Chapter Eight

Another illusive character during our week in Scotland was H.R.H. Queen Elizabeth. As previously mentioned, she was in residence at Holyrood when we visited, however she had spent the day in Inverness. It was not until after our trip to Loch Ness that I realized why she had gone there. She and Nessie were in cahoots, knowing that the Hoppes Family was in town determined to have some sort of sighting.

After eating a chocolate bar at Holyrood, I had only one royal residence left to partake nourishment to complete my goal - Balmoral. This is the Scottish country estate of the queen and is used quite regularly throughout the year. It was a favourite home of Queen Victoria, who spent many joyous summers wandering through Scotland with Albert. The estate is located on the River Dee, near the town of Ballater. By the route we selected, Balmoral was 165 miles from our ‘home-tel,’ but the trip was one we could not resist. As you may recall, we discovered in Edinburgh that she was due to arrive at Balmoral on the Thursday we were in Scotland. This was the day we went. As I joked about our goals, someone asked if we were stalking their queen. No, but it has been fun trying to catch a glimpse of her.

The drive to Balmoral was scenic and lovely, through the Eastern Highlands. Along the road we saw plenty of sheep, though we were unable to see any highland cattle. I was disappointed that we could not photograph the “furry cows.” There were signs for sheep along the road, but they were always a distance away from us. We were in awe as we saw the mountains covered with peat and small waterfalls flowing from the melting snow on top. And sheep. Thousands of sheep. Everywhere sheep. Suddenly we rounded a corner found ourselves face to face with sheep. Several of them decided it would be lovely to stand on the road awhile. They eventually moved, and we continued slowly on our way, encountering many more sheep.

We passed a gas station, there in the middle of nowhere - there were no houses or anything, just sheep. On the sign of the station was “Gas, Food, Coffee, Internet” and a few other things. Just goes to show you that the Internet reaches even the furthest reaches of the earth. Bruce refused to stop. I’ll even go as far as saying I sensed the car speeded up as we drove past. Still there were more sheep. As we neared Balmoral, we noticed a number of lovely Scottish castles, only a mile or so apart. I thought to myself, “The queen certainly lives in a nice neighborhood.”

I was a bit concerned that her presence at the castle would mean it would be closed. However, when we arrived the parking lot was full and many people were coming and going from the estate. Inside, we learned that she tends to mingle when she’s at the castle during tourist season, however her standard was not flying. She had not yet arrived. We walked around the gardens and through the ballrooms to see the displays. Along the main drive is a grove of trees, many of which are from the Western America, such as noble fir, red cedar and cypress. Then we had tea at the shoppe and enjoyed the apples we brought along. The little birds hopped right onto the tables where we ate, looking for a nibble or two.

In the highlands we saw many picturesque Scottish castles like Balmoral. These were built much later than the fortresses such as Edinburgh and Stirling, so they were designed to be comfortable and beautiful rather than protective.

A short historical footnote is appropriate at this juncture. Perhaps I should say a sad historical footnote. After the Act of Union in 1707, some of the clans continued to fight for independence, particularly under the leadership of Bonnie Prince Charlie. The clans lost much, in people and power, during the final battle of the Jacobite wars, at Culloden. The new unified parliament in London felt that the easiest way to ease tension in the northern reaches of the kingdom would be to give some reward to the clan chiefs. They were given status, titles. These clan chiefs were drawn into the high life of the upper classes, and the necessity to financially support that lifestyle. They had great tracks of land, which they leased to others to work. To support their new lives, they raised rents on the tacksmen (tacks means lease), who then raised rents on the tenants. Eventually, the people could no longer afford to live there. Many left willingly. These people emigrated to the cities or to America and Australia. There they could get jobs in the rising industries created during the industrial revolution.

As people left Scotland, the tacksmen could no long pay the rent, and the landowners found that sheep farmers could pay a higher rent. Eventually, this led to the eviction of the people from the land. Sheep had much greater value than people. In some places, the people were sold as slaves to the tobacco farmers of America. In other places, they were beaten and killed. Most often they were deported without a penny. This event was an ethnic cleansing, encouraged by many because the Highlanders were seen as barbarians, Catholics, and worthless. This sad moment in history is called the Highland Clearances, made even sadder by the fact that the landlords were clan chiefs who were destroying their own people. Since there was a great exodus of people from Scotland during this time, the population today is less than it was at the beginning of the 18th century. It is sad to think that the final days of these events - some of the most gruesome - were going on while just miles away Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were falling in love with the romantic perception of Scotland’s Highlanders.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited Deeside when she was told that the climate of Scotland was ideal for her health. They fell in love with the area and worked a number of years to secure the property as their own. They lived in the home that already existed for some years, but the growing family and social obligations required a larger residence. Each year as they spent time on the estate in the fall, Albert set orders that would be carried out over the next year. When they returned, those projects would be complete and the workers ready for the next phase of construction. Albert died before the estate was complete as he envisioned, but Queen Victoria continued the work. The building is incredibly beautiful, with a tower that is topped by turrets with conical roofs. Similar turrets grace the roofline of the rest of the building, giving it a fairytale appearance. The gardens are magnificently manicured with roses and other flowers. There is also a water garden and herb garden. There are stables, a golf course and memorials to Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and other monarchs throughout the property.

