Tuesday 27 May 2014

Tombstone Tuesday

My annual trips to Scotland to conduct family history research also allow me to tap into my taphophilia. I generally try to pick two or three new (to me) cemeteries to visit and learn about. This year was no exception. I was able to visit four cemeteries:

  • Old Calton in Glasgow aka the Weaver's Cemetery
  • Old Calton in Edinburgh
  • Carlisle Cemetery
  • and my old standby, Greyfriars

I am always amazed at the age of the stones and the history of some of the people interred in each cemetery. Many of them key figures in Scottish history. Of particular interest this year was Carlisle Cemetery in Northern England. A cemetery where some of my Lindsley ancestors are buried. The stones were quite ornate. In many ways, they were reminiscent of the stones in the Glasgow Necropolis.

Soldier's Wills Added to ScotlandsPeople Website

ScotlandsPeople has just released 31,000 digitized images of soldiers wills - generally written in the back of the paybook on the eve of dispatch to the front. These wills are not just from officers, but from front-line soldiers. While the majority of the wills are from the Great War, there are also wills from the Korean War, the Boer War and the Second World War.

The wills contain the battalion, regiment rank and service number for the soldier, as well as the person they named as their beneficiary. Of note is that these wills were in the soldier's own handwriting.

Each image is 10 credits to view. On average, there are four images to view including the envelope. You can get the entire four images for just over £12 ($22US/CDN)

Sunday 18 May 2014

Cries of Culloden

Today we went to Culloden Battlefield, which is just a few miles from where we are staying.

Our first stop was the Visitor Centre. This allowed us to walk through the timeline leading up to the day of battle. 

We listened to "first hand" accounts and were able to view the battle in surround theatre. Coming out of the theatre, there is a wall covered in the names of those who fell at Culloden. Reading them sent shivers up my spine and caused a heaviness in my chest. 

From the visitor centre, we collected audio guides for our walk through the battlefield. 
Past the English line

Past the memorial stones, commemorating the fallen clans, 

Past the Well of the Dead 

And out to the memorial cairn.

From the cairn, we walked to the Jacobite line. The Jacobites had a serious disadvantage, not just based on exhaustion and disorganization, but based sheerly on terrain. The English were on relatively level fields while the Jacobites were in dense brush, thick Heather and heavy, marshy bogs. They stood little chance when charging forward of getting anywhere but stuck. Sadly this led to the slaughter of hundreds of men in mere minutes. 

The battlefield is well preserved. It is, for the most part, barren, open and still. It is easy to hear the cries of our ancestors as they are carried along the winds blowing across the moors. A truly haunting place to visit. And a memory that will stay with me for a lifetime. 

Saturday 17 May 2014

Jacobite Steam Train

Following the drive down the Great Glen, we boarded an old steam train for the journey out to Mallaig. Harry Potter and the viaduct aside, we passed through some of the most spectacular and dramatic scenery in Scotland. 

The train stopped in Glenfinnan, presumably to waste time as there was nothing there to see. A short stop on the viaduct to photograph the monument would have made better sense. 

We had just over 90 minutes in Mallaig, which was plenty, especially since the Heritage Centre was closed. We enjoyed a meal of fresh fish, an ice cream and a wander down to the harbour. 

The trip back was direct into Fort William. The steam train trip to Mallaig can now be checked off my bucket list. Another brilliant memory tucked away! 

The Great Glen

Yesterday morning, we left the hotel in Inverness and drove down the Great Glen to Fort William. The purpose of the drive was so we could catch the steam train out to Mallaig. The scenery and history of the Great Glen are not to be missed. I had picked up a leaflet on the Great Glen Way and so was able to watch for some of the more obscure things along the way. All in all, it was a fascinating ride through history. My history. I am a Macdonald. This was my clan's land.

Our first point of interest, of course was Loch Ness. I remember the first time I saw the Loch. I was confused. Living near the Great Lakes in Ontario, I had never been to a lake I could see across and find land on the opposing side! The Great Lakes are like standing at the seaside. Nothing on the horizon but water. HOW could a monster possibly live in this wee loch?

However, driving the length of it yesterday, I was impressed at how long it really is. Maybe not wide, but several miles in length. And the scenery of course is impressive.

From Loch Ness, we came across the Commando Memorial Monument just outside Spean Bridge:

In addition to the monument, there is a memorial area where people can leave tributes to the fallen.

And a place to scatter the ashes of other soldiers who have died:
And, being in the highlands, there were sheep to get to know:

From Spean Bridge, we made our way directly into Fort William and onto the Steam Train. When we returned, we were able to stop and see some other places of interest:

Highland Cattle (aka Heilan Coos):

The Well of the Seven Heads:

This monument was erected in 1810 to commemorate a particularly bloody incident in the history of Clan Donald in 1663 when the murders of Alisdair and Ranald MacDonnell of Keppoch were avenged with the beheading of their uncle, Alisdair Bhuode of Inverlair and his six sons. The death of these seven men had been ordered by Sir James of Duntulum Castle on Skye. The severed heads were turned over to Iain Lom, kinsman to the MacDonnell brothers. Once Iain had the heads, he wrapped them in his plaid, rode them to this spot in Loch Oich and washed the blood off them before sending the heads to Edinburgh to be fixed to the gallowes at the east end of the capital city. This monument was erected as a reminder to the bloody history between warring clans.
Invergarry Castle, ancient seat of the MacDonells:

It was a great drive through the Great Glen and through the history of the Highlands.

Clava Cairns

The pre-historic Balnuaran of Clava Cairns are more than 4000 years old, older than the pyramids.

The North-East Cairn, a well-preserved passage cairn. The cairn is aligned to the mid-winter solstice. This cairn likely only housed one body.

Standing stones surround the cairn as protection. These standing stones were added much later.

The central ring cairn:


The central cairn is a circle with no opening or passage. It is thought that this was likely a fire ring where ceremonies were held in conjunction with the burials in the two passage cairns.

This kerb cairn was added most recently (3000 years ago) and may have originally provided an outline for a low earth mound:

South-west passage cairn. This cairn is another example of a passage cairn and it too is aligned to the mid-winter solstice.

Overview of all of the clava cairns: