Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing . . .

It’s one of the big ‘what ifs’ of British history.

Lost_Portrait_of_Charles_Edward_StuartHow would Britain as a nation and British society have evolved had the 1745-46 Jacobite Rising of the Young Pretender, Bonnie Prince Charlie (or, to give him his full name: Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Severino Maria Stuart, born 31 December 1720, died 31 January 1788) been successful. Would there still be a Union? But he wasn’t successful, and this uprising ended with the last battle fought on British soil at Culloden in 1746. It had a long-lasting impact on Scotland, particularly in the Highlands.

He raised his standard at Glenfinnan on the west coast of Scotland on 19 August 1745 in a bid to reclaim the throne for his father (The Old Pretender, James Francis Edward Stuart, son of deposed King James II, and accepted by many as the rightful heir) from the ‘usurper Hanoverians’.

During our recent road trip round Scotland we came across a number of sites associated with Bonnie Prince Charlie and the 1745. Having made our trip counter-clockwise, we reached Glenfinnan on the penultimate day of our holiday. The weather was atrocious: driving rain and strong winds. In fact I had wanted to make the 15 mile or so detour west of Fort William to see the Glenfinnan viaduct on the railway connecting Fort William and Mallaig. For all you Harry Potter fans, the steam train that runs on this West Highland line featured as The Hogwarts Express in several films.

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The Glenfinnan Monument.

When we arrived at the Glenfinnan visitor centre, I realized that I had seen the Glenfinnan Monument (that commemorates the raising of the standard) on a couple of previous occasions, but never in such weather. We did get tickets to climb the monument—maximum four people at a time plus the guide. It’s an extremely steep and tight stone spiral staircase up the monument, and you have to almost limbo dance to squeeze out through the manhole, that couldn’t have been more than 18 inches square. I did manage my photo of the viaduct from there, and just as we walked back to the Visitor Centre, we heard the steam train puffing its way through the station, where we had been no more than 20 minutes previously. No-one had cared to advise us that the steam train was expected imminently!

During the 1745 uprising, the Jacobites marched south into England, reaching Derby by early December. And it was at this point that they effectively lost their campaign. Some historians believe that the Hanoverian government forces could have been defeated at that time, but Charles Edward Stuart turned round and led his forces back into Scotland, where they were caught and defeated at the Battle of Culloden on 16 April 1746. The battle site is just east of Inverness, managed by the National Trust for Scotland property, and seemingly the site for pilgrimage by people of Scots ancestry from all over the world. The displays and explanations of the battle in the visitors centre are excellent.

1746 Culloden battlefield, east of Inverness.

Site of the Battle of Culloden, east of Inverness, on 16 April 1746

In South Uist we passed by the birthplace of Flora MacDonald, who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape into exile after Culloden, and also near where she is buried in the north of Skye.

While compiling information for this blog post, I’ve discovered a ‘personal’ link to Bonnie Prince Charlie. My home town is Leek in North Staffordshire: The Queen of the Moorlands. The Jacobite army passed through Leek in December 1745 on its way south. After turning round at Derby, it passed through Leek once again and there is anecdotal evidence that Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed the night in a small house at the top of the Market Place, just across the road from where I used to live, and next to the vicarage of the Church of St Edward the Confessor (where Jacobite soldiers sharpened their swords on a stone cross in the churchyard).

Yesterday, however, I read another account that states that the Prince did not stay in this house after all, but lodged instead in a much finer house, one built in the late 17th century, and located about 200 m east on Stockwell Street. Now a listed building, ‘Greystones’, was once divided into two apartments and rented by the local authority. From 1976 until the mid-1980s, my parents resided in the apartment on the upper two floors. I never had the least inkling whenever I visited them there that this just might have been the place where Bonnie Prince Charlie lay his weary head and dreamed on what might have been.

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‘Greystones’ is a late 17th century listed building on Stockwell Street in Leek. It stands in front of the local library, art gallery and museum, the Nicholson Institute, the tower of which can be seen behind. ‘Greystones’ was once occupied by silk manufacturer Joshua Nicholson, who built the Institute in 1884.

O ye’ll tak’ the high road and I’ll tak the low road . . . Fàilte gu Alba!

scotlandWell, we took the high road and the low road, and have just returned from a thoroughly enjoyable road trip road Scotland.

Over 2,250 miles in 13 days!

While I’ll be posting individual stories about the many things we did and saw during this trip, here are some of the highlights.

The decision to tour Scotland this year was almost a ‘spur of the moment’ one. Our daughter in Minnesota and her family had originally planned to come over to the UK later in the summer. But for various reasons this hasn’t worked out. But we had already decided that if they visited us this year, we would not travel to the USA as we have been doing annually for the past five years. So I suggested to Steph that we should make a road trip right round Scotland – to the Highlands and Islands. And that is what I began planning in about mid-February. By the beginning of April Hannah had told us that they would not be able to travel to the UK this year. So we have decided to visit Minnesota in any case, in September, just in time to see Callum begin school.

