Friday, December 19, 2008

Jacobite Symbolism

I think the Jacobites could have done with a strategic marketing consultant. Brand confusion? Tell me about it!
WAY too many logos...

The white cockade, the white rose, rosebuds, blue bonnet, oak tree, acorns, oak sapling, star, thistle, birds, compasses, sunflower, moth, butterfly, JR VIII and 'Amen'.

(Of course it is more difficult to get your marketing message across when you are a proscribed organisation.)

Did you know that ...?
  • 'Amen glasses' (right) are so called as they were inscribed with the Jacobite version of the National Anthem which ends, 'Amen'. 'Amen glasses' are on display at Traquair and at Culloden Battlefield.
  • Jacobites would toast the king at official dinners whilst passing their wine glass over water bowls to signify the Stuart king in exile, "over the water." This is why water bowls were banned at royal banquets until 1903.
And now a musical expert believes that "O Come All ye Faithful" is actually a Jacobite call to arms...

"Fideles is Faithful Catholic Jacobites. Bethlehem is a common Jacobite cipher for England, and Regem Angelorum is a well-known pun on Angelorum (angels) and Anglorum (English). So 'Come and Behold Him, Born the King of Angels' really means, 'Come and Behold Him, Born the King of the English' - Bonnie Prince Charlie!"

So if you raise a festive glass this Christmas or sing a much loved carol, beware of being tacitly treasonable. They're watching, you know.

Happy Christmas!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Bedrock of Scottish Civil Life dies after 313 Years

I wrote on Thursday about the attempted castration of Scotland by Edward I of England. Well, some here feel that a combination of greed and arrogance both in Scotland and in the USA have now more or less done the job. It happened yesterday in Birmingham where shareholders voted to approve the merger of the Bank of Scotland with Lloyds TSB.

Just three years after the Massacre of Glencoe subscription books, bound in red leather, were opened in Edinburgh and London. In time, 172 shareholders emerged and gathered together a working capital of some £100,000 sterling. The following year The Bank of Scotland was the first in Europe to issue paper currency; seen here is a twelve pound note dated 24 June 1723 .

When Prince Charles Edward took Edinburgh in the 1745 Rising, all the bank's papers and valuables were safely stored in Edinburgh Castle which never fell to the Jacobites. And in the 1800's when many other banks failed, the Bank of Scotland soldiered on. Until yesterday.

The history of the bank is given here and the page's title is
'Bank of Scotland (1695 - )'.

Well now they can fill that bit in!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Significant Escape

On this day, 11 December, in 1282 the last native prince of Wales, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, was killed by Edward I of England's soldiers. Edward then announced that the new Prince of Wales would be "a prince born in Wales, who did not speak a word of Welsh" and produced his infant son, later Edward II, born at Caernavon Castle when his father was campaigning in the area.

And so it is that to this day the male heir to the British throne automatically becomes 'Prince of Wales'.

Which makes me ponder on the lucky escape we had in Scotland. Edward was good at castrating the countries that he aimed to control. After Wales he moved on to Scotland and removed the ceremonial Stone of Scone upon which Scottish kings were crowned. How fortunate we were to have William Wallace to lead the resistance to Edward's 'overlordship' until the English king was overcome by a surfeit of campaigning, and King Robert I to defeat Edward II in battle at Bannockburn (above).

R.I.P. Llywelyn ap Gruffydd.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

St Andrew's Day

Today is St Andrew's Day. 30th November is celebrated as a national saint's day not just here in Scotland, but also in Russia, Greece and Romania. He is our saint because a monk called Rule brought one of St Andrew's bones to Scotland in the fourth century; Rule was actually shipwrecked at a place now known as St Andrews. And the holy relic, held for centuries in the cathedral there, caused St Andrews to be a great place of pilgrimage until the Reformation. Still the pilgrims come, but now they bring their golf clubs.

And now that we have a Scottish National Party Government, today has increased prominence and civil servants are enjoying a National Holiday. We are encouraged to become involved and Nairn Academy, my daughter's school, has obliged by creating a St Andrew's flag made of 1000 staff and pupils .

This year St Andrew's Day is also being used to launch the Year of Homecoming 2009 with a very neat little TV advertisement: "Caledonia" featuring pop singers, sportsmen and even Sean Connery. Worth watching.

One of the most prominent events of Homecoming 2009 is the The International Clan Gathering in Edinburgh next July, but if you are planning to be there, you should be stirring yourself as tickets (known as 'passports') are in short supply. (Only from Scottish Clans and Castles can you still get a hold of Gold Passports!).

