An Island Getaway

Some properties of the NTS are well known from the gorgeous Culzean Castle and the eloquent Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, to the majestic Mar Lodge and of course the amazing Culloden Battlefield. However, there are some places that are a little more off the beaten track, especially the islands, but with the cold weather drawing in we thought this might be a good time to plan next years adventures.

Here in the Highlands of Scotland we are blessed to be surrounded by the Hebrides to the west and the Orkney and Shetland Islands to the north. And though we may not be the first thought when you think of a beach or coastal holiday hopefully this will make you reconsider as we take you on a journey around the NTS islands of Scotland.

Firstly, north to Fair Isle. Located halfway between Orkney and Shetland, Fair Isle is one of Britain’s most remote inhabited islands. Not only that but it’s adorably small – only 3 miles long and 1.5 miles wide. Don’t let its size deceive you though there’s plenty to see. Fair Isle is well known for its colonies of seabirds but for us here we love the unique crofting community that fills the island with spirit and can’t help but make you smile. Crafts are bountiful on Fair Isle with the world famous Fair Isle knitting the obvious example but the island also showcases boat building, spinning and crofting so there a little bit for everyone. For those less crafty there are  archaeological remains, an abandoned RAF radar station and the wreck of a Luftwaffe Heinkel bomber that crashed here in World War II. Oh, and not only all of that to see but you can even stay at South Lighthouse!

fair isle
Sunset at Fair Isle

From the north to the west, and here we look at the three spectacular island of Mingulay, Berneray and Pabbay. Located at the southern tip of the western isle these islands have been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. For these islands the adventure starts before you even arrive. Accessible only by boat and with spectacular high sea cliffs the journey over is exciting to say the least and the landing something unique. For those brave enough to make it though the islands will open their hearts and show you some fantastic scenery. From the sea stacks, caves and promontories along the west coast to the white sandy bays and turquoise seas to the east the islands are a wonder of contrasts. Wildlife loves the islands as well with basking sharks and dolphins visiting in the summer and even golden eagles soaring above.

Seals on the beach at Mingulay

Now we couldn’t do a post about islands without mentioning the jewel in the crown, St Kilda. This World Heritage Site formed from the rim of an ancient volcano is the remotest part of the British Isles. Now uninhabited the island is home to the most important seabird breeding station in northwest Europe. This place is an ornithologists dream. In summer a million bird make St Kilda their home and these include the largest colony of northern gannets in the world and the largest colony of northern fulmars in the British Isles, as well as thousands of puffins and guillemots.

st kilda
St Kilda

Finally for something a little more accessible we take a trip to Iona and Staffa. Iona is known internationally as the cradle of Scottish Christianity, thanks to the arrival in AD563 of St Columba and his followers; whilst Staffa is best known for its magnificent basalt columns and spectacular sea caves, including the famous Fingal’s Cave. Iona maintains its special spiritual atmosphere and even has a restored medieval abbey which still holds daily services. Also worth visiting are the nearby St Oran’s Chapel and Reilig Odhrain, reputed to be the burial place of 48 kings of Scotland, including Macbeth.

Iona Abbey on Iona

Once you’ve checked out the wonders of Iona you then have to make your way to Staffa. This uninhabited and unspoilt island is the stuff of legend. Fingal’s Cave, also known as An Uamh Binn (Cave of Melody) is the highlight and is best seen by boat. It has a unique, cathedral-like structure and its hexagonal columns are similar to those of the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland. There are more caves along Staffas south coast and if you have time it’s also worth checking out Gunna Mor, here a bore-hole creates dramatic thunderous noises as waves strike the cliff below.

Dollar Glen

Hopefully you’re inspired to visit one of the many islands which the NTS helps preserve and protect and fingers crossed for glorious sunshine and summer heat for next year. As always please like, share, comment, tweet, re-blog and don’t just dream about Scotland, come and live it for real!

All the best, K & D



It’s not Scotland vs. England.

Perhaps one of the most common misconceptions we have here at Culloden Battlefield is the belief that the battle was fought between England and Scotland. It was not. Perhaps one of the most important aspects of this battle is that it was a civil war. Families were split across both sides of the battle and the reasons that brought the men to the field were much more complex than just a matter of which side of the border you lived.

The first Jacobites came into force when the Catholic King James II & VII was deposed and the throne was passed to his Protestant brother-in-law William of Orange. The term Jacobite, which comes from the lain ‘Jacobus’ for James is defined as a supporter of the deposed James II and his descendants in their claim to the British throne. So, at a very basic level those who became Jacobites wanted a Stuart king on the British throne.

But, why a Stuart king over William of Orange, Queen Anne or the Hanoverian Kings George I and George II? Initially it could be said that there was very much a religious divide with Catholics joining the Jacobites. When King James II & VII was in power he believed in the divine right of king and the government saw some of their power removed. Not only that but Roman Catholicism was the religion of England’s historical enemies, France and Spain and when the English parliament invited William of Orange over to contest the throne he accepted and began the change from Catholics Stuarts to Protestant descendants occupying the throne.