It was a lovely way to spend a few hours, and even though we were unable to see the queen, we still are glad we made the trip. I can certainly understand why the highlands of Scotland were a favourite place of rest and relaxation for Queen Victoria. It is said that when they visited the estate, Victoria and Albert often went off on trips that lasted several days, during which they acted as the common folk. The entire family, which numbered nine children in the end, rode off on their ponies in search of adventure. They stayed in inns, ate with the other guests, and often went unrecognized. Victoria recorded in her diary that it gave her the sense of being an ordinary person. The times spent in Scotland were very special to the queen, and Balmoral was a favourite place to visit, as it is for the royal family today.

Our visit to one of the most beautiful places in Scotland also brought us to the heart of one of the most horrible moments in Scottish History. Glencoe, a scenic valley in the midst of the Scottish ‘Alps’, was the site of the 1692 Glencoe Massacre. This is a story of abusive power and broken trust. Clan rivalry existed throughout the history of Scotland. One conflict was between the Campbells and MacDonalds. The Campbells were very powerful; the MacDonalds were thieves who stole sheep from anyone in their path. The Campbells were a favourite target.

Meanwhile, the kings of England were trying to gain control of Scotland. William III suppressed opposition and in 1691 required all the clan chiefs to make a vow of loyalty to him as king no later than New Years Day. He would pardon all those who fought against him or who raided their neighbors if they took the vow, but the punishment would be severe for any clan that did not adhere to this policy. Alastair MacDonald was loyal to the ancient ways of his homeland, and waited until December 30, a last minute decision. Inveraray was the home of his rival, the weather was bad, and he had friends in Fort William. Perhaps he thought he was safer going there. However, they sent him to Inveraray, saying they did not have the authority to hear the vow for the king.

He was two days late arriving at the castle because government troops and bad weather held him up. He waited three days at Inveraray before they would hear his vow, so it was made five days after the deadline. He thought he was safe; however the king, John Campbell and other men of importance were pleased that they had reason to be rid of the MacDonalds once and for all. Plans were made to destroy the MacDonald clan. Government troops were sent to Glencoe under the guise of needing a place to stay since the fort was full. They arrived early in February. The Captain was Robert Campbell, a man who had been left with little after the raids of the MacDonalds, however his niece was married to Alastair’s son. In true Highlands style, the MacDonalds offered pleasant hospitality to these 130 or so men. After ten days, Robert received a message that his troops were to massacre the entire population of Glencoe. The plan was to be carried out at night, so that none could escape.

The troops had come to love the people who had treated them so well. Some of the men hinted to their hosts the impending doom, and many escaped before the order was called. In all, only 38 people, including elderly and children, were killed, while 300 escaped. Some died in the harsh winter weather, but many survived, including the chief’s sons and grandson. Reports of the massacre caused political scandal. William denied any knowledge of the plan. Sir John Dalrymple, the secretary of state, was forced to resign, but his political career did not ultimately suffer. The military leadership received no reprimand, however one disappeared, one died in battle, and Captain John Campbell died a pauper in Bruges.

The sons of Alastair MacDonald rebuilt the clan. They joined with the Campbells to fight under Bonnie Prince Charlie in the Jacobite wars. However, they were never able to return to the ways of old. Today, Glencoe is a beautiful national park owned by the National Trust of Scotland. Men like William Wordsworth and Charles Dickens have visited this place of inspiration. It is a favourite place for hikers and backpackers. The River Coe flows down the valley toward Loch Leven. The rocky peaks of the mountains reach heights of over 3000 feet. There are few houses within the glen, and while visiting there it is easy to think that you’ve found a truly isolated corner of the world. We spent a few minutes at the Visitor Information Centre and were awed by the beauty of this incredible place.

Not far from Glencoe is Ben Nevis. The film “Braveheart” was shot within Glen Nevis, the valley at the base of the mountain. Tucked into the nooks and crannies of this lovely valley are forest trails that lead to waterfalls and gorges. The climb to the top of Ben Nevis, England’s highest mountain can take an inexperienced hiker five hours to complete. The trail is fourteen miles long and rises to the summit at a height of 4,406 feet. On a clear day, you can see forever. The word Nevis has several translations, and can mean either ‘heaven’ or ‘forgotten by God.’ I suppose, if you experience The Glen and The Ben on a sunny summer day, it may seem just like heaven, but in the midst of the harsh Scottish winters it may seem like God is far away. Ben Nevis is also known as “The hill with its head in the clouds.” That is exactly what it looked like the day we passed. We could not see the peak of the mountain, though we could see the sheer rock face on the north side. It was still covered with snow, a rather imposing figure. It is easy to see how men of every generation yearn to conquer the magnificent Ben Nevis.

Chapter Nine

Chapter One - Chapter Two - Chapter Three - Chapter Four
Chapter Five - Chapter Six - Chapter Seven - Chapter Eight

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