THE WHANGIE AND THE AULD WIVES’ LIFTS.
(Via RED CAR TO HILLFOOT.)
JOIN CAR AT FOOT OF GLASSFORD STREET, ST. VINCENT PLACE, OR COWCADDENS.
Route—Glassford Street—St Vincent Place—Cowcadden—New City Road—Maryhill Road—Cannieshurn Toll—Hillfoot.
IF you join this car at St. Vincent Place you do so at what may be described legitimately as the very hub of the business life of Glasgow. You are within a bow shot of the Royal Exchange, the Stock Exchange, the Municipal Chambers, and the offices of the city’s oldest and greatest newspaper, “The Glasgow Herald.” Vast and almost incredible are the changes that have taken place within the past century and a half in and around this district. Supposing you had stood on this spot on a summer day, say in 1770. Around you is a green meadow, the Meadowflat on which Buchanan Street is built. On this meadow and near to the tree-bordered Dumbarton Road (Argyle Street of to-day) stands a solitary mansion surrounded by pleasant gardens. This house stood about twenty yards above the site of the present Arcade. It was the property of John Gordon of Aikenhead, and was the first house built in Buchanan Street. A cameo from the past is the announcement on 15th March, 1781, of the sale of this house:—“By public roup, these two plots of ground in Buchanan Street, now converted into a garden, surrounded with brick walls 12 feet high, planted round with various kinds of fruit trees, with a well communicating by pipes with the house, and other conveniences, etc.” The purchaser was James M‘Dowall, partner of Robert Boyle & Co., and afterwards Lord Provost of the city. About a hundred and fifty yards from John Gordon’s house and facing Dumbarton Road are some thatched buildings, described in the “Glasgow journal” of 10th October, 1776, as “that large kiln and brewery near to St. Enoch’s Burn,” the site to-day of the palatial premises of Messrs. Macdonalds Limited.
Looking due east (towards where now is George Square) you see rough broomlands, beyond which are the grey houses of Glasgow. Between you and these broomlands is a country road, the Cow Loan, now Queen Street. Branching off it is another loan winding east across the fields to the city. This was the Back Cow-lone, familiar to us as Ingram Street; and where the two lones joined and on the ground now dignified by the Royal Exchange is a thatched farm and steading with a great “muck midden” adorning the entrance to the farm town and facing the Back Cow Loan, now Ingram Street. Ten years later than our survey, William Cunningham of Lainshaw bought the farm with its odorous pertinents, razed them, and erected what was described as “the most superb surban place of residence in Scotland.” This was in 1780. This house was bought in 1789 by John Stirling (who built Tulliechewan Castle) of William Stirling & Sons: it passed in 1817 to the Royal Bank. In 1827 the bank sold it to the Exchange, who built the splendid portico in front and the news room on the garden behind the house. The existing underwriters’ room was the ball room of John Stirling’s old mansion. The Cow Lone meandered up the hill north to the fields of the Cowcaddens, passing up what is now Dundas Street and Dundas Lane, and so up Buchanan Street to where that street merges into the Cowcaddens opposite Buchanan Street Station. The curious twistings and turnings in the route I have described were determined by the twistings and turnings of this ancient Lone, where in 1760, “in wet weather cattle sank in its glaur to mid leg and were often ‘laired’ causing the Herd no small trouble in getting the bestial out.”
We go to Cowcaddens by a more comfortable road and on which there is no danger of a tramcar being “laired,” a tolerable compensation for being born outwith the “good old times!” Almost where we enter Cowcaddens at the top of West Nile Street there was a clachan of theekit cots, and adjoining the farm of Little Cowcaddens. Cowcaddens (annexed in 1846 to the city) is an old Glasgow place-name. We find it in various forms: for example, in May, 1521, “Johne Gayne and his son Tome Gayne were rentalit in 13s. 4d. land off Kowkadens,” and in 1532 “Jhon Wallas and Alleson Gayne, his spous, get ane merk of ferm land of the Kowcaldens.” A few years subsequent to this grant we read in the Protocols of “the hill of Cowcaldanis, alias Symmerhill on the south.” So the district is named on the 26th January, 1575. We know the “Symmerhill” now as Garnethill, a title that dates from about 1800, when a certain Dr. Garnet, a gentleman of astronomical tastes built an observatory at the corner of Hill Street and Garnethill Street, adjacent to his house and garden. Long before Dr. Garnet’s day the court of “perambulation of marches” was held at the “Symmerhill on Sunday, 24th June, 1576.” It was also the scene of “wapynschauings,” ance on 18th June, 1601, the Council ordered that the “haill inhabitantes, fremen, burgessis, salbe in redyness with their armour, on futte, upoun Weddinsday morning being the Symmerhill daye, and the provest, baillers, and counsale to be on horsbak.”
