Thursday, March 06, 2014

What is a 'Broken Clan'?

Clan Cunningham website announces jubilantly, "We are no longer a broken clan!".
Indeed there is now a Chief of the Name and Arms of Cunninghame (sic) which, after 218 years without one, is good news.

A chief-less clan is often cited as 'broken'. But I wonder if members of Clan Cunningham knew we were a 'broken clan' before we ceased to be one? Of the 324 Scottish clans or families within which individuals have coats of arms recorded, only 121 currently have a chief, as recognised by the Lord Lyon. It does sound a little dramatic to suggest that the rest are 'broken'!

Historical documents often use the phrase 'broken men', also known as thieves, vagabonds, caterans, 'unanswerable men' and 'clanless men'; men who, in a subsistence agricultural society, have lost their land, perhaps due to a larger clan taking over their traditional clan lands. These men, without the protection of a chief, without any source of income, relied on their wits, turned to crime and were a constant problem to the authorities in Edinburgh. A look through the Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707 gives 49 references to 'broken men' and the resulting problems. Interestingly there is not a single reference to a 'broken clan'.

Amongst the several Acts for the "repressing of the insolence of the barbarous people and broken men of the highlands", only one clan is specifically mentioned: "that wicked race and name of the Glengregor, notorious villains and malefactors".  The MacGregors were displaced from their clan lands by the Campbell Earl of Argyll but they never lost their chief. The present chief is Sir Malcolm MacGregor of MacGregor Bt., much respected convenor of the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs.

So what is a 'broken clan'?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

When is a castle not a castle?

A castle is advertised for sale. So I took a look.

Cavers Castle (or maybe Cavers House?) in its prime.
Cavers Castle, a tower house of the Black Douglas, was destroyed by the English in 1545, remodelled in the 1750s and much extended in 1887. It has been a ruin since 1953 when the last Palmer Douglas laird, quite remarkably, sold the contents and allowed the army to use the building for target practice. Now mature spruce trees surround and oppress the sad skeleton, swaying arrogantly in what was drive, lawn, flower bed.

Cavers now.
I chatted to some people from a cottage nearby. "It's not really a castle", they said, "more of a mansion house". And when I looked in my favourite reference book, the entry under Cavers Castle read, 'See Cavers House'. 

So which is it?
The generally accepted definition of a castle is a 'private fortified residence'. When built in the 16th century Cavers was undoubtedly a castle; but in 1887 it was rebuilt for gracious living with no thought for defence. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert did not build Balmoral as a fortified residence in 1856 but, unlike Cavers, it does have many of the architectural defensive features of a castle.

Balmoral Castle.

Blair Castle, seat of the Dukes of Atholl, started as a castle, was remodelled in 1740 to be a stylish country house with no turrets or castellations then in the 1860s, under the influence of Balmoral, was transformed back into a castle!

So it is a grey area... which could confuse the potential castle purchaser. Or, more unfortunately, a visitor to our shores; Castle Venlaw in Peebles, for example, is a very good hotel, but no more a castle than your house or mine!

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Roxburgh Castle

It's difficult to imagine, as I walk by the River Teviot to ruinous Roxburgh Castle, that King David I (1124 - 1153) governed Scotland from here, that it saw royal marriages and births, and was one of the principal strongholds of Scotland, ceded to England (with Edinburgh and Stirling) after the capture of King William 'The Lion' in 1174.

It's a wet and windy January afternoon and it's also hard to imagine an iron cage hanging from these walls, a cage containing a king's sister. She was Mary, sister to Robert the Bruce, held here by the English, 'exposed to public view' from 1306 to 1310, then removed to a convent, (presumably to stop a valuable hostage from dying of exposure). She was released after the Battle of Bannockburn (1314) in exchange for English noblemen.