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Clan Chiefs and their ancestral homes

There is an understandable curiosity amongst visitors to Scotland about our clan chiefs. Generalisaton is impossible, however. The chief of Clan Murray is the 11th Duke of Atholl: his seat is at Blair Castle and he commands the Atholl Highlanders, the only legal private army in Europe but actually lives in Haenertsburg, South Africa. The chief of Clan Campbell is the 13th Duke of Argyll: his seat is Inveraray Castle built by his ancestor in 1746. In 2005 he captained the Chivas Regal Scotland team to win the World Elephant Polo Championships for the second year running.

I could go on. They are a colourful bunch.

A year or two ago I took a German journalist to meet Lachie Rattray, chief of Clan Rattray. We met in the beautiful and dramatic Craighall Castle (above) which has been in the family since 1533. He shattered a few of her illusions however when he explained that to fund the castle upkeep, he runs an architectural salvage and bath cleaning business and his elegant wife Nicky owns a bunkhouse in Stirling and offers Bed and Breakfast in the castle (enjoyed by several of our clients).

Alas it seems that the struggle has been too great and the lovely Craighall Castle is up for sale.
Much though I like them, I do hope there are no worthwhile offers.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Jacket with Pedigree (and Airmiles)

The owners of Campbell & Co, ladies' and gentlemen's tailors, hosiers and outfitters of many years standing, will often recognise their clients as they come through its doors in Beauly near Inverness.

And so it was one sunny day in September. Except that it was the jacket rather than the face that was familiar. "
I haven't seen that tweed for a while," remarked Mr Campbell.
"No," agreed his sister. "It used to be a Hunters of Brora favourite."

The jacket's wearer, Tim Krech from Carmel, California, here on a Clans and Castles holiday is rather intrigued by this. "Well, my grandfather married an English lady. He loved Scotland and bought a lot of his clothes here."

"Would you mind, Sir, if I had a very quick look at the inside of your pocket?" Tim's smile broadens. "As I suspected," continues Mr Campbell, "I measured your grandfather for this jacket myself. In fact if you give me a moment I may be able to turn up the ledger."

And there it was. The picture shows Tim Krech with Mr Campbell holding the book which his grandfather, also from California, signed in 1971 when the jacket Tim is wearing was ordered.

And there it will remain, long after 2008 internet purchases, (and probably many of the goods themselves) are forgotten.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Outlander Film

I was going to write about ghosts today - seemed appropriate for Hallowe'en and at Scottish Clans and Castles we are planning a self guided tour of haunted places for 2009.

But then I opened my Sunday paper and saw myself quoted in connection with the upcoming (?) Outlander Film based on Diana Gabaldon's novels. I had put Brian Pendreigh, the journalist, in touch with some of our Outlander tourists for ideas as to who should play the lead parts.
My personal pick for Jamie Fraser is Gerrard Butler' wrote Macy from Arkansas, ' (in fact, I can't see anyone else playing the part - if you have seen Beowulf and Grendel or Atilla you will know what I mean'.
Dawn from Minnesota is voting for Tony Curran. 'He's worn a kilt in many movies so he wouldn't be afraid to wear one again!

As you can see Pendreigh favours James McAvoy and Keira Knightley (above). Feel free to join the debate!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Robert Burns and Abraham Lincoln

I have previously referred to the influence of Robert Burns on Abraham Lincoln. Now a leading American academic, Dr Ferenc Morton Szasz, has published his findings that Lincoln could recite Burns' work by heart and that the Scot's passion for social justice fuelled the US leader's crusade to emancipate African-Americans. More detail in today's Scotland on Sunday.

The publication is timely as we approach 2009 and the 250th anniversary of the poet's birth, celebrated here in Scotland with the Year of Homecoming.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Wallace Monument

I visited the Wallace Monument last week. This is not what I saw - but it might have been!

The idea of a monument to commemorate William Wallace, the Great Patriot, first discussed in 1818, found form in 1856. But the proposed massive sculpture of a Scottish lion in the act of killing the English typhon designed by Sir Joseph Noel Paton was considered ‘too provocative’!

So a competition was arranged. It was won by the Glasgow-based architect J T Rochead, with the present tower, designed to recall the tower houses that had sprung up all over Scotland in the 15th and 16th centuries. Like them, the Wallace Monument is of rough hewn stone and is light on windows; it is topped with a crown spire, a peculiarly Scottish motif.

