Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Lochindorb Castle

Most people remember the scene in 'Braveheart' when Sir William Wallace, recently appointed Guardian of Scotland, is harangued by a figure in the corner about the Comyn claim to the Scottish throne. This was the 'Red Comyn', later killed by Robert the Bruce. His father was the 'Black Comyn', Earl of Buchan, Lord of Badenoch, also sometime Guardian of Scotland, who died in 1302 at Lochindorb Castle, an island fortress on the Dava Moor just north of Grantown-on-Spey. 

I wish I could take credit for this stunning shot of Lochindorb, but that goes to 'coldwaterjohn', a skilled and very patient (or very lucky) photographer.

For many years the history, the location, the name 'Lochindorb' have fascinated me. I haved climbed all over it and last night enjoyed an excellent presentation given by Historic Scotland courtesy of the Cawdor Heritage Charity.

We learnt a lot. Lochindorb, controlling the route north from the River Spey, was one of a string of well-sited Comyn castles. They certainly had a good grip on the Highlands at that time - most of the clan's 58 castles (including Inverlochy, another favourite of mine) were in this area.

Inverlochy Castle by Fort William
But, in troubled times, they lost control and when, in 1303,  Edward I (Longshanks) was strutting his stuff around Scotland he spent ten days at Lochindorb - enjoying the hunting and destroying castles (such as Urquhart on Loch Ness). 

In 1371 the Lordship of Badenoch was granted by King Robert II to his son Alexander, hoping perhaps that he would control the cateran and bring about some prosperity in the Highlands. Far from it. He became known as the 'Wolf of Badenoch', and when denounced by the Bishop of Elgin for putting aside his wife and marrying another, he rode out from Lochindorb and burnt not just the Cathedral but also Pluscarden Abbey.


By 1456 the castle was under the control of Archibald Douglas, Earl of Moray, who 'munitioned and fortified it against the king'. King James II, having taught the Douglases a lesson, then instructed the Thane of Cawdor to dismantle the castle. This he did, assuming possession of Lochindorb's 'yett' an impressive iron gate which can still be seen outside the Thorn Tree Room in Cawdor Castle.

The only disappointment of the evening was that these cautious academics refuse to accept that a foot beneath the water here was a causeway out to the island and that only the owners (and their horses) knew which way it twisted and turned. I, for one, am not going to let a nice story like that fade away: we must get out there and find it next summer! 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cameronians and the 'Killing Times'

Tomorrow is Remembrance Sunday. We remember those who gave their lives for their country: nearly a million in the First War, 343 (so far) in Afghanistan.

Last month I was in Edinburgh, watching members of my old Regiment, now 1st Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland, marching down the Royal Mile, with bayonets fixed and colours flying, following a successful tour in Afghanistan. Successful, although three were killed in action.

It so happened that we parked in the 'Grassmarket' and returning to the car I passed the Covenanters Memorial. At the spot of the old public gallows, it commemorates others who willingly put themselves in harm's way. The legend reads, "Many Martyrs and Covenanters died for the Protestant Faith on this spot."

Over 100 'Covenanters' died for their adherence to presbyterianism between 1661 and 1688. The name comes from the 'Solemn League and Covenant', an agreement of 1643 with the English Parliament that presbyterianism would be preserved in Scotland. However after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, the pendulum swung to the other extreme: presbyteriansim was outlawed and ministers were ejected from their parishes.

Staunch presbyterians followed ministers into the hills where they worshipped at open air services known as conventicles.
Cap badge of the Cameronians
Here they were hunted and if caught, arrested and executed. Armed picquets were posted to keep a look out during services and this was the origin of the Cameronians, a famous Scottish Regiment, formed in 1689, disbanded in 1968.
The period between 1680 and 1688 was (with considerable justification) known as the 'Killing Times'.

The last of the Covenanting martyrs was James Renwick from Moniaive near Dumfries, hanged on 17 February 1688.
The monument was opened in 1954 with a Guard of Honour found by the Cameronians.

