Scotland: Mysteries of Lochs, Castles and Highland Clans!

We were blessed with warm bright sunshine and mild wind on our day trip of the Western Highlands of Scotland! We had an excellent tour guide, David, who had an amazing knowledge of the land, its history and long tales to tell of its gallant clans and their battles for the thrown of Britain. We started from Glasgow along the River Clyde past the majestic Dumbarton Rock with a castle perched on it seeming to guard the river. 

My first sight of a Loch in the highlands was Loch Long, as we drove along side it and. Calm and serene waters, rollings hills covered with patches of thick, what looked like, coniferous trees. We skirted the northern tip of Loch Long and drove up a steep mountain pass known as the ‘Arrochar Alps’ to our first stop at ‘Rest and Be Thankful’ an iconic viewpoint. This was the name carved on the stone by weary soldiers who built the original military road in 1753. It is the summit of the mountain pass between Arrochar and Inveraray. 

We drove on the Inveraray Castle first built in 1457. It is the ancestral home of the Duke of Argyll, Chief of Clan Campbell. The Campbell clan was a prominent one among many such clans in Scotland. The story of Scotland in that era struck me as a story of wars among the clans and against England to claim the throne of Britain. This reminded me of the story of the Princely states of India, particularly in the states of Rajasthan and Gujarat. They fought each other all the time and came together only to fight an external enemy such as the Mughals or the British rule in India, and in Scotland for the British crown!!

Inveraray Castle was as quaint as they come. Am always impressed how small, compact and livable the castles in England and Europe are in comparison to the huge forts we see in India. I have always wondered where and how people actually lived in such open forts such as in Delhi and Agra! Here is a sample of the era well preserved for the future generations to understand the ancient way of life. The Duke of Argyll’s family still resides in part of the castle.

The most interesting part of the castle was the kitchen! There was even a pig being roasted live!! I seem to have lost the video of this pork roasting! The pots and pans, other ‘modern’ gadgets and a big chest of draws (don’t know what else to call it) with the choicest spices. May well have been a large Indian kitchen! There was a listing of a set of rules to be followed by the castle ‘servants’. Obviously such a large castle with so much entertaining required a retinue of ‘servants’ to keep it running.

We visited a quaint church St. Conan’s Kirk in the village of Loc Awe, designed by the self-made architect Walter Douglas Campbell and built in 1881-86. It had heavy oak beams which are said to have been come from the then broken up wooden battleships! I got a chance to preach from the pulpit to a non-existent congregation, my Scottish co travelers’ idea!!

Since childhood I have heard of the Jacobite Orthodox Syrian Church so when our guide David started to tell us the story of the Jacobite Revolution in Scotland my antennae stood up! My mind was in a whirl as the story unfolded and I was racking my brains to find a connection to India. I did some googling, the modern method of studying history! The Jacobites separated from the Roman church on an intense Christological controversy in the fourth and fifth centuries, the Arian heresy which stressed that only the Father was the true God and the Son being subordinate. Since the majority of them belonged to the Syrio-Iraqi region the church came to be known as Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church with the patriarch resident in Syria. They derive their name as the followers of Saint Jacob Baradaeus (d.578). This Church is distinct from the Orthodox Syrian Church with its patriarch  resident in Kerala, India. The two denominations of Churches are locked in a battle over property and is a major controversy among the Syrian Christians of Kerala. I discovered it had nothing to do with the Jacobite revolution in Scotland, though both arose due to its opposition to the establishment. Was disappointed and sorry readers for the digression in this tale. 

The Jacobite rebellion of Scotland was aimed at restoring James VII to the throne of Scotland and later his descendants of the House of Stuart. It  stemmed directly from the Revolution of 1688 where James VII was deposed and replaced by his daughter Mary II and her husband William of Orange, who ruled as William III of England and and William II of Scotland. Jacobite took its name from Jacobus, the Latin form of James, supporters of James, mainly belonging to the clans of the Scottish Highlands. James VIII of Scotland with support of his Jacobite followers unsuccessfully attempted to claim the throne of Britain in an uprising of 1715. 

The Scottish Kilt is the traditional dress made of woolen tartan, checks and lines patterns, of different colours. Each clan had its own colours and pattern. The traditional weapons of the Highlanders were made of iron, the pike or spear, sword and axe. Ever since the Revolution of 1688 the Scottish Highlanders were held in suspicion. The Dress Act of 1746 made wearing the traditional kilt and the Disarming Act made carrying the traditional weapons illegal. When the Highlanders entered certain parts of Scotland or England they were forced to deposit their traditional arms. One such fort was the Kilchurn Castle in Loch Awe and another the Stalker Castle in Loch Gregor. We had a view of the ruins of the Kilchurn Castle in the middle of Loch Awe and I wondered how anyone got to it except in a ferry!

We stopped for lunch at the pretty little town of Oban along Loch Oban. Oban had an unfinished Colosseum like structure on the top of a hill. It was commissioned by a philanthropic banker  John Stuart McCaig, erected between 1897 and his death in 1902.  It remained there and is known as the McCaig Tower, an unfinished tower overlooking the loch.

On the rivalry between the clans of Campbells and MacDonalds, folklore has it that the Campbells massacred an entire MacDonald family and associates in their beds at Glencoe in 1692. After the Rebellion of 1688 the Jacobites were asked to pledge allegiance to William III of England and II of Scotland and Mary II. The MacDonalds were late in pledging their loyalty. It is said the Secretary of State instigated King William to order the killings. The Glencoe MacDonald’s were a small clan, counted among three of the lawless clans, with few friends and powerful enemies. The delay in pledging their loyalty became an excuse to act against them. The MacDonald’s Glencoe residence was surrounded by troops from all sides. Many regiments were involved in the attack. The commander of Earl of Argyll’s Regiment on Foot was Robert Campbell.  Lieutenant Colonel John HIll ordered troops to block the northern exit from the Glencoe valley. Another of Argyll’s Regiment under Major Duncanson joined from the South killing anyone and burning property as they swept North.

Our driver David claimed to be a Campbell descendant and he had a different version of this folklore. According to him, while many troops were involved in the massacre as the commander of one of them was a Campbell, the massacre is attributed to them. According to him, Robert Campbell was reluctant to carry out this order. Moreover, a number of his men were, like him, local Campbells. They refused to carry out this order and left the regiment. So goes the folklore depending on which side you look at it from.

So here are those Glencoe hills and valleys which looked so clam and serene, It was impossible to visualize a night of such brutality standing there and imagine the screams the shrieks of the women and children.


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