Nowadays we treat the monument on Abbey Craig by Stirling as part of the landscape. But in Victorian times it was the centre of some controversy. Some thought it a 'fantastic nightmare of a memorial', others detected the vital connection between a rugged castle-like monumentalism and an idea of 'Scottishness'. I would agree with neither but it provides a good oversight of both Wallace and Stirlingshire - well worth a visit if you can cope with the 246 turnpike steps.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Outlander Tourists and Highland Weapons

Amongst his many accomplishments Jamie Fraser, hero of Diana Gabaldon's 'Outlander' series, was highly skilled with Highland weaponry. Last night those on our fourth Outlander Tour enjoyed trying the weapons for themselves under instruction from Hugh Allison, author and mine of information on the Battle of Culloden.

I always enjoy leading these Outlander tours. The weather has been a bit grey, but a happy group has interrogated salmon fishermen, tapped feet to Highland folk music, seen where the Brahan Seer's prophesies came true and sampled local malt whisky and elderflower wine. (This in additon to the headline activities noted on the website!). Tomorrow, it seems, the weather will be better and we head by Loch Ness to Glenshiel, the brochs at Glenelg and the Isle of Skye.

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Great North of Scotland Railway

Yesterday I was tempted out to walk a stretch of the 'Speyside Way', a long distance footpath, and found myself on part of the old Great North of Scotland Railway line between Grantown-on-Spey and Nethy Bridge. Nethy Bridge Station, terminus for this line from 1863 to 1866, has been a bunk house since the line closed in the 1960s. At one stage, though, there were two Nethy Bridge stations. Potentially a little confusing. The other, built by the rival Highland Railway on the other side of the Spey is still in use and now called Broomhill. As we walked we saw the steam train of the Strathspey Railway pulling in, turning round and heading back to Aviemore.

The two lines shadowed each other on either side of the Spey for about six miles. Competition between the rival companies was clearly intense, yet quality in these massive works of engineering didn't seem to suffer. One hundred and fifty years on and the line is flat as ever; the bridges, untended for fifty years, and now shrouded by trees, stand as a testament to Victorian building standards.

We watched as anglers enjoyed some of the best salmon fishing in Scotland. The Spey, 100 miles long, is one of the 'big four', yielding 10,000 salmon annually. This lovely river which of course gives its name to speycasting, also has happy associations with drinking (Speyside Malts) and dancing (The Strathspey).

And just by Nethy Bridge we passed the very fine but very ruined Castle Roy, a thirteenth century courtyard castle of the Comyns. A good day out.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

The MacKinnons of Strathaird

‘An Srath Fhionnghain gheal,
‘S an grinne beus gun smal’

The MacKinnons arrived on Skye in the early 14th century. The clan chief followed about two hundred years later after some local difficulty on Mull where the MacKinnon chiefs had been hereditary Abbots of Iona and Standard Bearers to the Lords of the Isles

A MacKinnon from Canada was in the ancient clan lands on Skye with her husband and family on Tuesday.

We went to Kilmarie and so out to Dun Ringill, a dramatic cliff-top ruin and the clan's principal castle until the later 15th century. Rory got stung by nettles in the 2000 year old doorway, Mark discovered how they barred the door, Deanna found white heather and Denise learnt a little more Gaelic: Dùn ruabh mòr-ghil, the fort at the point of the ravine.

On the way we saw the the burial place of the MacKinnons of Strathaird at Cill Chriosd....

Sadly the clan has not been a presence on Skye for 250 years. In 1746 the chief, Iain Og (that's 'Young Iain', Denise) helped Prince Charles Edward escape to the mainland. For his pains he was apparently given exclusive access to the recipe for Drambuie , but also spent four years on a prison ship in the Thames. His son sold the MacKinnon lands to pay off debts in 1765.

I'll leave the last word to Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull who used to own the land at Kilmarie:

..We'll wait in stone circles 'til the force comes through
lines joint in faint discord and the stormwatch brews
a concert of kings as the white sea snaps
at the heels of a soft prayer whispered
In the wee hours I'll meet you down by Dun Ringill...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Auld Wat of Harden

Cattle graze peacefully in this picture I took last Sunday of Kirkhope Tower in the Ettrick Valley. But it was not always thus. Kirkhope was the home of 'Auld Wat of Harden' one of the most notorious and colourful of the Border Reivers. In 1597 he led a raid on Bellingham in Northumberland with three hundred men and came back with four hundred head of cattle. The Scotts have always dominated the Ettrick and Yarrow valleys and Bowhill, residence of the (Scott) Duke of Buccleuch lies just a few miles down the valley, not far from Abbotsford House, famously home of Auld Wat's descendant, the novelist Sir Walter Scott.

'Not really a castle though, is it?', someone said. In fact these tower houses were the style of the time for landowners throughout Scotland: economical to build, one big room on each floor and high enough so that a fire on the battlements could be seen by the next tower up the valley and so pass the warning if a raid was coming up from the other direction.

