Balloch Page 2

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Balloch Ferry, the Balloch Horse Fair, Cattle Droving, Illicit Whisky and Mansion House Building


Balloch Ferry

Balloch Ferry and the Dumbarton Pilot
The "Dumbarton Pilot" Coach Service - Click to Enlarge
(View discussion)

The Ferry was by now the main feature and indeed the focal point of the Balloch area, and remained so until the building of Balloch Bridge by the Colquhouns in 1841. Indeed Roy's Map of 1750 refers to Balloch as Balloch Boat (and the Bonhill crossing as Bonhill Boat). The crossing was immediately to the north of where Balloch Bridge now stands, and as well as the ferry it could be forded in the summer. By the late 18th century there were two boats. A small boat, like to-days rowing boats, and a much larger flat bottomed one with sides for taking across carts, coaches and livestock. The larger ferry was operated by means of a chain on the bed of the river, which the ferryman pulled on to draw the craft over. The ferryman lived in a farm steading on the east bank, which stood pretty well where Balloch Hotel now stands, and as well as the house there was a hostelry and some primitive accommodation for travellers.

The ferry crossing itself was not entirely accident free, and there is on record an accident, which occurred on Balloch Horse Fair day, by far the busiest day of the year for the ferry. The larger flat-bottomed ferry was seriously overloaded and it capsized throwing a number of people into the water, some of whom were drowned. Historians, like present-day journalists and filmmakers, love an animal to spice up a story. Never mind that they can't quite agree on the year in which this tragedy occurred - some say 1810, others 1814 - nor that anyone knows just how many people were drowned, some say two, others just “a number”, nor their names or ages etc. What they are agreed on is the presence of a drover's dog. Apparently, one of the people who drowned was an old Highland drover who was attending the Horse Fair. His ever-faithful dog ran up and down the bank for a couple of days looking for the drowned drover, with Greyfriars Bobby-like devotion to its master, without ever quite achieving a Greyfriars Bobby-like profile.

When Napier came to start his steamer service on Loch Lomond in 1816, he located the departure point on the east bank a few yards upstream from the Balloch Ferry. If there was enough water to clear the mouth of the Leven he sailed his steamer up the Leven from there. If there was not, he set out from there with rowing boats to punt his passengers up to the steamer waiting on the Loch. This departure point continued in use until the first Balloch Pier was built on the Loch in 1846. By that time the Ferry was no longer in use anyway, having been replaced by the first Balloch Bridge in 1841.

Balloch Horse Fair

Balloch Horse Fair was held every year on the 15th September in the Moss of Balloch field. The Balloch Horse Fair was a national Scottish institution, not just a local event. Until the late 19th century it was an official local holiday, one of only 3, the other two being New Year's Day and Bonhill Sacramental Fast Day. Again, Balloch's location dictated the event's importance. The Fair had two separate, but obviously linked, components - the trading in horses which was a very serious business for its participants, and the fun-fair with its very many rides, side-shows, stalls selling all sorts of goods, and food and drink tents all of which did a roaring business.

Balloch Fair
Click to Enlarge

Before the railways, some of the stall-holders and show people would arrive at least the day before, coming from Glasgow and other parts of central Scotland, and even travelling through the night to get a good pitch. Pitches weren't just inside Moss of Balloch Park but up and down Balloch Road, including the approaches to the Ferry before 1841, and as can be imagined competition for a good location was very keen.

The locals had no such problems. All of the local works were closed for the day, and virtually everyone in the Vale attended. - “husbands with their wives and children, masters and servants all in their Sunday garb” as Barr puts it. It started in the morning and was in full swing by noon, going on after dark to the light of naphtha and paraffin lamps until beyond midnight. Given the numbers of people and the amount of alcohol consumed, it is no surprise that as the day went on there were many fights. Although some of these were quite ferocious there is no record of anyone getting killed.

The serious business of horse dealing went on at the north end of the Moss of Balloch field, beyond the show-grounds. Here, in the Fair's heyday, many hundreds of horses were traded. However, the railways and then motor transport substantially eroded the demand for horses, and by 1911 it is recorded that only a couple of fillies changed hands. For some time before this the Fair had ceased to be a local holiday - although the fairground element was still going strong. The Fair was cancelled for the duration of the First World, but its revival in 1919 only confirmed the decline in the horse dealing that had already been evident for many years, and only one or two horses were on offer at Horse Fair. Not surprisingly, 1919 was the last of the old-style Balloch Horse Fairs.

