A different kind of travelogue. As an avid young traveller I often wondered what would it would be like when I got older, gathered commitments, created children and accrued debt. This is what it's like.
Scotland is heaven.
I know it’s not heaven for most people. For those that think it is heaven it’s really not that close for most of the year.
I need to learn more about Scotland. One of my favorite wee blogs about Scotland is GridNorth. Have a wee peek.
Given the stories he puts up I think it’s only fair to warn you that we had ridiculously good weather and this is not representative.
We were in Scotland in early summer. There had been snow all over the Cairngorms a week or so before and yet it was sunny when we got there. Well it was intermittently sunny which is even better. You just never knew what was around the next corner and you never knew if you were going to even see it when you got there. We saw plenty. There were no midges. Midges are the bane of all Scottish outdoor activities. We were lucky.
I’ve previously spent some time up in the Outer Hebrides and a lot of time in Glasgow. Both good. Both unique. But this trip we were looking for a bit of the Highlands and so we took to the high road.
We are a family of 4 in a small car and we were rewarded with a brilliant road trip. There are a lot of beautiful roads in Scotland. It seems that if you get up into the mountains but not up into the clouds/mist/rain then you are going to see some amazing country
Empty country though.
I couldn’t help marvel at the emptiness of it. Apart from the roads there was little sign of human inhabitation. Barely a house. The wilds looked wild but they were not that wild.
The history of the Clearances of the Highlands is an ugly and unforgotten story. As with so much of the history that joins Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales, it is a story of powerful people stepping on less powerful people with a generous serving of peri-reformation confusion. The short version is that during the 18h and 19th Centuries the law in Scotland was changed. Clan system out, new Scots Law in. The people that changed it were the people that benefitted most from the change. Vested interests. The largely Gaelic small scale farmers and their families were removed, forcibly, from common lands and “enclosures” were formed. These enclosures were no longer “common” and larger land-owners could fence it, keep people off it and put sheep on it.
It was about sheep, industrialised farming practices and the joys of supply and demand. But it was also about subjugation of the predominantly Gaelic, Gaelic speaking, often Roman Catholic populations that were on the land to start with. While catholics were a minority in Scotland by the time of Highland Clearances they were the majority in the Western Highlands. They were moved. They were moved to poorer, often hopeless land, or they were encouraged or forced to migrate to North America or Australia.
It is a serious business this part of history. As usual. There are many versions, many myths, many revisionists and many blatantly biased arguments out there. It cannot be denied that there was a widespread belief that the Gaelic/Celtic human was inferior. I refer to George Combe and Robert Knox. The major newspapers, The Scotsman and The Glasgow Herald, and senior public officials, such as Sir Charles Trevelyan and Sir John McNeil, all promoted racist non-sense that would shock almost anyone. Almost. A certain Mr K. Marx was living in London while the clearances were going on and referred to them in Das Kapital as “reckless terrorism”
And so I am staring at these beautiful mountainsides, great vistas unstained by human settlements but indelibly stained by the actions of the glutton, the racist and the opportunist. There was death here. The Living take the high road. The Dead take the low road.
We drove past huge estates kept now for wealthy people to go hunting grouse and deer. We gazed at the giant homes of families that profited from the clearances.
We drove past Balmoral; the privately owned summer retreat of the British Royal Family, bought by the German Prince Albert in 1852, towards the end of the clearances and some 12 years after he had married his cousin Queen Victoria.