Skip to main page content (AccessKey S)
As soon as breakfast was over, William and I walked towards the Castle, a short mile from the town. We overtook two young men, who, on our asking the road, offered to conduct us, though it might seem it was not easy to miss our way, for the rock rises singly by itself from the plain on which the town stands. The rock of Dumbarton is very grand when you are close to it, but at a little distance, under an ordinary sky, and in open day, it is not grand, but curiously wild. The castle and fortifications add little effect to the general view of the rock, especially since the building of a modern house, which is white-washed, and consequently jars, wherever it is seen, with the natural character of the place.
There is a path up to the house, but it being low water we could walk round the rock, which we resolved to do. On that side next the town green grass grows to a considerable height up the rock, but wherever the river borders upon it, it is naked stone. I never saw rock in nobler masses, or more deeply stained by time and weather; nor is this to be wondered at, for it is in the very eye of sea-storms and land-storms, of mountain winds and water winds. It is of all colours, but a rusty yellow predominates. As we walked along, we could not but look up continually, and the mass above being on every side so huge, it appeared more wonderful than when we saw the whole together.
We sat down on one of the large stones which lie scattered near the base of the rock, with sea-weed growing amongst them. Above our heads the rock was perpendicular for a considerable height, nay, as it seemed, to the very top, and on the brink of the precipice a few sheep, two of them rams with twisted horns, stood, as if on the look-out over the wide country. At the same time we saw a sentinel in his red coat, walking backwards and forwards between us and the sky, with his firelock over his shoulder. The sheep, I suppose owing to our being accustomed to see them in similar situations, appeared to retain their real size, while, on the contrary, the soldier seemed to be diminished by the distance till he almost looked like a puppet moved with wires for the pleasure of children, or an eight years' old drummer in his stiff, manly dress beside a company of grenadiers.
I had never before, perhaps, thought of sheep and men in soldiers' dresses at the same time, and here they were brought together in a strange fantastic way. As will be easily conceived, the fearlessness and stillness of those quiet creatures, on the brow of the rock, pursuing their natural occupations, contrasted with the restless and apparently unmeaning motions of the dwarf soldier, added not a little to the general effect of this place, which is that of wild singularity, and the whole was aided by a blustering wind and a gloomy sky. Coleridge joined us, and we went up to the top of the rock.
The road to a considerable height is through a narrow cleft, in which a flight of steps is hewn; the steps nearly fill the cleft, and on each side the rocks form a high and irregular wall; it is almost like a long sloping cavern, only that it is roofed by the sky. We came to the barracks; soldiers' wives were hanging out linen upon the rails, while the wind beat about them furiously - there was nothing which it could set in motion but the garments of the women and the linen upon the rails; the grass - for we had now come to green grass - was close and smooth, and not one pile an inch above another, and neither tree nor shrub. The standard pole stood erect without a flag.
The rock has two summits, one much broader and higher than the other. When we were near to the top of the lower eminence we had the pleasure of finding a little garden of flowers and vegetables belonging to the soldiers. There are three distinct and very noble prospects - the first up the Clyde towards Glasgow - Dunglass Castle, seen on its promontory - boats, sloops, hills, and many buildings; the second, down the river to the sea - Greenock and Port-Glasgow, and the distant mountains at the entrance of Loch Long; and the third extensive and distant view is up the Leven, which here falls into the Clyde, to the mountains of Loch Lomond. The distant mountains in all these views were obscured by mists and dingy clouds, but if the grand outline of any one of the views can be seen, it is sufficient recompense for the trouble of climbing the rock of Dumbarton.
The soldier who was our guide told us that an old ruin which we came to at the top of the higher eminence had been a wind-mill - an inconvenient station, though certainly a glorious place for wind; perhaps if it really had been a wind-mill it was only for the use of the garrison. We looked over cannons on the battery-walls, and saw in an open field below the yeomanry cavalry exercising, while we could hear from the town, which was full of soldiers, 'Dumbarton's drums beat bonny, O!' Yet while we stood upon this eminence, rising up so far as it does - inland, and having the habitual old English feeling of our own security as islanders - we could not help looking upon the fortress, in spite of its cannon and soldiers, and the rumours of invasion, as set up against the hostilities of wind and weather rather than for any other warfare.
On our return we were invited into the guard-room, about half-way down the rock, where we were shown a large rusty sword, which they called Wallace's Sword, and a trout boxed up in a well close by, where they said he had been confined for upwards of thirty years. For the pleasure of the soldiers, who were anxious that we should see him, we took some pains to spy him out in his black den, and at last succeeded. It was pleasing to observe how much interest the poor soldiers - though themselves probably new to the place - seemed to attach to this antiquated inhabitant of their garrison.
