Episode #29c – Bonnie Scotland Tour Day 4: From Battleground to Beauty

When Ted and I headed out on this 2 week tour, I expected it to generate two, or at most three, blog entries. Since arriving, I realize that there is SO MUCH happening each day, so many places and experiences – and pictures – that each day has been worthy of its own entry. Hopefully I won’t bore those of you who follow along… this is also my diary of our trip, so I don’t want to miss any of the memories we are making.

Today was both emotional and wonderful.

We began at the Culloden Battlefield, where our guide took us through the events of the April 16th 1746 battle that effectively ended the civil war to place a Stuart back on the throne of Scotland. The Jacobites (literally “followers of James”), which included Scots Highlanders, Irish Catholics, and French troops who supported Bonnie Prince Charlie becoming the next ruler. The Hanoverians (aka the “English army” or “government army”) supported the Protestant claimant to the throne, George, and were led into battle by Lord Cumberland. In that army were Germans, English, protestant Irish, Welsh, and even some Scots clans who had previously pledged their loyalty to George and felt they needed to honour their word.

Movies, TV series, and even our speaker last night, planted the image of “hairy Highlanders”, kilts left behind, roaring, charging the field with broadswords, shields and dirks, terrifying their opponents into retreating… and that had happened at prior battles. At Culloden that day, though, the Jacobites were cold, wet, exhausted and underfed, having already marched to London to do battle, only to turn back after getting the (false) news that they were going to be severely outnumbered. Cumberland’s troops were seasoned soldiers, well fed, well equipped, and re-trained specifically to combat the Highlander Charge. The resulting battle was short, bloody, and disastrous for the Jacobites, with more than 1500 of their 5000 fighters killed (vs about 150 government troops). Not content just with winning, Cumberland declared “no quarry”, and over the ensuing months and years another 3000 were either killed, jailed, or transported to British colonies as slaves. In addition, speaking Gaelic, wearing clan tartans, and playing of the pipes were all banned and punishable by death or transportation. The English were allowed to seize land, property, and goods, effectively starving out almost 1/3 of Scotland’s population. All of this was euphemistically called “pacification” of the Highlands. Cumberland was declared a hero in England and even has a flower named after him: the sweet William. To Scots, it is “Stinking Billy”. Fortunately, Culloden was the last hand-to-hand battle fought on British soil.

There is a real contrast between the serene look of heather-strewn moor, and the idea of what happened there. Our bus driver told us that he won’t walk on Culloden Moor, out of respect and just for the eerie feeling it gives him. For me, it was emotional in much the same way as Gettysburg: a profound sadness at the loss of lives in a civil war that split a nation.

Clockwise from top left: Culloden Moor with red flag denoting a government forces line; heather in bloom on the moor; the memorial cairn raised in 1881 by Duncan Forbes, the landowner; one of the mass grave markets, this one engraved “Mixed Clans” under which 150-200 bodies are buried.

From Culloden, we made a quick lunch stop at Holm Mills, where there are displays and lots of shopping at James Pringle Weavers. We’re pretty sure we’ve determined that Ted’s mother’s Knox family name is a sept of the MacFarlane clan, but unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, given its bright colours) Pringles did not have a hat in MacFarlane tartan.

Our next destination was Dunrobin Castle in Golspie, the historic home of the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland. En route we took a short detour into the picturesque town of Strathpeffer, to allow one of our travel companions to visit his family’s ancestral birthplace. Our drive north, much of it on the coastal highway A9, was full of spectacular scenery: sheep grazing in the valleys between the many drumlin hills left behind when glaciers retreated after the ice age, craggy cliffs, and the rocky shorelines of the North Sea. I would not have wanted to drive a car down the steep hills or around the many sharp turns, but our driver Colin flew through them in our huge coach quite effortlessly, all the while continuing his commentary of the landscape and history surrounding us.

Dunrobin Castle, and its grounds, is nothing short of fairy-tale beautiful on the outside. The earliest part of the building dates from around 1275, with the newest portions added between 1835 and 1850. It is also the longest continually inhabited home in Britain.

Inside, the rooms are resplendent with portraits, including one of a young Queen Victoria, and incredible molded ceilings.

Clockwise from top left: the music room (note the ceiling); Queen Victoria; the night nursery; the nanny’s room; the seamstress’ room

The view of the garden from the castle’s bowed windows is magnificent – although smaller, its design rivalled what was my favourite garden up until now: the one at Schonnbrun Palace in Vienna.

The gardens stretch from the castle all the way down to the gated access to the beach of Dornoch Firth.

After Dunrobin, we made one more quick stop in Helmsdale to see the emigrants monument, commemorating the “clearance” of Scotland in the 18th century. The event had a particular Canadian connection: In the summer of 1813, more than 100 people, evicted that spring from homes near Helmsdale left Sutherland for the Red River district of what’s now Manitoba. Because they travelled by way of Hudson Bay, where they had to overwinter in bitter cold, their journey took over a year, but in 1814 they reached their destination where they helped establish the community that became the city of Winnipeg.

As we approached Caithness and our hotel for the next 2 nights we passed by several heritage farms and the remains of a couple of “brochs”, Pict iron age stone towers dating back 3000 years. We’re now in position to take the ferry to the Orkney Islands early tomorrow.


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