In a field immediately opposite the Moss o Balloch (where the old Police station now stands) 1919 also saw a Cattle Show being held on the same day as the Horse Fair. It was probably meant as a prop to the Horse Fair, but that was past saving. The Cattle Show didn't last long at that time either, but it was revived and put in a few appearances at Moss o Balloch in the early 1950's before moving, as the Dumbartonshire Agricultural Show, to the Hospital Field in Alexandria and then to Cardross, which voted itself out of Dumbartonshire but has hung onto the Show.

Some aspects of the Fair hung over for a number of years - in 1920 a river-based Water Fair was tried for one year, and until quite recently the ”shows” continued to come to Balloch in early September. It has also been suggested that the short-running Balloch Illuminations were an attempt to revive the idea of the fair, because they were also held in September, but they seem to have had a more modern aspiration of extending the tourist season.

Rob Roy's Expedition 1715

One other day trip down and up the Leven is worthy of note - Rob Roy's Loch Lomond Expedition of 1715, allegedly in support of the Old Pretender. This early version of a Jolly Boys Outing is described in some detail in other pages on the web-site (see the History of the Vale and Lochside Villages pages). But it is a reminder that Rob Roy knew the area well, because from his youth his family's favourite route on their annual visit to Glasgow was via the Loch and Leven. They are supposed to have been regular visitors to the Inn at Balloch Ferry. History records that in 1715 the McGregors got to Bonhill but went no further, since by then the whole of the Vale and Dumbarton knew of their coming and was preparing a warm welcome. “Bonhill” refers to the parish rather than the village, and it's a pretty good bet that they took stock of their situation at the first house they got to - the Balloch hostelry. In any event they passed the night in the Vale and returned northward the next day to their base at Craigroyston, taking their loot with them.

Cattle Droving through Balloch

The main land based trade out of the Highlands from the later Middle Ages onwards was cattle - the black Highland cattle, horses and sheep that cattle drovers brought from the Highlands and Islands to lowlands markets. This driving of beasts from the Highlands to lowland markets and trysts probably began in the 15th century - not only does the documentation begin about then but also it was only about then that the lowland towns and cities were large enough to have markets with a demand that made the Highland droving industry profitable. One of the first important droving routes headed from the Highlands to Glasgow via Loch Lomondside on what then was little more than a track. It headed directly to Dumbarton, bypassing Balloch ferry and crossed the Leven at the Dumbarton ford, and then made for Glasgow. The routing changed after 1661 when first the Keeper of Dumbarton Castle and then in 1684 the Dumbarton magistrates started a levy on passing cattle. The drovers sought out new routes by-passing Dumbarton and one of them was the ford over the Leven at Dalvait. It and its associated grazing, or stand, as it was known in droving circles, at nearby Knowehead, were probably in use from the 1660's onwards, albeit on a fairly modest scale.

It is possible that Highland drovers who used this ford also advised the Earl of Argyll to use it in his ill-fated Rising of 1681 when he lead a Covenanting Army against Charles II. He was heading out of Argyll to Glasgow and wanted to avoid the government forces based at Dumbarton Castle. So, he crossed the Leven at the Dalvait ford and camped for the night somewhere between Jamestown and Gartocharn. While he knew that by crossing the river at Dalvait, he could reach Glasgow without passing Dumbarton, he wasn't sure of the exact route thereafter, and in quick succession he got lost, captured and executed.

The ford at Dalvait was located close to the bottom of the Heather Avenue, and ran across to what was a field on the east bank. Until the building of the Water Board barrage, when the river was excavated to create deep pools, and the banks were coffered on both sides of the barrage, it was quite possible to walk across the Leven on the line of the ford in a dry summer - albeit for at least part of the way, the water was up to an adult's waist or more. However, the building of Levenbank Works and lades from the 1830's onwards saw the grassy river banks being enclosed by high strong red-sandstone walls which made fording impossible, even if you'd wanted to, to avoid paying the toll on the newly-built Balloch bridge, which opened in 1841.

Balloch did not become an important point on the drovers' route until the main cattle tryst in Scotland was moved from Crieff to Falkirk beginning in 1770. This shift southwards in the location of the cattle tryst, meant that it was shorter and quicker for many mid and south Argyll and Island cattlemen to come round the southern end of Loch Lomond i.e. through Balloch. The presence of many toll booths around Tarbet and on the Lochside road, as well as the damage that the surfaces of the new military roads did to the cattle's hooves, meant that many cattle drives stayed in the hills from Arrochar southwards, coming down Stoneymollan and then across the river. Not all crossed at Balloch - some went to Bonhill. On the eastern side of the river there was also a choice of routes open to them via the Pappert Hill, Auchincarroch Road or the Drymen road.

