ST. FILLAN’S WELL AND HOUSTON.
From our Mound of the mountain views looking nor’-west, we see the handsome red-roofed villas of Kilmacolm scattered along the bosky shoulders of Strathgryffe, with the famous Hydro crowning the hill and overlooking this chaste Suburbia. Through the pleasant valley beneath Kilmacolm, and past Duchal Woods, flows the River Gryffe, a good trouting stream beloved of the placid disciples of Izaak Walton. On the green braes washed by the Gryffe is another Mound, or Moot hill, in beautiful preservation. Almost opposite is the crumbling ruin of old Duchal Castle, and sheltered by the fine plantations is modern Duchal, the residence of Lord Maclay. Duchal is an ancient habitation. It is mentioned in 1296, in the “Lanercost Chronicle,” as the scene of the appearance of the ghost of a certain laird who died “most wickedly,” and “long after his body had been buried” there came “something hideous, gross, and tangible,” and haunted Paisley Abbey and then proceeded to Duchal; why is not stated. The appearance settled on the turrets of Duchal. It was shot at with arrows, but “whatever was driven into that damned substance was burnt to ashes.” One night “it came in the midst of the family.” They fled, with the exception of the eldest son; next morning his body was found “horribly torn,” and the malignant Thing had departed. History touches Duchal on the visit in July, 1489, of King James the Fourth, accompanied by a mighty train of artillery. Among the guns was the famous Mons Meg, which now looks grimly down from the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle on to Princes Street and the new town of Edinburgh. King James came again to Duchal ten years later to meet pretty Marion Boyd, daughter of the laird of Bonshaw, and it was within the walls of the old keep that the fair but frail Marion bore a son to his amorous majesty. That son perished with his father on the field of Flodden.
From our Mound the green path of the golfer leads past the shattered ivy-clad ruin of Ranfurly Castle, a fifteenth century keep. It was long the residence of the old family of Knox of Ranfurly, whose line failed in the notorious Mr. Andro Knox, minister of Paisley, a clerical gentleman of fanatical and imperious temper, and not over scrupulous, untroubled by feelings of consideration for the opinions and scruples of others. His most congenial occupation was ferreting out Catholics or heretics, and securing the punishment of those who ventured to absent themselves from the official preachings and communion. His political conduct brought him the favours of the Court, and on the restoration of Episcopacy by James VI., Andro was appointed Bishop of the Isles. He died in 1632. Over the little burn beneath the castle, and on to the public road which leads downhill to the village of Bridge-of-Weir. As the dated cottage tablets demonstrate, this pleasantly-situated township has changed but little during the last eighty years of a relatively placid existence. Ranfurly is a modern product and occupies different strata geologically and socially, but the same railway station serves both communities. Bear to the left, and cross “the Bridge”-of-Weir, where the Gryffe and its rocky channel and old ruined mills provide an abiding fascination for Dick Tinto and his brotherhood.
Pass the cottage at the Brig-end, and take the highway to the right, fifty yards further on; that is, strike off the main road, which takes one to Kilmacolm, past Duchal and the Moot hill described before, a pleasant walk of three miles. Following our road, however—the Houston road it is called—past an old and disused school wherein generations of Bridge-of-Weir folks were wont in the long ago “to gang to the schule in the morning,” turn on to the country road to the left. It bears the sinister cognomen of the Warlock Road. It is an ancient road, doubtless the route by which the witches and warlocks of Kilmacolm passed to their weird midnight orgies under the blasted Warlock Tree, which you will see to your right in the field past the plantation that crowns the top of the rising ground before you. Uncanny sights and sounds are to be seen and heard around this solitary tree, if perchance you pass it in the mirk and when the winds are soughing over the darkened countryside. The “witches and warlocks” burned on the Gallowgreen of Paisley in 1697 belonged to the Kilmacolm covey, and we may suppose they had passed many a merry hour under this old tree. Who knows?
