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A Lilt of the Road

Being the doggerel Itinerary of a Holiday in September, 1908
     To St. Albans' town we came;
     Roman Albanus — hence the name.
     Whose shrine commemorates the faith
     Which led him to a martyr's death.
     A high cathedral marks his grave,
     With noble screen and sculptured nave.
     From thence to Hatfield lay our way,
     Where the proud Cecils held their sway,
     And ruled the country, more or less,
     Since the days of Good Queen Bess.
     Next through Hitchin's Quaker hold
     To Bedford, where in days of old
     John Bunyan, the unorthodox,
     Did a deal in local stocks.
     Then from Bedford's peaceful nook
     Our pilgrim's progress still we took
     Until we slackened up our pace
     In Saint Neots' market-place.

     Next day, the motor flying fast,
     Through Newark, Tuxford, Retford
     Until at Doncaster we found
     That we had crossed broad Yorkshire's
     Northward and ever North we pressed,
     The Brontė Country to our West.
     Still on we flew without a wait,
     Skirting the edge of Harrowgate,
     And through a wild and dark ravine,
     As bleak a pass as we have seen,
     Until we slowly circled down
     And settled into Settle town.

     On Sunday, in the pouring rain,
     We started on our way again.
     Through Kirkby Lonsdale on we drove,
     The weary rain-clouds still above,
     Until at last at Windermere
     We felt our final port was near,
     Thence the lake with wooded beach
     Stretches far as eye can reach.
     There above its shining breast
     We enjoyed our welcome rest.
     Tuesday saw us — still in rain —
     Buzzing on our road again.

     Rydal first, the smallest lake,
     Famous for great Wordsworth's sake;
     Grasmere next appeared in sight,
     Grim Helvellyn on the right,
     Till we made our downward way
     To the streets of Keswick gray.
     Then amid a weary waste
     On to Penrith Town we raced,
     And for many a flying mile,
     Past the ramparts of Carlisle,
     Till we crossed the border line
     Of the land of Auld lang syne.
     Here we paused at Gretna Green,
     Where many curious things were seen
     At the grimy blacksmith's shop,
     Where flying couples used to stop
     And forge within the smithy door
     The chain which lasts for evermore.

     They'd soon be back again, I think,
     If blacksmith's skill could break the link.
     Ecclefechan held us next,
     Where old Tom Carlyle was vexed
     By the clamour and the strife
     Of this strange and varied life.
     We saw his pipe, we saw his hat,
     We saw the stone on which he sat.
     The solid stone is resting there,
     But where the sitter? Where, oh! where?

     Over a dreary wilderness
     We had to take our path by guess,
     For Scotland's glories don't include
     The use of signs to mark the road.
     For forty miles the way ran steep
     Over bleak hills with scattered sheep,
     Until at last, 'neath gloomy skies,
     We saw the stately towers rise
     Where noble Edinburgh lies —
     No city fairer or more grand
     Has ever sprung from human hand.
     But I must add (the more's the pity)
     That though in fair Dunedin's city
     Scotland's taste is quite delightful,
     The smaller Scottish towns are frightful.

     When in other lands I roam
     And sing "There is no place like home."
     In this respect I must confess
     That no place has its ugliness.
     Here on my mother's granite breast
     We settled down and took our rest.
     On Saturday we ventured forth
     To push our journey to the North.

     Past Linlithgow first we sped,
     Where the Palace rears its head,
     Then on by Falkirk, till we pass
     The famous valley and morass
     Known as Bannockburn in story,
     Brightest scene of Scottish glory.
     On pleasure and instruction bent
     We made the Stirling hill ascent,
     And saw the wondrous vale beneath,
     The  lovely  valley  of  Monteith,
     Stretching under sunlit skies
     To where the Trossach hills arise.
     Thence we turned our willing car
     Westward ho!   to Callander,
     Where childish memories awoke
     In the wood of ash and oak,
     Where in days so long gone by
     I heard the woodland pigeons cry,
     And, consternation in my face,
     Legged it to some safer place.

     Next morning first we viewed a mound,
     Memorial of some saint renowned,
     And then the mouldered ditch and ramp
     Which marked an ancient Roman camp.
     Then past Lubnaig on we went,
     Gazed on Ben Ledi's steep ascent,
     And passed by lovely stream and valley
     Through Dochart Glen to reach Dalmally,
     Where on a rough and winding track
     We wished ourselves in safety back;
     Till on our left we gladly saw
     The spreading waters of Loch Awe,
     And still more gladly — truth to tell —
     A very up-to-date hotel,
     With Conan's church within its ground,
     Which gave it quite a homely sound.
     Thither we came upon the Sunday,
     Viewed Kilchurn Castle on the Monday,
     And Tuesday saw us sally forth
     Bound for Oban and the North.