Ironically it may be Auld Wat's wife that has left us the best story from Kirkhope. She was Mary Scott of Dryhope (below) known as the 'Flower of Yarrow', and when the larder was bare, she would just put Auld Wat's spurs on a plate and set it in front of him at dinner time!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Can we book a haunted castle please!

Sometimes people ask to spend a night in a haunted castle - prompting a thought as to whether, in this litigious age, they have any recourse if they book a 'haunted castle' and neither see nor hear anything!

But last month a group from Pennsylvania innocently celebrating a fiftieth birthday in one of our Aberdeenshire castles experienced the unexpected...

"Our Ghost was first seen when my friend Ed was putting wood in the fireplace in the basement room ... [He] swears there was a man sitting in the chair, dressed in tweed-like clothing - patches on the elbows, arms on either armrest staring straight ahead. He vanished very quickly.

The second sighting was when my friend Nancy and I were in the room watching the Stanley Cup playoff hockey game .... I was sitting in the chair closest to the door and Nancy was on the couch. Nancy saw a person sitting on the other chair. She was scared, didn't want to scare me so she left to go to bed. The next day she related the story, and she and Ed started comparing the look of the ghost and described him wearing the same exact thing, sitting in the exact same pose, etc.

Nancy is an artist and is going to draw "Angus."We felt no animosity from him, talked to him every time we went into that room - but no one else saw him. We figured he liked hockey and just wanted to hang out for a while!

Nancy also said in her room (the 4-poster which would have been the master bedroom at one time) she heard as clear as a bell a child saying "ma ma," in a whiny distressed kind of way, and when she looked out the window she thought she saw someone in the field above the house, however figured it was a tree. The next day when she looked there were no trees in that particular place.

Others who stayed in the castle said they felt cold breezes and "felt" a presence, never angry or mean - just peaceful and curious."

Out of consideration for Angus, future tenants will be asked to leave a hockey game showing on the TV where possible when they retire to bed!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Iona - pilgrimage site or holiday destination?

Iona has an ancient and a sacred ring to it: burial place of Scottish kings; monastery founded by St Columba in 563; heart of the Celtic church for 500 years; pilgrimage site and home to the Iona Community.

Happily Iona is not easily accessible; it is still a bit of a pilgrimage involving two ferries. But inevitably in summer it attracts plenty tourists like the couple from New York whom I was guiding.

Geographically similar to many other Hebridean islands, Iona is different. Even from the ferry port on Mull you can see the impressive abbey on the other side, and once you approach it along the pilgrims' route, studded by massive Celtic Crosses like St Martin's Cros (above), you come to the 12th Century Chapel of St Odhrán (right) and Reilig Odhrán containing the unmarked graves of some 48 Scottish kings. From there sràid nam marbha, 'the street of the dead', an ancient cobbled track, leads to the abbey, a holy place which straddles the millennia, now home to the (ecumenical) Christian Iona Community.

It was lovely being there in the summer, but on this island chosen for its remoteness, there were too many people. I am going back when there is snow in the air and may perhaps come closer to the long-lived spirit of St Columba.

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Clans in Paris

No, you're right. Edinburgh is indeed the setting for the The Gathering of the Clans in 2009, but last week I was exploring those places in Paris and its environs where Scottish history was played out, guiding six American ladies, previous clients of ours in Scotland.

I have written that the 'Auld Alliance' was a rather one way affair, with the Scots giving the French help that was rarely reciprocated. But for for selected Scots, French kings were exceptionally hospitable. In 1418, suspicious of his countrymen, the future King Charles VII of France formed a personal bodyguard, 'La Garde Écossaise', from the 6000 Scots fighting for him at the time. The guard gave invaluable service, was well rewarded and was finally disbanded in 1830.

Pausing only briefly at 'Le Loch Ness' (!), we walked across the Seine to the Rue St Antoine, scene of a low point in the history of La Garde Écossaise: in 1559 its Captain, Gabriel de Montgomery, riding in a tournament there, accidentally delivered a fatal blow in the eye to King Henri II (incidentally brother-in-law to Mary Queen of Scots). The unfortunate Scot was later executed.

Beyond lies the wonderful Place des Vosges, the heart of fashionable Paris in the 17th century. We visited No. 6, not because it is the MuséeVictor Hugo but because this was the home of Marie-Louise de Rohan, Prince Charles Edward's mistress in the two years following the 1745 Rising. Nothing of that period survives except the official address: Hôtel de Rohan-Guéménée. To the right is the front door, one that Prince Charles Edward rarely took, since Louise was his first cousin and her husband one of his best friends. His visits, well documented by the Paris police, were via the nearby alleyway.