An era of prosperity followed upon the opening of the canal to Port Dundas—foundries, ironworks, mills, and other industries being established in rapid succession Prior to the opening of Port Dundas in 1777, the folks of Cowcaddens village were employed largely in working in Bell’s Cowcaddens Quarry—now Renfrew Court. The present Theatre Royal stands on and was built from the outcrop stone of this Cowcaddens quarry. A century ago the town’s powder magazine stood where now stands the Normal School; and the Grand Theatre occupied the site of a silk mill. The treasured open space known as Phoenix Park was the site for over a century of the Phoenix Iron Works, started about 1786, and a few hundred yards from this “park” at the gushet formed by the junction of Garscube Road and Possil Road is “Society Row.” This augustly named “Row” formed the southern boundary of Nelson’s Foundry, where in 1831 there was built the “Fairy Queen,” the first iron steamboat to ply on the Clyde. The vessel was carted down to the Broomielaw. It is significant of the changed landscape when we read in the account of the journey that so narrow was the road the cart and vessel stuck at Wilson’s orchard when turning from the Cowcaddens into Renfield Street, and were only able to proceed after the felling of several of the obstructing trees! Cowcaddens and Renfield Street junction has changed somewhat since the days of the “obstructing trees.”
As noted Cowcaddens owes its industrial extension as a community to the opening of the canal, so also does Maryhill, to which we go by the busy Maryhill Road. In pre-canal days there was “no sich place.” Coincident with the formation of the canal through this district, there was erected about 1785-90 in the vicinity of the locks, quite a village of houses for the labourers. The settlement was known as the Drydock, although tradition avers that the prefix did not indicate a prohibition area. In 1793 the place-name Maryhill was conferred upon the district by the proprietrix of the lands—Miss Mary Hill. This lady, with the consent of her husband, Robert Graham, “granted to Robert Craig, grocer, all and whole that piece of ground measuring 32 falls and 6 yards as now laid off for building a town upon which is to extend from Glasgow to Garscube Bridge, and which it is hereby provided shall be in all time called the town of Maryhill.” This “town” attained the dignity of a Police Burgh in 1852 in 1891 it was annexed by the city. It has also attained the dignity of a poetic immortality, for those who know their Kipling will remember the couplet in “M‘Andrew’s Hymn”—
“Fra Maryhill to Pollokshaws
Fra Govan to Parkhead.”
And, in addition to these notable events, it gave a Lord Provost to Glasgow in the person of Sir Archibald M‘Innes Shaw, a member of a family long and honourably connected with the district; and as we pass the Barracks—erected 1817—and out of Maryhill, the car sweeps through the beautiful woods of Garscube. The palatial House of Garscube is the home of the Campbells of Succoth, a branch of the ducal race of Argyll. The baronetcy was conferred upon the Succoth family on the retirement of Sir Hay Campbell from the president’s chair of the Court of Session in 1808. Sir Hay’s mother was the daughter of Wallace of Elderslie and a descendant of the “Wallace Wight.”
