Tuesday, July 2, 2013

despite her best efforts, keri fails to time travel back to the 18th century

The Outlander series is a set of seven historical fiction books detailing the relationship of Claire Beauchamp, a post-World War II nurse and James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, an 18th Century Jacobite Highlander. The two become connected when Claire visits the standing stones in Craigh na Dun, an ancient rock formation near Inverness that pre-dates Stonehenge. Claire hears a buzzing noise from one of the rocks -- a rock that is split in two -- which she touches, transporting her back to 1743. She meets Jamie, the two fall in love and the rest, as they say, is history, or historical fiction at least. Keri, her sister, and several of their friends are big fans. Certainly near the top of our agenda for our trip to Scotland was to see the split stone and Culloden, the site of the famous battlefield that ended the 1745 Jacobite rebellion, once and for all. (I did not realize until looking into these books that their author, Diana Gabaldon, is a native Arizonan and currently works on the faculty at Arizona State University. Small world.)

We began our morning with a boat tour of Loch Ness courtesy of Dick Raynor, owner of Loch Ness Investigation. As we were driving to the boat, one of our fellow tourers asked Dick if we were likely to see Nessie. Dick said that he did not know, but if history and experience were any guide, his failure to have seen Nessie in 42 years suggested we would not. This is my kind of guide. Dick is man of science, reason and analysis, having spent his professional life studying things related to Loch Ness. He began in his 20's by searching for Nessie herself. To his credit, Dick realized pretty quickly he was not likely to find anything proving something that was not true, and has ended up making a career of debunking the various pieces of "evidence" that others put forward as proof of a monster. Dick also takes out tour groups like ours, going across the width of this narrow lake, slowing down to demonstrate with his sonar the deepest part of the lake (about 240 meters) and then going under Urquhart Castle (pictured here), a set of ruins that overlooks the lake.

We left Loch Ness, not having spotted Nessie. My children seemed entirely non-plussed, little cynics that they are. We drove north past Inverness, and to Clava Cairns, the site on which the fictional Craigh na Dun is based. Clava Cairns is the name given to a collection of three bronze age circular tomb chambers surrounded by a number of standing stones. One of those stones is split. Keri was among several women in our group who had read the Outlander books, and they were all anxious to see, and have their pictures taken with the split rock. Keri was equally anxious to post her photo on and send copies to her Outlander-loving friends back home. As a non-Outlander person, I can attest that Clava Cairns was still worth seeing. Although nowhere near as famous or dramatic as Stonehenge, the structures here are open to the public. The ability to walk in -- and on -- some of the stone structures gives you a different kind of sense of the place.

I was further relieved to leave the place with Keri in tow. I think some of the descriptions she has heard about the lack of hygiene in 1745 Scotland convinced her that she belongs in the present.

After Clava Cairns, we drove down the road a couple miles to Culloden Battlefield, which sits a couple miles from the Culloden village, in the Dunbrossie Muir. The field itself is typical of the area, a mix of marshland and solid ground, the distinction often masked by the tall weeds and plants that run as far as the eye can see. The National Trust for Scotland has done a first-rate job in preserving the site and presenting the story for future generations. The battlefield itself is marked with narrow walkways and colored flags, red for the Government and blue for the Jacobites, marking the location of the troops before the Jacobite charge. There are also a number of monuments, small monuments honoring the lost members of specific clans (pictured is the monument for the Fraser clan), a massive one for all of the Highlander soliders and Jacobites and a much, much smaller one for the Government soliders.

The Trust has also constructed next to the site a fantastic museum that, quite explicitly tells the story of the battle -- including the lead-up, the fighting and the aftermath -- from the Jacobite and Government perspectives. I'll give here an absurdly short, mostly objective version. The death of Queen Anne in 1701 left a vacancy on the British throne that Parliament was determined to fill with a protestant, prompting the Act of Settlement of 1701 that, in turn, led to the coronation of a German, George I. Many in Britain, with concentrations of people in Scotland and Ireland, were irate, wanting as the king any of a number of persons from the House of Stuart who had a more senior claim on the crown. All of those persons were Roman Catholic.

