20 Hill Street
5-12 August 1881
My Dear Niece –
I must commence my letter with an apology, for I feel that I owe such to you, in as much as the holidays have come and gone and I am at home again without having gone the length of Inveraray. I will speak more of this further on. In the meantime, my dear niece, do not doubt the strength of my affection. As a substitute for my presence I will give you a few details of how uncle James and I spent the holidays, and how we were kindly entertained by the dear friends at Butterbridge
You may depend upon it, dear Maggie, we were right glad in the prospect of a few days absence from the dreary prospect of house – roofs and chimneys as seen from our window. Only those city pent mortals like ourselves can appreciate fully the beautifully refreshing sight of country scenes, such as you enjoy, day after day. I have tried to give you an idea of how we are surrounded by chimneys, but I cannot get half the number in. But I must begin with my letter proper. On Thursday the 14th July uncle James got released from his duties, and we proposed taking a leisurely stroll through the town, but we changed our minds and proceeded to get ready for the four o’clock train for Greenock, which we managed to do. We went to Uncle ‘Sandy’s shop’ as we were not acquainted with the address of their new house. After waiting a short time we went to the house, in Inverkip Street, and Aunt Agnes gave us a real nice tea. There were just the four of us present – your grandmother, aunt Agnes, and ourselves. Grandmother was looking pretty well, considering her great age, and she made us laugh by telling over again the comical journey of herself and Mary Hunter11 from Wishaw to Greenock. They wished us to remain for a few days at Greenock but we had not our door at home properly secured, so we had to get home the same night. We bid them goodbye with the promise if weather on the morrow was not very promising we would return them and stay over Sunday. We reached our chimney-surrounded dwelling about 10’clock. Finis our first holiday.
Friday morning opened up beautifully, and we did not take long to make-up our minds that we would go to Butterbridge. I confess, Maggie, that the thought of the long walk among the hills did give me some uneasiness, but I thought again the day was long and we could take our time, so half past ten found us on board the “Edinburgh Castle” bound for Lochgoilhead12 It was very pleasant our sail down the Clyde, all the piers were thronged with pleasure seekers, relieved like ourselves for a brief time from daily toil. We had, happily, no adventure on our passage worth noting. A few mistaken souls were not long on board till they showed their appreciation of a holiday by getting tipsy, but there was no quarrelling. After leaving Greenock and Gourock the boat struck across for Dunoon and Innellan then by Blairmore. We tried to get a glimpse of your old home. Uncle said he saw it, but I could not say I did, and I will match myh eyes against his any day. We then proceeded up Loch Long and into Loch Goil. James has so often deaved me with Campbell’s poem of Lord Ullin’s Daughter that I asked him to show me the place where the ill-fated lovers were drowned, but he could not do so but he assured one if he could not tell me the place in the water where they went down, this hills were the same that the hapless pair must have seen as they were overwhelmed by the angry waters.
“Oh! Haste thee, haste’! the lady cries, ‘Though tempests round us gather, I’ll meet the ragings of the skies, But not an angry father!”
After touching at Ardentinny and Carrick Castle we reached Lochgoilhead about three o’clock, It is certainly a beautiful place. Uncle James was quite taken up with it. A little enquiry soon brought us to Bella’s and she welcomed us real kindly. We chatted with her for a least an hour. She told us Jessie was at home for a few days holiday. After we had rested well she put on her wrapper and came a bit of the road with us and after giving us full instruction she returned, and we were fairly on our way to Butterbridge. But for all the instructions we got, Maggie, we took the wrong road, that is we took the left side of the stream where the trees and bushes line the way, instead of the other road through the meadowland. But we did not go very far wrong, for we crossed the bridge at Drumeyricheg (the name is something like that) on to the right road again. After crossing the bridge our way was all among the hills, and we were not too tired at this stage of our journey to admire the rugged grandeur of the scenery around us. There was no company on the road after we crossed the bridge save the cheery rushing and tossing of the water in the stream which keeps alongside the road here. After proceeding about a mile further along this road we sat down on a grassy knoll by the wayside and proceeded to have a little refreshment. This burn with its nice clear water was close beside us, but uncle James said