At Canniesburn Toll the car takes the road that bends sharply to the right and towards “Milguy.” The highway we leave here goes straight ahead to Bearsden. Half a mile along our road we see Bearsden on our left and reach Hillfoot Station—the present car terminus; at this point we cross the line of the Roman Wall. We are on profoundly historic ground. On our right is Ferguston Muir, where near the cemetery at the top of the ridge the Roman rampart and ditch are to be seen in fairly good preservation. The ditch is still about five feet deep and between thirty and forty wide; while within the cemetery there is preserved a portion of the stone foundation of the famous Rampart or Wall. The Scottish or Antonine Wall was composed of layers of turf with a base of stone, and the section here laid bare is highly interesting, as it shows a culvert crossing the base, and as the Rampart climbs a steep slope, the stone foundation appears to have been stepped. To the left of our highway here is a wilderness of the trim villas of Bearsden. These occupy a site of one of the nineteen great Forts connected with the Roman Wall. The memory of this Fort is dim, and only a few meagre details have been gleaned regarding it. Gordon and Horsley in 1730, Roy in 1793, Stuart in 1845, and Macdonald in 1911, agree as to the position and dimensions of this Fort of New Kilpatrick or Bearsden. Stuart accounts for its complete disappearance when he says, “the remains of the Roman works about New Kilpatrick have proved a perfect quarry for building materials. Many hundred cartloads of stone have been removed.” So has this Fort vanished, and the ground once thronged by the soldiers of Rome is now adorned by the villas and gardens of bosky Bearsden. Very few relics have been recovered from this Fort. The reason seems fairly obvious. The site was never investigated in the same careful and scientific manner as distinguished and rendered memorable the work of the Glasgow Archaeological Society at Bar Hill, two miles east of Auchendavy (about two miles from Croy Station on the Glasgow-Edinburgh line from Queen Street) and the highest fort on the Roman Wall, standing as it does 495 feet above sea level: and at Balmuildy two miles from the Lambhill car terminus. A mass of relics was discovered at Bar Hill and Balmuildy pottery, window glass and glass bottles, sculpture, money, querns, tools, staves of barrels, a magnificent chariot wheel in perfect condition, and shoes that had been worn by men, women, and children. There is little doubt that similar relics lie buried in Bearsden. Prior to the advent of the villas, exploration was brimful of possibilities, but the hour has passed and the gardens of this sheltered and beautiful suburb will for aye, I fancy, retain within their chaste embraces the buried treasures of the cohorts of patrician Rome.
TO THE AULD WIVES’ LIFTS.
At this point the rambler has the choice of a modest but interesting six miles ramble. Continue on the road uphill past the cemetery and the exposed remains of the foundation of the Roman Wall. Steadily rising you pass on the left the farm of Boclair. This is a fine country road, open and level, looking across green meadows, and, in autumn, golden corn lands. A little less than a mile past Boclair you come to where three roads meet, and when you leave what I may call Boclair road you leave Dunbartonshire and slip into Stirlingshire. The highway that goes east, and to the right a short distance on your left from the Boclair road, takes you to the loch of Bardowie. This sheet of water sleeps in calm beauty in the hollow of the uplands. The shy water-hen nests in its sedgy margins, the perch and the pike haunt its depths in which is mirrored the grey castellated keep of Bardowie. A multitude of interests invites the lover of nature to this spot. Artist of the brush, knight of the camera, botanist and entomologist, alike, will find seductive stimulant to their tastes in the rush and sedge and water-weed, the alder and “her powdery curls,” the vivid green of the willow, and the blue of the loch barred with silver between the soft grey shadows that flit over it in the long summer days.
