12 October 2014

As autumn does its usual seasonal thing, there is an unmusical accompaniment of crashing gears as the hectic pace of a summer spent in the entertainment business glides slowly and serenely into reverse. It’s a good time to get away from it all.
So it was that this intrepid family set out a’chasing the sun, not actually catching it but giving it quite a big fright. But, hey, that’s Fort William for you.
McSterMacSterNewpicWebThe shores of Loch Linnhe are especially beautiful at this time of year and the weather was on its best behaviour. Our accommodation overlooked the loch and each morning we would wander a few yards to a little bridge over the West Highland Railway line to welcome The Jacobite, the steam train heading west to Mallaig by way of the Glenfinnan Viaduct, packed to the locomotive equivalent of the gunwales with passengers following in the fictional footsteps of Harry Potter.
I’m fascinated by our past. I once went out with a Scottish History teacher, though her idea of a good time was 1314, so the area round Lochaber has a lot going for it. Not only is there the Potter link but there’s also a connection, still only slowly being revealed, with the wartime Special Operations Executive. Theirs is a story fit for a different and more serious article - what: you hadn’t noticed?  Okay, let’s continue with the knockabout stuff.
On 25 July 1745 a young man named Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Silvester Severino Maria Stuart (Maria? Oh well) landed in mainland Scotland for the first time, embarking at Loch nan Uamh near Arisaig. Born in Rome, he was the elder son of the exiled king James VIII and known as the Young Pretender because his father had been a fan of The Platters who had a big hit with almost that very song.
On 20 September 1746 he sailed back to France, never to set foot on Scottish soil again after a vain bid to reclaim the British throne from the existing king, a German named George, and restore the House of Stuart over the House of Hanover long before the House of Bruar or of Menzies.
Well, we know what happened - and look away now if you don’t want to read  the result. But thinking locally, after his retreat/reconfiguration from England, Charles came north and actually spent the nights of 4 and 5 February in Castle Menzies before heading to a) Culloden; b) crushing defeat and c) the Flight in the Heather.
It is well documented in song and story how Flora MacDonald rowed with him from Uist to Skye but others aver - sometimes with the letter ‘h’ in front - that he was killed at Culloden and his bones interred in a drystane dyke on the battlefield. There’s another song about it: Bonnie Chairlie’s Noo a Wa’.
But who needs Lochaber? Here in Highland Perthshire there were wartime operations at Taymouth Castle, Bonnie Prince Charlie at Weem and links with Harry P‘s author. And The Jacobite steam engine? Why, Pete and Fiona’s wee train at Logierait Market!
But there’s cases to unpack. Maybe next time I’ll try entertainment.

by Alan Brown


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