Ah yes! Bannockburn. There's a happier story! Our last 'home win', 700 years ago on 23 and 24 June. And Roxburgh Castle was taken for the Scots by 'Good' Sir James Douglas earlier that same year by creeping up on it with sixty men disguised, they say, as cattle; though sadly we don't have the exact day to celebrate it. This left Stirling as the only Scottish Castle in English hands... fanfare and cue Bannockburn re-enactment later this year.

But returning to Roxburgh, this is what Andrew Spratt (and he's normally pretty good) thinks it looked like.

The two rivers join just below the illustration and the Teviot was partially diverted (top) to surround the castle with water (just like Caerlaverock on the Solway Firth and Old Inverlochy Castle at Fort William).

Roxburgh changed hands between Scots and English 13 times and was eventually destroyed by the Scots in 1460. But this was another bitter and uncertain time: our king, James II, had been killed standing by a canon, firing on English-held Roxburgh Castle from the grounds of Floors Castle across the Tweed.

The magnificent  building that now smiles benignly across the river is a modern structure (of 1721) but well worth a visit. And if you do go, look for the holly tree marking the spot where James II was killed by his favourite canon. And perhaps you will take time to wander up to the thought-provoking ruins of Roxburgh Castle.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Authenticity is Everything in this Counterfeit World

I had a birthday the other day and was given a cd by Hugh Laurie (thanks Jamie) who apologises in the liner notes for being a white middle class Englishmen offering songs from black Louisiana in the early 1900s. He goes on to talk of 'furniture dipped in absinthe and towed behind a truck from Nice Table all the way to Wow, What's the Story Behind That???' suggesting that, 'Our alienation from the land, our inoculation against disease, our cultivated fear of hot things, sharp things, fast things... has made us hungry for the real thing, for Truth. If we don't get it we'll settle for its distant cousin, Authenticity.'

Earlier this week I was guiding clients in their clan lands, pulling out scraps of history and relating them to what's there now on the ground. The rocks, the rivers, the corries and to some extent the churches, are easy but most buildings are far removed from those ancient Truths. I'm grateful for the Authenticity of monuments and graveyards.

On Tuesday night I was at a B&B - a typically Scottish Victorian villa  in a small Perthshire town with a lovely garden. We've used it for clients before and they've had a great welcome. As did I, from the charming young landlady and her partner who produced an excellent breakfast. This couple have had the house for a year. They come from Roumania. So, not really authentic. But what if they had been from London, or Glasgow, or Inverness, or the next town down the glen?

Ideally the landlady would have been born and brought up in the town; but there aren't so many of those about. Truths are often hard to pin down - intellectually, historically or for a tour guide on the ground. But for our Clans and Castles clients we serve up as much as we can of that distant cousin, Authenticity.

Book a trip with us and there's one very nice B&B that you won't be staying in.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Hill Road to Roberton

The hill road to Roberton's a steep road to climb,
But where your foot has crushed it you can smell the scented thyme,
And if your heart's a Border heart, look down to Harden Glen,
And hear the blue hills ringing with the restless hoofs again.

When I moved back to the Borders last year, I was looking forward to living near lovely Tweedside Abbotsford, home of Sir Walter Scott, which reopens to the public on 4 July. But I had forgotten about Will H. Ogilvie who wrote that great poem, The Raiders (too long to quote here but follow the link - it's a wonderful evocation of the romance of the Borders). 

I was recently in Galashiels on a lovely spring afternoon and decided to return to Hawick via 'The Hill Road to Roberton' where Will's ashes were scattered, and pay my respects to his cairn (below). 

It's a beautiful, undulating, moorland road which I will make a point of revisiting in August when the heather is out. But I'd forgotten that as I wound down into the valley of the River Teviot I would pass by 17th century Harden Tower, once home to Auld Wat of Harden (depicted below), one of the most notable of the Border Reivers. 

Which brings us back to his descendant, Sir Walter Scott, who wrote so effectively about 'Auld Wat' in the 'Lay of the Last Minstrel'.

Do make a point of visiting Abbotsford - a lovely and fascinating house with a well designed visitor centre.