Index  Dorothy Wordsworth

Tour in Scotland

The hens were roosting like light clouds in the sky

Kindness and hospitality in the Highlands

On their tour in the Scottish Highlands, the Wordsworths nearly always found a warm welcome at an inn or private home by the end of the day. This was also the case in the sparsely populated Trossachs where they wanted to take a boat trip on the deserted Lake Katrine. They had heard of a ferryman there who would be willing to carry them across the lake. They found the ferryman at work in the field above his hut, who showed himself willing to row them around the lake. Dorothy and William, being all wet and hungry asked if they could warm and refresh themselves by the fire.

This was the first genuine Highland hut we had been in. We entered by the cow-house, the house-door being within, at right angles to the outer door. The woman was distressed that she had a bad fire, but she heaped up some dry peats and heather, and, blowing it with her breath, in a short time raised a blaze that scorched us into comfortable feelings. A small part of the smoke found its way out of the hole of the chimney, the rest through the open window-places, one of which was within the recess of the fireplace, and made a frame to a little picture of the restless lake and the opposite shore, seen when the outer door was open. The woman of the house was very kind: whenever we asked her for anything it seemed a fresh pleasure to her that she had it for us (...). We got oatmeal, butter, bread and milk, made some porridge, and then departed. It was rainy and cold, with a strong wind.

Good-natured fellow
As they sailed on the lake, the wind fell and it began to rain heavily. The ferryman was a 'good-natured fellow' who rowed very industriously and was delighted with the pleasure expressed by his passengers. He continually repeated how pleasant it would have been on a fine day.

We were still on the same side of the water, and, being immediately under the hill, within a considerable bending of the shore, we were enclosed by hills all round, as if we had been upon a smaller lake of which the whole was visible. It was an entire solitude; and all that we beheld was the perfection of loveliness and beauty.

We had been through many solitary places since we came into Scotland, but this place differed as much from any we had seen before, as if there had been nothing in common between them; no thought of dreariness or desolation found entrance here; yet nothing was to be seen but water, wood, rocks, and heather, and bare mountains above. We saw the mountains by glimpses as the clouds passed by them, and were not disposed to regret, with our boatman, that it was not a fine day, for the near objects were not concealed from us, but softened by being seen through the mists. 

On the way back, the evening began to darken and it rained so heavily that the little company became completely wet. 

It was dark when we landed, and on entering the house I was sick with cold. The good woman had provided, according to her promise, a better fire than we had found in the morning; and indeed when I sate down in the chimney-corner of her smoky biggin' I thought I had never been more comfortable in my life.

The whisky-bottle came to table, as did sugar, butter, barley-bread and milk. 

We caroused our cups of coffee, laughing like children at the strange atmosphere in which we were: the smoke came in gusts, and spread along the walls and above our heads in the chimney, where the hens were roosting like light clouds in the sky. We laughed and laughed again, in spite of the smarting of our eyes, yet had a quieter pleasure in observing the beauty of the beams and rafters gleaming between the clouds of smoke. They had been crusted over and varnished by many winters, till, where the firelight fell upon them, they were as glossy as black rocks on a sunny day cased in ice. When we had eaten our supper we sate about half an hour, and I think I had never felt so deeply the blessing of a hospitable welcome and a warm fire.

Grumpy landlady

Hospitality was the rule, unfriendliness the exception. Hosts and hostess almost always went out of their way to please the travellers. They started a fire and, despite their scarce resources, put something decent on the table. Sometimes, things turned out differently. Three days before the friendly welcome at Loch Katrine, the Wordsworths met an extremely grumpy landlady at Luss's Inn on Loch Lomond. She refused to light the fire at first and made a demur respecting the beds, notwithstanding the house was empty. This is the portrait Dorothy paints of her:

Her countenance corresponded with the unkindness of denying us a fire on a cold night, for she was the most cruel and hateful-looking woman I ever saw.  She was overgrown with fat, and was sitting with her feet and legs in a tub of water for the dropsy, - probably brought on by whisky-drinking.  The sympathy which I felt and expressed for her, on seeing her in this wretched condition - for her legs were swollen as thick as mill-posts - seemed to produce no effect; and I was obliged, after five minutes' conversation, to leave the affair of the beds undecided.

Usually Dorothy judged others mildly, but here she lacerates her. The landlady's unsympathetic behaviour obviously went down the wrong way.