But witch and warlock vanish before the sunshine and free airs that meet us on the Warlock road. It is a cheerful enough path on a summer day, wending its way through a typical Renfrewshire landscape—a path of pleasant surprises and fine vistas. I have seen Tinto Tap peeping over the Cathkins from this road, but it needs the clearest of days to pree that pleasure. The road has one asset: it is not haunted by the feverish motorist. You may meet a homely farm cart jogging cannily along, and that is a pleasant sight, and to be cherished in these motor-ridden times. It is a switchback road, with farm-tracks branching off and leading to bein farmhouses and steadings embosomed in trees. And three miles of this takes you to the ancient Kirk, Chair, and Holy Well of St. Fillan. Our St. Fillan flourished in the early part of the eighth century, two hundred years later than the saint of the same name who gave a name to St. Fillans on Loch Earn. He made his habitation in a lovely spot, and lonely. It is still one of the back waters of life. A roofless kirk and solitary kirkyard with adjacent crow-stepped gabled and picturesque farmhouse, probably pre-Reformation manse, planted in the shelter of lichen-coated and gnarled beech and elm trees. Tall trees they are, silent sentinels guarding the green mounds, where sleep long generations of the nameless and voiceless dead. Kirk, Holy Well, and the earthfast boulder, known as St. Fillan’s Chair, are worth visiting, for these well-preserved traces of the cultus of St. Fillan form one of the most remarkable ecclesiastical groupings to be found in the West of Scotland. The name of the Kirkland is Kilallan, the cell (kil) or church of Fillan, the F being dropped according to a familiar rule in Gaelic. Many quaint memorials of frail mortality are to be seen in the sculptured tombstones, and significant of hoary age and vanished beliefs is the fact that there are no burials to the north of the church. The well lies on the braeside above the kirk. To its crystal waters mothers long ago were wont to bring their back-gane bairns, the little invalids being bathed in the health-giving liquid. The Saint’s Chair is to the right of the well, close to the farm road. Some years ago an old woman in Bridge-of-Weir told me that folks troubled with rheumatism resorted to St. Fillan’s Chair. The person to be cured took a seat in the chair, and was afterwards dragged by the legs down the brae, the saint’s influence guaranteeing recovery, drastic treatment for anyone, and I should suppose particularly disagreeable to members of the female sex. Follow the farm road mentioned over the hill, past the cottage above the well, and a mile and a half tramp will take you to Corslie Farm (Cross-lea, the lea of the Cross), where you strike the Houston Road going to the right. On the hill above the junction of the roads stands the rare old Cross of Barochan, removed in 1790 to its present site from, unquestionably, the lea of the cross. Tradition says it is a battle cross: Semple, in his continuation of Crawfurd’s “Renfrewshire,” terms it a Danish stone. I venture to assert that it is a religious cross reared during the building, in the twelfth century, of the Shrine of St. Mirin at Paisley and placed by the trackway, the pilgrim’s path that led across the moors from the fords of Clyde at Langbank to St. Mirin’s Shrine. It is a venerable cross, scarred and worn by the wintry gales of the long centuries, still erect and beautiful, as befits a herald of our old and beautiful Faith.
There is fine going on the broad highway that takes you east from Barochan Cross and on to Houston village, a pleasant place, where trees and flowers, and other rural notes abound. But half a mile before climbing the rise that leads down to the village, you pass a farmhouse on the left of the road. Do not pass it: follow the rivulet that flows through the green field on which the farm sits. A few hundred yards down the burn is the ancient well of St. Peter: the rivulet is known as St. Peter’s Burn. Long, long ago Houston was called Kilpeter, i.e., “Cella Petris,” the tutelary saint whose dim memory is preserved in the nomenclature of the well and burn. This is one of the few Scottish Holy Wells enclosed in a built shrine: it is the only canopied holy well I know in the West of Scotland. The more revered wells were covered with stone, and though the written page and tradition are silent, we may take it that at a far distant period a special sanctity attached to this well of St. Peter. The structure is 5 feet 4 inches long and 4 feet broad, somewhat disjointed and obviously neglected and uncared for. These holy wells are very ancient. They are coeval with the dawn of Christianity in Scotland, springs whose curative qualities were venerated by the pagan villagers, and they mark the spot where the people assembled to hear the preacher of a new faith who ofttimes consecrated the eternally flowing spring to the Holy Cross.
You may with profit linger for a space in Houston village. This little hamlet holds in its heart an ancient stone cross, a pillar “lone and grey”; and within its tree-embowered church fifteenth century sculptured effigies of a knight and his lady who passed away in 1450. The Houston relic is a good example of the simpler form of a Scottish mercat cross. The dated head and finial are modern, 1713 being probably the year in which they replaced the original cross surmounting the old shaft. Shaft and base are very ancient, possibly fourteenth century work, and erected doubtless by one of the Houstons—Hew’s town—who founded the barony of Houston in the twelfth century. The church of the effigies is modern, and the figures of Sir Patrick Houston and his wife, Agnes Campbell, are all that survive of the “several sepulchral monuments” which, a writer of 1790 tells us, were preserved in the ancient and now-vanished auld kirk. In the old kirkyard, however, are several interesting stones, notably some of the old family of Wodrow from which the celebrated church historian and minister of Eastwood Parish is believed to have sprung.
From the Cross of Houston the highway leads up a hill to the cross roads—the road to the right will take you, after a mile’s walk, back to Bridge-of-Weir, or you may go straight ahead, through the clachan of Crosslee, a bonnie spot on a summer afternoon, where a fine bridge carries the highway over a lovely bend of the river Gryffe. From Crosslee there is a fine walk by the sylvan and precipitous banks of the Gryffe to the Bridge-of-Weir, where one can join the road to Kilbarchan; and on this walk by the river, artist and photographer will meet with some rare “bits,” and others on picnic bent, some alluring nooks by the riverside, wherein to “dream away a summer day.” Alternatively, the wayfarer may cross the bridge at Crosslee, and a tramp of two miles and a bittock along a pleasant country road, past the railway station of Houston-Crosslee, will take him or her to Johnstone and the Glasgow-bound car—from the Moat Hill above Bridge-of-Weir, a ramble of a little over eight miles.