Next day we visited Versailles: breathtakingly extravagant and so strikingly different to courtly life in Scotland at the time (even taking on board Charles McKean's excellent book on The Scottish Chateau). It was also odd to be there with coach loads of Italians and scores of french school children when Prince Charles Edward who so longed for and so needed Louis XV's help with his forthcoming attempt to win the throne, was never allowed inside the place!

Time did not however allow us to go to St Germain-en-Laye, birthplace of Louis XIV, home to the exiled Jacobite Court from 1689 and base for thousands of impoverished, rootless, exiled Jacobites for the next two generations. Our King James VII is entombed in the church there. Next time.

Finally, herewith a shot of the Tuileries Gardens where old George Keith the last Earl Marischal of Scotland met secretly with Prince Charles Edward in 1752. George was by then Prussian ambassador to Paris . Scotland was by then part of the United Kingdom. This was probably, then, the last play in 400 years of Scottish political intrigue and involvement on French soil.

I am returning to Paris in the autumn to revisit these places and more. I would be delighted if you could join me.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Culloden - Did it really change World History?

The National Trust for Scotland is a conservative sort of organisation, not normally given to rash claims. And yet at the new Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre there is a prominent announcement that this battle changed World History! I have visited several times and enjoy the new centre very much , but find no evidence that the battle 'changed history'! Even if Prince Charles Edward had by some extraordinary stroke of good generalship won on 16 July 1746, would he really have gone on with his army 6,000, valiant, tough, but mostly untrained Highlanders, to overcome the British Army of 62,000? Would Louis XV,who did not support the Prince when he embarked from France, nor at the propitious moment following the victory at Prestonpans, really have committed the French troops required to turn the tide? I think not, and anyway we are a long way from the Battle of Culloden changing European or World History. Surely it merely prolonged the status quo!

It's an excellent exhibition nevertheless, giving the lie to any idea that this was a Scots v. English affair, and well worth a visit.

And if you disagree with me, please post a comment!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Scottish Clans and Castles on the Move

Today we completed our move to Geddes House - a classic Georgian houses in the Scottish Highlands. We are in the cellars but we still love it! We have more room, and are surrounded by Geddes Free Range chickens and pigs!

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Emigration Stone at Cromarty

It was a treat to visit Cromarty on this beautiful spring day, whin flowers on the hillsides a splash of vivid yellow. Cromarty still retains a whiff of the 18th century even though the traditional houses are now home to computer programmers, web designers and to Calico UK, internet service provider for Scottish Clans and Castles.

I was with the first of our 2008 Outlander Tours. We wandered the narrow vennels, told stories of smugglers and pirates, and rope made here from hemp imported from St Petersburg. Most of all, though, we admired the 'Emigration Stone', above.

The words on it are from Cromarty's most famous son, Hugh Miller - Geologist, Writer and Naturalist, who watched ships sail off to the New World in the 1830s...

"The Cleopatra, as she swept past the town of Cromarty, was greeted with three cheers by crowds of the inhabitants and the emigrants returned the salute, but mingled with the dash of the waves and the murmurs of the breeze, their faint huzzas seemed rather sounds of wailing and lamentation than of a congratulatory farewell."

Hugh Miller also wrote. "Life itself is a school, and nature always a fresh study". Particularly true today.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Runic Graffiti on The Ring of Brodgar, Orkney

Sixty stones once stood in The Ring of Brodgar. Each slab, nine or ten feet tall, was set about five degrees apart to form an almost perfect circle on the open moorland. This remarkable monument was created some time before the Pyramids. We don't know exactly why. It is a World Heritage Site, but this hasn't stopped people carving their names. The most interesting is 'Bjorn', a Viking with some time on his hands in the 12th century. Underneath his spindly runic writing, he scratched a cross. How remote these runes seem to us! And yet we are separated from Bjorn by just 800 years; he is separated from those who erected these stones by some four thousand years.

Note: Only the first three of five runes that make up the name are illustrated.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Declaration of Arbroath & The American Declaration of Independence

Several people have pointed out the parallels between the Declaration of Arbroath (1320) and the American Declaration of Independence (1776). Similarities are perhaps not surprising since of the governors from the thirteen signatory states, nine including Thomas Jefferson, were of Scots descent. The documents are from very different times, written in very different ways, but both enhance the power and rights of the people. Arbroath, written at the abbey of the same name (below), airs for the first time the radical idea that a king is only king for as long as he protects the freedoms of his people.

Fans of the Diana Gabaldon novels will remember that in Chapter 112 of 'A Breath of Snow and Ashes', her hero Jamie finds that he is spurred on to join the revolutionaries by his own stirring rendering of the well known lines from Arbroath, '... for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule.'

Aye, and there's a good few that still get carried away with their anti-English rhetoric! Just the other day our First Minister, Alex Salmond, was telling his Scottish National Party conference that, 'we can make Westminster (UK Parliament) dance to a Scottish jig'. But the English are not particularly good dancers, let alone to Scottish music. Soon, I believe, it may be the English people who will be drawing up a Declaration of Independence. And this would be just as biased in favour of the larger nation as was the 1707 Act of Union!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall

Vikings don't enjoy a great reputation as Christians or as builders. However in the 12th century, the Norse Earl Rognvald of Orkney brought master masons up from Durham to build a cathedral in honour of St Magnus, his uncle.

Magnus gives his name to Kirkwall's impressive cathedral and his spirit presumably inhabits the building; as does, at least in part, his body since during some renovation work in 1919, his skull, famously cleft by an axe for reasons too long to recount here, was found and still lies in a pillar of the building.

I was there on Friday and once again marvelled at this Romanesque masterpiece, where local red sandstone often alternates impressively with yellow stone from the isle of Eday. But my eye was taken by something else (well, it was pointed out by our excellent guide, Steve Nottage): a 'Mort Bord', in memory of a Robert Nicolsone.

I wonder if Robert was a rather 21st century person who thought gravestones to be grotesque, and preferred the idea of a wooden memorial which would return to dust in due course of time. If so it would be a shock that his 'bord' is still hanging there 400 years later. Mind you, it also seems a bit hard on St Magnus to have his skull still stuck in a pillar 800 years on. I'm sure he deserves better.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Declaration of Arbroath and the Butler of Scotland

The letter sent by 38 Scots Lords to the Pope in 1320, contains a certain amount of whimsical stuff about the Pillars of Hercules and the Tyrrhenian Sea, but its ringing declaration of nationhood bears repeating:

"Yet if he (King Robert, 'The Bruce') should give up what he has begun, and agree to make us or our kingdom subject to the King of England or the English, we should exert ourselves at once to drive him out as our enemy and a subverter of his own rights and ours, and make some other man who was well able to defend us our King; for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom - for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself."

Amongst the names on the document we find 'Walter, Steward of Scotland; William Soules, Butler of Scotland; Gilbert Hay, Constable of Scotland; Robert Keith, Marischal of Scotland.
The hereditary titles of Steward, Constable and Marischal to the crown continued in use until the 18th century. But the title Butler of Scotland quickly fell out of use.

I became interested in the de Soulis family when I was doing a little research on Hermitage Castle. Whilst there are plenty Stewarts, Hays and Keiths living in Scotland today, I can discover no record of anyone called Soules or de Soulis - at least not one with a telephone. Kilmarnock boasts a Soulis Street and a Soulis Cross (left) but no living Soulises! If anyone out there can tell me more about this family who were once so prominent in the Scottish court, whose ancestor was one of 38 Scots Lords who signed the famous Declaration of Arbroath, I'd be delighted to hear more!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Mary Queen of Scots in Liddesdale

Potential visitors sometimes ask what the weather will be like in Scotland and I invariably resort to the comment that Scottish weather is 'notoriously unpredictable'. But even I didn't expect Easter weekend to be sub-zero and punctuated with snow showers. I was in the Borders, visiting Liddesdale, hard by the English border, and Hermitage Castle - "guardhouse of the bloodiest valley in Britain".

Like Glencoe, Hermitage is best seen in foul weather to reflect all that has occurred in that remote place. The castle was once owned by a Baron de Soules, a noted warlock, who had been told that only a rope of sand could destroy him. However local people created a belt of lead into which sand was poured and, thus restrained, he was boiled in oil in a vast cauldron up on Ninestane Rig, a local stone circle.

The sun came out just long enough to allow this photograph and provide respite to reflect on the arrival here in October 1566 of the 24 year old Mary Queen of Scots. She had given birth to the future James VI of Scotland (James I of England) only four months earlier and so the 46 mile round trip from Jedburgh was perhaps ill advised. James Hepburn, fourth Earl of Bothwell, was her host during the two hour visit. Bothwell, Lieutenant of the Marches in Scotland, had recently been wounded by a notorious reiver known as 'Wee Jock Elliot of the Park'. Next year Mary and Bothwell would be married. So whether it was the lieutenant or the wounded man that she was so keen to visit is an ongoing debate, but the weather was unpredictable as ever, and Mary's horse became stuck in a mire. On arrival back at Jedburgh Mary fell ill, suffering convulsions and losing both speech and sight.

