Stalk­ing Char­lie

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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.

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The vis­i­tor de­scrib ‘‘surge pre­sen windsw and blu


Feisty: Busk­ing out­side Ed­in­burgh Cas­tle as a chal­leng­ing work in a Scot­tish win­ter.

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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.

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