard, where the native dust in peace reposes. The beautifully situated hotel; the neat manse, ensconsed among trees; behind, the hill of Glenny, bursting high up suddenly from the plain, where, like some aged sire with wrinkled face and bald head, he stands,

“The guardian angel of the lake.”

The dark firs that clothe its front contrast beautifully with the brown heath upon its summit. We enter the hotel; lounge on the sofa, puff our Havannah, sip our sherry, and order a boat to convey us to the island. We are taking a last whiff, and giving orders for dinner, when the door gently opens, and an old Celt, doffing his bonnet, politely informs us that he is waiting to row us to Inchmahome. We gaze upon the form before us; we mark his grey hairs and weather-beaten brow, brown as the heath on his native Mondhuie. My companion mutters “ Can this be the boatman?” We are almost afraid to place ourselves under his care, or risk a voyage in his tiny barge. But as he walks before us to the shore, we see something in his gait and manner which convinces us that he is no ordinary boatman; and, with feelings of confidence, we take our seats by his side, and soon find that we are under the charge of a true son of the Graeme,* and that the spirit of that ancient clan fills the old man’s bosom, while its blood flows pure in his veins. We have just been seated, when we find his memory fresh with all the legendary tales and fairy incidents of his cherished vale, while he is deep read in historic lore; and as, with clutched oar and bent back, the eager old man pulls on through the blue waters, he points us to the pass, where, in days gone by, their native Glenny vomited forth her warrior sons on the red hosts of Cromwell, and, like the mighty avalanche from the brow of yonder hill, crushed the invaders. He points us also to Portend’s craggy glen, where, rock built on rock, it raises its riven head far in mid air, and, with ragged face, shattered brow, and tottering form, stands

“Nodding o’er the cavern grey.”

He tells you of its deep pools and tumbling waterfalls, and of the rare ferns that clothe its banks and adorn its sides. Behind we see Bendhu, with blue head and barren face, its bare rocks glancing in the summer sun. On the lake’s reedy margin we see the feathered steep of the Cowden, through the shadows of the noble oaks that clothe its side, deep in the blue waters. But ere we have half surveyed the grandeur of hill and glen, our boat strikes the landing-place, and we turn to gaze on the varied glories of Inchmahome, as they loom before us in the huge and hoary wreck that stands with skeleton form, the monument of the zeal of our early fathers; or in the noble trees that shoot their giant antlers high in the breeze. We spend the afternoon among the sacred relics of the Priory and Queen’s Garden, and then return to spend the night at the inn.

We are astir early in the morning; we find the weather, as it always is at the Lake of Monteith, clear and beautiful; and as we look out of our bed-room window, we gaze on a landscape of placid beauty, the fairest our eye has ever beheld—a landscape famous in history, poetry, and romance. Before us stand the grand old Highland hills, their tops clear, but the grey mist crawling along their boggy sides, here and there tinged with the golden rays of the summer sun, and throwing a few dark shadows deep into the waters. We see the lake in all its loveliness, with the ruins of Inchmahome looking through the hoary branches that adorn the isle—the isle which kings and queens delighted to honour with their presence—the isle, once the birth-place of earls, the home of royalty, the favourite resort of monarchs, the safe retreat of queens. A shallop, with oars ready, lies beneath our window, and we see the sea-fowl playing over the blue waters. The hill and the lake are alike tempting, and we now begin to discuss whether we shall storm the hill, or launch out on the lake and enjoy the glorious sensation of hooking some greedy pike, or inhale the mountain’s balmy breeze. We soon decide. To-day, the hill is clear and robed in sunshine; to-morrow, that rampart of Nature may be wrapped in its misty mantle, and the golden tints of to-day be chased away by to-morrow’s sweeping blast. We discuss breakfast; fill our flasks with “the real naked truth,” as our kind hostess termed it, and which, I dare say, might have the advantage of “ never seeing a gauger;” and soon we are marching up the hill. Before us stands the place where Rob Roy, one hundred years ago, dashed up the hill with his foaming steed, while being pursued by a troop of English dragoons. We ascend the knoll on which it is said he stopped to rest the noble animal, and gaze back on his pursuers, as they swept round the lake like a whirlwind, and came on like a rolling flood. We fancy we see the outlawed chief making preparations for the final effort. As the eagle, high on yon dizzy cliff, plants his wings before making the final dart upon his victim, Macgregor plants his knees and his rowels firm into his horse’s sides, and, with a few terrific plunges, each like the swoop of the falcon, the hero chief vanishes over the summit. We hurry on up the rugged slope of Glenny, where,

“With crown of heath and brow of stone,
Crockmelly rears her head alone;
And watching o’er the inlet brake,
The guardian angel of the lake.”