Illicit Whisky Stills

Although the area was peaceful by the end of the 18th century, it was by no means entirely law-abiding. Illegal distilling of whisky was widespread both on the islands of the Loch and on the Lochside. In 1816 it was believed that stills on the islands were producing 100 gallons a day for Glasgow alone. As late as 1820 the Smolletts knew of 4 stills operating on Cameron Muir, while there were 5 more on the Balloch and Boturich estates. Most of the whisky was smuggled to Glasgow by Irishmen, who had newly arrived in the west of Scotland. The Excise officials were so concerned about all this distilling and smuggling that they put a three masted cutter  - the King's Cutter - with a crew of about four onto the Loch. It was based at Balloch, and there is no record of how effective it was, but it was still operating well into the 1820's. What put paid to most of this activity was not arrests - of which there seems to have been remarkably few - but the passing of an Act of Parliament in 1823 which allowed legal distilling in small stills on payment of a modest licence fee.

Mansion Building

By the late 1700's permanent peace had settled throughout Scotland at last - which was particularly important for the Lochside. Industrial Scotland was emerging and with it the population and prosperity began to grow quite dramatically. Visible proof of this began to emerge around Balloch from the 1760's onwards, and a good example of this is the steady program of mansion building which began on the banks of the Loch.

In 1763, the Smolletts bought Cameron Estate and moved from the mansion, Place of Bonhill, after which they styled themselves, and in which they had lived since 1654. When the Smolletts bought Cameron it was not the grand house at all, not at all like the one which they eventually were to build and which is still clearly visible even after all the alterations made to it as a hotel. The original house, which was visited by the novelist Tobias Smollett in 1766 and Dr Johnson and Bothwell in 1773, was a quite more modest affair. The mansion was enlarged in 1790, altered in 1806 and substantially rebuilt in 1830. It was further enlarged in 1865 when it had to be rebuilt after a fire. It retained that shape and size until the Smolletts sold it in 1986 to be converted into a hotel. The House was built at the landward end of a small peninsular from which the Estate derives its name - Cameron Point. The name Cameron, like so many place names around the Loch originates in Gaelic. This crooked piece of land that is Cameron Point attracted the name “crooked nose”, which in Gaelic is “cam sron”. This has elided to Cameron - there is absolutely no connection with Clan Cameron or the Cameron family.

Dr Johnson's visit to Cameron came at the end of his journey to the Hebrides and was faithfully recorded by Boswell. It came the day after he had spent some time at Rossdhu, including a sail on the Loch organised for him by Sir James Colquhoun, and throws some interesting light on conditions and events of the time. Johnson was infamously anti-Scottish or Scotch as he would have put it, never saying a bad word against the Scots if a hundred would suit him better. Boswell, who was sycophantic enough to tolerate his company, was nervous about Johnson's reaction to the many primitive conditions that they had encountered on the trip - and to be fair there were plenty of them. Boswell was therefore relieved that the roads on the Lochside were good enough for a comfortable coach journey. The military road was obviously of good quality, and they “were delighted that they had returned to civilisation”. Johnson did say about his visit to Cameron that “here we had more solid conversation than any other place that we had been”. The main reason for staying with the Smolletts was to talk about Tobias and to see Verelst's 1756 portrait of the novelist, which was at Cameron House. The Smollett Monument had just been built and paid for by their host who asked Johnson about the wording on the inscription on the monument. Johnson was horrified at the thought of an inscription in English. He said, “surely it is not meant for Highland drovers or other such people as pass and repass that way”, and provided some wording in Latin. Before we make any excuses about it just being typical of the age, bear in mind that Robert Burns was by this time 14 years of age and within another few years Scotland preferred A Man's a Man For Aw That rather than Johnson's haverings. It's a matter of historical dispute how much of Johnson's Latin was used on the monument, but as you can see today, the monument has an English and Latin inscription.

The next mansion to be built at the south end of the Loch was Tullichewan Castle, work on which began some time after the land was purchased in 1792 by John Stirling of Glasgow. The architect with the biggest influence on the design, and who is now largely credited with building it, was Robert Lugar. He was an Englishman, having been born in Colchester around 1773, but he did most of his best work in Scotland and Wales. He went on to build the new Balloch Castle starting in 1808 - indeed there were quite strong visual similarities between Tullichewan and Balloch castles - and to re-build Boturich Castle, starting in 1830. Stirling ran into financial difficulties and soon sold Tullichewan to the Horrocks family, who completed it and who seem to have been in full residence by about 1809. Its most notable owners were the Campbell family who bought it in 1843 and owned it until well into the 20th C, and of whom more later. It was demolished by being blown up in 1954, an event which was witnessed across most of the Vale. Only the stables and a little bit of the Castle wall remain, right beside the A82 just south of the Stoneymollan roundabout.