I’ve visited many different parts of Scotland on other trips, and have even been to the Outer Hebrides twice—almost 50 years ago! While Steph lived in Edinburgh for about 8 months in 1972-73, she never traveled further north. Neither of us had been ‘right round the top’. So we anticipated quite an adventure as we planned each stage of the trip. We had booked all our Bed & Breakfast (B&B) stops ahead of travelling, and the ferries, so it was just a case of enjoying the route and wherever our fancy took us each day. I have provided links to all the routes we took.

Day 1: 27 May (326 miles) Home to Comrie (Fife)
Route

This was a ‘getting to Scotland’ day from our home in Worcestershire. Just a long drive up the M6/M74 motorways, and to visit with my sister Margaret and her husband Trevor in Fife for one night.

Day 2: 28 May (163 miles) Comrie to Huntly (Aberdeenshire)
Route

Our destination was Huntly in north Aberdeenshire, which is the home town of my sister-in-law Pauline. I first visited there in November 1965 for Martin and Pauline’s wedding. Crossing the rolling hills north of Fife, we headed to Blairgowrie in Perthshire (where we spotted a couple of red squirrels in the woodland beside the River Ericht), and then into the Cairngorms National Park through Glen Shee. We also passed by Balmoral. No, Her Majesty was not at home.

Day 3: 29 May (143 miles) Huntly to Braes of Kinkell (Ross & Cromarty)
Route

From Huntly we headed west through Speyside, and then up to the coast just west of Inverness, visiting two National Trust for Scotland properties at Brodie Castle (which was unfortunately closed) and the site of the 1746 Battle of Culloden.

Day 4: 30 May (172 miles) Braes of Kinkell to Thurso (Caithness)
Route
This was totally new territory for me. Although the day started cloudy the sun soon broke through. And by the time we reached John o’ Groats it was a beautiful late afternoon, and there were clear views across the Pentland Firth to the Orkney Islands. We could even see the Old Man of Hoy. After a visit to Duncansby Head lighthouse, we stopped off at Dunnet Head (the most northerly point on mainland Britain) before heading to our B&B in Thurso.

Day 5: 31 May (182 miles) Thurso to Ullapool (Ross & Cromarty)
Route
Sunday morning dawned drab and drearydreek as they say in Scotland. The day did not look promising as we headed west out of Thurso, past the former nuclear power plant at Dounreay (in the long process of decommissioning), towards Durness and down the coast of northwest Sutherland to Ullapool where we would take the ferry over to the Isle of Lewis on the following day. The weather forecast was not promising, with strong storms expected for the next 48 hours or so. But we were determined to take in as much of the journey as the low clouds would permit. However, by about 2 pm, the clouds had lifted, the sun had come out, and we were treated to magnificent views of some of the most impressive mountains in Scotland. A side excursion around a peninsula near Lochinver was certainly the highlight of today’s journey, along a very narrow, twisty, and at times very steep road with multiple passing places. It was along this road that I’m sure I saw an osprey hovering above the loch to the side of the road.

Day 6: 1 June (91 miles) Ullapool (via Inverewe Garden) to Stornaway (Isle of Lewis, by ferry)
Route
With a major storm due to hit later that day, we did contact the ferry operator about transferring to a morning crossing to Stornaway. But to no avail. The boat was fully booked. Not to worry. We just got on with our day as planned, and that was a side trip to the National Trust for Scotland’s Inverewe Garden, about 40 miles from our overnight B&B south of Ullapool. Although we started our journey in the rain, the clouds soon parted and it was bright and sunny by the time we reached the garden, and then spent more than a couple of hours wandering around this fascinating site. It’s special because plants flourish here so far north because of the influence of the warm waters of the Gulf Stream (more correctly the Northern Atlantic Drift).


We were back in Ullapool in time to catch the ferry at 17:30 to Ullapool, and departed under increasingly threatening skies. It was pouring with rain by the time we docked in Stornaway at 21:00. While the sea was definitely choppy, the crossing was smooth on the new and larger ferry, Loch Seaforth that entered service with Caledonian MacBrayne only a couple of months earlier.

Day 7: 2 June (150 miles) Stornaway to Tarbert (Isle of Harris)
Route
We had three targets for today’s trip around Lewis: the Butt of Lewis at the northern tip; the Calanais Stones, and the iron age village at Bostadh on Great Bernera. It was heavily overcast as we headed north, and the skies became even more lowering as we approached the Butt of Lewis. In fact, it was raining very heavily when we arrived, and blowing a gale. The winds didn’t die down, but the rain did stop for a while allowing us to have a walk around, and take care not to be blown over the cliff.

The standing stones at Calanais are indeed impressive—mystical even, and I’ll be writing a special blog post about these in due course. With some due diligence, bobbing and weaving I was able to take all the photos I wanted, and hide any other visitors behind the various stones, so it seems as though Steph and I were the only visitors. The camera never lies!

We had to cross the Atlantic Ocean to reach Great Bernera. Well, cross the Atlantic is a bit of an exaggeration. Great Bernera is an island just 100 m across a channel from Lewis, connected by a bridge through which the Atlantic flows.

