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When the beauties and interests of Loch Lomond are considered, little thought usually is given to the southern shore — the narrow base of the long triangle formed by the loch as it stretches northward. Yet it can be shown that this is at least as interesting and as charming a region as any round the loch-sides. Only of late, since the road from Glasgow over the Stockiemuir to Drymen Bridge, through the Parish of Kilmaronock to Balloch, and back to town by Dunbarton or Bowling, became a favourite with motorists, has the public come to know anything of the attractions of this region. Yet the view of the loch with its islands from Mount Misery, half-way along this shore, is perhaps the finest to be had — it was the view chosen by a famous artist for his picture, "The Plains of Heaven"; the village of Gartocharn is one of the sweetest in Scotland; and the memories of the district are romantic and tragic to the last degree.

The story of the region may be said to begin with the charter of Alexander II in 1238 confirming the possession of the Lennox to Malduin, the third Earl. In that charter, for reasons of state, the King withdrew from the Earl the possession of Dunbarton Castle, and from that year the Earls of Lennox had their chief seat at Balloch, All that is left of their stronghold here is a low mound with traces of a moat on the haugh beside the Leven, near the spot where that river leaves the loch — hence the name, Balloch, Another Balloch in a similar position stood where the Tay issues from Loch Tay. The "Braes o' Balloch" mentioned in the song, "Roy's Wife of Aldivalloch", refer to that neighbourhood, though the old stronghold of Balloch there has been rebuilt and renamed Taymouth Castle.

A number of years ago, when some excavations were made at the old moat by the side of the Leven, certain timbers, firmly fastened together and believed to have been part of the ancient drawbridge, were found, as well as a causeway strewn with huge quantities of mussel shells. The stronghold of which these were relics was rich in memories, While the Earls of Lennox lived at Balloch, the place was associated with some of the most thrilling events in Scottish history. Henry the Minstrel relates how Sir William Wallace, after slaying some Englishmen who had stolen his uncle's sumpter mules, crossed the old wooden bridge over the Clyde at Glasgow, and escaped to the Lennox, where he was entertained by the Earl. Lennox also was one of the two earls who fought on Bruce's side when he was defeated in his first fight at Methven, and either at that period, or later, when Bruce lived at Cardross, the stronghold here is certain to have entertained the King. Malcolm, the fifth of these old earls, who thus entertained Wallace and Bruce, afterwards, as an old man, fell in the patriotic cause at the Battle of Halidon Hill, which for a time reversed all the victories of the great King Robert.

It was in the time of Malcolm's great-grandson, Earl Duncan, that disaster overwhelmed the house, This disaster had its origin in a curious deed executed at the Earl's island stronghold on Inch Murren in the loch, By that deed Duncan agreed to marry his eldest daughter, Isabella, to Murdoch, eldest son of the ambitious Robert, Earl of Fife, afterwards Duke of Albany, second son of King Robert II, and to settle the earldom of Lennox on the young pair and their heirs. All the world knows how Albany secured the imprisonment of his nephew, James I, in England, and how he and his son Murdoch, as Regents, misruled Scotland for half a lifetime, Nemesis arrived with the return of James I in 1424. At a parliament at Perth in March, 1425, Murdoch, Duke of Albany, Isabella, his wife, Walter and Alexander, their two eldest sons, and Duncan, Earl of Lennox, were seized. Only the youngest son, Big James Stewart, escaped, and in his fury, hastening to the west, he sacked and burned Dunbarton, and slew there the King's uncle, ancestor of the Marquess of Bute. Two months later, in a parliament at Stirling, Duke Murdoch, his two sons, and his father-in-law were tried, condemned, led out to the Heading Hill, and there executed amid the lamentations of the people.

Duncan's earldom of the Lennox, however, was not forfeited, and the Duchess Isabella, released from Tantallon, made her way hither, took up her residence in the stronghold on Inch Murren, and devoted the rest of her long life to good works. Among other good deeds she founded the Collegiate Church at Dunbarton in the year 1450.

