From Trossachs Pier, a hoisted Saltire leads the way, frills flapping on the aftdeck’s red and white striped canopy, bunting licking the air. The captain waves from his smart red wheelhouse, steam dissolves in tiny puffs above a rhythmic hum and swash. Let’s go back. The builders and the engineers at Denny’s have launched you on the Firth of Clyde. Now they’re back at work: the ship must be dismantled, each steel plate, nut and bolt removed, numbered, loaded onto horse-drawn carts. Hands are black, faces streaked, the shipyard clattering with crates and winches, chains and grinders. Soon you will be dragged eleven miles across the Trossachs, reassembled, launched with pomp. A little further. An oil lamp burns long into the night, your quill dipping into ink, scratching paper. Smoke curls from your pipe. A walking cane is propped against your chair, your good knee aches. Creditors need paying. Debts mount while the gables and the turrets on Abbotsford rise higher. Further still. Your brothers strut about in fresh new uniforms. Robert no longer bullies you but can’t resist flicking your eye with his Navy coat-tail, and a jibe – stockings only look refined on two strong soldier legs. Soon he’ll sail for Martinique, succumb to fever, be buried at sea. Yet further. Aunt Jenny reads you ballads in the draughty rooms of Sandyknowe, teaches you to read. Painful treatments fail to cure your leg. She lifts your anchor with her tales of battles and betrayals, of Hardyknute’s heroic deeds. Now let’s press on across Katrine. Your sleek prow glides like a white plume over Ben Glas, Ben A’an and Primrose Hill. On Ellen Isle, there’s your Lady of the Lake on a beach of pebbles bright as snow, lifting her head at some imagined sound. Soon the sun will set, the loch become a burnished sheet of living gold. Look, there are Charlotte and your children waving from shore. Even frail Hugh Littlejohn is smiling, pink-cheeked, as he skims a stone. It’s time to go. With each fathom disturbed, the water reinvents itself.
About this poem
* The SS Sir Walter Scott has been sailing Loch Katrine since 1900. However because of urgent boiler repairs she is not in operation in 2021.