In 1707, the Scottish Parliament ratified the Treaty of Union, effectively dissolving itself and merging Scotland into the United Kingdom. Disappointment led to dissent led to open revolt by the Jacobites, those who favored the re-instillation of someone from the House of Stuart. There were two main Jacobite rebellions, one in 1715 and the other in 1745. The second was led by Prince Charles Edward Stuart (aka Bonnie Prince Charlie), grandson to King James II (of England). The Jacobites saw a series of military successes in 1745, pushing well into England. For a variety of reasons, including bad intelligence that was likely the result of a Government spy, the Jacobites stopped and returned to Scotland. That gave the Government time to put together its forces and, by the spring of 1746, the Government army, under the Duke of Cumberland, had pushed far into Scotland. On April 16, 1746, the Government army routed the Jacobites in less than one hour in the Battle of Culloden, effectively ending the rebellion.

There are many, like our guide, Steve, who still identify with the Jacobites.  Hard as it may seem to believe for us Americans, such people view the Hanovers/Windsors as usurpers to the crown, and long for a day when Scotland can regain its independence. As mentioned in a prior post, that date may be as soon as next September when the Scottish people go to the polls to vote on a national referendum that would allow Scotland to withdraw from the United Kingdom.

We left Culloden mid-afternoon and drove back to Edinburgh by way of Glasgow (attached is a photo from our tour bus with pen colors marking the routes taken during each day of our tour). The couple hour drive allowed Steve the chance to round out his complete telling of Scottish history (with particular attention paid to the real story of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce) and to present his unified theory on why the Jacobite rebellion of 1745 is the key to everything. In short, Steve thinks that, had the Jacobites not withdrawn into Scotland, they would have succeeded in getting Charles Stuart installed on the throne, thereby ushering in an age of peace and prosperity for the United Kingdom. (I must say that, however you look at it, the United Kingdom accomplished a lot between 1745 and 1945. It would be no exaggeration to say that no nation did more for the world over that 200-year span. The British were not always in the right, lord knows, but I have a hard time imagining a better world today without an engaged and active Britain over that time. Any argument to the contrary seems one motivated more by anti-English prejudice more than anything. Still, I give Steve credit for the effort and appreciate that the English have not always been kind to Scotland over the years.).

We checked into our hotel late, returned for dinner at the Bristo Bar and Kitchen (all the banoffe pie had been eaten, but the chef put together a banana/toffee ice cream dessert for Lauren nonetheless) and fell dead asleep. We had a great time in the Highlands but were happy not to be on a tour bus or in the home of some stranger. Keri went for a run this morning and I dropped off our last loads of laundry here. We spent the afternoon at the National Museum of Scotland, a wide-ranging and attractive museum in central Edinburgh. The artifacts and descriptions of Scottish history are quite good. The other sections -- animals, science, other peoples and cultures -- are more impressive for their breadth than their depth.

We are now sitting in the Marriott near the airport. Keri has re-arranged the bags, putting into one our cold-weather clothing. We head to Rome early tomorrow morning.

We have had a great nearly-three weeks in England and Scotland. We have enjoyed the people, the culture, and the history, as you would imagine. We have even enjoyed the weather, far preferring cool and rainy to the insufferable heat back home. (And we are just horrified to hear of the Yarnell fire and the tragic deaths of those 19 young fire fighters. Our thoughts are with all of our fellow Arizonans during this difficult time.) More surprisingly, have really gotten to like the food here. We are not sure whether it is the lack of preservatives, but everything just seems to taste fresher. Other than hamburgers (which the English and Scottish, like all of their European brethren, are still a long way from figuring out), we have been really happy with just about everything we have eaten. I, for one, have been subsisting on a strict chips and Guinness diet. I'll be sad to see that end tonight, but my body will no doubt approve. I just hope we will be able to find anything good to eat in Italy . . .

1 comment:

  1. We continue to follow with great interest your doings across the pond. Yes, it is very hot here, and the tragedy in Yarnell is very much on our minds. Each of the men who died was a hard-working, valued member of the firefighting team. Each was loved by family and friends.

    As always, our love is with the four of you as you continue your travels, now to the land of pasta!