On the sad events of that time at Balloch, John Galt founded his romance The Spaewife. A further pretty story might be made of the secluded life of the widowed duchess on the island. Big James Stewart, the son who escaped the vengeance of James I, had no lawful children. He had, however, seven natural sons, One of them, Andrew Stewart, was brought up by his grandmother on Inch Murren, with what hopes, who can tell? About 1456, three years before the death of the duchess, James II, touched perhaps by pity for the fate of the house of Albany, made him Lord Evandale. During the boyhood of James III he was Chancellor of Scotland, and practically supreme in the councils of the kingdom. It says much for his moderation that he sought and obtained for himself no more than a life possession of the lands of the earldom, and a portion for his sister Matilda, married to Edmonstoun of Duntreath. There were other heirs waiting hungrily for their shares of the inheritance, and the transaction by which it came at last to be divided is known as the Partition of the Lennox.

Besides the Duchess Isabella and an illegitimate son, Donald, ancestor of the Lennoxes of Woodhead, Earl Duncan had other daughters, one, Margaret, married to Sir John Menteith of Rusky, and Elizabeth, married to Sir John Stewart of Darnley, Lord d'Aubigné and Constable of France. Half of the earldom accordingly went to Elizabeth's grandson, Stewart of Darnley, while the other half was divided between Margaret's two daughters, Elizabeth, married to John Napier of Merchiston, and Agnes, married to Sir John Haldane of Gleneagles. Thus it came about that a later Napier of Merchiston, the famous mathematician of Queen Mary's time, worked out his logarithms at his country seat at Gartness, on the Endrick, near Drymen, and that a hamlet half a mile eastward out Of Balloch is still known as Mill of Haldane.

Meanwhile Stewart of Darnley was giving trouble to the Government. He claimed not only half of the lands of the earldom but the title of Earl of Lennox. He applied first to the Chancellor, Evandale, then to the King, had his claim admitted in 1473 and withdrawn in 1475. Hot with discontent he was one of those who seized James III at Lauder in 1482, tried to force him to abdicate in 1485, and finally helped to overthrow him at Sauchieburn in 1488. For his reward he was acknowledged as Earl by James Iv and the parliament, and made governor of Dunbarton Castle, with Renfrewshire, Dunbartonshire, and part of the counties of Lanark and Stirling. Almost immediately, however, he raised a great rebellion against the King, who himself besieged and took his castles of Crookston and Dunbarton. For all this, strangely enough, he was forgiven, but it was no doubt a relief to all when he died, between 1493 and 1495. His son Matthew, the second Stewart Earl of Lennox, was evidently a close friend of the King. James was frequently at Dunbarton looking after his growing navy, and his household accounts show that when there he often visited the Earl at Balloch. Thus we know that on 10th August, 1507, he dined at Balloch Castle and lost sixteen shillings afterwards at cards. Finally, on Flodden Field, along with the Earl of Argyll, Lennox commanded the Scottish right wing, and fell fighting bravely at the head of his men.

From the time of that great national disaster the old castle of Balloch appears to have been forsaken, and to have fallen gradually into ruin. 

Ben Lomond from Luss

The present Balloch Castle on the hill-side above had its origin in other and later ambitions. In 1652 the fourth Duke of Lennox, representative of the younger line of the old Darnley family, sold Balloch to Sir John Colquhoun of Luss, and the ferry and the fishings and the site of Balloch Fair still belong to Sir John's descendants. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, however, the rest of the estate was acquired by John Buchanan of Ardoch. Ardoch itself, a little farther along the loch-side, had been bought in 1683 by John Buchanan's great-grandfather, a descendant of the thirteenth laird of Buchanan. John Buchanan's father, Thomas, had owned the largest hat factory in Glasgow, and John Buchanan himself was a Deputy-Lieutenant and Member of Parliament for Dunbartonshire, His ambition was to found a family on Loch Lomondside, and he bought not only Balloch estate, but the lands of Boturich, between it and Ardoch itself. He had a son and three daughters, the eldest of whom was married to Robert Finlay of Easterhill, and he built two mansions, Balloch Castle and Boturich Castle. Alas for his ambitions! In a very few years his possessions were divided. Balloch passed first into the hands of a Mr. Gibson Stott, and afterwards of Mr. Dennistoun-Brown, great-grandson of a provost of Glasgow, by whose daughters it was sold to the City of Glasgow in 1915.

