Sunday, 25 September 2016


Glen Coe

Glen Coe

An epic drive back from Drimnin was broken by a geocache stop at beautifully grim Glen Coe. Apart from the brutal massacre of Glen Coe in 1692 (in fact three simultaneous slaughters in different locations along the Glen), the site it also familiar to film location hounds: (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkeban, Skyfall and Monty Python and the Holy Grail.)
Skyfall, The Massacre at Glen Coe by James Hamilton, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkeban and Monty Python and the Holy Grail locations

Inveruglas and Hermitage Castle

Pretty Inveruglas where we later stretched our legs and had a cuppa had a view across Loch Lomond with an imposing hydro-electric station as a backdrop. Hermitage Castle was a further stop just before the Scottish-English border where ghostly memories of Mary Queen of Scots haunted the massive monolithic castle and chapel.
Inveruglas and Hermitage Castle

Bishop Auckland, near Durham – The Eleven Arches Company and Kynren

Our final stop before heading for home was an extraordinary event in the shadow of Auckland Castle. Around 1000 volunteers on a 7.5-acre site took part in a £30m specatacular pageant of the history of England. We were in an audience of 8000! Jonathan Ruffer, a city hedge fund manager, philanthropist and art collector grew up in the north and was inspired to spend some of his fortune buying the castle and some important art works and then investing in restorations and in this theatrical enterprise. The script focused on the history of the North East and the style of the show is influenced by the Cinéscénie at Puy du Fou in France. Jonathan Ruffer has managed to create an astonishing infrastructure of parking, food and drink stalls, toilet facilities and dazzling flower-strewn walks down to a state-of-the-art 8000-seater performance arena (the Tribune) with hydraulics, pyrotechnics, hundreds of costumes, props, sets and those unbelievably well-drilled, well-choreographed volunteers.

Kynren, the flower meadows walking down to the arena and, in the centre, philanthropist and creator of Kynren, Jonathan Ruffer with the Chief Executive of Eleven Arches, Anne-Isabelle Daulon

How was the Kynren experience?

The nearest thing I’ve experienced to Kynren is watching a big Disney show in America, but in Kynren’s case there were more people on stage – and they were all local amateurs! There was a true sense of Kynren (a word that means generation or community or kindred or family.) A cavalcade of English history paraded in front of our eyes:
  • Romans
  • Vikings
  • King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table
  • St Cuthbert and the Lindisfarne Gospels
  • the Normans at the Battle of Stamford Bridge
  • a medieval festival
  • the Battle of Neville’s Cross against the Scots
  • Henry VIII and the Field of the Cloth of Gold
  • Elizabeth I and Shakespeare
  • Charles I’s beheading
  • the Georgian Renaissance
  • the Industrial Revolution (especially an astonishing steam train and a moving account of the Trimdon Grange mine disaster)
  • Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee
  • the Christmas Truce in World War One
  • the Roaring Twenties contrasted with a Miner’s Gala
  • World War Two’s “Finest Hour.”
A young Geordie boy Arthur was whisked through time by Bishop Hensley Henson; water fountains suddenly revealed a ghostly projection of Durham cathedral’s arches; thundering horses with knights charged across the backdrop; cows, horses, sheep, goats, ducks and geese joined in the action; the Glastonbury Holy Thorn emerged out of the water like Excalibur. The script was sometimes a bit hard to follow, partly because the ever-changing spectacle meant it was hard to “keep up.” Filmic music by Nathan Stornetta and jaw-dropping lighting effects gave the whole event a rousing and emotional core which was impossible to resist. The plan is to revive the event every couple of years and I for one have signed up on the website for future updates and ticket sales.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Mary's Path

A Vanished World

Change happens. Time doesn’t stand still. Worlds and ways of life vanish. History can be seen as the struggle between the desire to keep things as they are and forces who want their world to progress. But who defines progress? Who controls progress? What are the costs of progress? Nothing stays the same. Everything evolves. Change sometimes happens by imperceptible degrees and sometimes by convulsive upheavals.

Ethnic cleansing or economic progress?

Were the Highland Clearances I mentioned in my last blog an example of rich and greedy aristocrats evicting vulnerable communities to increase their own share of profit and power? Or was it the inevitable result of devastating weather conditions, poor harvests and the need to improve the economics of farming in the Highlands? Was it an attempt by the Westminster parliament (in collusion with the clan chiefs) to dismantle the clan system in Scotland by banning collective communities and their cultural symbols (tartan, kilts and the bagpipes, those “notorious instruments of war”?) Or is it better seen as part of the 18th and 19th century diaspora of Europeans which included many Irish people, Germans, Italians and Spaniards who also moved over to the New World to seek a better life? (Many Highlanders inevitably found their way to Canada and the state of Nova Scotia – New Scotland – Alba Nuadh.)
Scottish Clan Pride

Inniemore (Aoineadh Mor) and Mary’s Path

The abandoned town of Inniemore has haunted me since our visit there a short while ago. The derelict walls have largely been reclaimed by nature. Whatever the arguments for or against the Highland Clearances, the result is the same: land once populated by working self-sufficient communities (even if the life was hard) is now land for tourists to walk through and wonder. First hand accounts (from the viewpoint of the crofters) are rare, so the Scottish Forestry Commission’s audiopost reading by Anne Sinclair on the Ardtornish Estate is an important testament to the impact on an individual. Social history is always compelling, I find.
The "cleared" settlement of Aoineadh Mor (Inniemore) on the Ardtornish Estate

Mary Cameron’s story from Norman MacLeod’s 1863 Reminiscences of a Highland Parish in Gaelic

“That was the day of the sadness to many, the day on which Mac Cailein (the Duke of Argyll) parted with the estate of his ancestors in the place where I was reared. The people of Inniemore thought that the 'flitting' would not come upon them while they lived. As long as they paid the rent, and that was not difficult to do, anxiety did not come near them; and a lease they asked not.

“It was there that the friendly neighbourhood was, though now only one smoke is to be seen from the house of the Saxon shepherd. When we got the summons to quit, we thought it was only for getting an increase in rent and this we offered to give; but permission to stay we got not.
Thomas Faed's 1865 The Last of the Clan

Mary’s story continues – the bleat of the goats

“The small cattle were sold and at length it became necessary to part with the one cow. When shall I forget the plaintive wailing of the children deprived of the milk which was no more for them? When shall I forget the last sight of my pretty cluster of goats bleating on the lip of the rocks as if inviting me to milk them? But it was not allowed me  to put a pail under them.

“The day of the flitting came. The officers of the law came along with it and the shelter of a house for one night more was not to be got. It was necessary to depart. The hissing of the fire on the flag of the hearth as they were drowning it reached my heart. We could not get even a bothy in the country; therefore we had nothing for it but to face the land of strangers (the Lowlands).
Erskine Nicol's 1853 An Ejected Family

Mary’s story continues – James carries his mother out of the Glen in a basket

“The aged woman, the mother of my husband, was then alive, weak, and lame. James carried her on his back in a creel. I followed him with little John, an infant at my breast, thou who art no more, Donald beloved, a little toddler walking, with thy sister by my side. Our neighbours carried the little furniture that remained to us and showed every kindness which tender friend could show.

“On the day of our leaving Inniemore I thought my heart would break. I would feel right if my tears would flow; but no relief thus did I find. We sat for a time on Kioch nan carn (Hill of the Cairns) to take the last look at the place where we had been brought up. The houses were being already stripped….”
Late-Victorian photograph of a "clearance"