Were it not for her French physician who bandaged her limbs, massaged her, and poured wine down her throat, the funeral, already being planned by the Earl of Moray would have proceeded. She is said to have remarked later in her troubled life, "Would that I had died in Jedburgh".

The house where she lodged in Jedburgh is open to the public.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Where are the Highlands?

A passenger alighting from a cruise ship once asked me what altitude we were at and I replied that we were at sea level.
'But I thought we were coming to the Highlands!' she replied indignantly.
Perhaps she thought that the Highlands, along with the laws of physics, should be suspended a little for the benefit of tourists!

But the question as to what constitutes the Highlands is not a straightforward one.

Many historians have drawn lines on a map of Scotland (often called Lalland lines), showing the Highlands on one side, the Lowlands on the other. The problem is that any such line must include as part of the English speaking Lowlands all of the coastal strip north of Aberdeen. This coastal strip ultimately arrives at Inverness, capital of the Highlands and so begs the question of where the dividing line should be drawn.

When James VI of Scotland became James I of England he remarked playfully to his English courtiers that he had a town in Scotland so large that people at one end could not understand those at the other since they had a different tongue. That town was Nairn, 16 miles east of Inverness. A Gaelic-speaking market town, Nairn had seen an influx of English-speaking fisherfolk who had spread round the coast from Aberdeen. So Nairn has traditionally been considered the dividing line. But of course it is not as simple as that.

Last week I gave a lecture on the Campbells of Cawdor, an influential Nairnshire family whose castle is between Nairn and Inverness. Whilst researching, I was amused to come on the following quotation from 1691 in a letter by Sir Hugh Campbell, 15th Thane of Cawdor - and, you would certainly think, a Highlander... "Just upon the back of this there came two or three parties of Hielanders, one of them carried away above an hundred head of cattle out of Aitnoch. The people were secure and without fear; in short they were surprised and the cattle were carried into Lochaber."

Lochaber. Now THAT's definitely the Highlands. Despite much of it being at sea level!
See also my post on the Clans of Lochaber.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Barevan Kirk

Spring has come early to Nairnshire. Today I bicycled out to one of my favourite spots, Barevan Kirk. Now a ruin, it was built in the 13th century on a site which had probably seen Christian worship since the days of St Columba in the 6th century. As you may see, Barevan is full of old gravestones; many of the inscriptions are irregular, like those cut by children into the trunks of old beech trees.

The most evocative tombstone in the kirk yard is that of Elizabeth Campbell of Clunas. Beautiful and well educated, she was born in Rome where her father was living in exile following his part in the 1715 Rising. She was engaged to tall, red-headed Alexander MacGillivray of Dunmaglass who led Clan Chattan at the Battle of Culloden; and since Clan Chattan was the first clan to charge in that well-documented disaster, he led the last ever Highland Charge. Every tourist visiting the battlefield walks past his memorial stone by the 'Well of the Dead'.

It may be that Elizabeth was also one of those local ladies who watched the battle. It is certain that some time afterwards, she bribed the picquets to release MacGillivray's body which was then buried in nearby Petty kirk yard. Elizabeth, aged 24, survived MacGillivray by just four months.

Just outside the kirk yard is a new private burial ground in which the late Lord Cawdor, father of the present earl, lies buried. He converted to Roman Catholicism late in life and thereby lies a longer story.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Great Fraser Yew

It is often thought that clansmen were recognised by their tartan. Not so. Tartans reflected regional preferences and the local availability of dyes. But all clansmen wore a plant badge: the MacDonalds heather, the Robertsons bracken, the Campbells bog myrtle and the Frasers wore yew. The significance of the Frasers' choice was lost on me until this last weekend when I walked out with some fellow guides to the Great Fraser Yew on the south side of Loch Ness. The Frasers arrived in the Highlands in the fourteenth century and the yew had already been there for about one thousand years by then. Young yew trees grow up around their dying parents and so, if left undisturbed, each tree will steadily expand. The Great Fraser Yew is now more than thirty yards in diameter.

The old trunk is hollow, moss covered, crumbling away. But its offspring form a cathedral around it. A hundred clansmen could gather here unseen. And this was indeed the principal gathering place for the Frasers of Stratherrick. How natural that, before a battle, they should put a sprig of yew in their bonnets as a symbol of fraternity; an impromptu idea perhaps, now enshrined in clan lore.