Boturich Castle, which also finely overlooks the loch from the slopes of Mount Misery a little way farther east, remains in possession of the descendant of Mary Buchanan and her husband Robert Finlay of Easterhill. It stands on the foundations of an older stronghold of which another tale is to be told.

When the old Lennox earldom was divided at the end of the fifteenth century, "the twa Boturichis" were among the possessions that fell to Haldane of Gleneagles. The laird of the time was slain with James IV on Flodden Field, and he left a beautiful young widow, Marion, daughter of Lawson of Humbie, a provost of Edinburgh. This lady presently had a lover, the doughty Squire Meldrum, laird of Cleish and Binns near Kinross. While Meldrum was dallying with the lady at Gleneagles in Strathearn, a message reached them that Boturich here was being harried and besieged by the wild Macfarlanes from the head of the loch. It was Meldrum's opportunity. Gathering his forces he hurried to the scene, and with great valour drove off the assailants of Boturich. The incident is fully related in Sir David Lindsay's well-known poem, "Squyer Meldrum". Alas for the doughty knight! A little later he was assailed behind Holyrood by Stirling of Keir, his rival for the lady's hand, and, overpowered by numbers, was left for dead, with his legs houghed and the knobs of his elbows hacked off. The rest of his days he spent on his own estate, administering physic and law to his tenants.

Ardoch, to the east of Boturich, is now mostly merged in the estate of Ross, and nothing is left of the little old house of its Buchanan lairds but a broken wall with a window-sill or two at the head of the beautiful little Ardoch glen.

The Ross itself takes its name from the low promontory on which its mansion is built. It has been a possession since 1624 of a branch of the house of the Chiefs of Buchanan, the family "of the Ross and Drumakill" of which the famous Latinist, George Buchanan, was a member. After Balloch and Rossdhu it is the spot with perhaps the most interesting associations on Loch Lomondside. In popular tradition it is haunted with a curse which dates from the break-up of the last Jacobite rebellion. Among the fugitives after Culloden was the Marquess of Tullibardine, elder brother of the Duke of Atholl. As a young man he had already been forfeited for his part in the rising of 1715, and for his latest transgression he was fleeing for his life, when he came to the gates of the Ross. From the laird, an old friend, it is said, he besought protection, and Buchanan admitted him, and lodged him in one of the vaulted apartments still to be seen below the present mansion. Then he went to Dunbarton and informed King George's officer there that he had Tullibardine under lock and key. As the prisoner was being carried off it is said he hurled a curse at the house — "There'll be Murrays on the braes of Atholl when there's never a Buchanan at the Ross!" As fulfilment of his curse it is pointed out that the male line of the Ross failed at the end of the eighteenth century. The estates were then claimed by two heiresses, Jean Buchanan of the Ross and Lilias Bald. In the long and intricate legal proceedings Jean Buchanan's case was advocated by Hector Macdonald, son of Colin Macdonald of Boisdale, and he afterwards married his client, took the name of Buchanan, purchased a number of the old family properties, and build the present Ross Priory. As if the family curse were not yet exhausted, however, all the fine sons of this pair died before their father. Three daughters were left, and in 1830 the second of these married the scion of an ancient Aberdeenshire family, Sir Alexander Leith, Bart., whose grandson, Sir Alexander Leith-Buchanan, is now laird of the Ross.

During the time of Hector Macdonald Buchanan, a frequent visitor at Ross Priory was Buchanan's brother Clerk of Session, Sir Walter Scott. Here the Great Unknown got much of the material for his Lady of the Lake and Rob Roy, and in a first-floor bedroom, looking across to the Pass of Balmaha, he wrote a great part of the latter tale. Gartachraggan or Town-foot, a farmhouse in full view of the room where he wrote, was the "Garscattachan" of the romance. On Inch Cailleach, also in sight, is still to be seen the slab, mention of which he puts into the mouth of Rob Roy: "By the halidom of him that sleeps under the grey stane on Inch Cailleach!" It was from Gallangad, a farm in the upper part of the parish, that the men of Roderick Dhu drove the white bull in whose hide Brian the Hermit was to dream the future of Clan Gregor. And to the east, near the manse of the parish, still flows the spring which furnished the novelist with the title of a later book, St. Ronan's Well. The name of the parish, Kilmaronock, is believed to mean "the kirk of my little Ronan", and is transformed in the Lady of the Lake into "Maronnan's Cell".


