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August 26th 1803

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The Wordsworths come to Scotland

In 1803 Dorothy and William Wordsworth made a comprehensive tour of Scotland accompanied some of the time by the poet Coleridge. Dorothy gives a very full account of all the journey undertaken by William and herself, and the people they met.

There is a certain tendency to consider the Trossachs as being a slightly inferior version of the Lake District combined with a less than ecstatic reaction to the facilities of the rural inns (shared by other travellers of the time) but she proved an excellent and sympathetic observer of the country and the people.

A lot of their time was spent in the Highlands and especially in the Trossachs. They crossed over from Lochlomondside and walked beside Loch Katrine (or as Dorothy spells it Katerine) which appeared to them forbidding and desolate. Eventually they met a man on horseback. “He was a complete Highlander in dress, figure and face, and a very fine looking man hardy and vigorous though past his prime. While he stood waiting for us in his bonnet and plaid which never looked more graceful than on horseback, I forgot our errand and only felt glad we were in the Highlands.” 

Later, they approached a “white house; no trees near it except a new plantation of firs but the fields were green, sprinkled over with hay-cocks and the brook, which comes down the valley and falls into the lake, ran through them. It was like a new made farm in a mountain vale.” 

There were people at work in the fields and William asked about lodging. “After a little time the gentleman said we should be accommodated with such beds as they had, and should be welcome to rest in their house if we pleased. He showed us into a room upstairs, begged that we would sit at our ease, walk out or do just as we pleased. It was a large square deal wainscoted room, the wainscot black with age, yet had never been painted.

In England it is not common to see so large and well built a room so ill furnished: there were two or three large tables and a few old chairs of different sorts, as if they had been picked up at one did not know how, at sales, or had belonged to different rooms of the house ever since it was built. We sat perhaps three quarters of an hour when the mistress of the house entered, a tall fine looking woman, neatly dressed in a dark coloured gown with a white handkerchief tied round her head; she spoke to us in a very pleasing manner, begging permission to make tea for us, an offer we thankfully accepted. Encouraged by the sweetness of her manners, I went downstairs to dry my feet by the kitchen fire; she lent me a pair of stockings and behaved to me with the utmost attention and kindness. She carried the tea things into the room herself leaving me to make tea, and set before us cheese, and butter and barley cakes.” 

Afterwards they watched the workers until a shower and approaching darkness brought them indoors. “I was pleased to see them a while after sitting round a blazing fire in the kitchen, father and son-in-law, master and man and the mother with her little child on her knee. When I had been there before tea I had observed what a contrast there was between the mistress and her kitchen; she did not differ in appearance from an English country lady; but her kitchen, roof, walls and floor of mud were all black alike; yet now with the lights of a bright fire upon so many happy countenances, the whole room made a pretty sight.

We heard the company laughing and talking long after we were in bed. The children could not speak a word of English; they were very shy at first; but after I had caressed the eldest and given her a red leather purse with which she was delighted, she took hold of my hand and hung about me, changing her side-long looks for pretty smiles. Her mother lamented that they were so far from school, they should be obliged to send the children down into the lowlands to be taught reading and English.” 

Next morning, they breakfasted with the family. “The cheese was set out as before, with plenty of butter and barley cakes which no doubt were made for us: they had been kneaded with cream and were excellent. All the party pressed us to eat and were very jocose about the necessity of helping out their coarse bread with butter and they themselves ate almost as much butter as bread. In talking of the French and present times, their language was what most people would call Jacobinical (That is they supported the ideals of the French Revolution).

They spoke much of the oppression endured by the Highlanders further up, of the absolute impossibility of their living in any comfort, and of the cruelty of laying so many restraints on emigration. Then they spoke with animation of the attachments of the clans to their lairds. ‘the laird of this place, Glengyle, where we live, could have commanded so many men who would have followed him to the death; and now there are none left.’ Speaking of another neighbouring laird, they said he had gone like the rest of them to Edinburgh, left his lands and his own people, spending his money where it brought him not any esteem, so that he was of no value either at home or abroad.

We mentioned Rob Roy and the eyes of all glistened; even the lady of the house, who was very diffident and no great talker exclaimed, ‘He was a good man, Rob Roy’. He was a famous swordsman. Having an arm much longer than other men he had a greater command with his sword. As a proof of the length of his arm they told us that he could garter his tartan stockings below the knee without stooping and added a dozen different stories of single combat which he had fought, all in perfect good humour, merely to prove his prowess……

When breakfast was ended the mistress desired the person we took to be her husband to return thanks. He said a short grace and in a few minutes they were all off to their work……We took leave of the family with regret, they were handsome healthy and happy looking people. It was ten o’clock when we departed.” 

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