Well we’ve reached the tenth day of our adventure, and after losing consecutively at cards and then at spoons, I know that the kids haven’t tired of us entirely. Today we struck a mixed note of somber history with some terrific moments of brevity. It was another one for the books!
We began the day driving out from Fort William and set out to see some of the breathtaking landscapes before finishing our trip today in Stirling and tomorrow in Edinburgh. We passed some absolutely stunning scenery, but our trip to Glencoe was both beautiful and sad. This Glen marks the place where in 1692, Clan MacDonald was called to entreat with Clan Campbell in the harshest part of a Scottish February Winter. Tradition dictates that rival highland clans would grant each other safe passage, meals, and lodging, when it came to settling clan disputes. This time though, the new King of England – William of Orange, had given the Campbell’s permission to execute all of the MacDonald’s under the flag of truce- breaking a long standing Highland tradition. During the middle of the night, the Campbell clansmen snuck into the room housing the MacDonalds, and began murdering MacDonalds indiscriminately. Some of the MacDonalds were able to flee into the nearby mountains, only to freeze to death in the snow storm that rocked Scotland through the rest of the month. The Glencoe Massacre resonates today in the Scottish mind as one of the greatest betrayals in the history of the Jacobite period, and truly demonstrated how shifting clan allegiances and ongoing feuds were tied into the wider conflict between Scotland and England. We were fortunate enough to share this experience with the descendents of two Campbell’s- both Ms. South and Lexi both have ancestors who are traced to this Clan, so it was particularly fascinating for us to connect this saga to their living descendents alongside us. There are no “bad guys” in this story- it seems that the MacDonald’s had done some pretty terrible things as well. The three mountains in Glencoe, with their cascading waterfalls were thereafter called the three crying sisters. The landscape is literally weeping for the thirty-eight men, women, and children who lost their lives in the ongoing battle between England and Scotland.
Knowing that we needed a happier note for the day, Oggie had the suggestion that he would take the kids to meet “two of his friends” from the area. With this ambiguous statement, we were off! Little did we know that Oggie took us to an adorable little roadside cafe that featured two “highlan coo’s,” named Hamish and Honey. The kids loved feeding these two MASSIVE cows potatoes and carrots. Their tongues felt like sandpaper, and I confess that they were absolutely a delight to see up close. It was precisely the type of activity we needed after taking in so much heaviness with our focus on Glencoe that morning. We kept the laughs going, as we visited Doune Castle. This is a restored Castle near Stirling that has been featured in Outlander, Game of Thrones, and most famously- as the Castle of the “taunting Frenchman” from Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail. The kids delighted in hearing Python veteran’s commentary on the castle, and loved dressing up as various Outlander characters as well. While much of the Castle has been restored in nineteenth century standards, it still gave us an opportunity to see some beautiful stonework, and a look at how the sixteenth century Earls of Scotland lived in luxury!
We left Doune Castle tickled with remembering some of the greatest scenes from the movies, and headed for Stirling and its own beautiful castle. I can’t help but to confess how sad it was for me to be showing all our students their final Castle in Scotland. But Stirling did not disappoint. In what was otherwise a rainy and rather ugly weather day, the sun came out for us in our final hours in Stirling Castle. This impressive stronghold held beautifully renovated chapels, and a Great Hall that gives you the opportunity to sit as the King and Queen of Scotland once did! Stirling was so strategic in nearly all points in Scottish history. The Battle of Stirling Bridge is nearby. At this battle William Wallace successfully beat the English calvary by developing a particularly ferocious strategy involving Scottish pikemen. The Battle of Bannockburn (which we will see tomorrow), was the great victory of Robert the Bruce that made Scotland autonomous from England (for a time). Both of these battle sites were fought around Stirling, and legend has it that anyone who held Stirling Castle controlled all of Scotland. No wonder that both the Scots and English traded control of the castle over ten times!
We had our final game night. I lost a lot, but it was too much fun, and Ms. South and I have continued to have such a good time just hanging and playing games. While my cold has often brought me down over the course of the day, you guys have kept my spirits up! It’ll be a great day tomorrow for our last day. I think we have a birthday to celebrate… I think Lexi’s gonna be fifteen…. Breakfast is tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. Be sure and have everything packed as we head back to Edinburgh for souvenir shopping, perhaps another visit to Edinburgh Castle? Maybe Holyrood? We’d like to stop in Bannockburn, and to take some time at Dunfermline Abbey as well!