The authorship of the Waverley novels was at that time a profound secret, but there were certain persons who must have been able to make a shrewd guess at the mystery. Mr. Macfarlan, afterwards Principal Of Glasgow University, was at that time minister of the neighbouring parish of Drymen, and one evening, on meeting Scott at dinner at the Ross, he quoted to him a curious rhyme regarding a village which was then part of his parish:

Baron o' Buchlyvie,
May the foul fiend drive ye,
And a' to pieces rive ye,
     For biggin' sic a toun,
Where there's neither horse meat nor man's meat,
     Nor a chair to sit doun!

A few weeks later, when these lines appeared at the head of the twenty-eighth chapter of Rob Roy, Macfarlan would have a leading clue to the name of the author.

In the time of Scott and Hector Macdonald Buchanan, the Lords of Justiciary used to travel to Inveraray by the Stockiemuir and Loch Lomondside, spending a night at Ross Priory, and it is said they were regularly regaled upon whisky that had never paid a farthing of excise duty. The district was then notorious for the number of its "sma' stills", and the traffic was only brought to an end at last, after the trial of two of the "free traders" for the murder of a threatening informer, when a revenue cutter was placed upon the loch.

Another traffic on the loch at that time was the export of red sandstone flags from the quarries of Kilmaronock to pave the streets of Glasgow. Some of these were shipped from the little harbour at Townfoot. Others were sawn at Ballagan, and probably shipped on the Leven at Balloch.

This quiet part of the loch shores probably came into its most intimate touch with the great events of history in the year 1685. James VII and II, with his Romanizing tendencies, had just succeeded to the throne of his brother Charles II, and efforts were being made for a revolution. While the Duke of Monmouth landed in the south of England, the Earl of Argyll made a descent in Scotland. Landing on Eilean Dearg at the mouth of Loch Ridden, he gathered his clan, and marched eastward to reach the lowlands. He had crossed the Water of Leven at Balloch, and was on his way through Kilmaronock when, at the burn which drives the Aber mill, he was told there was a force of Government soldiers in the village ahead. A more resolute commander would have attacked at once and carried the place, but Argyll called a council of war. By his officers he was advised to avoid a conflict till reinforced by the friends believed to be in Glasgow. Accordingly, lighting great fires of the peats, which he found drying on the spot, to lead the Government troops to believe he was bivouacking for the night, he set off across the Kilpatrick hills to the south. In the darkness, among the bogs and lochs, most of his little army went home, and at Old Kilpatrick, in the morning, he found he had only five hundred men. Giving up the enterprise, he disbanded his force, and, disguising himself, crossed the Clyde, to be captured by two labourers a few hours later at St. Conval's Stone, near Inchinnan. Regarding the incident, Lord Macaulay remarks: "Who ever heard of an army being successful that was commanded in the field by a committee?"

King Robert the Bruce, in 1324, granted the church of Kilmaronock to the Abbey of Cambuskenneth, and it was served by a perpetual vicar. Most historical of its vicars was John Porterfield, of the time of Queen Mary, whom the Regent Lennox, his near neighbour here, made first of the "tulchan" Archbishops of Glasgow. About the year 1450, the Duchess Isabella gave the lands of Ballagan, near Balloch, to the Friars Preachers of Glasgow, and they seem to have built a chapel at the spot now known as Shenagles, or "Old Kirk". Last of all, in 1771, when Lord Stonefield, then patron, forced a minister on the parish, a large part of the congregation broke away and founded the Relief Kirk, which still stands above the modern village of Gartocharn. There was also another meeting-place, of Reformed Presbyterians, on the slope of Duncryne Hill. 'When it fell to ruins, through poverty, the faithful remnant tramped every Sunday to Dunbarton, and crossed the Clyde to Kilmacolm, to worship with folk of their own opinions there. So the parish of Kilmaronock presents a pretty fair epitome of the ecclesiastical history of Scotland.

Of the early secular lords of the parish a significant memorial remains at Catter, overlooking the Endrick at the south-eastern corner of the loch. This is one of the most perfect mote-hills in the country. Here the early Earls of Lennox had their seat of justice, and in the hollow in its summit the gallows was erected, in a stone still to be seen, for the last act of the law.

