CROOKSTON CASTLE, RAISS TOWER AND BLACKHALL.
(Via GREEN (Paisley) CAR TO CROOKSTON ROAD.)
JOIN CAR AT GLASGOW CROSS, JAMAICA STREET, OR PAISLEY ROAD TOLL.
THIS route to Crookston Toll is described fully in the chapter on the Kilbarchan and Renfrewshire Uplands. Leave the car at Crookston Toll. The old Toll House, a modest single-storey cottage, was removed for some inscrutable reason about four years ago. From the station, known as Crookston Toll, a walk of a mile takes you to Crookston Castle, passing en route over the Canal line of railway and Crookston Station, with, on the left, the old gaunt-looking mill of Cardonald, where, in Semple’s time (1782), there was “a corn miln with an oven for drying of peas, five pecks in less than an hour,” and so pass on the left Ross Hall, on the lands of which are the vestiges of an ancient British camp; dip down and over the bridge which spans a very picturesque reach of the Cart and the Levern waters, and you note before you Crookston on its verdant height.
Crookston is a venerable pile. The summer suns and wintry gales of hundreds of years have left their mark; weather-worn and crumbling stone speak silently of the countless days which have come and gone since the mediaeval mason dressed and squared the hoary wall. From the battlements you look down upon rich woodlands and fields which stretch far as the eye can see across hill and dale, and on to where the purple mass of Ben Lomond is silhouetted sharply against the summer sky. On such a scene the old warder of the keep looked down, and as we of today listen, he listened to the slumbrous music of the wimpling waters of the Levern. He and his brethren have long passed away, and they lie forgotten, as do the withered leaves we see strewn upon the grass at the foot of the old trees which embower the castle walls. The old tower on the hill slopes still keeps watch and ward over the quiet landscape, as quiet to-day as it was ages ago.
The story of Crookston has been told time and again, but it will bear a brief repetition. It carries us back to the dim beginnings of Scottish history, to the days of Malcolm IV. when, among the Norman barons who accompanied Walter the High Steward (of whom we read in our Renfrew-Inchinnan ramble) to Scotland, was one Robert Croc. He seems to have got a grant of lands adjoining Paisley Abbey, and the castle built by him was named Crocs-toun, now Crookston. Among the witnesses to the foundation charter of Paisley Abbey is Robert de Croc. The Castle of Crocstoun “went with a lass,” it is said, to the Stewarts about 1300; by purchase to the first Duke of Montrose in 1702, whose son sold Darnley and Crookston in 1745 to Sir Walter Maxwell of Pollok. Tradition, shadowy and unsubstantiated by fact, whispers of Queen Mary and Darnley spending some of the happy days at the dawn of their married life at Crookston. Indeed, a coin of the hapless Queen’s reign is known among numismatists as “The Crookston Dollar,” because impressed upon it is a tree believed (wrongly) to represent the famous Crookston yew that flourished until 1816 just outside the moat a little to the east of the castle. Let us pin our faith to romance, for we have enough of grim reality in everyday life, and the poets give voice to the story. Wilson, in “The Clyde,” paints—
“Crookston their ancient seat in ruin stands
Nor Clyde’s whole course an ampler prospect yields
Of spacious plains and well improven fields.”
Motherwell sounds a truer poetic note—
“But Crookston, while those aged towers remain,
And thy green umbrage woos the evening wind
Whilst aught is left of those thy ruins gray,
They will arouse remembrance of the stain.
Queen Mary’s doom has left on history’s page
Remembrance laden with reproach and pain
To those who make, like me, this pilgrimage.”
But to me, and I think to the most of us, the haunting lines of Tannahill seem best attuned to the story of the keep and its present desolation—
“Through Crookston’s Castle’s lonely wa’s
The wintry wind howls loud and dreary.”
It is two miles from Crookston’s lonely walls to the old Tower of Rais at Barrhead. We pass, on the right, the palatial pile of Hawkhead Asylum, which hides so many tragedies; on the left, that last dull note of struggling humanity, a Poorhouse. For centuries Hawkhead was the seat of the Ross family, latterly of the Earl of Glasgow. As far back as 1392 “John Ros, laird of Hawkhead,” witnessed a charter of “Adam Fullarton of Crosseby” near Troon. The farm opposite Crookston Castle, and on our left, is called Nether Crookston. It has been in the possession of the Kyles since 1702; while the place-name of the farm adjoining Hawkhead, on the right, is Auld Crookston, enshrining perhaps a dim memory that here the Crocs had their original home in the twelfth century before the castle was built. Keep to the right on the main highway, and pass through the village of Hurlet, where copperas was first worked, in 1753. Keep the highway that goes straight ahead, a sheltered way and pleasant, straight on and upward for a little over a mile, and, on your left, you will see the shattered remains of the old fortalice of Rais. History does not tell us much of this mediaeval relic. From an early period it was in possession of a branch of the Stewarts of Darnley. The Paisley monks had the tithe of its mill multure in redemption of which Alexander the High Steward, in 1250 or thereabout, granted them two chalders of meal out of Inchinnan. That is the earliest notice of Rais Tower. Alex. Stewart of Rais is witness to a charter in 1443, and the Stewarts were still in possession at the close of the fifteenth century. One part of the lands passed apparently to the Logan family and went by the name of Logan’s Rais. The Logans of Rais are mentioned frequently in the Glasgow Commissary Records from 1613 to 1622. In the sixteenth century a family of the name of Halrig seems to have held Rais Tower. As late as 1782 a great part of the Tower was standing with its battlements and cornices, but with the founding of Barrhead in 1773, builders, with that cheerful vandalism that distinguishes certain of the race, used the ancient structure as a convenient quarry, and only a shattered remnant remains.
Rais Tower witnessed the beginnings of Barrhead. It has seen it grow rapidly from the solitary farmhouse of 1760 to the busy industrial community of to-day. According to the “Glasgow Free Press” of September, 1827, the first house of Barrhead village was erected about 1760, and in 1800 the population consisted of forty families. The place-name Barrhead was inherited from the farm built at the head of the rigs of land, known as the Lang Bars, hence Bar-head. Pass through Barrhead by the Paisley highway, and so to Crosstobs, about half a mile out of the town, where there is an old-fashioned little inn, but comfortable withal, and where you leave the car lines and take the road branching off to the right. The whin-clad field, a sort of No Man’s Land. before the hostelry, is said by tradition to have been the scene of a great battle. The place-name Crosstobs suggests that at one period there stood at this spot a cross of wood, one of the many that pointed the wayfarer to the shrine of St. Mirin at Paisley. At Crosstobs you are on the shoulders of the Gleniffer Braes, where the air is sharp and bracing, and where, on a clear day, a glorious panorama unfolds itself as you tramp by the highway to Blackhall. A little more than a couple of miles takes you to the old “House and Barony of Blackhall,” one of the early homes of the royal Stewarts. They had a chapel there, the chaplain of which witnessed a charter in 1272. Robert III., in 1396, granted the house and barony of Blackhall to John Stewart, one of his “natural” sons. Confirmation of this charter was given in 1508 by James IV. to John Stewart of Blackhall and Ardgowan. Archibald Stewart of Blackhall was a Privy Councillor of Charles the Second, who raised him to the dignity of Baronet “by letters patent bearing date at Whitehall, 27th March, 1667.” This ancient estate remains in the possession of the Shaw-Stewarts of Ardgowan, descendants of the royal race who for so many centuries held these lands. The old keep is in a fair state of preservation and now forms part of the steading of the farm of Blackhall. A half-mile walk takes you to Paisley town and the Glasgow-bound cars.