     We came to Oban in the rain,
     I need not mention it again,
     For you may take it as a fact
     That in that Western Highland tract
     It sometimes spouts and sometimes drops,
     But never, never, never stops.
     From Oban on we thought it well
     To take the steamer for a spell.
     But ere the motor went aboard
     The Pass of Melfort we explored.
     A lovelier vale, more full of peace,
     Was never seen in classic Greece;
     A wondrous gateway, reft and torn,
     To open out the land of Lome.
     Leading on for many a mile
     To the kingdom of Argyle.

     Wednesday saw us on our way
     Steaming out from Oban Bay,
     (Lord, it was a fearsome day!)
     To right and left we looked upon
     All the lands of Stevenson —
     Moidart, Morven, and Ardgour,
     Ardshiel,  Appin,  and  Mamore —
     If their tale you wish to learn
     Then to "Kidnapped" you must turn.
     Strange that one man's eager brain
     Can make those dead lands live again!
     From the deck we saw Glencoe,
     Where upon that night of woe
     William's men did such a deed
     As even now we blush to read.
     Ben Nevis towered on our right,
     The clouds concealed it from our sight,
     But it was comforting to say
     That over there Ben Nevis lay'.
     Finally we made the land
     At Fort William's sloping strand,
     And in our car away we went
     Along that lasting monument,
     The good broad causeway which was made
     By King George's General Wade.
     He built a splendid road, no doubt,
     Alas! he left the sign-posts out.
     And so we wandered, sad to say,
     Far from our appointed way,
     Till twenty mile of rugged track
     In a circle brought us back.
     But the incident we viwed
     In a philosophic mood.
     Tired and hungry but serene
     We settled at the Bridge of Spean.

     Our journey now we onward press
     Toward the town of Inverness,
     Through a country all alive
     With memories of "forty-five."
     The noble clans once gathered here,
     Where now are only grouse and deer.
     Alas, that men and crops and herds
     Should ever yield their place to birds!
     And that the splendid Highland race
     Be swept aside to give more space
     For forests where the deer may stray
     For some rich owner far away,
     Whose keeper guards the lonely glen
     Which once sent out a hundred men!
     When from Inverness we turned,
     Feeling that a rest was earned.
     We stopped at Nairn, for golf links famed,
     "Scotland's Brighton" it is named,
     Though really, when the phrase we heard,
     It seemed a little bit absurd,
     For Brighton's size compared to Nairn
     Is just a mother to her bairn.
     We halted for a day of rest,
     But took one journey to the West
     To view old Cawdor's tower and moat
     Of which unrivalled Shakespeare wrote,
     Where once Macbeth, the schemer deep,
     Slew royal Duncan in his sleep,
     But actors since avenged his death
     By often murdering Macbeth.
     Hard by we saw the circles gray
     Where Druid priests were wont to pray.

     Three crumbling monuments we found,
     With Stonehenge monoliths around,
     But who had built and who had planned
     We tried in vain to understand,
     As future learned men may search
     The reasons for our village church.
     This was our limit, for next day
     We turned upon, our homeward way,
     Passing   first   Culloden's   plain
     Where the tombstones of the slain
     Loom above the purple heather.
     There the clansmen lie together —
     Men from many an outland skerry,
     Men from Athol and Glengarry,
     Camerons from wild  Mamore,
     MacDonalds from the Irish Shore,
     Red MacGregors and McLeods
     With their tartans for their shrouds,
     Menzies, Malcolms from the islands,
     Frasers from the upper Highlands —
     Callous is the passer by
     Who can turn without a sigh
     From the tufts of heather deep
     Where the noble clansmen sleep.
     Now we swiftly made our way
     To Kingussie in Strathspey,
     Skirting many a nameless loch
     As we flew through Badenoch,
     Till   at   Killiecrankie's  Pass,
     Heather changing  into grass
     We descended once again
     To the fertile lowland plain,
     And by Perth and old Dunblane
     Reached the banks of Allan Water,
     Famous for the miller's daughter,
     Whence at last we circled back
     Till we crossed our Stirling track.
     So our little journey ended,
     Gladness and instruction blended —
     Not a care to spoil our pleasure,
     Not a thought to break our leisure,
     Drifting on from Sussex hedges
     Up through Yorkshire's fells and ledges
     Past the deserts and morasses
     Of the dreary Border passes,
     Through the scenes of Scottish story
     Past the fields of battles gory.

     In the future it will seem
     To have been a happy dream,
     But unless my hopes are vain
     We may dream it soon again.

Arthur Conan Doyle