The names of those who died are remembered on this memorial, just as those who died for their country in so many wars are remembered in war memorials throughout the country.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

How to enjoy Scotland, on the cheap, off season, without a car, and travelling alone.

This is an unedited email from a lady who descibes herself as a 'semi-retired divorcee, who teaches piano and Celtic harp'...

"I wanted to thank you for helping me organize my dream-trip to Scotland, which turned out just fabulously.  I must have walked 6 miles or so on many days, but also many were spent just gazing out of train or bus windows at the intense beauty of the landscape.  Yes, I had to forego the Shetland Islands (next time!), but in two weeks I covered pretty much every other bit of ground I'd planned on.  Landing in Aberdeen, I at once took the train to Inverness, where I spent 4 nights.  I was able to visit Cawdor Castle, which was having an artisanal food festival on the grounds, both were lovely.  I toured Loch Ness & Urquhart Castle, as well as the "Nessie" museum with "The Jacobite," quite reasonable and fantastic guidance, lots of local lore.  I walked along the River Ness and got into the rhythms of the people a bit, noticing how they are after work, fishing and swimming their ubiquitous dogs.  I grew to love the border collies which were on trains and ferries, so smart they are!  Visited the Archival Center for some free genealogy, and shopped at House of Fraser, shipping three boxes home in the end, so I would not grow heavy with my tiny rolling suitcase.  How did I get by "on the cheap?"  Well, eating a huge breakfast (nearly always inc., both at B&Bs and in the wonderful hostels you have), sometimes even kippers (now there IS a hearty breakfast), and carrying some oatcakes during the day, going to a pub for an ale and the "special" around 4 or 5, thus, black pudding, haggis, neaps & tatties, etc.  Allowing someone to buy a local whiskey for me (!) 

To make a long story short:  I then went to Orkney, saw the seals, visited Kirkwall and the Cathedral of St Magnus, walked all over Skara Brae & the Ring of Brognar since my tour didn't go, as the ferry from John O'Groats didn't run that day!  Got down to Skye, worshiped in the Presbyterian Church there with the old Scottish Psalter on a Tues. night, took a boat trip out to see the Sea Eagles and the salmon farms, the huge Cuillen mountains, and thence to Sleat, meeting a nice Professor of Gaelic at a Pub there.  I must take a crash course in Gaelic someday!  There was a castle ruin there I saw, and don't know which one now, in Sleat near a hotel.  Thence from Stromness all the way down through Mull to Iona, where the hostel is really lovely, on the north shore, and then made my way to Arran and visited the Arran Heritage Museum, truly marvelous place, thence to Ayr to embrace Robbie Burns for a day, thence to Edinburgh for 2 nights, walking the Royal Miles, seeing the Castle and Holyrood, as well as lingering in the (free!) Museum of Scotland, always shopping a bit here and there to delight my children this Christmas and provide small souvenirs for my friends.  I spent a lot on postcards, and it took 35 days for my parcel posted from Kyle an Lochalsch to get home!

So, a whirlwind tour of two weeks, meeting many friendly and helpful people, and not spending really as much as I anticipated.  The B&Bs were roughly 30-40 pounds, and the hostels, some nicer than others, but none crowded in late September, I often had a "private" room, especially as I am older and they simply gave me a room that was not filled with others, hostels were only 15 pounds, and one often found a delicious salad left behind, or someone anxious to kill the bottle of whiskey in the evening, since they were flying out the next day, etc. The great room at Iona was simply lovely at the hostel.  Yes, you had to walk a couple of miles to get there, but worth it!  A Danish Pastor awaiting his "weeklong adventure" in the abbey, several other Englishmen and Scotsmen & women, gathering around the solid wood table adorned with candle light, as we drank and solved all the problems of the world...........

So, thanks for helping me organize my trip.  Next time, I will bring my daughter, and we will be sure to go pony trekking in Arran and Shetland, before I get too old to do this!"