AFTER the Cairngorms, I arrived in Inverness, the northernmost city in Scotland and the United Kingdom, about 570 miles or more than 900 kilometres from London by road. Which is a fair old way, about the equivalent of the distance from Auckland to Christchurch. Inverness is so far north it makes Edinburgh seem rather southerly.
All of mainland Scotland from the Cairngorms north to John O’Groats, about a third of the country, is run by an administrative body called the Highland Council. Inverness is the capital of the Highland Council area.
But only about a quarter of a million people live in that vast area. About a quarter of them live in Inverness, which has a population of a bit over sixty thousand overall.
I was staying with a relation named Anne, who is an amazing woman. We call each other cousins, though we are really only related through marriage.
Anne’s been a highland dancer, a circus gymnast and a well-known drummer, and she plays for the Edinburgh and Inverness pipe bands. So, a really high achiever, and she just made me so welcome.
We talked about aunties and other relations we’d known who had died since my branch of the family moved to New Zealand.
Inverness is a lovely little city, with a population of about sixty thousand in its wider area. It rates highly for happiness and quality of life.
The city takes its name from the river Ness, down which Loch Ness discharges. Inverness means ‘mouth of the Ness’.
We decided to travel and visit more of the local region.
The first place we visited was the battlefield of Culloden, on Culloden Moor, just a few kilometres out of town, where the Jacobite rebel army was defeated by the army of the British king, George II, on the 16th of April 1746.
The battle is depicted in a famous painting done just a few years later by David Monier, which now hangs in the Palace of Holyroodhouse, in Edinburgh.
Morier accompanied Cumberland on his campaign to put down the Jacobites, was possibly there at Culloden himself. Monier is known to have been very fussy about getting the details of weapons, uniforms, and battles right since that was, in fact, his job.
So, Monier’s painting is perhaps the nearest thing to a photograph that we have, praised for its accuracy by military obsessives down the years.
The Jacobites were dynastic rivals of King George II. Prince Charles Edward Stuart was their champion, a man who is more familiar today as Bonnie Prince Charlie.
Bonnie Prince Charlie hailed from the Stuart dynasty which had ruled the whole of Great Britain until the death of Queen Anne in 1714. At that date the Stuart dynasty was replaced by the Hanoverians, the ancestors of the present Royal Family, because all the eligible Stuarts at that time were Roman Catholics: a major disqualification at that time.
The rebels were called Jacobites because Charles’s father, and eight Stuart kings before him, were called James, a name that is rendered Iacobus in Latin.
If the rebellion had succeeded, King George II would have been overthrown and Prince Charles installed in his place as the king not just of Scotland, but England too, along with all the other bits and pieces of the British empire. The rebellion was serious stuff.
The Jacobites were backed by some of Britain’s Roman Catholics, who resented their religious disqualification.
But their most substantive support came from Scotland, where it was powered by opposition to the increasingly involvement of commercially minded English financiers, from the City of London, in Scottish affairs.
At the time, many Scots were subsistence farmers dwelling on land which they farmed in a communal sort of a way, swapping the best bits of land among themselves from year to year so that no one villager would grow more prosperous than another.
This was fine until the English started whispering in the ears of the Scottish lords and clan chiefs, who owned the land on paper, that they could profit from buying the peasants a ticket to America and farming the land commercially, with a handful of employees, thereafter.
In earlier times, having lots of peasants on the land was a benefit to the lords because it meant that they could raise private armies with which to fight other lords.
But those days were passing. In the modern world, it was money that talked.
The Scottish Jacobites wanted a king of local blood who would be more sympathetic to the cause of the Scottish peasants, who naturally preferred to stay put. The result was a succession of rebellions, the last of which was finally crushed at Culloden.
The National Trust for Scotland runs a visitor centre at the Culloden battlefield.
Here is a painting I saw at the visitor centre which is thought to have been done at the time of the 1745 rebellion itself, called ‘Portrait of a Jacobite Lady’. The white rose was a symbol of the Jacobite cause.
And here is a video I made at Culloden.
In the video, I say that thousands were killed. It's not clear, but about 1,500 to 2,000 are actually thought to have been killed and wounded on the Jacobite side at Culloden (many of the seriously wounded would have soon perished in those days as well), with much smaller casualties on the government side.
Later, on the Western Isles, I was to meet a local historian who told me about a motorway controversy they were having in Inverness, over a plan to connect Culloden Road to the A9, one of Scotland’s major inter-city highways. There was a risk of turning the quiet road past the Culloden battlefield into something of an on-ramp, so the objectors thought.
After Culloden, Anne and I visited Loch Ness, the largest lake in Great Britain and (supposedly) home to the legendary Loch Ness Monster.
I looked around, but I could not find the monster.
After that, we were in the mood for some genuine wilderness. We headed out past Corrimony, where there was an ancient 4,000-year-old tomb that you could actually crawl inside.
Here is a video I made.
From Corrimony, which is in the second map above, we made our way to Glen Affric, the English version of a Gaelic name which I have seen translated variously as the dappled glen, glen of the dappled ford or glen of the dappled woodlands.
In any case, the idea of the sun dappling through the trees is the common denominator. It refers to the fact that Glen Affric contains one of the largest remnants of the forests that used to cover Scotland.
The barren appearance of much of the rest of Scotland is actually artificial. There used to be trees, but they were mostly chopped down centuries ago.
There are two words for valley in Scotland, both of them from the Gaelic. Strath, as in Strathclyde, means a broad, agricultural valley. Glen means a narrow valley with steep hills on either side.
This doesn’t mean that glens are always tiny. The dead-straight valley that contains Loch Ness, called the Great Glen, runs all the way from one side of Scotland to another.
And Glen Affric, which is said to be the most beautiful glen in Scotland, is also tens of kilometres long and about 145 square kilometres in total area. Glen Affric also contains two lakes as well as the river Affric.
Glen Affric begins near the picturesque and folksy village of Tomich.
The river Affric is wild and gorgy in places.
But the glen widens out as you come to each of the two lakes, Loch Affric and Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhain, pronounced ‘loch ben a vey-un’.
The ‘ch’ in loch is not pronounced ‘k’, as most English-speakers outside Scotland seem to think at first, but rather an almost-k where the air keeps coming out and thus making a sort of soft hiss. This sound has died out in standard English, where it was written ‘gh’, but it exists in lots of other languages. A clue as to how common it used to be in standard English lies in all those words that now have a silent ‘gh’ in them.
Anne and I met several French people backpacking in this rather obscure area, a long way from home, clearly (says the Kiwi!)
Here is a video I made:
There are lots of walkways around Glen Affric, as there are in Scotland in general. Some of the Glen Affric ones were shown on a map that I had.
I’ve included a Walk Scotland link to all of the walks around Glen Affric at the end of this post, but I should mention the best-known ones here: The Affric Kintail Way (71 km) and the Loch Affric Circuit (18 km). These are rated as some of the top walks in Britain.
For more, check out these links:
In my next post, I make it to the Isle of Skye!
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