Saturday, May 19, 2007

Proud to be North British

A group of our clients returned to the excellent Castle Stuart by Inverness this weekend. Today I took them on a trip eastwards with stories of Brodie Castle, Picts, the burning of Elgin Cathedral, weaving, and early distilling. But they wanted to know my view of the Scottish Nationalists' victory in our recent election; I said that, whilst not in favour of independence, I thought a change of administration was probably healthy.

We were approaching Forres, and I broke off to talk about the tower above the town. 'Nelson's Tower' was erected in 1806 by prominent members of the community of Forres as a memorial to the naval hero.

But why?

After all, Forres has no naval tradition, Admiral Nelson lived in Norfolk and never visited Scotland.

The answer is that Nelson was a British (not a Scottish) hero and in 1806, prominent members of this Highland town wanted to be associated with Britain. They were impatient to move on, leaving behind all the embarrassing, historical Highland baggage of clan feuds, cattle stealing, and Jacobite Risings. Just five years previously the Earl of Moray had knocked down nearby Darnaway Castle, replacing it with a mansion house - a building better suited to the time.

In 1807 some subscribers to the cost of the monument went on to form a Trafalgar dining club. It met annually on 21st October. James Brodie of Brodie took the chair at the inaugural meeting. And as they passed around the snuff (in a box modelled on Nelson's death mask) and used the spittoon (a chamber pot decorated with the bust of Napoleon), when they stood and raised their glasses to drink the the good health of King George, they no doubt felt extremely proud to be British.

After all, this was the exciting, new, industrial, 19th century!
In Edinburgh the 'Scottish Enlightenment' was in full swing - an intellectual movement led by those who, ironically, considered themselves 'North British' and went to some lengths to speak English and not Scots! The North British Fusiliers were already defending these islands against Bonaparte; the North British Railway was born in 1844, as was the North British Advertiser, the North British Distillery followed in 1885, and I can remember when the Edinburgh hotel now known as The Balmoral was still known as the 'North British'.

In the 19th century, 'North Britain' was the spirit of the age.

Something's changed then!


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Task completed - Bannockburn to Culloden Moor

Well, I made it! About 190 miles from Bannockburn to Culloden Moor on a bicycle. I can recommend the cycle routes through Scotland to anyone. They are on old railway lines, forestry tracks, minor roads and some dedicated cycle tracks. Away from the traffic there is masses of wildlife, and at this time of year primroses and wild hyacinths everywhere. I felt like a bit of a fraud on my first full day, cycling through such lovely countryside and being sponsored for doing so. However on Day Two I probably earned my money as the wind and rain were in my face as I toiled over remote the Pass of Drumochter in the middle of what ended up as an 80 mile day. The total raised now stands at over GBP 800 which will pay for board, lodging, education and clothing for a child in Dr Graham's Homes in Kalimpong, India for a year and a bit.

This spring the choir from the Homes were in the UK and sang quite beautifully. But it was seeing smart, enthusiastic, children who clearly loved singing and loved life that was most impressive - especially in the knowledge that many would probably be on the bread line, or below it, were it not for this school. The sore bum and stiffness seem like a small price to pay.

I took a little time off as I went to visit Doune Castle and the McNab burial ground at Killin. Of these more later, (even after a couple of days, I still feel like heading to bed a bit earlier than usual!)

Many thanks to all those who sponsored me and also to those who provided food and accommodation en route.