It was indeed a glorious walk from Dumbarton to Loch Lomond through this enchanting valley. The air was mild and clear; a few light clouds occasionally crossing the sun chequered the hills with sun and shade. I have as yet seen nothing that in pastoral beauty can compare with its glassy winding stream, its mossy old woods and guarding hills and the ivy-grown, castellated towers embosomed in its forests or standing on the banks of the Leven-the purest of rivers. At the little village called Renton is a monument to Smollett, but the inhabitants seem to neglect his memory, as one of the tablets on the pedestal is broken and half fallen away. Farther up the vale a farmer showed us an old mansion in the midst of a group of trees on the banks of the Leven which he said belonged to Smollettor Roderick Random, as he called him. Two or three old pear trees were still standing where the garden had formerly been, under which he was accustomed to play in his childhood.
At the head of Leven Vale we set off in the steamer “Watch-Witch” over the crystal waters of Loch Lomond, passing Inch Murrin, the deer-park of the Duke of Montrose, and Inch Caillach,
“where gray pines wave Their shadows o’er Clan Alpine’s grave.”
Under the clear sky and golden light of the declining sun we entered the Highlands, and heard on every side names we had learned long ago in the lays of Scott. Here was Glen Fruin and Bannochar, Ross Dhu and the pass of Beal-ma-na. Farther still we passed Rob Roy’s rock, where the lake is locked in by lofty mountains. The cone-like peak of Ben Lomond rises far above on the right, Ben Voirlich stands in front, and the jagged crest of Ben Arthur looks over the shoulder of the western hills. .
When we arose in the morning, at four o’clock, to return with the boat, the sun was already shining upon the westward hills; scarcely a cloud was in the sky and the air was pure and cool. To our great delight, Ben Lomond was unshrouded, and we were told that a more favorable day for the ascent had not occurred for two months. We left the boat at Rowardennan, an inn, at the southern base of Ben Lomond. After breakfasting on Loch Lomond trout I stole out to the shore while my companions were preparing for the ascent, and made a hasty sketch of the lake.
We proposed descending on the northern side and crossing the Highlands to Loch Katrine; tho it was represented as difficult and dangerous by the guide who wished to accompany us, we determined to run the risk of being enveloped in a cloud on the summit, and so set out alone, the path appearing plain before us. We had no difficulty in following it up the lesser heights, around the base. It wound on over rock and bog, among the heather and broom with which the mountain is covered, sometimes running up a steep acclivity and then winding zigzag round a rocky ascent. The rains two days before had made the bogs damp and muddy; but, with this exception, we had little trouble for some time.
Ben Lomond is a doublv-formed mountain. For about three-fourths of the way there is a continued ascent, when it is suddenly terminated by a large barren plain, from one end of which the summit shoots up abruptly, forming at the north side a precipice five hundred feet high. As we approached the summit of the first part of the mountain the way became very steep and toilsome, but the prospect, which had before been only on the south side, began to open on the east, and we saw suddenly spread out below us the vale of ‘Monteith, with “far Loch Ard and Aberfoil” in the center and the huge front of Ben Venue filling up the picture. Taking courage from this, we hurried on. The heather had become stunted and dwarfish, and the ground was covered with short brown grass. The mountain-sheep which we saw looking at us from the rock above had worn so many paths along the side that we could not tell which to take, but pushed on in the direction of the summit, till, thinking it must be near at hand, we found a mile and a half of plain before us, with the top of Ben Lomond at the farther end. The plain was full of wet moss crossed in all directions by deep ravines or gullies worn in it by the mountain-rains, and the wind swept across with a tempest-like force.
I met near the base a young gentleman from Edinburgh who had left Rowardennan before us, and we commenced ascending together. It was hard work, but neither liked to stop; so we climbed up to the first resting-place, and found the path leading along the brink of a precipice. We soon attained the summit, and, climbing up a little mound of earth and stones, I saw the half of Scotland at a glance. The clouds hung just above the mountain-tops, which rose all around like the waves of a ‘nightly sea. On every side, near and far, stood their misty summits, but Ben Lomond was the monarch of them all. Loch Lomond lay unrolled under my feet like a beautiful map; just opposite, Loch Long thrust its head from between the feet of crowded hills to catch a glimpse of the giant. We could see from Ben Nevis to Ayrfrom Edinburgh to Staffa. Stirling and Edinburgh castles would have been visible but that the clouds hung low in the valley of the Forth and hid them from our sight.
At a cottage on the farm of Coman, we procured some oatcakes and milk for dinner from an old Scotch woman who pointed out the direction of Loch Katrina, six miles distant; there was no road, nor, indeed, a solitary dwelling between. The hills were bare of trees, covered with scraggy bushes and rough heath, which in some places was so thick we could scarcely drag our feet through. Added to this, the ground was covered with a kind of moss that retained the moisture like a sponge; so that our boots ere long became thoroughly soaked. Several considerable streams were rushing down the side, and many of the wild breed of black Highland cattle were grazing around. After climbing up and down one or two heights, occasionally startling the moorcock and ptarmigan from their heathery coverts, we saw the valley of Loch Con, while in the middle of the plain on the top of the mountain we had ascended was a sheet of water which we took to be Loch Ackill. Two or three wild-fowl swimming on its surface were the only living things in sight. The peaks around shut it out from all view of the world; a single decayed tree leaned over it from a mossy rock which gave the whole scene an air of the most desolate wildness.
From the next mountain we saw Loch Ackill and Loch Katrine below, but a wet and weary descent had yet to be made. I was about throwing off my knapsack on a rock to take a sketch of Loch Katrine, which appeared to be very beautiful from this point, when we discerned a cavalcade of ponies winding along the path from Inversnaid to the head of the lake, and hastened down to take the boat when they should arrive.
As we drew near the eastern end of the lake the scenery became far more beautiful. The Trosachs opened before us. Ben Ledi looked down over the “forehead bare” of Ben An, and as we turned a rocky point Ellen’s Isle rose up in front. It is a beautiful little turquoise in the silver setting of Loch Katrine. The northern side alone is accessible, all the others being rocky and perpendicular and thickly grown with trees. We rounded the island to the little bay, bordered by the silver strand, above which is the rock from which Fitz-James wound his horn, and shot under an ancient oak which flung its long gray arms over the water. We here found a flight of rocky steps leading to the top, where stood the bower erected by Lady Willoughby D’Eresby to correspond with Scott’s description. Two or three blackened beams are all that remain of it, having been burned down some years ago by the carelessness of a traveler.
The mountains stand all around, like giants, to “sentinel this enchanted land.” On leaving the island we saw the Goblin’s Cave in the side of Ben Venue, called by the Gaels “Coiran-Uriskin.” Near it is Beal-nam-bothe “Pass of Cattle”overhung with gray weeping birch-trees.
Here the boatmen stopt to let us hear the fine echo, and the names of Rob Roy and Roderick Dhu were sent back to us apparently as loud as they were given. The description of Scott is wonder-fully exact, tho the forest that feathered o’er the sides of Ben Venue has since been cut down and sold by the Duke of Montrose.
When we reached the end of the lake, it commenced raining, and we hastened on through the pass of Beal-an-Duine, scarcely taking time to glance at the scenery, till Loch Achray appeared through the trecs, and on its banks the ivy-grown front of the inn of Ardcheancrochan with its unpronounceable name.