When we had reached the bottom of the rock along the same road by which we had ascended, we made our way over the rough stones left bare by the tide, round the bottom of the rock, to the point where we had set off. This is a wild and melancholy walk on a blustering cloudy day: the naked bed of the river, scattered over with sea-weed; grey swampy fields on the other shore; sea-birds flying overhead; the high rock perpendicular and bare. We came to two very large fragments, which had fallen from the main rock; Coleridge thought that one of them was as large as Bowder-Stone, William and I did not; but it is impossible to judge accurately; we probably, without knowing it, compared them with the whole mass from which they had fallen, which, from its situation, we consider as one rock or stone, and there is no object of the kind for comparison with the Bowder-Stone. When we leave the shore of the Clyde grass begins to show itself on the rock; go a considerable way - still under the rock - along a flat field, and pass immediately below the white house, which wherever seen looks so ugly.
Left Dumbarton at about eleven o'clock. The sky was cheerless and the air ungenial, which we regretted, as we were going to Loch Lomond, and wished to greet the first of the Scottish lakes with our cheerfullest and best feelings. Crossed the Leven at the end of Dumbarton, and, when we looked behind, had a pleasing view of the town, bridge, and rock; but when we took in a reach of the river at the distance of perhaps half a mile, the swamp ground, being so near a town, and not in its natural wildness, but seemingly half cultivated, with houses here and there, gave us an idea of extreme poverty of soil, or that the inhabitants were either indolent or miserable. We had to travel four miles on the banks of the 'Water of Leven' before we should come to Loch Lomond.
Having expected a grand river from so grand a lake, we were disappointed; for it appeared to me not to be very much larger than the Emont, and is not near so beautiful; but we must not forget that the day was cold and gloomy. Near Dumbarton it is like a river in a flat country, or under the influence of tides; but a little higher up it resembles one of our rivers, flowing through a vale of no extreme beauty, though prettily wooded; the hills on each side not very high, sloping backwards from the bed of the vale, which is neither very narrow nor very wide; the prospect terminated by Ben Lomond and other mountains.
The vale is populous, but looks as if it were not inhabited by cultivators of the earth; the houses are chiefly of stone; often in rows by the river-side; they stand pleasantly, but have a tradish look, as if they might have been off-sets from Glasgow. We saw many bleach-yards, but no other symptom of a manufactory, except something in the houses that was not rural, and a want of independent comforts. Perhaps if the river had been glittering in the sun, and the smoke of the cottages rising in distinct volumes towards the sky, as I have seen in the vale or basin below Pillsden in Dorsetshire, when every cottage, hidden from the eye, pointed out its lurking-place by an upright wreath of white smoke, the whole scene might have excited ideas of perfect cheerfulness.
Here, as on the Nith, and much more than in the Trough of the Clyde, a great portion of the ground was uncultivated, but the hills being less wild, the river more stately, and the ground not heaved up so irregularly and tossed about, the imperfect cultivation was the more to be lamented, particularly as there were so many houses near the river. In a small enclosure by the wayside is a pillar erected to the memory of Dr. Smollett, who was born in a village at a little distance, which we could see at the same time, and where, I believe, some of the family still reside. There is a long Latin inscription, which Coleridge translated for my benefit. The Latin is miserably bad - as Coleridge said, such as poor Smollett, who was an excellent scholar, would have been ashamed of.
Before we came to Loch Lomond the vale widened, and became less populous. We climbed over a wall into a large field to have a better front view of the lake than from the road. This view is very much like that from Mr. Clarkson's windows: the mountain in front resembles Hallan; indeed, is almost the same; but Ben Lomond is not seen standing in such majestic company as Helvellyn, and the meadows are less beautiful than Ulswater. The reach of the lake is very magnificent; you see it, as Ulswater is seen beyond the promontory of Old Church, winding away behind a large woody island that looks like a promontory.
The outlet of the lake - we had a distinct view of it in the field - is very insignificant. The bulk of the river is frittered away by small alder bushes, as I recollect; I do not remember that it was reedy, but the ground had a swampy appearance; and here the vale spreads out wide and shapeless, as if the river were born to no inheritance, had no sheltering cradle, no hills of its own. As we have seen, this does not continue long; it flows through a distinct, though not a magnificent vale. But, having lost the pastoral character which it had in the youthful days of Smollett - if the description in his ode to his native stream be a faithful one - it is less interesting than it was then.
The road carried us sometimes close to the lake, sometimes at a considerable distance from it, over moorish grounds, or through half-cultivated enclosures; we had the lake on our right, which is here so wide that the opposite hills, not being high, are cast into insignificance, and we could not distinguish any buildings near the water, if any there were. It is however always delightful to travel by a lake of clear waters, if you see nothing else but a very ordinary country; but we had some beautiful distant views, one in particular, down the high road, through a vista of over-arching trees; and the near shore was frequently very pleasing, with its gravel banks, bendings, and small bays.