The Act of Settlement passed in 1701 in some ways sealed the fate of the Stuarts declaring that anyone who became a Roman Catholic, or who married one, was disqualified to inherit the throne. This Act would eventually be the reason for the move to the house of Hanover and King George I taking the throne.

If everything stayed as simple as this it might be easy to explain who was on the side of the Jacobites. Alas, nothing in history is that simple. After religion came the power of politics. In 1707 the kingdoms of Scotland and England were united and the Kingdom of Great Britain was formed. Many people across Scotland and England were unhappy with the Union and saw it as unfair and saw certain areas of the country profiting more than others. Some felt the Scottish Parliament had been bribed and Scotland was bought out by England with fears Scotland would simply be swallowed up by England as Wales had some 400 years previous. The English felt they would be paying off Scottish debts from the unsuccessful Darien scheme and Scottish merchants would be allowed to trade with the English colonies. And, of course, distrust was felt both ways with neither side confident the other would hold up their ends of the Union. Rioting over the Union occurred both sides of the border.

With the changes in economics and politics that followed the Union the Jacobite cause was able to continue with the riots fuelling the need for change. The Union was seen to aid the cities and lowlands of Scotland and those in the Highlands were more willing to fight the Union leading to many Highland men joining the Jacobite cause. The excitement of joining a new cause and fighting against the people in power was also an important selling technique that encouraged young men across the country to join the Jacobite cause. Finally, with unrest apparent across Britain this was the perfect opportunity for other countries to try and take on the country and the Jacobite rebellions saw support from the French, Irish and Spanish bringing recruits from across the sea to support the Jacobite cause in the hopes of dismantling the power of the British.

Whilst many people joined because they wanted to many men became Jacobites through necessity. The clan system was still in force throughout Scotland and if the clan chief decided to fight for the Jacobties then the rest of the clan would follow or face the consequences. If asked to fight the would agree or they would be dragged out to fight and have their house burnt down if they refused to join the clan chief. Some clans were even more crafty placing men on both sides of the conflict. One son could be fighting with the government army and the other would join the Jacobites. With both sides covered the clan would hopefully remain safe regardless of which side won and the losing side could be struck off as a rebel group of men and not representative of the whole clan keeping them safe from repercussions.

With people in economic crisis the Jacobites were seen as a chance to escape poverty and join a group that would look after its followers. Thus, men across Scotland and England joined in the hope of finding a new more prosperous life. Religion still played its part and by 1745 many Episcopalians, who believed in the divine right of kings, joined the Jacobites to fight for the Stuarts who were seen as the rightful kings and hoped they would end the discriminatory laws against Catholics.

So, by 1745 and the last Jacobite rebellion there were Jacobites who fought for a Stuart king, for their religion, to improve their economic status, because they were forced into battle or for the excitement of representing a cause. There was no such thing as an average Jacobite and they came from all walks of life and across Great Britain. At the battle of Culloden there were clans on both sides of the conflict and soldiers from Ireland, France, England and Scotland all fighting for their own personal reasons.

The battle was very much a civil war and was far more complex than a simple Scotland vs. England as some believe. Hopefully we’ve given you a little insight into the world of the Jacobites but this by no means covers all the stories that led people to leave their homes and fight for what they believed in.

As always please comment, like, share, tweet, and keep following us down this road of discovery.

All the best, K & D


The Battle of Sheriffmuir

This week saw the 300th anniversary of the Battle of Sheriffmuir which took place on 13th November 1715. As such we decided to look a little more at this key battle of the 1715 Jacobite Uprising.

First, a little bit of background just to set the scene.  In 1714, George I succeeded Queen Anne to the throne as the first ruler of the Hanoverian line. Tensions were already high in some areas following the 1707 Union which was not fully supported across the country. Following his ascension George I, a German from Hanover who could not speak English, managed to alienate more people including a range of former supporters of Anne and now there were more people willing to try to return a Stuart to the throne.

The Earl of Mar had initially been an enthusiastic supporter of George I,  but after being publicly snubbed by the new king, Mar decided to back a different horse, and on 1 September 1715 raised a standard for King James VIII at Braemar. Mar began to raise forces to march south to join with English Jacobites, in an attempt to return a Stuart to the throne. To counter the uprising the government dispatched a combination of Scottish and English regiments under the command of the Duke of Argyll. During October there were various manoeuvres between the two armies. Then on the 10th November the Jacobite army marched south from Perth, reaching Kinbuick, just north east of Dunblane on the 12th November. The Duke of Argyll had marched north and was already at Dunblane, intending to intercept the Jacobite force.