he had no dish to lift the water with, and so as he said it would be genteeler to take a drink from a bottle which we had with us than to go down on our hands and knees to drink from the stream. And so amid the great silent hills we took a wee drap o’guid scotch whisky, and some biscuit and cheese, after which we felt stronger to pursue our journey. If there were no human creatures in sight, Maggie, there were plenty of sheep and lambs and the sight of the innocent animals made the place seem not so very lonely. After walking some time longer we began to be on the outlook for Butterbridge, but not a house appeared to gladden our eyes. We had been told to keep by the side of the Lochan, but no Lochan could we see, unless as uncle James said that was the name given to the stream by the wayside, if so we certainly were keeping by the side of the Lochan very faithfully. I remarked to James, when we came in view of a very high hill that some one was lighting fires up there, for it was covered with smoke. He laughed a deal at this, and when the laughing was done he told me it was not smoke but clouds that capped the mountain top. The road is very zigzag twisting and turning in a provoking manner, and then hiding from one’s view behind some hillock or other. Uncle James was not as displeased with the road as I was. He said he could walk all day on such a road with such a fine stream beside it as this one on the road to Butterbridge. It was such a merry stream, with such an abundance of pools and waterfall and such fine rocks and boulders. He declared it beautiful, but I was wearying for Butterbridge. We had been told to be careful that we did not take the road to Arrochar, but we both got so uncertain of being on the right that we would not have been surprised had Arrochar appeared to our view at any moment. We had still some spirit of fun left in us however, for we were just jesting about which hill we would lie down on for the night when the real Lochan came upon our view. We felt sure this was the water spoken of by our guides, and knew your father’s house could not be far off. We were both somewhat awed by the dark and treacherous look of the water. The great black rocks that rise up behind it case their sombre shadows on the water, and gave me a desire to get away from the place as soon as possible. After we passed the Lochan we came in sight of two cows grazing near the road-side, and I said “These are Janet’s cows.” In a short time we came in sight of a house, but there was no roof on it; only four bare walls, however, the roofless house was something to be thankful for, and spoke of some sign of life amid the dreary hills. Possibly the next house we saw would have a roof on it, and as it proved for in a few minutes we saw one with some sign of life about it (McLean’s)14 and shortly afterwards another; and this last proved to be your father’s. But we could see no way to get at is, so I waved my umbrella, that whoever were the dwellers in the house, they might come and give us some information about Butterbridge. In a short time we saw your mother whom I recognised, at her door, and then hurrying down to meet us Fergus and Aleck were with her, but they soon left her behind and running down, guided us up to your mother who greeted us with no common kindness. In a few minutes more our travel was ended and we were comfortable seated and in a few more your mother had a nice tea before us, and we felt ourselves at home. We now learned that Jessie and Mary were at Inveraray on a visit to yourself and were staying with you till the following day (Saturday). It was about seven o’clock when we reached the house, and your father came in about eight, and if he did not welcome us kindly call me a Dutchman – I mean a Dutchwoman. During the evening we all had some very comfortable chat about friends far and near; about times past and times present, and with a wee drap o’whisky and sugar we closed the evening and retired. And so, dear Maggie, closed the evening on our second holiday.
You may depend on it I had curious sensations on rising on Saturday morning and finding myself surrounded by hills. Instead however of rising early as we should have done we lay in bed till about eight o’clock, and then one at a time we went out to the mountain stream to have a wash, and what a novelty that was. James was particularly taken up with it, and said it beat washing in a basin all to sticks. Your father had gone our early so he was not in at breakfast. After that meal was over, the two boys, uncle James and myself went out for a climb up the hills behind the house. After climbing for about an hour I gave it up, and rested on a hillock overlooking the stream. In less than an hour the others returned, and they had not been halfway up either. Uncle was woefully cheated in his estimation of hill climbing. He had fancied half an hour would suffice to climb Ben Ime, but when he returned beaten he excused himself by saying it threatened to rain.