Luss Straits

When the earls granted charters of the lands of Buchanan on the east side of the loch and of Arrochar on the west side, to the chiefs of Buchanan and Macfarlane respectively, it was with the express reservation that delinquents condemned by these chiefs could be executed only on the earl's gallows at Catter. The word Catter itself is the old British caer, a fort, and the presumption is that a stronghold stood on the spot from the earliest times. It is now the residence of the chamberlain to the Duke of Montrose,

By the Earls of Lennox the lands of Kilmaronock appear to have been assigned to Sir Malcolm Fleming for the keeping of Dunbarton Castle. About the middle of the fourteenth century, along with Inch Cailleach, they were conveyed by Malcolm Fleming, Earl of Wigton, to his son-in-law, Sir John Dennistoun of Dennistoun, chief of the once great family of Danielston, or Dennistoun, in Renfrewshire. Sir John's sister, Joanna Dennistoun, was the mother of Elizabeth Mure of Rowallan, wife of King Robert II, and mother of King Robert III, so there was a close connection with the royal house itself. It was the proud boast of the Dennistouns to say: "Kings have come of us, not we of kings".

Dennistoun appears to have built the strong castle which still stands, a ruin, on the Mains of Kilmaronock, by the Endrick side. His arms are to be seen on a shield above one of its windows, Within these walls was probably reared a somewhat sinister personage of that time. Sir John's second son, Master Walter of Danyelstone, has his deeds recorded in the chronicles of both Wyntoun and Fordoun. Though parson of Kincardine O'Neil, on Deeside, he appears, like his royal cousin, the Wolf of Badenoch, to have been a complete swashbuckler. By some means now unknown, he seized Dunbarton Castle. Fordoun says he took and kept the stronghold with a large military force, to the great annoyance of the king and kingdom; and Wyntoun describes how he oppressed Linlithgow and other places, and how his men from the castle perpetrated "wicked deeds many and fell". So formidable was this bandit priest, and so serious were his depredations, that his cousin, Robert, Duke of Albany, then at the head of the Government, found it necessary to make terms with him. The price required by Danyelstone, for giving up the castle of Dunbarton, was nothing less than the bishopric of St, Andrews. So urgent, however, was the matter that, though his own brother was bishop-elect, Albany carried out the transaction, and Danyelstone became Bishop of St. Andrews in 1402.

On the death of the bishop's elder brother, Sir Robert Dennistoun of that ilk, in 1404, the great estates of the family were divided between his two daughters, and  the representation of the family was carried on by his younger brother, Dennistoun of Colgrain, below Cardross, Sir Robert's elder daughter, Margaret, married Sir William Cunningham of Kilmaurs, and in his hands and those of his descendants, the Earls of Glen-cairn, the lands of Kilmaronock remained till 167o, A considerable estate in the parish is still owned by a branch of this house.

In the time of the next owner, William Cochrane of Kilmaronock, as he was called, grandson of the first Earl of Dundonald, an interesting transaction occurred. The lands had been made a barony held from the Crown for payment of fourpence yearly, and the laird was liable to make good to his tenants all losses sustained through reivers from the upper passes of the loch, These losses became very frequent, and to get rid of his liability, Cochrane feued the lands to his tenants at the rents they were paying. The properties thus became their own, but they had now themselves to bear the losses of cattle - lifting, Strangely enough, the losses immediately ceased, These lands are held by the Aber lairds, as they are called, to the present day.

A branch of another noble family, the Grahams, Earls of Menteith, also had a possession in the district. The lands of Gallangad continued to belong to their descendant, Mr. R. B. Cunningham Graham of Gartmore, till the beginning of the present century. There, over a hundred years previously, was born the hapless individual known as the Beggar-Earl. Beginning life as a medical student, he claimed the earldom, and actually voted at Holyrood; but latterly he was reduced to sad straits, wrought as a builders' hodman, and in the end was found dead under a hedge in Bonhill. His remains lie in Bonhill kirkyard. In the recesses of Gallangad glen a notable waterfall, within hearing of which he must often have dreamed of greatness, may be taken to sing his requiem.

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