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Sunday, June 20, 2010, heading to the Caledonian Canal

 

Hi everyone. We’re just leaving Inverness today to head into the Caledonian Canal. Last week, we were in Inverness, and we stayed there this week, enjoying the town and preparing for Sammie and Jack to arrive.

We signed up for a walking tour in town, and it provided us with new insights about the role of Inverness in Scottish history. More than that, it gave us an opportunity to walk around town with a large man in a bright red kilt and knee socks. Our guide suggested that this is what makes the cars stop for the group, but my experience is that people around the Highlands dress up in a kilt on the smallest provocation. He was quite dismissive of the descendents of Scotsmen who visit Inverness for the sole purpose of getting married in a skirt (okay, I’m the one who always calls it a skirt). Apparently, they who do not wear a kilt for a living, such as Bonnie Prince Charlie and our own tour guide, don��t seem to get the shirt right. Apparently the black shirt favored by the groom on his wedding day is highly untraditional, and disturbing to a local purist. We also heard anecdotes about the Scottish clans and their constant moving in and out of power, and the various rebellions against England and each other whenever outsiders weren�����t a threat. There is one church with no spires, because they ran out of money before they could be built, and another church with so much money that it has something like seventy-five stained-glass windows. In fact, there are dozens and dozens of churches in Inverness, although, like the rest of Europe, they serve more as landmarks than benchmarks.

The Town House, where the government meets, is a stately building marking the center of downtown. Apparently the mid-nineteenth-century provost John MacKenzie was so unhappy that the governors were arriving for the parliamentary sessions inebriated that he commissioned some construction across the street. The face of the building opposite the Town House still features a dozen or so Bible passages, such as “Woe unto him that giveth his neighbor drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also.” To me, providing Bible passages visible from the parliamentary session sounded a bit like locking the barn door after the cow is already drunk, but I have no data to support this contention.

In town one night, we watched the youth band Charleston & Nairn Pipes & Drums perform at twilight in front of Inverness Castle. This was a performance, unlike the march we’d seen in Orkney. During some of the songs, two young women took the stage and danced a Highland dance. Later in the evening, we stopped at the Hootananny, all at once a music venue, bar, and Thai restaurant, where most evenings traditional music is played downstairs. Several locals sat around a table and followed each other’s lead playing traditional songs.

There were some sights we didn’t visit. Culloden Moor was the site of the final battle of the Jacobite uprising, in which Charles Edward Stuart (or Bonnie Prince Charlie to his fans) attempted to overthrow the reigning House of Hanover and restore the House of Stuart. This battle happened in 1746, and although it was a defining loss for the Jacobites, it’s very important to the locals, who view the rebels as heroes. It’s just a battlefield, though, so it didn’t appear to be worth the travel for us, for whom it doesn’t have the meaning of, say, Gettysburg to an American. Another site we overlooked was Cawdor Castle, best known because it was the setting for Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the Thane of Cawdor. Not only was the story quite fictionalized (the real King Duncan was killed in battle, not assassinated, for example), but the castle wasn’t even built when the events of Macbeth supposedly took place.

When our guests arrived on Saturday, we discovered that we’d touch the Jacobite uprising after all, among other historical events. Jack and Sammie took us to the castle of Jack’s maternal ancestry, the Kilravock castle of the Rose clan.

This clan arrived in Scotland at the time of William the Conqueror, settled on the spot in 1293, and began constructing this castle in the fifteenth century. Additions have been constructed over the years, and the last Baron to live there (in this case, a Baroness) stayed until only about ten years ago.

The tour took us through the grand rooms and up into the old tower. We saw the painting of one of the Rose women playing a mandolin-like instrument called a cittern for the visitor Robert Burns, with the instrument itself on display. Charles Dickens sent a large bookcase as a hospitality gift when he stayed there. And Bonnie Prince Charlie was entertained there days before the battle of Culledon. Soon afterwards, the castle hosted his enemy, the Duke of Cumberland. The room that housed Mary, Queen of Scots is now a sort of shrine to her. We didn’t realize that we were traveling with such esteemed company as Jack. And he still has another castle to see in Ireland from his paternal lineage.

In the evening, we walked back into town to take in traditional music one more time at Hootananny. This being Saturday night, the setup was a little more formal, with the band on a raised platform at the front of the room, and selling their CDs from an open violin case. The band was most certainly a local group, with a violin, an accordion, and drums, and all of the players were barely out of their teens. The violinist was cheerful when she addressed the audience before a song, but played with a stoic concentration that made her look like she was posing for American Gothic.

We’re still enjoying Scotland, with its blend for us of familiarity and yet endearing cultural differences. Onward to the Canal.

Love, Karen (and Art)