Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Dun Bonnet of Foyers

In Neil Gunn’s novel, Highland River, a Canadian of Scots Highland descent meets two Highlanders, Angus and Ken, in the trenches of France. The Canadian speaks Gaelic and talks knowledgeably about Highland culture. In one exchange he refers to the ‘Province of Cat’ (broadly Caithness).

‘Do you know’, he said turning to Ken, ‘that Angus here didn’t know what the Province of Cat meant!’

For an instant the eyes held Ken, and then the Canadian-born clansman laughed. Say, you’re not too sure yourself! And you call yourselves Highlanders!

This came to mind when a lady from Arkansas remarked to me that she would quite like to visit the cave of the Dun Bonnet near Foyers on Loch Ness.

‘The Dun Bonnet’, I said slowly, desperately searching the mental archives. I couldn’t stall her and she told me the story which involved a Fraser who had hidden out from the redcoats for several years after Culloden. His faithful kinsfolk had kept him supplied with food and water.

The fact that Scots abroad are often substantially more knowledgeable about our heritage than Scots at home was vividly brought home to me at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games last week, an event which outdoes any Highland Games back home. But back to the Dun Bonnet...

His real name was James Fraser, the IX of Foyers and having fought at Culloden, he reportedly spent about seven years in this cave. His hideout was well known to the locals and they called him Bonaid Odhair, Dun Bonnet, so that they could talk freely about him.

However if the locals in the 18th century knew the cave well, those of the 21st (at least those we asked), were unaware of its existence. Nothing daunted we scaled Carn Dearg and made our way through a thick spruce platation to the mossy summit where we found The Cave. Well, we found A Cave - which was satisfaction enough.

Now at least, I know all about the the 'Bonaid Odhair'.

(Bonaid, incidentally, is another Gaelic word which has been adopted by English.)

If you would like to explore your Scottish knowledge on the ground, then just drop me an email.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The 52nd Grandfather Mountain Highland Games

Scots, wha hae wi' Wallace bled,
Scots, wham Bruce has often led,

Welcome to your gory bed,

Or to victorie.

Just after sunset on the eve of the Games the commentator intoned Robert Burns' evocative words as a fiery cross descended Grandfather Mountain to light torches held by eighty clan representatives, each of which then declared the clan present with a short speech. Most of us there knew that clans rarely, if ever, stood shoulder to shoulder in battle, normally being preoccupied with the theft of each other's cattle, but this detail did not detract from the successful drama of the occasion.

Next day it was a real pleasure to go round the clan tents, discussing clan lands and talking of homecoming journeys, past and future. Here in Scotland we tend to wear our name lightly, often unaware of its origin, or details of our clan's 'named ancestor'. We may have a kilt but we are oblivious to the major characters in our family's history. Not so in North Carolina! Here they all know the history, or were there to discover it. Particularly whilst there, it seemed a wonderful accident of birth to be born a Scot in Scotland!

One recurrent theme was the International Clan Gathering, to be held in Edinburgh in July 2009. This will be the largest gathering of clansmen in Scotland since George IV visited in 1822. And in 2009, as then, there will be a march by the clans up the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle. The Games will be held in Holyrood Park and the highlight of the event will be a clan pageant on the castle esplanade.

Now there's something that even Scots in Scotland can get excited about!

If you would like to visit your Scottish homeland, then drop me an email.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Back in New York

People on holiday tend to make unfavourable comparisons with their homeland. Quite naturally perhaps, I have over several years as a tour guide learned more about what is wrong with the USA than what is praiseworthy. My trip here is thus a wonderful, eye-opening, surprise.

I was last in New York nearly thirty years ago and remember it as busy, violent, dirty and a bit seedy. I had read, of course, that it had changed, but had no idea by how much. In the stifling heat, it still seems a vibrant place, but also clean, safe, quite at ease with itself. I am also struck by the number of flowers.

I am here to meet Travel Agents, to speed the growth of Scottish Clans and Castles Ltd. One occupies the the entire 34th floor of a building made almost chilly by the airconditioning; another is tucked away at the back of a hardware store with an office full of catalogues featuring holidays all over the world (but the walls are covered with pipers and Scottish castles!). Everyone is polite and helpful. No one (except ironically the Bank of Scotland) is too busy to see me.

I understand New York better now, and look forward to coming back.