The Falls of the Clyde; Painters and Poets
The Genius of the Place
Since at least the 1700's the waterfalls of the Clyde (Bonnington, Cora and Stonebyres Linns) have been regarded as some of the most impressive in Northern Europe. Even in ordinary weather they are inspiring; rocky gorges with overhanging trees, myriad ferns and mossy vegetation, but in spate they are truly magnificent. When I first saw Cora Linn in full spate I was not prepared for such a force of natural power and grandeur. It can literally take your breath away. Dorothy Wordsworth wrote:
"The majesty and strength of the water, for I had never before seen so large a cataract, struck me with astonishment which died giving way to more delightful feelings."
The roar of water becomes calming after a few minutes, and the ever cascading sheets and folds of white water become mesmerising. It seems possible to be suspended in the present moment watching nature re-create an ever unique form, each similar to the last moment's.
Illustration: Cora Linn, watercolour by JMW Turner' National Gallery of Scotland.
Today the Scottish poet James Thomson (1700-1748) is almost unknown, but in his lifetime and throughout the 18th and 19th centuries he was widely read. Probably the most influential inspiration for British landscape poetry and painting, he, more than anyone else is responsible for our romantic view of Nature. Certainly Turner, Pope and Wordsworth all acknowledged their dept to him. His major work, The Seasons, (which incidentally Turner used to carry with him on his sketching tours), has a description of Cora Linn in the part called "Summer". At that time the falls were on the estate of one of his closest friends, Dr William Cranstoun. In 1725 he wrote to him:
"I see you... listening to the amusing lull of the many steep, moss grown cascades; while deep, divine contemplation, the genius of the place, prompts such artful swelling thought."
The falls became well known to the poets. (The Wordsworths of course, and also Burns, Scott, Gray and Southey, and others.) JMW Turner had visited a couple of years before the Wordsworths, and thirty years previously the Scottish painter Jacob More had painted Bonnington, Cora and Stonebyres Linns, three pictures which were to become nationally renowned.
Illustration: Cora Linn by Jacob More, 1771,National Gallery of Scotland
There was an asscociation with the Scottish patriot William Wallace too. Below Bonnington Linn is a chasm called Wallaces leap, about 16 feet wide and 60 feet deep. Wallace is said to have leapt to safety from marauding English soldiers and taken refuge in a cave in its sandstone cliffs. Further down at Dundaff Linn is Wallace's Seat, a prominent sandstone rock. In the 1820's Christopher North made the poet James Hogg , the Ettrick Shepherd, remark of Thomson of Duddingston's paintings;
"I never look at his roarin' rivers, wi' a' their precipices, without thinking, some hoo or ither, o' Sir William Wallace! They seem to belang to an unconquorable country"