The walk in takes an hour or so over some fairly rough country. But there are rewards there, especially for Frasers; rewards that go beyond the lovely views of Loch Ness, the eerie uniqueness of the ancient tree, and the distant sound of men responding to a call to arms. To know more you need to go.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Castle Lachlan

I was by Loch Fyne this weekend, a place which prompts thoughts of oysters, (the world's best, they say) and of Campbells (for many years Scotland's most influential clan) . Inveraray Castle, seat of the Duke of Argyll, Chief of Clan Campbell, dominated this area before there was even a road from the rest of Scotland. And the clan, which steadfastly opposed the Jacobites, was similarly dominant throughout Argyll.

It was therefore bold, to say the least, of Clan MacLachlan a small clan with lands on the opposite side of the loch, to support the Jacobite Risings in 1689, 1715 and 1745. The seventeenth chief led his clan at the Battle of Culloden and was shot off his horse by a canon ball. It is said that the news of the battle was brought to Strathlachlan by the dead chief's riderless horse.

As punishment for joining the rising, Castle Lachlan, surrounded on three sides by the sea, was bombarded by the Royal Navy. It is now an evocative, and puzzling, ruin - an old 15th century keep to which two significant towers have been added and an internal courtyard formed. Windows have become doors and latrines perhaps turned into chimneys. And for those not intrigued by architectural history, the views of Loch Fyne are stunning. Well worth a visit.

Close by is Kilmorie Chapel where
the MacLachlan chiefs are buried.
The gravestone of Marjory MacLachlan, the 24th chief, is shown in this picture.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Cash for a Peerage Prompts Clan Slaughter and Two Pipe Tunes

We were contacted yesterday by a lady called St Clair from West Palm Beach, Florida. She will be here for The Gathering in 2009 and wishes to visit Inveraray Castle (below) where her 3 x great grandfather was a gamekeeper. Well, Inveraray Castle in the south west of Scotland is the seat of the Duke of Argyll, chief of Clan Campbell; the Sinclairs, on the other hand, come from Caithness in the far north east. Back in the early 19th century people did not move around that much and so this struck me as interesting.

I speculate that this may have its roots in an affair of 1680. The Sinclair Earl of Caithness was short of cash and sold his lands and title to Sir John Campbell of Glenorchy. The latter's claim was however disputed by George Sinclair of Keiss and Glenorchy marched north to settle the matter. The armies met in the evening of 12 July at Altimarlach, but it was too late to join battle. What happened next is open to debate but it seems the Sinclairs were able to lay hands on significant quantities of whisky in Wick. Next day they were ill-equipped to take on the Campbells and the Wick River was packed so full of Sinclair bodies that the Campbells were able to walk across it dry-shod.

Glenorchy became Earl of Caithness and laird of those lands for six years, during which time it seems that many Sinclairs took up the offer of employment down in Argyll. This, the last clan battle, also gave rise to two pipe tunes composed by the Campbell piper Finlay Ban MacIvor on the way north to Caithness: 'The Campbells are Coming' and 'The Breadalbane Gathering'. Play either of these in Wick at your own risk!

But all this may explain why our 2009 St Clair client is making a special journey to the seat of Clan Campbell.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Scotland: sustainable tourism destination.

Television in Britain is punctuated with the advertisements of companies parading their green credentials to sell more products. Nothing wrong with that. But here in Scotland we are going further and parading our nation's green credentials. The Scottish Government has committed itself to a target that "Scotland will be Europe's most sustainable tourism destination by 2015". Happily we are starting from a strong position since a recent poll of 60,00 enquiries at ranked Scotland as the top European eco-destination.

Yesterday I was at Cameron House on Loch Lomond with other members of Scotland's 'Tourism Innovation Group' to discuss how this bold objective can be translated into the management of individual destinations and tourism sectors.

The goal is an ambitious one but here are a series of first steps already taken towards that destination.
And every tourist to Scotland can contribute
to our objectives. Using accommodation with membership of the Green Tourism Business Scheme is now madatory for Scottish Government employees travelling on business.

Please make it mandatory for you too!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008


The beginning of Scottish Clans and Castles was in February 2001 when I booked two clients to stay at Castle Stuart - a place that, over the years, has probably given more pleasure to our clients than any other lodging. The authenticity is important (that's why people choose it) but what they write about when they leave is the food, the atmosphere and, above all, the warm welcome from the Stuart family

The land was given by Mary Queen of Scots to her half brother, the first Earl of Moray. But he was murdered, as was his son, so it was the third Earl of Moray who built the castle in 1625. He had plenty money to make a statement with his new property and Castle Stuart was the finest in the Highlands in its day. However the ravages of time, history, and a few ghosts conspired to prompt its demise and it was unroofed in 1835.

In the late 20th century it was restored by a family of Stuarts from Canada and it is they who are your hosts today.

A Happy New Year to anyone who reads this. I hope that I can amuse and interest you with my 2008 observations!