After coming down from the hill we had an hour or two’s rambling about the stream that comes down from the Abysinian [sic] direction, and down by the bridge, looking for blaeberries, but there were none to be found. Being the Glasgow Fair Holidays, we observed a great many people riding on bicycles. They were generally in pairs, and as nothing but good bicyclists would be likely to venture so far from the city, they went along very swiftly. After returning to the house your mother had a visit from one Flora McGlashan who pursues the calling of a shepherd.15 From the conversation about her before she approached the house I expected to see some sturdy person of the Meg Merilees16 type, but I was mistaken, for she seems to be a sensible and modest woman. In spite of your mother’s remonstrations, the boys would chaff Flora but she had sense enough to take it all in good part. In the afternoon your father was expected home, and as we saw some person coming up the Cairndow road, a long way off, it was thought to be him. Uncle James and the boys gaed away doon the road to meet him instead of it being him it turned out to be Mary and Jessie coming home from their visit to yourself. I was very glad to see them, and you may be sure, Maggie, with so much company we were anything but dull. Your father came in about 6 o’clock and we had a very nice evening. Jessie and Mary informed us you had just a lady’s life of it at Inveraray. I was real glad to hear it. Both uncle James and myself expressed the wish to set a day apart for a visit to Inveraray to se you, but they told us that by taking the coach we would only have about twenty minutes to spend in Inveraray, so we reluctantly abandoned the thought. We did really think it vexing that we were so near you and still were to be denied the pleasure of seeing you. But we were granted the pleasure next to seeing yourself – that is a look at your card,17 for though we had seen it before it was a pleasure to look at it again. And every one in the house had, of course to see it again and again, and every expression was of pleasure and admiration. Your father particularly, dear Maggie, took a long look at it, and more than once. But this must be in confidence, Maggie, for if your parents were to know that I was telling these little actions of the domestic circle, surely they would shut their door on uncle James and I. Katie is a very pretty girl. In a playful mood she put on one of the boy’s caps and she looked so nice and jaunty withal that I have attempted to give you and idea of how she looked on the left of this page. When I think on Katie I cannot help seeing the cap too. We had another nice evening of chat, but I must not attempt to enter into it here for my ink would fail me. So with a “good night” all round we retired, and so ended our third holiday.
Everybody in the house. A comfortable breakfast, but, alas! The morning was rainy and had small signs of cleaning up. We purposed forming a company for church, and many were the anxious looks we sent away down the road, and up at the clouds to see if there way any chance at all of getting out. But as the story books say, we were “doomed to disappointment”. Instead of turning fairer the rain increased, and first one and then another drew back till at last the only ones willing to lead the forlorn hope were uncle James, and Mary, and Jessie. Uncle was very much bent on seeing service in the little church at Cairndow, for although he is fond of the music from good choirs and organs and he likes real well to see the good old fashioned service in quiet out-of-the-way places. Well although it was raining hard when they started it was only the hope that it would eventually clear up which urged them on. Katie put a shawl on to go down a bit of the road with them. They boys also proceeded to convoy the three of them a wee bit. They were a queer sight, as we seen them from the window. Katie was under the umbrella with her arm round Jessie’s neck. Fergus stuck in for [****?a] share of uncle James’ umbrella. We thought every minute they would turn back, but they stuck out right away over the bridge, but we were glad to see them at last take refuge in McLean’s. After waiting there in a vain hope that it would clear up they came out and retraced their steps home again. Well, Maggie, it rained all day, so there was nothing for it but to remain in shelter of the house. I think there was none of us very sorry, for we spent a very happy day. Your mother had a fire put on in the room, and we sat there all day very easily, as we had plenty to talk about. Eventually we retired and so ended our fourth holiday.
Monday morning opened up with promise of a better day. We got up somewhere about eight o’clock. I daresay it would be half past eight. But your mother was up long before that hour. Your father was out very early in the morning, and I heard your mother working away at the kirn when I am sure it could not be past four o’clock, but I as well as the others slept on till the time mentioned.
If your mother’s daughters are not early risers they cannot say their mother showed them a sleepy example. (*[sic] Dear Maggie I do not mean here to cast any reflection on the girls for sleeping as long. Jessie had a long walk before her that day. Mary was almost an invalid, and Katie – well, I used to let my own girls lie long enough when not working). After breakfast, as your mother required certain necessary things from Cairndow, Mary and I proceeded to get ready for the journey. We had a real nice day and I admired the place very much. After we were gone uncle James and the two boys resolved to make another attempt to ascend Ben Ime. After being furnished with a pair of your father’s boots, and a coat of hardier material than his own, and each one with a stout stick in his hand, they started on their foolhardy errand. From his previous attempt uncle was prepared to find it a tougher job than he estimated it at first, but he had still a deal to learn of the cheating nature of mountain climbing. They managed pretty spiritedly to reach about halfway, joking as they went in the best of humour, but after that their fun got scarce. The