National Geographic : 1956 Jul
A Stroll to John o' Groat's Charles II was the last British monarch to sleep at Falkland, for Cromwell destroyed all but the south wing. That, too, would have crumbled but for the princely generosity of the third Marquess of Bute. In 1887 he be came Hereditary Constable, Captain and Keeper of the Palace, and restored this part to much of its former splendor. It is now the home of Major Crichton-Stuart, who has carefully restored the fine garden. After supper I set off to climb the 1,471 feet of East Lomond, in the lurk of which Falkland nestles. On my way through the woods at its base I met a man who told me he was "looking for a hawk," a reminder that this burgh where Scotland's monarchs prac ticed falconry is still a haunt of the bird of prey whose name it calls to mind. Next morning I crossed East Lomond's twin, West Lomond, which at 1,712 feet is Fife's highest hill. I was on my way to Kin nesswood near Loch Leven, where was born the loch's "gentle poet," Michael Bruce. West Lomond is the reputed scene of an cient battles between the islanders and the Romans, but to Michael Bruce it was the "Mountain of the Lord," whereon No longer hosts encount'ring hosts Shall crowds of slain deplore, They hang the trumpet in the hall And study war no more. Poet Died at 21 Michael Bruce, the son of a poor weaver, died of tuberculosis in 1767 at 21. His most famous poem is the fine "Ode to the Cuckoo." As I sat munching sandwiches amid the ruins that crown the summit of the hill, my thoughts were of spring and the cuckoo rather than of battles long ago. Down in the valley I had asked my way of two old men walking arm in arm. One of them was eager to direct me. "Many's the time I've walked that way as a boy," said he. "You'll be going to visit Michael Bruce's cottage? But you're a week too soon for the cuckoo: it comes about the 30th of April each year. You'll know his poem: 'Hail beauteous stranger of the wood, Attendant on the spring! Now Heaven repairs thy rural seat And woods thy welcome sing. 'Sweet bird! thy bow'r is ever green, Thy sky is ever clear, Thou hast no sorrow in thy song, No winter in thy year !' " As he stood there in the road reciting the lovely lines, his eyes fixed on the distant hill top, I saw that he was blind. When I reached Kinnesswood, I found Bruce's cottage standing with its gable facing a hillside lane. As the dying genius lay in its attic, he could see Loch Leven through a small pane at his feet. These shining waters are famous with fishermen for their trout and with historians for a castled isle where Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned for 11 months and forced to sign her abdication in favor of her infant son. Island Prison of Mary Queen of Scots That night I slept at Kinross and next day hired a boat and was rowed over to this romantic isle, now the home of the jackdaw and the swan. In its ruined castle on May 2, 1568, 18-year-old Willie Douglas neatly lifted the key of his Queen's prison from his father's dinner table under cover of a napkin, and the fat was in the fire! But perhaps he should have waited till the 11th of May. Eleven, said my boatman, is Loch Leven's favorite number: "It has eleven streams flowing into it and the 'Leven flows out!' " Though the Queen's escape eventually ended in tragedy, it is still one of the most gallant episodes in history. From Kinross I turned northeast to New burgh, a town on the south bank of the Tay, for on my map I saw the magic word "ferry" written across the firth at that point. But alas! The old ferry no longer ex isted, and other boats were still laid up for the winter. To cross the Tay, I had to return to the first bridge at Perth, and on the way I passed through Abernethy with its famous round or "Irish" tower built by the monks long ago. Only three such towers still exist in Scot land, the others being at Brechin and distant Egilsay Island in Orkney. When the National Geographic Society photographers came to Abernethy later, the flag of Scotland was flown from the summit of its tower as a spe cial concession to the United States and color photography! I passed through Perth by motorbus, which set me down at the village of Inchture not far from the spot where the Newburgh ferry should have landed me. From there I set off to climb northward over the rolling Sidlaw Hills to Coupar Angus, "the country near Dunsinane" of Macbeth.