The hill is already fresh with the glories of summer, and as we ascend its fern-covered sides, and climb its breck-an braes, we breathe the heather gale, and inhale the fresh mountain breeze, balmy as it ever floats around Monteith, and see the creeping moss clinging to the jutting rocks. By-and-by we reach the summit, and after taking “a refresher,” we gaze downwards and onwards. A scene intensely interesting meets our view. We will not compare it with the bold sweep, as seen from the towering top of Ben-Nevis, or the gorgeous display of Highland grandeur as witnessed from the princely summit of Ben-Lomond, but for variety of Highland and Lowland scenery, heathy hill and wooded dale, lowland lake and mountain stream, is unsurpassed by any of the lesser hills in Scotland. Around you, on either side, behind and before, lie the scattered glories of Monteith. In front you look down on the valley of the Graeme, behind we gaze far back on the country of the Macgregor. To the south we see what was once an icebound ocean, now a lovely valley, watered with rivers, adorned with lakes, studded with trees, dotted with mansions, beautified with glens, clothed with their native ferns, hushed to slumber mid the din of waterfalls. Before us lies the Lake of Monteith, with its three isolated islands resting on its bosom like specks on a vast mirror; the quiet country highway winds along the shore, like a huge native adder in its coil, cooling its poisoned tongue in the silvery rivers. To the east we scan a long and wide tree-shaded country. Our eye ranges the carse of Stirling, and rests on the Castle rock, while far beyond we trace the dark outlines of Edinburgh Castle mingling with the distant sky. To the west we see Aberfoyle’s classic hills and glens. To the north we gaze far back on the country of Clan-Alpine— a country famous for the deeds of its sons, and the glories of its scenery—a country famous for the exploits of kings, the home of Rob Roy, the birth-place of Roderick Dhu. We look around us, and at once fourteen Highland lakes burst upon our awe-struck view. Many of those mountain tarns repose amid the seclusion of their native hills, so sheltered by the heathy mountains, that the hurricanes of winter never disturb, nor the zephyrs of summer kiss their waters. Before us on the north lie Lochs Vennacher and Achray, the road from Callander to the Trossachs winding along the shore, while the huge form of Ben-Ledi towers beyond. We see the wood-adorned summits of the Trossachs, Loch-Katrine up among the hills, with Glengyle and the misty tops of Balquhidder in the back ground. As we look around on the Highland country, and admire the glories of the Creator’s works, as they stand before us in the grey mountain, sink deep in the rugged glen, stretch out in the green valley, or dip amid the placid waters, our mind wanders back to the marauding character of its inhabitants, when the hardy natives of the hills and glens learned only to handle the bow and studied nothing but the sword; and oft has the heath on this mountain side been dyed by the blood of those who fell in the fierce conflicts between the Macgregors and the Grahams, in the days of the war cry and fiery cross. Those days are now gone, and as we look around on the peaceful scene, we think of the change since the wild boar roamed through its marshes, and the wolf growled deep in its caverns—since the wild cry of the war-chief was heard from the hill, or saw him return with his trophies. There was a time, and that not long ago, when the bloodhound tore the Macgregor, and the eagle fed on his carcase. Ay, we fancy we can see the blood-bespattered beast, as he returns from his fell mission, snuffing the fresh breeze or lapping his gory fangs; or hearken to the mountain raven, as he perches on, and picks the eyes out of the fallen victim, when that brave but ill-used and unhappy clan was hunted like foxes among their covers, and stalked like deers on their loved native hills. But those scenes have passed away. The cottagers of the glens and the natives of the hill-sides alike dwell in security—their sons are trained to industry, and their daughters spring up like mountain daisies, born to blush unseen. The howl of the bloodhound gives place to the bleating of the lamb; and the voice of the war-chief finds an echo in the herdman’s pipe, or the song of the shepherd’s daughter. True, the flocks may yet be startled by the inroads of the fox or the cry of the black eagle, as the king of birds sweeps over the grey mountain, away to his home among the dizzy cliffs.

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