While Loch Ken is perhaps the best known body of inland water in the Glenkens, Crockett’s writing favours Woodhall Loch. This he refers to by its older name, Loch Grenoch. Of it he writes: ‘Half its beauty is in the seeing eye. Yet not only the educated or intellectual may see.’ This is the loch of his boyhood. It lies alongside what is now the A762, which he used to walk to school in Laurieston each day, from his home at Little Duchrae.
And Grenoch Loch features heavily in his semi-autobiographical novel Kit Kennedy. In it, on a high June day, we are treated to a description of the young Kit being tempted into swimming (instead of going to school) by his collie dog Royal. In a long passage he notes: ‘It was a glorious day in June, and the water of Loch Grenoch basked blue and warm in the eighteen hour long sunshine.’
Finally, Kit cannot resist the urge to plunge into that water ‘It looked so cool that in a trice Kit had off his clothes and he and Royal were tumbling hither and thither in a wild wrestle about the sandy shallows. The crystal drops flew every way. Laughter and splashings were mingled with joyous barkings. The sun shone down with a broad grin upon the pleasant saturnalia’.
Stand by Woodhall Loch on a warm June day and I challenge you not to envy Kit his pleasure.
There is much more to be enjoyed along the banks of Woodhall/Loch Grenoch. Of all parts of the Glenkens, this near five mile stretch from the Duchrae to Laurieston is perhaps best and most beautifully evoked by Crockett. He describes ‘the first mile to the beginning of the loch itself’ (from Laurieston) as: ‘through scenery curiously reminiscent of some parts of central France – the valley of the Creuse for instance – or some of the lower tributaries of the tarn. The tall poplars in front of the ruined smithy, the burn that trips and ambles for a few hundred paces… all these are more French than Scottish. Myriads of wild flowers throng on every side, at all seasons of the year when wild flowers can be found in Scotland.’
These days, if you take this journey it is probably by car and you miss much of what Crockett describes. I would encourage exploring along the side of Grenoch/Woodhall loch using a slower form of transport to share Crockett’s appreciation for the detail of the landscape along the way.
Other lochs in Crockett’s novels include Loch Skerrow, fictionalised as Loch Spellanderie in Cleg Kelly. Crockett describes it (for an English readership) thus: ‘Like most Scottish lakes, Loch Spellanderie is not wide.’ In contrast to Kit’s frolics, Cleg swims across the loch with a purpose, escaping from the MacWalter family (with whom Kit Kennedy is lodged).
Crockett writes: ‘without giving himself a moment for reflection, he wheeled about on his heels, balanced a moment on the brink over the deep water, bent his arms with the fingers touching into a beautiful bow, and sprang far out into the black lake… Cleg Kelly swam nearly as easily in his clothes as without them. For he had cast his coat at the beginning of the fray, and, as to his trousers, they were loose and especially well ventilated. So that the water gushed in and out of the holes as he swam, much as though they had been the gills of a fish. Indeed, they rather helped his progress than otherwise.’
As he comes to the other side of the Loch, Cleg is surprised by: ‘a curiously shaped piece of wood, moved, as it seemed, by some mysterious power from the shore... in a minute more he felt his feet rest upon the shelving gravel of the lake shore. Instinctively Cleg brought the wedge-shaped piece of wood with him. He found, upon holding it close to his eyes in the dim light, that a double row of hooks was attached to it beneath, and that there were half a dozen good loch trout leaping and squirming upon different sides of it.
Cleg had no notion of the nature of the instrument he had captured. Nor indeed had he the least idea that he had disturbed certain very honest men in a wholly illegal operation.
He only shook himself like a water-dog and proceeded to run through the wood at an easy trot for the purpose of getting back some heat into his chilled limbs. He carried his trout with him.’
Crockett’s Galloway novels are suffused with many such fascinating, closely observed details, evidencing the customs and landscape of the Glenkens in former times.
Deeper into the Galloway hills, we find descriptions of many of the lochs, most notably the remote Neldricken and Enoch. Crockett takes a fictional Murder Hole from its location further north and places it at Loch Neldricken in The Raiders. And Loch Enoch is the setting for gypsy romance in Silver Sand.
Crockett reserves some of his best writing for his descriptions of Loch Enoch. He observes it as ‘literally a lake in cloudland’ and ‘so truly another world’. For him, Enoch is ‘an intricate tangle of bays and promontaries’ which on a ‘still evening...glows like a glittering silver rimmed pearl’ and which boasts ‘dainty white beaches of silver sand’. This sand was collected loose and used for sharpening in days long before sandpaper existed.
According to Crockett, while ‘it is pleasant to be on Enochside when the sun shines – not so marvellous, indeed, as to see its surges through the drifting snow-swirls as the short, fierce afternoons of winter close in.’ As ever, Crockett bears witness to the landscape at all times of year with equal veracity.
While many places in the Glenkens are easy for us to access, Enoch is not. For those who cannot make the journey to this most magnificent of landscapes, we can be grateful that Crockett has painted such beautiful word pictures to allow us to experience this natural beauty in the heart of Galloway. Whether it be June or December, Galloway has much to recommend it for the lover of nature.