Thursday, 23 September 2010

Scotland, Day 2


Off to the Highlands! We spent most of Saturday and Sunday on a bus with Mike the tour guide and the Keith the bus driver. We stopped many times, as you will see, but we spent most of the day on the bus.

The Firth of Forth Bridge, according to Mike, is the greatest bridge in the world. He may well be right, but I detected a strong note of national pride. When completed in 1890 it was the longest bridge in the world.

But now begins our education into the gory history of the life of the Highland clans and of the struggle of the Scots for independence.

Though these conflicts occurred hundreds of years ago, they seem to be seared into the minds of most Scots, especially those raised in the Scottish Highlands. The drive for Scotland's independence still runs strong.

The William Wallace Monument honors one of Scotland's greatest heroes. His life was the basis for Mel Gibson's film, 'Braveheart.' From the Scottish point of view, as Mike the kiltic guide repeated several times, the English have been aggressors for over a thousand years. This monument stands on the crag from which William Wallace, though merely a knight and not one of the higher nobles, led the greatly outnumbered Scottish army to victory over the army of the English king, Edward I, in 1297.

In the center of this photo you can see the hill on which stands Stirling Castle. Between the crag and the hill flows the River Forth, and on the plain the Scots and the English fought the Battle of Stirling Bridge. Whoever controlled the castle controlled access to the Highlands. The English had prevailed up to this point, and its importance to the Scots was to retain possession of the castle and, perhaps more crucially, demonstrate that they could defeat the English in battle despite their smaller numbers.

While the Scots view Wallace as a hero, the English saw him as an outlaw and treated him as such after they captured him and took him to London for a most gruesome execution, which Mike related in all its bloody details.

Wallace's claymore, which is Gaelic for 'great sword' and requires two hands to wield, is proudly displayed in the monument. The claymore's length extended from the floor to the soldier's chin. At the end of its handle is the pummel, which can also be used as a weapon and from which we get the verb 'to pummel.' (Mike was a fount of information of all kinds.)

The Scots didn't achieve independence under Wallace, but did so under Robert the Bruce after the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 against Edward II. While it took several years for the English to recognize Scottish independence, Robert was in effect and in fact king of Scotland. We drove by the battleground but did not stop.

Still at the Wallace Monument, we can see the Trossachs behind Benedict and Erika. That is where the Highlands begin. Much of the Trossachs and other parts of the Highlands are part of national parks, a concept the Scots invented. More grandiosely, according to some the Scots also invented the modern world while others argue, somewhat more modestly, that they merely helped Jefferson invent America.

The thistle is Scotland's national flower. This is a late bloomer.

It's already very cool in Scotland, and especially in the Highlands. We wore sweaters and sometimes jackets. Rain was forecast on this day, but rain fell only intermittently.

This photo was taken from the moving bus. If you look closely you can see Castle Doune next to the River Teith. The castle is notable for at least two things. One is that it was used in the classic film 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail'. By shooting at different angles and perspectives, the castle acted as the prop for several different castles in the film. Its other notable contribution stems from its position as the rallying point of fully-armed Scots when war was imminent. They received messages to go 'armed to the (River) Teith,' which is where we got that expression. It was the last castle before the Highlands. A third reason the castle is significant is that pistols used in our Revolutionary War were produced here.

 This mill is in the town of Callander, which is the gateway to the Highlands. It lies on the border between the Highlands and the lowlands. Historically people from the Highlands came down to Callender to trade with lowlanders. Highlanders spoke Gaelic and the lowlanders spoke Scot, so many people in the lowland town were bi-lingual to help facilitate trading transactions.

This is Hamish, a hairy coo (pronounced 'ku'). He lives in a corral at the weaving mill pictured above. Highlanders raised these tough cattle in the remotest areas of the Highlands and brought them to markets like Callander. The was the northernmost penetration by the Romans, who didn't stay long since they saw nothing of value and they encountered some wild and fierce Highlandes.

Hamish's girlfriend, Heather. The students were quite taken by her.

This glen, or valley, is Glencoe. In the winter of 1692 38 out of 150 members of MacDonald clan living in this glen were massacred--the remainder managed to escape slaughter--by order, many believe, of the new English King William III of Orange (Netherlands)  whose claim to the throne rested mainly on his marriage to Mary Stuart, daughter of the abdicated Catholic King James II. Many Highlanders regarded William a usurper of the crown that rightfully belonged to the heir of the Stuarts, King James II. William threatened to kill all Jacobites (supporters of James; 'Jacob' is Hebrew for 'James') if they didn't swear allegiance to him. Even though the MacDonalds did so, they were ordered killed even as they were giving English soldiers Highland hospitality. The leader of the English contingent was a Highlander of the Campbell clan, who had long supported the English. The MacDonalds and Campbells had already been blood enemies for almost two hundred years. To this day an inn in Glencoe may legally refuse service to a Campbell.

More happily, today Glencoe is the site of several Harry Potter movies and other films needing Highland locations.

Mike the kiltic guide and Keith the bus driver pose behind Erika.

In the Highlands Gaelic is the primary language. We drove through Fort Williams, which is at the tip of the salt-water Lock Linnhe, which is a direct outlet to the Atlantic Ocean, and near Ben Nevis, at 4400 feet the highest mountain in Britain. The Caledonian Canal starts here and connects this finger of the Atlantic through four lochs to the North Sea beyond Inverness.

Students stoically participating in a description of Highland life at the Clansmen Centre in Fort Augustus. The guide told us how Highlanders lived in turf huts, using smelly and smoky peat for warmth and cooking, describing the stench and stink of daily life. He demonstrated how a kilt is worn and how various weapons were used to kill. The guide is holding a claymore broadsword. He seemed to enjoy in telling us the gory details of how to kill someone with the weapons.

Fort Augustus is at the southern tip of Loch Ness. St. Colomba wrote of seeing a monster in the loch in the 7th century. Mike seems pretty convinced there is something in the deep waters.

Castle Urquhart on the shores of Loch Ness.

We spent the night in Inverness.

Forgive the great space under the photo. I don't know how to prevent that.

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