August 16, 2013

Old, old Scottish History

“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”  Winston Churchill

Carol writes:

CULLODEN BATTLEFIELD:  One of the most pivotal points in Scottish history was decided on April 16, 1746, on the battlefield at Culloden.  Under the leadership of Bonnie Prince Charles, the Jacobite Highlanders of the House of Stuart sought to retake the English throne from the house of Hanover, English royalty of German descent.  At Culloden, the Highlanders were soundly defeated in only one hour, and over 1000 men lost their lives.  For over two centuries, Scottish culture and traditions have been trying to recover from the events that occurred on the battlefield at Culloden. 

Today the battlefield looks much as it did 250 years ago.

Simple, unadorned engraved stones mark the respective areas where each Highlander clan was buried.

The English government troops had their special area set aside too.

A simple stone house with a thatched roof that was there on the day of battle has been nicely restored.

So…for the past 250 years Scotland has been a part of the United Kingdom; however, the yearning for independence has never totally disappeared.  Interestingly, we were just recently informed that one of the ballot questions in the next election will be a question on whether Scotland should withdraw from the United Kingdom and become its own independent country.  That will be an interesting election result to watch.  In our conversations with locals, we have heard both sides of what is a very complicated issue.

CLAVA CAIRNS:  Very near Culloden Battlefield, we visited a fascinating Neolithic burial site called Clava Cairns, stone monuments which were built 3000-4000 years ago.  We have been waiting to see some really old burial sites like this.  The simplicity and accessibility of Clava Cairns was especially nice.  


 At Clava Cairns the entrance shafts to the circular walled enclosures line up with the setting sun at the winter solstice, a feature found in many ancient stone sites.  It has always fascinated me how in-tune ancient civilizations were with their environment, the moon, the sun, the stars, and the passage of the seasons.

ORKNEY ISLANDS:  One of the things you think about a lot on any open-ended trip is how far should we go?  In our case, we wondered how far north on the Earth we would be able to travel in the British Isles.  We took the paved roads as far north as we could on the Scottish coast, and it was a spectacular drive!  We camped in a Caravan Club site that was right above the beach at Dunnet’s Head with only the grass-covered coastal dunes between us and the water.


The question we had to decide was whether we should book a car ferry to the nearby Orkney Islands for a few days of camping.  The exorbitant ferry pricing for camping cars caused us to reconsider taking the RV over.  We booked a day excursion instead, and that turned out to be the right decision.  Our ferry/bus tour covered pretty much everything we wanted to see and, for a change, Al could sit back and relax and let somebody else do the driving.

The Orkney Islands are a group of about 70 islands, but only 16 or so of them are inhabited.  Our bus tour would drive us around the largest Orkney Mainland Island and across the connecting Churchill Barriers to two smaller islands.

Our fascination with the Orkney Islands, aside from being the northern most point in our travels, was due to its WW II history and its Neolithic history.  In WW II a large portion of the British fleet used Scapa Flow as a safe harbor when they were not on patrol.  Unfortunately, the Germans knew this and on October 14, 1939, a German submarine snuck into the harbor and sank the battleship H.M.S. Royal Oak with a terrible loss of 833 lives.  As a result, Winston Churchill ordered giant rock barriers to be built in four areas that could be used to gain entrance to the Scapa Flow harbor.  These are known as the Churchill Barriers.  The Orkneys were also used as prisoner-of-war camps.  A delightful little chapel was constructed by some of the Italian prisoners so they would have a place of worship.  Our first tour bus stop was at the ‘Italian Chapel.’


It is the Orkney Islands Neolithic history that has put it front and center in the archeological world.  This summer’s ongoing excavations have attracted worldwide attention.  The 4000-year-old Skara Brae site, uncovered by a great storm in the winter of 1850, is one of the most remarkable monuments in Europe.  For us, this small Neolithic village was the highlight of our day trip.


Our bus tour also took us to two “standing stones” sites—the Ring of Brodgar

and the Standing Stones of Stenness—not of Stonehenge notoriety or complexity but equally fascinating nonetheless.

Our visit to the Orkney Islands had taken us to the 59th degree of latitude, marking it as our farthest point north.  We were delighted with our day excursion to the Orkney Islands, one of the more remote locations on the Earth and also one with a fascinating recent and ancient history.

“The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible.”   Albert Einstein


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