ROBERT BURNS AT LOCH LOMOND
The Bard did not keep a diary during his “West Highland Tour” so we have to depend on the letters he wrote to his friends during his journey. The route followed by the poet is not clear, he perhaps came by Greenock where his beloved Mary Campbell had so recently died, crossing to Dunoon to visit the place where she was born, but these thoughts are only conjecture, and we must stay with what we know for certain.
Our tale begins at Inverary where he arrived at the end of June 1787. In the list of subscribers for the Edinburgh edition of the Bard’s works the Duke and Duchess of Argyll’s names head the list, and the Poet may have expected that he would receive a welcome from them at Inverary. Unfortunately the Duke had arranged for a large gathering of “The British Fishery Society”, of which the Duke was President, to be at his home on that day, and the gathering was so large that some of the members and office-bearers had to find accommodation at the local Inn. The landlord of the Inn was so busy attending to the needs of the guests of the Duke, that he had no time to look after the needs of the travel-weary Poet. Not knowing of these circumstances Burns used his newly acquired diamond pointed stylus and scratched on one of the landlord’s windows the following
“Who e’er he be that sojourns here,
I pity much his case,
Unless he come to wait upon,
The lord their God, his Grace.
There’s naething here but highland pride,
And highland scab and hunger,
If providence has sent me here,
‘Twas surely in an anger”.
Leaving Inverary Burns travelled up the side of Loch Shira, along Loch Fyne, through Clachan and Cairbdow, over the Rest and be Thankful and through Glen Croe to Crocharibas near Arrochar by Loch Long. From Crocharibas Burns wrote a letter to his friend Robert Ainslie, (the companion of the Bard on his Border tour), and in this letter he tells Ainslie that the last stage of his journey was Inverary and the next nights stage would be Dumbarton. Moving on a few miles from Crocharibas to Arrochar Burns stayed the night of June 27th in the Tarbet Inn. The next day he fell in with a merry party at a highland gentleman’s hospitable mansion, and danced till the ladies left them at three in the morning.
The following story is told by Burns in a letter to James Smith at Linlithgow.
“Our dancing was none of the French or English insipid formal movements, the ladies sung Scotch songs like angels, at intervals, then we flew at Bab at the Browster, Tullochgorum, Loch Eroch Side, etc. like midges sporting in the mottie sun. When the dear lassies left us we ranged round the bowl till the good-fellow hour of six, except for a few minutes that we went out to pay our devotions to the glorious lamp of day peering over the towering top of Ben Lomond. After a small refreshment of the gifts of Somnus, we proceeded to spend the day on Loch Lomond and reach Dumbarton in the evening. We dined at another good fellow’s house, and consequently push’d the bottle, and when we went out to mount our horses we found ourselves “No vera fou, but gailie yet”. My two friends and I rode soberly down the lochside, till by came a highlandman at a gallop, on a tolerably good horse, but which had never known the ornaments of iron or leather. We scorned to be out-galloped by a highlandman, so off we started, whip and spur. My companions, though seemingly gayly mounted, fell sadly astern, but my old mare Jenny Geddes, one of the Rosinante family, she strained past the highlandman in spite of all his efforts with the hair-halter, just as I was passing him Donald wheeled his horse, as if to cross before me, to mar my progress, when down came his horse, and threw his rider’s breekless arse in a clipt hedge; and down came Jenny Geddes over all, and my Bardship between her and the highlandman’s horse. Jenny Geddes trode over me with such cautious reverence, that matters were not so bad as might well have been expected; so I came off with a few cuts and bruises, and a thorough resolution to be a pattern of sobriety for the future. I leave the Bard’s letter here to go to notes taken by Dr. Grierson, who subscribed for 36 copies of the Edinburgh Edition and whose notes indicate that he was one of the companions that Burns speaks of in his letter. His journey with the poet begins at Inveraray and continues to Glasgow, and he stayed with the Bard at Bannachra, near the southern side of Luss Parish, where the Fruin water debouches into Loch Lomond. Duncan Mc Lachlan, son of Archibald Mc Lachlan of Bannachra, was in the party on that day. As well as Grierson and the Mc Lachlan family, there was present a Mr. Mc Farlane from Jamaica, a Glasgow merchant John Sheddon with his un-married sister, a Mr. Gairdener of Ladykirk in the Borders. This gentleman, George Gairdener, inherited the Ladykirk estate from his father in 1780. He had previously been a lawyer in Ayr, but moved to the Borders about 1774. Gairdener was about a year older than Burns. The following afternoon Robert, accompanied by Grierson and Gairdener, left Bannachra and rode down the lochside to Dumbarton, and here Grierson’s notes confirm the story told by the Bard about the galloping highlander and the Bard’s fall from Jenny Geddes. In 1787 the tacksman of Bannachra was Archibald Mc Lachlan, and a Peter Mc Lachlan, (probably a relative) is listed as a subscriber for the Edinburgh Edition.
The “goodfellow” at whose house Burns dined and “pushed the bottle” was according to Grierson’s notes, Arden House, owned at that time by the Glasgow tobacco Lord George Buchanan. George Buchanan was a subscriber for the Edinburgh Edition, and the Mc Lachlans of Bannachra were his tenants. When the party arrived at Dumbarton the Magistrates honoured Robert Burns by making him a Freeman of the Town.