Saturday 31 December 2022

Top 10 Scottish Deaths: Part 1

 It's Hogmanay - the biggest Scottish festival of them all - so how better to mark it than with a countdown of the most notable deaths in Scottish history?

10. The Bonnie Earl o' Moray. 

The 2nd Earl of Moray, if the ballad written in his honour is any guide, was considered one of the most handsome men in Scotland. This did not protect him from being pursued in a vendetta by the Earl of Huntly, who attacked him at his castle of Donibristle in 1592. As Moray received his fatal blows, one slashed him across the face, leading to his famous (and likely apocryphal) last words:

"You hae spoilt a better face than yer ain!"

9. Mary, Queen of Scots.

The brief and tumultuous reign of Mary ended in 1567 amid accusations she had plotted to kill her husband and marry his murderer. Had she not be a woman and a Catholic, she may have gotten away with it, but on fleeing to England she transferred her problems to Queen Elizabeth. English Catholics believed Mary, not Elizabeth, was legitimate heir to Henry VIII, leading to Mary's end on the chopping block in 1587 when she became implicated in a Catholic plot against Elizabeth's life. Her execution was trigger for the launch of the Spanish Armada. That invasion of England ultimately failed, but Mary had the last laugh: her son James VI inherited the English throne, and moved his mother's coffin to its magnificent final resting place in Westminster Abbey. En ma fin gît ma commencement indeed.  

8. The Black Douglas.

Sir James Douglas was one of the great heroes of the Scottish wars of independence, right-hand man to Robert the Bruce. Loved by the Scots - to whom he was 'the good Sir James', his reputation was quite different across the border, where nursemaids crooned to their charges "hush pet, the Black Douglas shall not get thee." After the death of the Bruce, Douglas was tasked with taking the Scottish king's embalmed heart to the Holy Land to battle Muslims. En route, he found himself fighting on the Christian side at the Battle of Teba in Andalucia. Legend has it that on becoming outnumbered and surrounded, he flung the Bruce's heart before him shouting:

"Lead on, brave heart, as thou were ever wont to do!"

The Black Douglas has one of the most iconic deaths in Scottish history. Just a shame the story of his final moments cannot be verified by any contemporary source.

Image courtesy of Andrew Spratt

Will Douglas' be the last legendary end, or did the mythmakers get their hands on other historical figures?

 Find out after the bells when the countdown is continued...

Tuesday 27 December 2022

Big Walk Dreaming

Winter may seem a fallow season for outdoor adventures, but it is the season when seeds are planted, when dreams of future expeditions take shape. Reading Alex Roddie's The Farthest Shore recently rekindled my own plans and awoke a hunger I forgot I possessed.

Ardnamurchan Point:

Alex's book is the story of the Cape Wrath Trail (CWT), except he starts at Ardnamurchan Point instead of Fort William. Wait a minute, that's where I started when I did a similar route! Mine was in 1996, before the CWT existed as a concept, and I wanted a grand walk linking the westernmost point of the mainland, Ardnamurchan, with the north-westernmost: Cape Wrath. I wouldn't stick strictly to the coast but would take the most sensible line between the two points. 

Some parts were a revelation. Ardnamurchan itself, which I had never visited, is beautiful. Cape Wrath was a suitably awe-inspiring climax to the walk. And in between, the spacious backcountry around Maol Buidhe bothy proved a highlight.

Leaving Ardnamurchan, 1996:

It would be good to return and do a couple of bits I missed out back in 1996. I missed out the whole section from Inchnadamph to Kinlochbervie, having given up and gone home in terrible weather, to return only for the last couple of days of the walk to Cape Wrath. It would be good too to walk through Knoydart, which I skirted by going from Corryhully to Kinbreck bothy then out to the Cluanie Inn, then cheating a bit by taking a lift down the A87 to Invershiel before continuing. 

But that's not all! There's so many walks I'd like to do. The MacPhies of Colonsay, planned for 2022 but postponed through illness. My idea of the Grampian coast to coast, following a fault line from Knapdale to the Findhorn via the Buachaille. Large sections of the British coast. Once you start dreaming there is no end! 

But perhaps it is enough to achieve something more modest. Such as a weekend away, which I've just realised I haven't managed all year! My own hillwalking book, after all, is called The Weekend Fix. Hopefully in 2023 I will get a few more of them.

Tuesday 13 December 2022

December Snow

After the floods, the freeze.

The first inkling of the coming cold snap came on my morning commute. Snowflakes driven onto Edinburgh pavements, tourists stopping to photograph the scene.

We went next day to the local woods, crystals gleaming on moss.

Driving home I stopped to help an African fellow who had crashed. His car was bent, but fortunately he was OK. The magic of seeing snow for the first time had been replaced by a harsh lesson in the inconveneince of the white stuff.

But for us - oh, for us! This is when the fun starts.

The roads are bad, but if we can make it, the rewards are priceless.

May there be wonder in your December days: whether it's sunset from a mountain, or the sparkle of light on a patch of snow in your garden.