first half of the ascent is very easy, being covered with sheep pasture but after that is past, there is nothing but rocks, large and small, through and over which one has to pick his steps rather cautiously. But they were resolved to reach the top, and at it they went. Fergus had one or two slight stumbles, but both he and Aleck surprised uncle with their pluck and powers of endurance. Long before they reached the top they found they had made a great mistake in leaving home without providing themselves with as much as a bite of bread in their pocket. So I think they (I mean the boys, not that blockhead of husband of mine) must be formed of the stuff that heroes are made of, for in spite of the hunger gnawing within them, they had no thought of giving in, and returning till they reached the top. The sight of a small flock of ptarmigans diverted their attentions for a while, and they made some useless endeavours to strike some of the harmless birds with stones. At last success rewarded them and they stood on the top of Ben Ime. They found a circular building of stones on the top, and another smaller one built up from the centre of the larger one. Up this our little band clambered, and then in the exuberance of their triumph they waved their caps from the top of their sticks. Uncle took out his handkerchief and tying it to the top of his stick waved it high over his head, like an old fool. They told us afterwards they saw Mary and I approaching the house through the bog, and that they waved and shouted, but , of course we never heard them, nor had we any idea they were in such a place. They said we appeared just like mice crawling along; and the house itself looked the size of a dog-house from their elevated standpoint. It was awful cold and blowy so high up, and Fergus got as “white as a clout”. And they got terribly hungry. They rung an imaginary hotel bell and ordered a dram of whisky and some biscuits and cheese, but it was a real barmicide’s feast.18 The only good thing was the view, and it was splendid. All the surrounding hills lay below them and Loch Fyne was visible from end to end, and Inveraray was plainly descried on the far side to the loch. After they thought they had enough of it they descended at a galloping speed, and, without mishap reach house and made your mother’s scones and cake and milk disappear as if by magic. Next time they ascend Ben Ime I rather think they will see their pockets are not empty. In our absence Jessie had gone away to her place at Lochgoilhead. I had tried to get her to stay over Monday night and we would go down the road together, but she could not see her way to do this. Katie went along a bit of the road with her. After your father came in and had supper, we assembled in the kitchen and had some more chat. Your father told some stories. We tried to get uncle James to sing a song, but though he sings away at snatches of songs at home, the stupid fellow has not a complete song in his memory. Mary has a sweet voice, but I think she has not been at the trouble to commit many songs to memory. So passed the evening of our fifth holiday.
Tuesday morning was somewhat wet and unpromising. Uncle and the two boys went out to fish, but all they catched was three small trout not worth pulling out of the water. After they came in and got a little refreshment in the shape of milk and scones, they went off again to the hillsides. Uncle was very fond to be about the hills, and he gambolled and ran and jumped like a young colt – the old fool. As the day advanced it showed signs of clearing up, and as uncle had a strong desire to see Cairndow, Mary and I proceeded to go along with him. He wished your mother and Katie also to go, and let the boys stay at home to watch the house and the kyle, but some one remarked they would have the house on fire if left to themselves, and your mother was afraid of the long walk, so she drew back and Katie remained with her. Then seeing these two remain at home, uncle wanted the boys to get, and Fergus was particularly glad to go, but your mother would not let him, and in case he would go in spite of orders to the contrary she ran out after him, and after a struggle, stripped him of his jacket. He was for going as he was in his shirt sleeves and did go about the length of McLean’s, and Aleck also, but at this point they returned home. The day proved very fine, and uncle relished the walk exceedingly. The quietness of the road between the great hills had a perfect fascination for him. We had purposed coming home by the coach, but just as we were turning the bend in the road near Cairndow, we met the coach on the return journey; so we had to make up our minds to foot it both ways. Uncle was delighted with Cairndow, while Mary and I were in the wee shop getting some necessaries for your mother he was outside drinking in the beauty of the scenery. When we came out she showed us St Catherine’s away down the loch, and he said if he had known it was as near he would have make me walk it someday, and get the ferry across to Inveraray, so that we could have had two or three hours with you. If it had not been that we have had to return on the morrow (Wednesday) nothing would have detained him from drawing as many as would have ventured with him to St. Catherines, and thence across the water. He told me “Maggie would not have grudged a walk of that length to see aunt Mary if she was as near her house.” We sauntered for half-an hour in the little churchyard at Cairndow, and then leisurely proceeded homewards. When we came to the road which branches off for St. Catherines, uncle looked quite wistfully down the road as if he fain would have us away that way, for Inveraray to see you. Shortly after we passed that road we met a wandering minstrel in the shape of an old man with a fiddle. At our request he sat down on the roadside and gave us some music from his instrument. It sounded strange to us, there amid the silence of the great hills with no being but ourselves in hearing, to hear this wandering musician discourse some highland airs. James says it recalled to his mind those nice lines in the opening of Scott’s ‘Lay of the Last Minstrel.’
