Visiting The Land Of Our Forefathers

Clan Cameron Country

To my utter delight, our tour guide, Valerie, informed us that we were in the Cameron Country of Lochaber, This area, a 12 by 15 mile (180 square miles) parcel of land near Fort William, was once all controlled by the Cameron clan, whose chieftain still lives in the area. It encompasses Ben Nevis, The UK’s highest mountain. We took the opportunity to visit the Clan Cameron Museum at nearby Achnacarry that had an excellent display of Cameron history. My children were impressed with their ancestors’ story, but not the tidbit (unproven) that the name Cameron originates from two words that translate into “crooked nose”. Fortunately, none of them inherited this trait.

Bonnie Prince’s Bloody Battle

After departing Glenspean Lodge we drove to the site of Scotland’s most tragic day. The battle that took place there had devastating, long lasting consequences for its future, all because of an impetuous, foolish, 25 year old “Bonnie” Prince Charlie (Charles Edward Stuart, the Young Pretender). He convinced influential clan chieftains and their followers to take on the British government forces in order to win back the throne from George II (the House of Hanover) for his father, James Francis Edward Stuart, the Old Pretender. James was the son of the deposed James II of England and Ireland, also known as James VII of Scotland, from the House of Stuarts. In less than one hour on the morning of April 16, 1746, on the Culloden Moor, the well-trained British troops, led by the Duke of Cumberland, son of George II, slaughtered, or wounded, between 1500 and 2,000 Scottish warriors.

Prince Charlie’s dream of reclaiming the throne for the Stuarts ended abysmally. He escaped the carnage and after 5 months in hiding with a 30,000 pound bounty on his head, he boarded a small boat and slunk back to France. After being deported from France he returned to live in Italy, where he was born, for the rest of his life, dying of a stroke at age 68, in 1788. He, and his father before him, had spent their whole lives living in luxury while focussed on the futile attempt to reclaim the British throne.

The Culloden Battle Visitors’ Centre at the site of this tragic struggle has outstanding exhibits detailing every aspect of the massacre. One large hall has a surround action movie depiction of the battle. Visitors feel as if they are in the midst of the stoic British Redcoats awaiting the charge of bellowing, but ill-equipped Scottish clans, who hurriedly slogged across the uneven moor into the cannon fire and hand-to-hand combat. I left the centre sadly shaking my head at the stupidity of this irresponsible, naive Young Pretender and his overly-loyal Scotsmen who engaged in such a futile one sided, suicidal mismatch. After the battle, the Highland Scots were subjected to severe, long-lasting retribution that ended their way of life. The British government was brutal and savage in its revenge. It accomplished in one hour what the Roman Legions failed to do-conquer the Scots.

After leaving Culloden we visited a strange enclave off the main road, among some scattered trees. It resembled a small, abandoned park with an unsettling, eerie atmosphere, as if unseen spirits resented our intrusion. These Clava Cairns have existed there almost untouched for 4,000 years. Archaeologists have determined the location to be the burial site of primitive inhabitants of the area. Thousands of small rounded boulders were arranged into 5 or 6 large circular structures about 5 feet high scattered about the park. Some had a hallway leading to an inner circular open space about 15 feet in diameter. Encircling each of the main structures was an elevated, now grass-covered stone ridge Here and there in the park were stand-alone stones still upright and firmly anchored somehow to the earth. We lingered, took photos, and left intrigued, but puzzled. Why would a primitive, subsistent society, scratching out a living to survive, resort to such enormous efforts to bury their dead?

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author
Dr. James F. McDonald is a retired elementary school principal who lives in Dundas, ON.
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