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THE MACFARLANE COUNTRY
The Old Pass, Trossachs
The shores of Loch Lomond north of Luss are made specially interesting by certain heroic memories of the two greatest of our early kings. Geoffrey of Monmouth, the monkish chronicler who died in 1154, in his fantastic account of King Arthur, describes how that king pursued his enemies up Loch Lomond, besieged, and all but exterminated them on the islands, and overthrew an Irish army which came to their relief. The earlier historian, Nennius, from whom Geoffrey seems to have got his facts, merely states that Arthur fought certain of his battles in Glen Douglas, and this Glen Douglas is identified by Skene in his Celtic Scotland with the high pass which comes over from Loch Long, and descends at the little inn of Inverbeg between Luss and Tarbet.
The other incident is recorded by Archdeacon Barbour in his life of Robert the Bruce, It was during the king's flight after his early defeat by John of Lorn at Dalrigh, near Tyndrum. With his little host he came down on the eastern side of the loch, probably above Inversnaid. Tradition says he sheltered in the fastness there known as Rob Roy's Cave. The enemy was behind, and the loch lay deep in front- No means of escape appeared till James of Douglas discovered "ane litil boat that wad but thresome flit". In that little boat the king was ferried across, and all his host after him. While the passage was being made, Bruce entertained and heartened his men by reciting to them one of the romances which were the chief literature of that time, "Sir Fierabras". One may picture the scene on the shore at Inveruglas, where a ferry still plies across the loch from Inversnaid, Shortly afterwards Bruce met the Earl of Lennox hunting in the hills, and the whole party took boat at Rosneath to spend the winter at Rachryn Isle on the Irish coast.
For a century and a half before the days of Bruce, Inveruglas had been the head-quarters of the Macfarlane chiefs. The ruins of their stronghold are still to be seen on the islet in the little bay. These Macfarlanes were descended from Gilchrist, fourth son of Alwyn, second of the early Earls of Lennox, and took their name from Gilchrist's grandson, Bartholomew or Pharlan. They were famous for their feuds and turbulence. From their gathering-place, a little loch in the hills above Inveruglas, they took their slogan, "Loch Sloy", and by reason of their raiding propensities the moon came to be known through a wide district as "Macfarlane's lantern". On one occasion they came near extinction. Their cattle had been lifted by some Lochaber men, and on following them up, they found the raiders asleep in a bothie. This they promptly set on fire, and not a man escaped. But a gale was blowing, the fire caught the forest, and the Macfarlanes would themselves have been consumed had they not crowded into a small loch at the bottom of a valley. On another occasion, hearing that certain enemies were marching to attack the clan, the Macfarlanes, under Duncan Dhu, set an ambush at a ford, on the Falloch, and exposed at the spot an effigy of one of themselves. On the hostile party coming in sight, they spent most of their arrows in shooting at the dummy figure, and the Macfarlanes, securing these, returned them with overwhelming effect, The attack of the clan on Boturich Castle in the boyhood of James V has already been mentioned.
The Macfarlane chiefs, however, were no mere caterans. They married into the best families in the west country, One of them, knighted by James IV, fell at Flodden, and another was slain at Pinkie. The next chief played an effective part at the Battle of Langside. According to Hollinshed, he had been condemned to die for some outrage, but had been pardoned at the entreaty of the Countess of Moray, and it was by way of return for this clemency that he brought his clan to the battle. Coming up with two hundred of his men at the critical stage of the conflict, he fell fiercely on the flank of Queen Mary's men, and was a chief cause of their overthrow. As if to redeem that act, the son of this chief is said to have founded a hospice for travellers at Bruitfort, opposite Eilean Vou, and his son again took the Royalist side in the wars of Charles I, and consequently was fined 3000 merks and had his castle at Inveruglas destroyed by Cromwell's men. After that time, the Macfarlane chiefs had their seat partly at Tarbet and partly on Eilean Vou, but they were designated as "of Arrochar" from the neighbouring property at the head of Loch Long which had been acquired in the latter part of the fourteenth century. In more recent days, Walter Macfarlane of Arrochar was one of the most exact and industrious antiquaries of his time. His brother, Alexander, a merchant and judge in Jamaica, was founder of Glasgow Observatory, originally called the Macfarlane Observatory. John, son of the third brother, was the last Macfarlane laird of Arrochar. In 1785 his estates were brought to a judicial sale and purchased by Ferguson of Raith. They afterwards became the property of the Colquhouns.
Among the countless admirers of this ancient country of the Macfarlanes, was the famous judge and literary critic, Lord Jeffrey. In the early part of last century, he was a frequent guest at Stuckgown House, which, with its lancet windows, rises among the trees on the steep hill-side a mile or so to the south of Tarbet.
A memory of a different sort belongs to a huge boulder which lies in a hollow by the roadside half-way between Tarbet and Ardlui. Many years ago, a cavern was scooped in its lofty face, and from this the minister of Arrochar preached to his parishioners in the grassy amphitheatre around. It has been called, probably with truth, "the heaviest pulpit in the world".