On the 13th November the Jacobites drew up in battle formation on Kinbuick Muir, presumably in order to gain control of the road north to Dunblane, but they had to move more than two kilometers south east from here to Sheriffmuir, to the east of Dunblane, to engage the government force.

Argyll led one squadron of volunteer cavalry, 10 squadrons of dragoons and eight battalions of foot (1,000 cavalrymen and 3,500 infantrymen). The elite of the government army was Portmore’s Dragoons, later to be renowned as the Scots Greys.

Mar led seven squadrons of cavalry (1,000 troopers) and 18 battalions of foot (7,000 infantrymen). Most of Mar’s men were Highlanders fighting with basket-hilted broadswords. Both armies had cannons, but neither side used them although Mar may well have lacked the gunpowder and ammunition to do so. In total there were roughly 6,000 Government forces against 12,000 Jacobite men.

Argyll was seriously outnumbered by the Jacobite army and his left wing, commanded by General Whetham, was far shorter than the Jacobites’ opposing right. However, Mar was inexperienced at commanding such a sizable army (the largest Jacobite army ever raised in Scotland) whilst Argyll was much more proficient in deploying his well trained troops. Argyll’s right wing managed to drive the Jacobites back but then his left wing was overpowered by the overwhelming Jacobite numbers. Over the course of the day the battle see-sawed between the two armies.

By evening, both armies were seriously reduced, and although Mar had a great advantage in numbers, he refused to press home his advantage and risk the entirety of his army and both armies withdrew.The battle was inconclusive with both sides claiming victory although in strategic terms Argyll had halted the Jacobite advance preventing them meeting with the Jacobites in England. The Jacobite army was demoralised by the loss and though the rising continued for another two and a half months it seemed to never truly recover from the loss at Sheriffmuir.

Hopefully you enjoyed this little insight into the Battle of Sheriffmuir. As always please like, follow, share, tweet, comment and if you have any suggestions for topics you’d like to know more about please let us know.

All the best, K & D


Sing me a song..

Without social media being available in the 18th century other methods had to be used to communicate, songs played an important role in influencing popular sentiment both for and against the Jacobite cause.

Today relatively few Hanoverian or pro-government songs have survived over time but there are many Jacobite songs that have been written and recorded through the centuries.

Many Jacobite songs are in Gaelic as many Highlanders, though not all, fought on the side of ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’. Many of the great Gaelic poets of the 18th century were Jacobite supporters and composed songs on the subject including Alexander MacDonald.

Moidart-born Alexander MacDonald is considered one of the finest Gaelic poets of the 18th century and was also among the first to join Prince Charles when he arrived at Glenfinnan. It is also said that MacDonald was called upon to try to teach the prince some Gaelic though if this is true it seems it did not go that well. Nevertheless, MacDonald saw himself as a propagandist for the cause through his poetry, and wrote many inspiring songs during the campaign and afterwards, when he continued to write optimistically of a return of the rightful King. Some of his songs include : Òran Nuadh — “A New Song”, Òran nam Fineachan Gaidhealach — “The Song of the Highland Clans” and Òran do’n Phrionnsa — “A Song to the Prince,”

Many years after the Jacobtie risings finished songs were still written though by this stage they often romantised the history and were sentimental of the Jacobite cause.  Such songs include ‘My Ain Countrie’, ‘The Skye Boat Song’ and ‘Will Ye No Come Back Again?’ 

The Skye Boat Song (800)_tcm4-575637
The Skye Boat Song

The Skye Boat Song is probably one of the most well known songs and is a Jacobite lament describing how Bonnie Prince Charlie, disguised as an Irish woman, was rowed from Uist over to the island of Skye to hide from Government soldiers.

 ‘Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing
Onward, the sailors cry!
Carry the lad that’s born to be King
Over the sea to Skye.’
Verse 1:
‘Loud the winds cry, loud the waves roar,
Thunderclaps rend the air.
Baffled our foes stand by the shore.
Follow they will not dare’
Verse 2:
‘Many’s the lad fought on that day
Well the claymore could wield,
When the night came silently lay
Dead on Culloden’s field.’
Verse 3:
Burned are our homes, exile and death
Scatter the loyal men.
Yet ere the sword cool in the sheath
Scotland will rise again!’
The words were actually written by an Englishman, Sir Harold Boulton, about 120 years ago. He used a Gaelic song format, a rowing song called an iorram, and the tune is said to come from the Gaelic song ‘Cuachan nan Craobh’ or ‘The Cuckoo in the Grove’. Since then many people have covered the song including Rod Stewart and Tom Jones.
Songs and poems were a key part to the Jacobite Risings with both sides using their power to influence the public and record the events of the time. Hopefully this short introduction has been interesting and you can always search for the songs online to have a listen. As always please blog, share, tweet, follow, comment and spend an evening enjoying the songs of the Jacobites if you can.
All the best, K & D