His withered cheek and tresses gray, Seemed to have known a better day’. X X X X The last of all the Bards was he. Who sung of Borden Chivalry For, welladay! Their date was fled His tuneful brethren all were dead. And he, neglected and oppressed, Longed to be with them, and at rest. No more on prancing palfrey borne, He caroll’d, light as lark at morn, No longer courted, and caress’d, High placed in hall, a welcome guest, He poured to lord and lady gay, The unpremeditated lay: Old times were change, old manners gone A stranger filled the Stuart’s throne: The bigots of the iron time Had called his tuneful19 art a crime, A Wandering harper, scorned, and poor He begged his bread from door to door X X X X And much he wished, yet feared to try The long forgotten melody, Amid the strings his fingers strayed, And an uncertain warbling made, And of the shook his heavy head, But when he caught the measure wild, The old man raised his face and smiled, And lightened up his faded eye With all a poet’s ecstasy! In varying cadence, soft and strong, He swept the sounding chords along The present scene, the future lot His toils, his wants were all forgot.
After we parted with the old minstrel, whom should we meet but Fergus. He had gone up to the garret at home and donned some old cast-off jacket, and took the road, for Cairndow. We were right glad to see him, and a bit nearer home, we fell in with Aleck.
In due time we came in sight of Butterbridge, and so ended as pleasant a walk as ever James and I remembered to have had. We had another nice evening of chat. Uncle James was quite chagrined that he could not give even such a snatch of a song. He has nothing much of a voice, but as he says himself any reasonable sort of singing would have been better than none. But he says the like shall not happen again for he is going to study a few songs to be ready at any further time. About ten o’clock we retired and so ended our sixth holiday.
Wednesday morning was very showery, and we were in ‘twenty swithers’ whether we would make up our mind to stay another day or not. Your father was not at work on account of the weather. They were all wishing us to stay and very kindly urged us to but as it showed signs of [****?drying] at midday we resolved to take the road. Uncle had to be at his work on the Thursday, so unless it was a very wet day we thought it best that he should be in on the day appointed, than have to make an excuse for delay. Uncle was out with the boys jumping about the burn and the house till it was about time to start. All holidays come to an end, Maggie, and the vexing “good-byes” must be spoken. After we were ready, and your mother had put a big roll of beautiful butter in my bag, we bade goodbye to Mary and Katie in the house. Your father and your mother and Fergus and Aleck came away with us to give us a start on the road. After seeing us a good bit beyond the Rest-and-be-thankful we took goodbye with them also, and we were once more alone on the road, ‘homeward bound’. Except some slight showers, we had a nice afternoon and the road did not seem to so long as at first. That was, I suppose, because we knew where we were and of the whereabouts of the end of the journey.
We reached Lochgoilhead about three o’clock and of course went straight to Bella’s. I assure you, Maggie, it was a pleasure to think, on our journey that your two sisters were in Lochgoilhead ready to greet us when we got there. It is nice to meet with kenned faces here and there on one’s journey. Jessie happened to be sitting on the seat at Bella’s door when we reached it. Both greeted us kindly, Jessie had a nice bunch of flowers for me and Bella took us into the [****]. We had an hour to chat and we had of course to tell of our adventures at Butterbridge. Bella got ready and they both went with us to the boat. We kept in the boat till we reached Glasgow about eight o’clock, and so ended our holidays which have left impressions of nothing but pleasure to both uncle James and myself. These pleasant impressions are due in some degree to the reasonably fine weather, to the novelty and the quietness of the great hills but in by far the greatest degree are they due to the exceeding and uniform kindness with which we were treated by your dear parents and the other members of the family. In after years our memory will recall with pleasure the various little incidents, and the hearty welcome we received on our trip at Butterbridge.
Dear Maggie, I hope you are keeping in good health and are pleased with your situation. Do not forget that I will be looking for you, when you get a day or two to yourself. I suppose it will not be till the November term. Now don’t forget.
We have just got a letter from Mary Hunter. She was away on a trip to Arran on the 20th July. That was the day we left Butterbridge; but she did not enjoy herself very much as both her [****?mistress] and the girl she was with were seasick all the time they were in the boat. But it is likely she will have told you all about it in a letter. Her mistress has asked her to remain through the winter with her, but she has not decided yet. We had a visit from uncle Sandy and his wife on Monday last (August 8th). Grandmother is looking well.
Dear Maggie I must draw to a close this rambling letter. Uncle James wishes to be kindly remembered to you, and always think of me as ever.
Your affectionate aunt
Allison, Mary: ‘Uncle and Aunt’s trip to Butterbridge, July 1881’ in Alastair Durie Travels in Scotland, 1788 – 1881: A Selection from Contemporary Tourist Journals, Scottish History Society (2012).