So to Baldernock Kirk, set in its old and silent God’s Acre amid the kindly shadows of old trees, a quaintly picturesque grouping over which there lingers the sweet country air. It stands high on the shoulder of the hills, 313 feet above sea level. The country road to the right a little past the kirk takes you to the farm of High Blochairn, and from there you go right up hill by the cart road to North Blochairn. There you are on the edge of the Moor of Craigmaddie, across which there is a track to the far-famed Auld Wives’ Lifts, a cyclopean relic of
‘Rugged stone, black, pond’rous from the plain,
A landmark, fix’d by men of ancient times,”
an impressive monument, “hoary rocks of giant size,” standing to-day as they have stood for countless centuries where silence and solitude are unbroken. Their origin and design are of the secrets of the past. They may have served the purpose of “landmarks” or meeting places of the prehistoric tribesmen inhabiting that wind-swept plateau: they may have been sepulchral: they may be survivals of the glacial age. We do not know. Faerie mythology tells us these immense amorphous masses were torn from their native crags on the upper edge of the moors by the fairies. Another story has it that certain “auld wives” carried them in their aprons and reared them at this spot, a Herculean task, obviously, and essayed for reasons which must remain inscrutable; Herculean when we think that the top or table stone (over which the ghost of the shadow of the old Druid theosophy still lingers) measures 22 feet by 11 feet, and the two supporting blocks respectively 20 feet by 8 feet and 14 feet by 10 feet. Ossian understood the haunting mystery of the monoliths of the moors—
“Speak, O stone, to the years that wander beyond the sun
Let the moss of time cover thee, thou sign of peace on Moruth: let the ghosts of the dead defend thee.”
I believe the living now assume that task, and no one may approach the Auld Wives’ Lifts without having secured a permit from the proprietor of the moor.
From North Blochairn farm go due west along the edge of the moor, and in the planting on your right you pass the shattered remnant of the ancient castle of the Galbraiths. At a remote period the Galbraiths were a leading family in the shires of Stirling and Dunbarton. Arthur de Galbrait of Craigmaddie was one of the Scottish barons who, in 1296, swore fealty to Edward I. A century after Scottish independence had been won, the Craigmaddie family “ended wi’ a lass,” and the lands passed to other races. And from this planting your road goes straight ahead and downward, skirts Craigmaddie reservoir and takes you into Milguy, whence you may return to the city by train, or trek back to Hillfoot—where this modest ramble began. Meantime our other and primary objective is
that strange and titanic split in the hills overlooking desolate Dumbarton Muir. We go from Milngavie, following the Allander water to the Drymen road. Milngavie, more familiar as “Milguy,” is set amid pastures and cornfields and can boast of such fine vistas of hill and dale as will deter the wayfarer from lingering within its bounds. As a place-name “Milguy” is tolerably venerable; it appears as such in Timothy Pont’s “Picture of Scotland,” issued in 1654 Amsterdam. Incidentally Pont was the first projector of a Scotch atlas, and his maps are perhaps better known under the name of his publisher, Blaeu. A pathway above a dam leads us from Milguy by the right-hand bank of the Allander, a bonnie burn with deep and dark pools where trout were wont to hide before the era of the bleach and dye works of the district. Among the foliage on the richly-wooded slope to our left we catch a glimpse of the quaint yet stately home of Clober, overlooking a romantic old-world garden. It is a notable house. A Glasgow merchant, Mr. James Macgregor, erected the oldest portion in 1773. He was the father-in-law of James Watt, the celebrated engineer, and the still existing Clober Bleachfield by the Allander was planned by Watt. During its construction he superintended the making of the water courses and the erection of the machinery—an association that lends an abiding interest to our little river.
After passing this point strike across the field to the right and on to the road a few hundred yards away. This road marches with the Allander. Following this highway for a mile and a bit, with Mugdock Wood in which stands the old castle of Mugdock by your side, and, at the lodge where the road divides, cross the Allander, and a path takes you past the golf course, over the little burn of Craigton and on to the famous Drymen Road. Two miles of this finely surfaced switch-backed highway brings you to the old hostel which stands by the roadside about half a mile beyond the little brig that carries this road to the Highland Hills of Aberfoyle. This bien caravansary is known as the Halfway; it stands ten miles and four furlongs from the Cross of Glasgow, and in the coaching days it was the half-way stage for travellers to Aberfoyle and the highlands. It is an ancient hostelry: its title deeds go back three hundred years.