In one part it was bordered for a considerable way by irregular groups of forest trees or single stragglers, which, although not large, seemed old; their branches were stunted and knotty, as if they had been striving with storms, and had half yielded to them. Under these trees we had a variety of pleasing views across the lake, and the very rolling over the road and looking at its smooth and beautiful surface was itself a pleasure. It was as smooth as a gravel walk, and of the bluish colour of some of the roads among the lakes of the north of England.
Passed no very remarkable place till we came to Sir James Colquhoun's house, which stands upon a large, flat, woody peninsula, looking towards Ben Lomond. There must be many beautiful walks among the copses of the peninsula, and delicious views over the water; but the general surface of the country is poor, and looks as if it ought to be rich and well peopled, for it is not mountainous; nor had we passed any hills which a Cumbrian would dignify with the name of mountains. There was many a little plain or gently-sloping hill covered with poor heath or broom without trees, where one should have liked to see a cottage in a bower of wood, with its patch of corn and potatoes, and a green field with a hedge to keep it warm. As we advanced we perceived less of the coldness of poverty, the hills not having so large a space between them and the lake. The surface of the hills being in its natural state, is always beautiful; but where there is only a half cultivated and half peopled soil near the banks of a lake or river, the idea is forced upon one that they who do live there have not much of cheerful enjoyment.
But soon we came to just such a place as we had wanted to see. The road was close to the water, and a hill, bare, rocky, or with scattered copses rose above it. A deep shade hung over the road, where some little boys were at play; we expected a dwelling-house of some sort; and when we came nearer, saw three or four thatched huts under the trees, and at the same moment felt that it was a paradise. We had before seen the lake only as one wide plain of water; but here the portion of it which we saw was bounded by a high and steep, heathy and woody island opposite, which did not appear like an island, but the main shore, and framed out a little oblong lake apparently not so broad as Rydale-water, with one small island covered with trees, resembling some of the most beautiful of the holms of Windermere, and only a narrow river's breadth from the shore. This was a place where we should have liked to have lived, and the only one we had seen near Loch Lomond.
How delightful to have a little shed concealed under the branches of the fairy island! the cottages and the island might have been made for the pleasure of each other. It was but like a natural garden, the distance was so small; nay, one could not have forgiven any one living there, not compelled to daily labour, if he did not connect it with his dwelling by some feeling of domestic attachment, like what he has for the orchard where his children play. I thought, what a place for William! he might row himself over with twenty strokes of the oars, escaping from the business of the house, and as safe from intruders, with his boat anchored beside him, as if he had locked himself up in the strong tower of a castle.
We were unwilling to leave this sweet spot; but it was so simple, and therefore so rememberable, that it seemed almost as if we could have carried it away with us. It was nothing more than a small lake enclosed by trees at the ends and by the way-side, and opposite by the island, a steep bank on which the purple heath was seen under low oak coppice-wood, a group of houses over-shadowed by trees, and a bending road. There was one remarkable tree, an old larch with hairy branches, which sent out its main stem horizontally across the road, an object that seemed to have been singled out for injury where everything else was lovely and thriving, tortured into that shape by storms, which one might have thought could not have reached it in that sheltered place.
We were now entering into the Highlands. I believe Luss is the place where we were told that country begins; but at these cottages I would have gladly believed that we were there, for it was like a new region. The huts were after the Highland fashion, and the boys who were playing wore the Highland dress and philabeg. On going into a new country I seem to myself to waken up, and afterwards it surprises me to remember how much alive I have been to the distinctions of dress, household arrangements, etc. etc., and what a spirit these little things give to wild, barren, or ordinary places. The cottages are within about two miles of Luss. Came in view of several islands; but the lake being so very wide, we could see little of their peculiar beauties, and they, being large, hardly looked like islands.
Passed another gentleman's house, which stands prettily in a bay, and soon after reached Luss, where we intended to lodge. On seeing the outside of the inn, we were glad that we were to have such pleasant quarters. It is a nice-looking white house, by the road-side; but there was not much promise of hospitality when we stopped at the door: no person came out till we had shouted a considerable time. A barefooted lass showed me up-stairs, and again my hopes revived; the house was clean for a Scotch inn, and the view very pleasant to the lake, over the top of the village - a cluster of thatched houses among trees, with a large chapel in the midst of them.
Like most of the Scotch kirks which we had seen, this building resembles a big house; but it is a much more pleasing building than they generally are, and has one of our rustic belfries, not unlike that at Ambleside, with two bells hanging in the open air. We chose one of the back rooms to sit in, being more snug, and they looked upon a very sweet prospect - a stream tumbling down a cleft or glen on the hill-side, rocky coppice ground, a rural lane, such as we have from house to house at Grasmere, and a few outhouses. We had a poor dinner, and sour ale; but as long as the people were civil we were contented.
