“I picked up The Hobbit. And I began to read. I was swept off to a green, green Shire in a far, far land, and my soul has never returned. I suppose it never will.”
As with everywhere else Kristen and I visited, I could write so much more on the adventures we encountered in Inverness. Considering how long it’s already taken me to tell this story, however, I think it’s best to move on.
My final parting thought about Inverness would be my remaining confusion surrounding the fact that we didn’t visit the fields of Cullodan while there – tantalizingly close as they were. Instead we took a bus out to a small village of no repute and traipsed up to some anonymous farmer’s field for a picnic and reading session in the grass.
I’ve spent a surprising amount of time in the intervening almost two years thinking about why I didn’t insist on a visit. Finally, two Outlander books later, I think I know why. It’s going to sound strange, maybe even ludicrous to some, but here goes.
Some people argue that a sight, a smell, a sound can jog ones memory and bring back seemingly disparate flashes of one’s past. I suppose a good example of this is that certain Chicago songs inevitably inspire thoughts of road trips with my father (funnily enough, the rest of the family may have been involved in these memories too – yet it’s Dad I recall).
The argument goes that these sights, smells or sounds are tied intrinsically to certain memory and therefore when they come up again, that line of thought is re-accessed allowing us to spend some time with our past. Basically, it’s all in our heads.
I’ve always believe, however, that locations themselves contain memories. Ones that we were not necessarily party to and yet that we can access if we pay close attention and open ourselves up to experiences that do not originate in our own. I find this to be the case when I walk out into a graveyard not containing the final resting place of anyone I ever knew or even heard of. Or when exploring the ruins of a farmhouse long forgotten. There is an expression that the walls have ears. I think they have eyes too and the capacity to store the memories of those long gone.
It sounds crazy. I know. But, for me, the thought of walking out onto a long-disused battlefield dotted with stones bearing the names of clans who lost their entire future in that desperately hopeless hour on April 16th, 1746…it was too gruesome to contemplate, even if I didn’t know this was why I avoided it at the time. So many men died on this field, in such a short amount of time, crushing the dreams of the Jacobin uprising forever. On a more human scale – Scotland lost an entire generation of young, strong, healthy men who might have gone on to improve the country’s long-abused fortunes. This catastrophic loss of so many young lives would be repeated on a mass scale come the First World War but at this time it was one of the most devastating events in the history of a country already ravaged by pain and suffering.
I can vividly imagine the lifesblood of all these young men soaking the already damp soil of the field, permanently entering the physical makeup of the land. Tragedy, once befallen, leaves its mark on a place and if you allow yourself…you can feel it in your bones. The tragic death of one person is potent enough of an emotion – the massacre of 1500-2000 quickly becomes unbearable. In keeping with the idea of Scotland as Middle Earth, I am reminded of the Dead Marshes, once the battlefield of Dagorlad, where Frodo encounters the remains of thousands of dead soldiers still perfectly preserved in the murky waters of the plains. In Tolkien’s telling, the memory of that massacre is physically visible in the bodies of the soldiers long dead, possibly reminiscent of the battlefields of the Somme in our world. In Cullodan, physical traces of the murdered men may be gone but the impact of their deaths still remains. It was an experience my subconscious did not feel equal to at the time.
Instead, upon leaving lovely Inverness, Kristen and I were treated to the haunting beauty of the Scottish highlands passing by at a pace acceptable to the human eye’s appreciation but barely so to even my fancy camera without a significant change in the settings. We hardly spoke on the bus ride through the hills, so engrossed in the stunning landscape that surrounded us. I’m not sure that my pictures can do it justice but hopefully they at least give you all somewhat of a preview.
It was on this bus trip that I added another reason to come back someday: The Eilean Donan castle located in picturesque fashion at the point where three lochs meet. Destroyed during the Jacobite uprisings as it was a stonghold of the famous Clan Mackenzie, it was restored over a 20-year period beginning at the end of the First World War. There is now a causeway that leads from the mainland to the castle, whose name translates to “Island of Donnan”, and it is open to tourists. As we were on a bus headed straight to Kyle of Lochalsh from whence we would cross over onto the Isle of Skye, we didn’t stop off at the castle but I will forever wish we did.
There are so many historical facts I could choose about this place but in keeping with the Jacobite bend of this post, the following is by far my favourite:
USELESS HISTORICAL FACT #9
During the earlier Jacobite risings, in 1719 the castle was garrisoned by 46 Spanish soldiers who had arrived in Scotland to support the uprising (far short of the large Spanish army the Scots had been expecting, one might add). After the Highland Uprising’s false start, the British sent three ships to destroy the castle and its belligerent inhabitants. Though all three ships bombarded the castle for an hour or more, the damage was negligible as the walls were incredibly thick (in some places 14 feet). Finally, under the cover of darkness and further canon fire, the naval force stormed the castle and met with little resistance. According to the log of the Worcester, one of the three attacking ships, when they entered the castle they found an Irishman, a captain, a Spanish lieutenant, a sergeant, one Scotch rebel and 39 Spanish soldiers armed with 343 barrels of powder and 52 barrels of musket shot. They then spent the next 2 days using their captives’ own gunpowder to demolish the castle, which remained in its dilapidated state for 200 years. I must admit, this story leaves me with more questions than answers, the most pressing being how in the hell a lone Irishman found himself in this mess. I suppose we’ll never know.
After passing the now-rebuilt ancient stronghold, we arrived finally in Kyle of Lochalsh and soon hopped onto our next bus across the causeway to the Isle of Skye. Driving over that high road through sheets of rain and the occasional assault of wind towards the tiny coastal village of Kyleakin is a sight I will never forget. More impressive, however, was the view from the other side. I’ll leave off with this image and describe the island itself in my next post.
Welcome to Jacobite Middle Earth, a place that still holds a piece of my soul.