Balloch Castle
The Present Balloch Castle

John Buchanan of Ardoch, who had bought Balloch Estate from the Colquhouns in 1802, started a new Castle at Balloch in 1808. This is the present Balloch Castle. Recognizing the potential of the land that he had bought, Buchanan engaged as his architect Robert Lugar, who had already worked at Tullichewan. The mock Gothic Balloch Castle is regarded as one of his best pieces of work. It was to his design that the park and woods, walled garden, lodge houses and driveways were laid out in the early 1800's. The site of the new Castle was an outstanding location to chose, at the crest of the hill with its wide sweep of views of both the Loch and the hills, rather than the Lochside, and both the building and the parkland layout which Lugar began in the 200 odd acre estate, have stood the test of time very well indeed. It is said that some of the stones from the old Castle may have been used in the building of the new one. It's possible that a few may have been used, but not many. Buchanan obviously liked the area, because he also bought the ruined Boturich Castle from the Haldane's of Gleneagles in 1811, and when he sold Balloch Castle in 1830, he embarked on the building of a new Boturich Castle incorporating as much of the ruined castle walls and buildings as possible. He moved into the completed “refurbishment” in 1834, having in the interim stayed at Strathleven House then called Levenfield. Buchanan was an interesting character. Amongst other things he was a director of Glasgow's first bank - the Ship Bank - and he signed their bank notes. He didn't do this in the Bank's offices as other officers of banks did, but had them carried down from Glasgow to Balloch and Boturich, and signed them at home. His son-in-law was a Findlay who inherited the property on Buchanan's death in 1838, and whose descendants lived in Boturich Castle until the 1980's.

Balloch Castle was bought by the Dennistoun-Brown family in 1845 (Dennistoun in Glasgow is named after a family member). The Dennistoun Browns resumed the planting of trees and layout of gardens which had been so successfully begun by Buchanan. Dennistoun Brown was a keen gardener and particularly a keen arborist. He introduced many rare and even exotic trees to Balloch estate, which still surprise to-day. With the clearance of many invasive rhododendrons, we can again see, probably for the first time in more than a century, the complete collection of trees as Dennistoun Brown meant them to be seen. Even after Balloch Estate was sold to Glasgow Corporation in 1915, and it became Balloch Park, the very high standard of gardening was maintained by a large team of gardeners. The gardening staff was very professional in their approach, and the head gardener at the Park was in touch with the head gardener at Kew Gardens, who complimented him on Balloch's extensive collection. Day-to-day management of the Park was transferred to the old Vale of Leven District Council under the management of Andy Curtis. This was rightly regarded as a tremendous vote of confidence in his and the Council's ability to maintain and develop the Park. For a long time things went very well - the wishes of Park users were given top priority. “Keep off the grass” notices were removed, the 70-acre field was cut so that people could use it for picnics, and new paths through the woods were built.

Gradually, however, local government reorganisation with remoter management and tightened budgets, as well as the emergence of the Country Park concept in 1980,whatever that actually meant in practice, took its toll. By the middle 1990's the Park had became shabby, run down and widely vandalised.

However, a program of regeneration was adopted in 1997 by West Dunbartonshire Council (the current managers of the Park). By 2001 funding had been secured, and by 2003 restoration began. The work has been extensive - from new roads and paths, to children play areas and viewpoints, to extensive CCTV coverage to combat vandalism. The walled garden is back to something like the old days, and large numbers of trees can at last be seen in their entirety, with the removal of the rhodies. The original designs of Buchanan and Dennistoun Brown and their gardeners are again on view.

Woodbank is the relatively modern name for an old estate and house. The original estate appears on early charters and maps as Stuikrodger, and Stuikrogert until about the end of the 18th century. By 1847 it appears as Woodbank. There has been a house on this estate, and probably on the site of the present Woodbank House, since the 16th century. It started as a simple building but has been steadily altered to the attractive building it now is, even in its current state of decay. It was converted to the Woodbank Hotel in the early 20th century and for many years after the war was regarded as probably the best place to eat in the area. It also had a thriving downstairs bar much frequented by locals from the Tullichewan housing scheme, who until 1972-3 and the building of the slip road up to the Alexandria by-pass, only had to cross a couple of fields to get to it. This also made it popular with poachers who could easily slip in and out of the bar onto Stoneymollan hill to net a few rabbits, but still have a bar full of witnesses as their alibi. The building of the by-pass had a negative impact on its business. It changed hands, closed and re-opened as the Hamilton House hotel for a while before closing permanently. In spite of being a listed building, and being on an endangered buildings list, nothing has been done to prevent the Woodbank's decline.

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