The Heart of Scotland

Leaving Edinburgh yesterday morning I decided to give Stirling Castle a miss and set off over the Forth Bridge and due North. Not only did this rapidly put a few miles between us and the industrial lowlands but it presented an unplanned opportunity to visit Scone (pronounced Scoon) Palace, situated just the other side of Perth. The Stone of Scone is, of course, another name for – yes, you’ve guessed it – the Stone of Destiny and how could I resist the opportunity to embellish the story of my own meagre claim to be part of its history?

We found the palace easily enough but the visit began rather uncomfortably when the air was riven with a blast of amplified rock music coming from a huge stadium set up in the grounds. Happily this was just a test of the sound system with the actual concert not due to begin for a couple of hours so I made a note to keep our visit short. The Palace itself is none too special: some nice paintings and a few important pieces of French furniture (apparently brought over in rather a hurry just as the tumbrels were starting to roll out of the Bastille) but the current building only dates back as far as the seventeenth century.

It is the seat of the Earls of Mansfield, ennobled for their support of James II during the Jacobite rebellion but just how they managed to snag the historic twelve hundred year old coronation site of the Kings of Scotland for their garden folly, I’m not too sure. A small mound no more than a couple of metres high is crowned with a tiny chapel, a replica of the Stone of Destiny and a pair of artfully placed birch-twig stags. This is Moot Hill, sometimes called Boot Hill after the practice adopted by visiting nobles of emptying their boots of soil brought from their homeland in homage to the New King. This all sounds so unlikely that it was a surprise to find that core sampling has shown that the mound does indeed contain material from all over Scotland.

While it wasn’t very exciting to see, I did at least get my one and only opportunity to sit upon the throne (the pictures kindly taken by a stranger are out of focus, of course) and soon we were on the road again. We arrived at Invermoriston on the shores of Loch Ness by early evening and found a wonderful welcome at the Craik Na Dav Bed and Breakfast hostel. This doggy-friendly guest house (and the Ladies have gone to bed now so I can’t ask what the name means) has been a lovely base for a days’ exploration of the region and it will be a shame to check out tomorrow morning but the far North beckons.

The day included some unbelievable photo-opportunities with a boat trip on the Loch and a drive past the highest mountain ranges in Scotland to the ravishing Eilean Donan castle and finally over the Skye Bridge for a brief visit to the innermost of the Western Isles. Of course there are quite a few souvenir shops and visitor attractions dedicated to the famous monster hereabouts but if that is what gets the visitors excited then who am I to complain?

Most of Eilean Donan Castle is a picturesque, early twentieth century re-build but its guides were surprisingly knowledgeable and more than willing to spend time explaining and de-bunking the most persistent of the Victorian myths about Scottishness. The young man who specialised in swords and siege engines (I’ll skip the remarks about his impressive seven foot weapon) was kind enough to introduce me to his colleague Fiona and she told me all about the evolution of traditional Scottish dress.

It was much more interesting to find out about the ancient use of a plaid (the name actually means blanket) as both sleeping cover at night and wrapped around the waist as outer clothing during the day. The highly individualised use of natural dyes meant that a person’s place of origin could be identified by the distinctive colours of whatever plants and minerals had been available locally. Whilst Clan allegiance was certainly of paramount importance in the Highlands and Islands, those brightly coloured tartans so beloved of all who claim Scottish heritage are a comparatively recent invention. Even the name Tartan is a derivation of the French “tiretain”, meaning woven cloth.

In summary, it was a hugely enjoyable day and I look forward to posting the best of the photographs in due course.


Categories: Britain, Scotland

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