Coleridge was not well, so he did not stir out, but William and I walked through the village to the shore of the lake. When I came close to the houses, I could not but regret a want of loveliness correspondent with the beauty of the situation and the appearance of the village at a little distance; not a single ornamented garden. We saw potatoes and cabbages, but never a honeysuckle. Yet there were wild gardens, as beautiful as any that ever man cultivated, overgrowing the roofs of some of the cottages, flowers and creeping plants. How elegant were the wreaths of the bramble that had 'built its own bower' upon the riggins in several parts of the village; therefore we had chiefly to regret the want of gardens, as they are symptoms of leisure and comfort, or at least of no painful industry.
Here we first saw houses without windows, the smoke coming out of the open window-places; the chimneys were like stools with four legs, a hole being left in the roof for the smoke, and over that a slate placed upon four sticks - sometimes the whole leaned as if it were going to fall. The fields close to Luss lie flat to the lake, and a river, as large as our stream near the church at Grasmere, flows by the end of the village, being the same which comes down the glen behind the inn; it is very much like our stream - beds of blue pebbles upon the shores.
We walked towards the head of the lake, and from a large pasture field near Luss, a gentle eminence, had a very interesting view back upon the village and the lake and islands beyond. We then perceived that Luss stood in the centre of a spacious bay, and that close to it lay another small one, within the larger, where the boats of the inhabitants were lying at anchor, a beautiful natural harbour. The islands, as we look down the water, are seen in great beauty. Inch-ta-vanach, the same that framed out the little peaceful lake which we had passed in the morning, towers above the rest. The lake is very wide here, and the opposite shores not being lofty the chief part of the permanent beauty of this view is among the islands, and on the near shore, including the low promontories of the bay of Luss, and the village; and we saw it under its dullest aspect - the air cold, the sky gloomy, without a glimpse of sunshine.
On a splendid evening, with the light of the sun diffused over the whole islands, distant hills, and the broad expanse of the lake, with its creeks, bays, and little slips of water among the islands, it must be a glorious sight.
Up the lake there are no islands; Ben Lomond terminates the view, without any other large mountains; no clouds were upon it, therefore we saw the whole size and form of the mountain, yet it did not appear to me so large as Skiddaw does from Derwent-water. Continued our walk a considerable way towards the head of the lake, and went up a high hill, but saw no other reach of the water. The hills on the Luss side become much steeper, and the lake, having narrowed a little above Luss, was no longer a very wide lake where we lost sight of it.
Came to a bark hut by the shores, and sate for some time under the shelter of it. While we were here a poor woman with a little child by her side begged a penny of me, and asked where she could 'find quarters in the village.' She was a travelling beggar, a native of Scotland, had often 'heard of that water,' but was never there before. This woman's appearance, while the wind was rustling about us, and the waves breaking at our feet, was very melancholy: the waters looked wide, the hills many, and dark, and far off - no house but at Luss. I thought what a dreary waste must this lake be to such poor creatures, struggling with fatigue and poverty and unknown ways!
We ordered tea when we reached the inn, and desired the girl to light us a fire; she replied, 'I dinna ken whether she'll gie fire,' meaning her mistress. We told her we did not wish her mistress to give fire, we only desired her to let her make it and we would pay for it. The girl brought in the tea-things, but no fire, and when I asked if she was coming to light it, she said 'her mistress was not varra willing to gie fire.' At last, however, on our insisting upon it, the fire was lighted: we got tea by candlelight, and spent a comfortable evening.
I had seen the landlady before we went out, for, as had been usual in all the country inns, there was a demur respecting beds, notwithstanding the house was empty, and there were at least half-a-dozen spare beds. Her countenance corresponded with the unkindness of denying us a fire on a cold night, for she was the most cruel and hateful-looking woman I ever saw. She was overgrown with fat, and was sitting with her feet and legs in a tub of water for the dropsy, - probably brought on by whisky-drinking. The sympathy which I felt and expressed for her, on seeing her in this wretched condition - for her legs were swollen as thick as mill-posts - seemed to produce no effect; and I was obliged, after five minutes' conversation, to leave the affair of the beds undecided. Coleridge had some talk with her daughter, a smart lass in a cotton gown, with a bandeau round her head, without shoes and stockings. She told Coleridge with some pride that she had not spent all her time at Luss, but was then fresh from Glasgow.
It came on a very stormy night; the wind rattled every window in the house, and it rained heavily. William and Coleridge had bad beds, in a two-bedded room in the garrets, though there were empty rooms on the first floor, and they were disturbed by a drunken man, who had come to the inn when we were gone to sleep.
|To Next Part|