Wednesday, January 17, 2024

The story behind the iconic song: The Bonnie, Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond


Picture by Cindy Huff

During our tour of Scotland last year, my husband and I took a brief cruise of Loch Lomond, the largest lake in Scotland. Our van tour guide shared the story of the centuries old favorite Scottish Tune Bonnie, Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond before we boarded the boat. He wanted us to understand the true meaning of the lyrics as we viewed the beautiful setting.

Folklore and Historical setting

First, he shared Scots believed that if they died outside of Scotland, their spirits return to Scotland, and their home.

Second, the Jacobian Wars were bloody battles to unseat James the I of England (Also known as James the VI of Scotland.) Scots raised their armies out of clan loyalty. Many Scots took up arms against English tyranny. The Brits considered the Scots well beneath them. This is the setting for the poem.

Story Behind the Lyrics

 Two brothers went to war. They were both captured and imprisoned in the same dungeon just inside the English border. The jailer was particularly cruel, and when he discovered the soldiers were brothers, he told them one would die and the other would go free. The cruel twist is that the brothers had to choose who that would be. They were to give their answer the next day. They grew up near Loch Lomond and both brothers’ thoughts went to their loved ones back home.

The eldest brother persuaded or perhaps he insisted he would stay and face death. I imagine a long discussion about their choice, concluding with assurances of his love for his wife. He is reported to have said “You take the high road (earthly way) and I’ll take the low road (after life way) and I’ll get to Scotland before you.” He would die and his spirit would be in Scotland before his brother made it home.

The younger brother was set free and carried  the sad message of his brother’s sacrifice.

Loch Lomond Lyrics

[Verse 1]
By yon bonnie banks and by yon bonnie braes
Where  the sun shines bright on Loch Lomond
Where  we two have passed so many blithesome days
On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond

O you’ll take the high road and I’ll take the low road
And  I’ll be in Scotland afore ye
But  me and my true love will never meet again
On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond

[Verse 2]
I  mind where we parted on yon shady glen
On the steep, steep side o’ Ben Lomond
Where in purple hue, the Heiland hills we view
And the moon shinin’ out from the gloamin’

O  you’ll take the high road and I’ll take the low road
And I’ll be in Scotland afore ye
But me and my true love will never meet again
On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond

[Verse 3]
The wee bird may sing and the wild flowers spring
And in sunshine the waters are sleeping:
The broken heart will ken nae second spring again
And the world does not know how we’re grievin’



O you’ll take the high road and I’ll take the low road
And I’ll be in Scotland afore ye
But me and my true love will never meet again
On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond

 Final thoughts

Doesn’t it touch your heart to imagine two brothers asked to make such a choice? The song mentions the beauty of Loch Lomond and the area surrounding their home. I wonder if they reminisced about their childhood and the eldest of his beloved. I’m sure they wept together after the decision was made. When the younger returned home without his brother, his wife had to have been devastated to learn her husband had died so unfairly. Yet, I think her Scottish heart held a bit of pride at his bravery.

This story had to have been passed down for decades before being set to music. It is still sung today. The Jacobian Wars were in the mid-1700s and the song first appeared in print in 1841.

You Tube link to song. Sung by the King’s Singers.

 After the cruise, our tour guide mentioned this is a popular song at the end of weddings. I suppose the sad romantic lines are why.

Did any of you, like me, learn this song in elementary school? I thought it was about two men taking different paths in a race to beat the other to Loch Lomond. We mostly sang the chorus in music class.

Did you know the story behind the song?  Have you ever heard it before?

Cindy Ervin Huff is a multi-published author of historical and contemporary romance. She loves exploring historical places with her husband of fifty years. A recent transplant to Oklahoma, she has found new places to explore and is enjoying a slower lifestyle. Visit her website:  Or contact her on social media. Find all her books on her author page on Amazon.







1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting today and Happy New Year to you and your family. I had heard the song before; we might have learned the chorus in school but I'm not sure. I didn't know story behind the song. What a great adventure for you and your family to have experienced!