A bend in the river by Place of Bonhill.

By Billy Scobie

Back in the 1960s I was a pupil at the Vale of Leven Academy. In first year our English teacher was a lovely old lady called Miss Abernethy. She taught us some Greek mythology – Theseus, King of Athens. At lunch times some of us used to wander down to the path which ran along by the bank of the River Leven. There was this long, mysterious island with magnificent trees which, to my young mind, was the symbol of my imagined ancient Greece.

Tobias Smollett (1721-1771) the famous Scottish poet and novelist had lived at Place of Bonhill (at the location of the present St Martin’s Primary School), directly across the river from my island.. In later life I was delighted to discover that in his “Ode to Leven Water” Smollett had likened that scene to Arcadia, the ancient Greek province which symbolised rural Utopia.

“On Leven’s banks while free to rove,
And tune the rural pipe to love,
I envied not the happiest swain,
That ever trod the Arcadian plain.”

Smollett attended Dumbarton Grammar School and Glasgow University. He served as naval surgeon in the West Indies and was a medical practitioner in Downing Street, London. His first published work was “The Tears of Scotland”, a poem about the Battle of Culloden and its barbaric aftermath.

He is most remembered for his novels “”Roderick Random” and “The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle”, and is commemorated by the monumental column beside the Renton Primary School.

Leave a Reply