During these long years it has welcomed many strange visitors and some of the Immortals. It was here that the great prototype of Glasgow civic life, Bailie Nicol Jarvie, put up along with Mr. Andrew Fairservice on that immortal expedition to meet Rob Roy at the Clachan of Aberfoyle. In these distant days it was “a most miserable alehouse,” but with possibilities. Did not the good wife tell our travellers that “the guidinan had been at the hill”? significant information followed by the advent of a “broiled moor fowl, ewe milk cheese, dried salmon, and oaten bread,” halesome farin’ which they washed down with some “tipenny” and “a glass of excellent brandy”—in very truth a menu that does not suggest a hedge alehouse! Rob, himself, was wont to give the inn a call when he too “had been at the hill”; and doubtless the rubicund “Maister Duncan Galbraith of Garschatten,” who told the Bailie to “damn the annual rent”—a prophetic utterance—stretched his shanks many a time within our old “Halfway.” Looking back over the vanished years, what a varied procession of humanity drifts over this corner of “the stage”— drovers, soldiers, highlandmen, gentlemen, highwaymen, dukes, and rievers coming from and going to the great city, thirsty souls all of them, and tossing off a dram before tackling the “wild and open and dreary road” on which one of our immortals—Francis Osbaldistone—saw naught and heard naught but the “monotonous and plaintive cry of the lapwing and the curlew,” which the Bailie kindly informed him were “the peesweep and the whaup.”
A few yards north of the Garvel Bridge, which crosses Auldmurroch Burn or Allander, you passed on your left the entrance to the old avenue which leads by a circuitous route to the mansion house of Auchineden. This is, of course, private and the rambler should respect the privacy of the proprietor and not intrude upon that avenue.
The Whangie is on the lands of Auchineden and a permit is necessary for ramblers. Information regarding the granting of permits can be had on application at the Enquiry Office of Glasgow Corporation Tramways, 46 Bath Street. Permits will not be issued during April, May and June, the nesting and lambing season. Having presented your permit at the gamekeeper’s lodge at the entrance gates (a full mile past our hostel) you proceed about one hundred yards along the main road further in the direction of Drymen, jump the small dyke on the left and take to the moor. The pad is distinct. It goes sharply up to the planting that fringes the brae face. You skirt the wood and the pad keeps the shoulder of the hill. The walking is rough, but compensation is found in the magnificent panorama that unfolds itself on the right. You look down on the purple and grey and lonely moorlands, a windswept and treeless place, silent, and eerie if one be alone; and across the miles of heath you see the broad bosom of Loch Lomond a great emerald-studded silver shield set amidst a screen of mountains, the Highland hills and Majestic Ben Lomond of which the worthy Bailie warned his English friend “Ye’ll see and hear eneuch about them before ye see Glasgow Cross again.” The pad winds round the ridge; on the left is a rocky brow with boulders scattered by some cyclopean hand. As you turn the shoulder of the hill you see a solitary tree growing at a perilous angle from the steep hillside. This tree marks the site of the “little Whangie” a miniature and mild reproduction of the “great Whangie” which lies about half a mile further on. Keep the pad that bears to the left and as you mount the hill you come suddenly upon the dark splintered peaks of that curious crack known as The Whangie. It is a strange place, ghost haunted, gloomy, and awesome; unquestionably the result of some titanic convulsion of nature in which the living rocks were torn asunder. So say geologists, and I fancy there is some truth in what they say. I prefer tradition as more suggestive and interesting. List to what the country folk say: His Satanic Majesty was holding a meeting of his favourite witches and warlocks among the Campsie Fells. He had another gathering to attend at Dumbarton. The Campsie convention had put his sable highness into excellent humour. Probably a Cutty Sark, that “winsome wench and waly,” had attended and performed some of her terpsichorean allurements. Thinking over these delights as he winged his way over Dumbarton Moor he botched and whisked his tawny tail. His flight altitude was modest. The tail struck the shoulder of Auchineden Hill, sheared through earth and rock and The Whangie was the result. The Whangie from the Lily Loch.
You return by the path you came, repassing the Little Whangie and so to the main highway, where eight miles and a bittock of tramping takes you to Canniesburn. It is a fine road, avenue-like at places, open and windy as it sweeps along the shoulder of the hill that looks down on beautiful Craigallian Loch; dipping into valleys where moorland burns are to be seen; passing old farmhouses; always an interesting road and steeped in the caller air of the mountains and moorlands of the west.