History is impossible to avoid in Scotland. Partly this is due to of their having so much of it; but mainly it’s because, to the locals, it’s all as fresh as yesterday. Take John Herriot Ramsay for example: puttering quietly up a road through the woods on his red recliner bicycle, towing a trailer laden with the batteries that powered its motor, he swerves to a stop when he spots tourists out enjoying the golden evening. He spends much less time than he clearly would have preferred – yet, oddly, far longer than we would have chosen – giving us a rundown of his ancestry and local connections featuring Mary Queen of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie. And, when he has to use the E-word in reference to the auld enemy south of the border, he tells us: ‘‘Because you’re ladies, Iwon’t spit when I say that.’’
He also regrets that he isn’t wearing his clan kilt for our delectation: looking at him as he lies back on his bike, knees higher than his waist, we feel grateful for his trouser clips.
Although Mary and Charlie have already become such familiar names that they areM and BPC in my notebook, and we are getting used to people speaking of them as if they have only just left the room, we are newly arrived in Scotland.
Over dinner at a pub which had attracted us with its banner proclaiming ‘‘Fine Wines, Ales and Ketchup’’, we study our route on the map. A few days in Edinburgh, then west through the Trossachs and over to the coast for a flit around the Isle of Skye finishing with a dog-leg back down to Glasgow: Scotland, done in 10 days.
What we had not realised was we would be criss-crossing BPC’s tracks through 12 even busier months for him from mid-1745. It is like a join-the-dots picture with the numbers out of order, and it only becomes clear to me near the end of our journey. Dot No 1 for us is Edinburgh but, for Charlie (aka Charles Edward Stuart, 1720-1788), the outline started in the northwest at Glenfinnan. We get there four days later, and stand one misty morning on the shore of Loch Shiel looking up at the monument of a kilted Highlander on a sturdy column that marks the beginning of BPC’s ill-fated campaign.
Having breakfasted across the lake at a creaky old inn, we are pleasantly full of porridge and Inveraray kipper; but Charlie had fire in his belly. Returning from exile in France at the age of 24, he raised his standard at Glenfinnan and gathered his supporters to march to Edinburgh to claim the thrones of Scotland and England in the name of his father, James Stuart.
This was the second Jacobite Rebellion and it was ‘‘The Jacobite’’ that we had come to see – not 3000 hairy MacDonalds and Camerons swathed in yards of scratchy plaid, but the doughty black steam-engine pulling a line of elegant maroon carriages, familiar to any fan of the Harry Potter movies.
Here it crosses the 21 arches of the curved concrete Glenfinnan Viaduct, another monument to ambition and self-belief on the part of its builder, Sir Robert McAlpine. The train runs from Fort William to Mallaig on the coast, where we are to catch the ferry to Skye, the location of BPC’s ignominious last chapter; but back in Edinburgh he was still full of righteous determination.
He stormed into the city and proclaimed his father King James VIII at the Mercat Cross, near the top of the Royal Mile running between the castle and Holyrood House.
The castle, high on its rock above the clustered shops selling tartan tourist tat and whiskyflavoured fudge, a William Wallace pretender in blue face paint flashing his tattooed buttock and workmen busy dismantling the seating scaffold from the other Tattoo, is full of treasures. Some are real, like the gold and silver of the Crown Jewels; some architectural, like little St Margaret’s Chapel where a dressuniformed soldier is getting wed; and others aesthetic, like the wide views over the city and the Firth of Forth beyond.
Charlie never got to see any of it, however: symbolically, he went the other way, going downhill to hold court at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, and his campaign did the same.
His march on London ran out of puff at Derby – where, to be fair, others have also lost the will to live – and the Jacobites turned north again. At Stirling, another superbly situated castle towers above the still medieval-looking town draped over the hillside below, where winding cobbled streets lead up to its entrance.
On the ramparts we look across the valley towards the William Wallace monument, who at the bridge here had his great triumph against the English, so memorably, yet inaccurately, portrayed by Mel Gibson in Braveheart. Charlie had no such success, the castle standing strong against his forces.
He d Falkirk now fo wheel t the wat on, up from th Forth a and the north t timew skimm shores vainly monste pewter already Skye an of Char near th on a hi where place.
AC inspiri wasn’t choose 1746, to against Cumbe 9000. It within hungry broads down b fire as throug
The visitor describ ‘‘surge presen windsw and blu
Feisty: Busking outside Edinburgh Castle as a challenging work in a Scottish winter.
hero must be
Steam journey: The Jacobite crosses the Glenfinn
Never forgotten: Jacobite Highlanders re-enactors charge during a celebration of the victory by Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Jacobite force over troops loyal to King George II and led by Sir John Cope at the Battle of Prestonpans in 1745.
Fond farewell: The heathery moors and rugged basalt cliffs of the Isle of Skye were Bonnie Prince Charlie’s last sight of Scotland.