While three or four Iron Age houses have been found in a shallow valley close to the beach at Bostadh, only one has been reconstructed. The others were filled in with sand after excavation because of the fragile nature of the substrate on which they had been constructed. In seeing this site of early settlement and others around Lewis and the other islands, one can’t help imagining what survival must have been like thousands of years ago, how agriculture developed, and how these early people survived from farming and gathering shellfish along the shore.

Steinacleit stone circle

Steinacleit stone circle

We then headed south into Harris, and our B&B just south of Tarbert.

Day 8: 3 June (105 miles) Tarbert to Balranald (North Uist, by ferry)
Route on Harris / Route on North Uist
We took the A859 as far south as possible to Rodel where there is an impressive early sixteenth century church, St Clement’s (apparently dedicated to Pope Clement I), the church of Clan MacLeod. There is a fine tomb of Alasdair Crotach MacLeod of Dunvegan and Harris, 8th Chief of MacLeod.

Then it was on to the Sound of Harris ferry from Leverburgh to Berneray, and over the causeway on to the island of North Uist. I had first visited North Uist in the summer of 1966 at the age of 17, just after the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) had established its Balranald Reserve near the village of Hougharry (Hogha Gearraidh). I was then among the very first visitors to the reserve—if not the first! We stopped by Hougharry, but it has changed so much in the past half century—as have all the islands. Gone are the typical thatched roofed crofts and other single storey houses. Everywhere is new and relatively new construction. Given grants for new housing, it was cheaper to build new than renovate the original homes. Roofs were removed and what few old buildings remain are in a state of decay.


Day 9: 4 June (147 miles) Balranald
Route to Eriskay
Under fair skies (more or less) we spent the day traveling to the south of the Uists, through Benbecula and South Uist, and on to Eriskay, connected by causeway to South Uist since 2002.

Day 10: 5 June (142 miles) Balranald to Dornie (Ross & Cromarty, by ferry via Isle of Skye)
Route on North Uist / Route on Skye
It was pouring with rain as we left Balranald, and as we sat in the car waiting for the ferry in Lochmaddy for the ferry crossing to Skye, we wondered whether there was any chance of seeing any of the magnificence of the mountains on Skye later in the afternoon.

We were not disappointed! As we crossed The Minch (the channel between the Hebrides and the mainland) we could see the skies clearing to the west. And as we docked in Uig on Skye around 2 pm, there was hardly a cloud in the Skye, and we were treated to some incredible landscapes. We traveled right round the north of Skye, down to Portree, back up towards Uig, but turning off towards Dunvegan, and then turning south down the west coast to join the main A87 at Sligachan. The Cuillin Mountains were lit up in the bright afternoon sunshine. However, once we arrived at the Kyle of Lochalsh bridge to cross over on to the mainland, we were back in cloud and rain. But once again, we had our spirits lifted when we came out of the restaurant in Dornie later that evening, and Eilean Donan castle was bathed in the rays of the setting sun. See our route here.

Day 11: 6 June (184 miles) Dornie to Ford (Argyll & Bute)
Route
This was perhaps the least enjoyable day of our holiday. Why? Well, by the time we reached Fort William the weather had deteriorated markedly and our side excursion to see the Glenfinnan monument and railway viaduct at Glenfinnan was made in the pouring rain and a howling gale. But it was the actual driving conditions that bothered me. There was much more traffic than we had experienced at any other day, and all travelling at high speed. It just wasn’t possible to motor along at your own pace, and stopping places were few and far between. Once we had left Oban further south, the volume of traffic dropped on the Argyll & Bute coastal route.

Day 12: 7 June (187 miles) Ford to Lockerbie (Dumfries & Galloway)
Route
We had passed Arduaine Garden the night before, about 12 miles short of our B&B in Ford.

So this morning, under clearer skies, we headed back to this delightful garden located on a peninsula jutting westwards towards North America. We spent a couple of hours wandering around, admiring the beautiful rhododendrons. Then it was a long drive along Loch Awe, heading down to Inveraray, and on to Loch Lomond, before skirting Glasgow and joining the M74 once again after almost two weeks for the drive to our last overnight stop in Lockerbie. 

Day 13: 8 June (267 miles) Lockerbie to HOME!
Route
We set out just after 9 am, and after seven miles we had passed the 2,000 mile distance on our journey. But it wasn’t to be a quick dash home (if 250 plus miles can be called a dash). We broke our journey almost equidistant between Lockerbie and home, at Rufford Old Hall, a Tudor mansion just south of Preston, and owned by the National Trust. 

It was a long trip in such a relatively short time. But was it worth it? Definitely! I doubt that we’ll go back to the north of Scotland. And although the saying goes Haste ye back!, we have so many other places we want to visit. Nevertheless, I’m very happy that we made the effort. The scenery was uplifting, and we received a friendly welcome wherever we went. Scotland—weather and all—was a delight. There was one BIG advantages of the cool weather. No midges!

Here are links to detailed accounts about our trip:

And finally, I’ve put together all my better photos in a single 29 minute video: