Saturday, 31 October 2009

It's a Wonderful Life

Thought I'd celebrate my 200th post with a favourite song of mine. Just so happens to coincide with one of my all time favourite movies.
Unfortunately, I can't find the original. But any version of this song is good.

I hadn't heard the acoustic version before and I think it's superb.

If you're struck by it it you can by the original album for less than a fiver from Amazon.

Go yourself a favour.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

The Well of the Seven Heads

DRIVE along the shores of Loch Oich - one of three lochs forming Scotland's Caledonian Canal - and you will find yourself amid some of the most spectacular Highland scenery imaginable. The view across the loch from the store in the village of Invergarry is breathtaking.
While you're standing there your eye will be drawn to a large monument taking you back to an era when this part of the west Highlands was a brutal, lawless place and whose very name evokes blood and gore - the Well of the Seven Heads.It is a tall needle-like monument topped by a sculpture of a hand holding a dagger and seven severed heads - a stark reminder of one of the most gruesome episodes in Scottish clan history. Warfare among the clans was commonplace in the 16th and 17th centuries but this was a bloody tale of internal strife among different sections of one of the largest clans in the Highlands, the Macdonalds. What is striking about the story of the Well of the Heads is the overwhelming sense of vengeance and power masquerading as justice which typified the clan system and over which the authorities in Scotland had no control.In somewhat typical Highland fashion the story begins with a fight which got out of hand. On 25 September 1663, Alexander, the 13th chief of the Keppoch family, powerful members of the Macdonalds, and his brother Ranald were killed by their cousins at a brawl in the mansion of Insch, just outside the village of Roybridge. The two Keppoch men had just returned from schooling in France and had thrown a rather grand party. One theory behind the argument is that their cousins began mimicking their French accents and mannerisms and the situation escalated. Others claimed the killers had been set up by more prominent members of the clan to rid them of an unpopular, reforming clan chief.Whatever the truth, the upshot was that two leading clan members lay dead. The killers were well known, Alexander Macdonald and his six sons from Inverlair, near Roy Bridge. They had been engaged in an argument with the Keppochs over a piece of land, which undoubtedly contributed to the killings, but in a part of the country dominated by the Macdonalds they had many sympathisers, particularly among "ordinary" people who regarded the Keppoch boys as "gentry". Time passed and no justice was meted out. But vengeance brewed within one man, Iain Lom, or Bald Iain, a kinsman of the victims and an important figure who held the title of Gaelic Poet Laureate of Scotland. He was known locally as the Keppoch Bard.Bald Iain embarked on a seeming one-man crusade to make the Macdonalds at Inverlair pay for what had happened. He first approached a fellow clansman, Lord Macdonell of Glengarry and Aros, who at the time was regarded by the Scots Privy Council as High Chief of the Clan Donald. But Macdonell did not want to get involved.His next stop was Sir James Macdonald of Sleat but he too was hesitant to become involved in the affairs of a fellow tribe. But Bald Iain had a trump card up his sleeve. The two murdered men had been fostered with Sir James at Duntulm Castle on the Isle of Skye. The vengeful Bard travelled to the castle and appealed to the chief's emotions in dramatic and biblical language. "Abel is cold and his blood is crying in vain for vengeance. Cain is hot and red-handed and hundreds are lukewarm as the black goat's milk," Bald Iain told Sir James.His ploy was successful. Sir James applied to the Privy Council in Edinburgh which issued letters of "fire and sword" against the killers. Sir James' brother Archibald - the Warrior Poet - was put in charge of 50 men who were sent to avenge the killings of two years previously. Bald Iain was there to guide them to the Macdonald home at Inverlair where, after a brief struggle, the seven known killers - and probably more - were murdered and decapitated.The Bard was satisfied; he had his revenge and he wanted to prove it. He wrapped the severed heads in his plaid, tied them together with willow rods and set out for Glengarry. Before presenting them to Lord Macdonell at Invergarry Castle, Bald Iain stopped to wash them in the waters of Loch Oich, at the site where the grim obelisk now stands. The heads were then sent to Edinburgh where they were "affixit to the gallowes" between Edinburgh and Leith.The monument at the side of the A82 road was erected in 1812 by the then chief of the Clan Macdonell. The story was by this time verified by the exhumation of a mound on the lands of Inverlair, close to where Tulloch Station on the main Glasgow to Fort William rail line now stands. The mound revealed at least seven headless corpses. Bald Iain had got his bloody vengeance after all.So next time you stand by Invergarry admiring the scenic beauty of Lochaber, cast a glance into the waters of Loch Oich. It might just turn a curious shade of red.

Courtesy The Scotsman.

It's quite easy to miss the wee marvel as it's situated on a pretty fast road, the A82 between Invergarry and Laggan with limited parking. But it's well worth the effort. Especially on a beautiful Autumn day.

It's been a while since I posted a good gory tale and I think this one makes up for that.

I'm not sure if you can make out the inscription on the base of the obelisk. It's on all four sides in four languages. English, Gaelic, French and Latin. Just in case there's some Latin scholars passing by I guess. Click to enlarge and you should just make it out.
In case you can't make it it is in full :

As a memorial of the ample and summary vengeance which in the swift course of Feudal Justice inflicted by the orders of the LordMcDonnell and Aross overtook the perpetrators of the foul murder of the Keppoch family, a branch of the powerful and illustrious clan of which his Lordship was the chief.This monument is erected by Colonel McDonald of Glengarry XVII. Mac-Mhic Alaister, his successor and representative in the year of our Lord 1812.

The heads of the seven murderers were presented at the feet of the noble chief in Glengarry Castle after having been washed in the spring, and ever since that event which took place early in the sixteenth century it has been known by the name 'Tobat nan Ceann' or The Well of the Seven Heads.

This is the view across the loch from the monument. Rather attractive don't you think, given the bloody goings on.

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Monday, 26 October 2009


Now this is bizarre. I was warned to expect something unusual...... but I wasn't quite prepared for this. It's reckoned to be the UK's most remote tennis court....... and if anyone knows better I'd be delighted to see it.

Just so you don't think I took the pic to try to emphasise it's remoteness, I did a 360 degree panorama to illustrate what surrounds it.

I love the note on the sign........ 'available for hire every day of the year except Sundays'......

For those of you who are unaware...... Sunday is still the day of rest on Harris. You don't break the Sabbath.

I have to admit I was dubious about this Sabbath thing until I spent some time there. Not being a committed Christian it all seemed a bit antiquated to me.

And yet, having experienced ONE Sunday on Harris....... I'm coming round to understanding it's relevance.

Tough luck if you're a tennis fanatic and Sunday's the only day you get a chance to play though?

What do you think about this Sabbath observance?

Anyone for tennis? (not on a Sunday though!)
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Thursday, 22 October 2009

Calanais, Lewis

This was something of a pilgrimage for me. I've wanted to see these stones for more years than I care to remember. To make the visit with my 12 year old daughter made it even more special.

The Callanish (Calanais in Gaelic) Stones have been standing since 2900 BC.

Take a minute to think about that.........

Three thousand years before Christ arrived. (and that was supposedly two thousand years ago).

Puts it into perspective a bit.

Situated on the west coast of Lewis, these stones are made of Lewisian gneiss. Dontcha just love the way 'Lewissian gneiss' just trips off the tongue. I can't get it out of my head. (As ELO once said).

The historical bit, courtesy Wikipedia:

Construction of the site took place between 2900 and 2600 BC, though there were possibly earlier buildings before 3000 BC. A tomb was later built into the site. Debris from the destruction of the tomb suggests the site was out of use between 2000 BC and 1700 BC.[1] The 13 primary stones form a circle about 13 m in diameter, with a long approach avenue of stones to the north, and shorter stone rows to the east, south, and west (possibly incomplete avenues). The overall layout of the monument recalls a distorted Celtic cross. The individual stones vary from around 1 m to 5 m in height, with an average of 4 m, and are of the local Lewisian gneiss.

.........'Lewisian gneiss'.......

Say it out loud.......

We stayed for about an hour, my daughter wandering around with the dog, me clicking away like a madman. We timed the visit pretty good in that the weather changed quite dramatically and we had the place pretty much to ourselves.

........ Again, from Wikipedia, that magical duff source of info......

The first written reference to the stones was by Lewis native John Morisone, who in c. 1680 wrote that "great stones standing up in ranks [...] were sett up in place for devotione".
The tallest of the stones marks the entrance to a burial cairn where human remains have been discovered. An excavation campaign in 1980 and 1981 showed that the burial chamber was a late addition to the site, and that it had been modified a number of times. Pottery finds suggested a date of 2200 BC for the erection of the circle. It has been speculated, among other theories, that the stones form a calendar system based on the position of the moon. Professor Alexander Thom suggested that the alignment of the stone avenue (when looking southward) pointed to the setting of midsummer full moon behind a distant mountain called Clisham.
Critics of these theories argue that several alignments are likely to exist purely by chance in any such structure. In addition many factors such as the weathering and displacement of the stones over the millennia mean we can never be certain of any original, possibly intentional, alignments.

Confirming our good fortune, as Fiona, Molly (the dog) and I rested on a bench coming down the hill, a busload of American tourists started to pass us by on the way up to the stones. There must have been forty of them. Nothing against tourists or Americans (in fact they all took a delightful interest in the dog), but it would have altered the experience quite profoundly if we'd been an hour later.

....... I can imagine the place being packed with nutters at the summer solstice......
Again Wikipedia states......
Local tradition says that giants who lived on the island refused to be converted to Christianity by Saint Kieran and were turned into stone as a punishment. Another local belief says that at sunrise on midsummer morning, the "shining one" walked along the stone avenue, "his arrival heralded by the cuckoo's call." This legend could be a folk memory recalling the astronomical significance of the stones.

.......But I'd reeeeaaaally like to be the only one up there on Midsummers night to watch for the 'shining one' and listen out for the cuckoo......

wouldn't you?

....... and one more time........ LEWISIAN GNEISS

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Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Autumn Colour, Scotland

Took these last week between Invergarry and The Well of the Seven Heads (more about which later). A nice example of the colour of Autumn in Scotland I think. Not that I like Autumn of course.
I like the semi submerged jetty in the top pic for some reason. And the reflection of the clouds in the bottom pic was irresistible

Monday, 19 October 2009


Driving south on Harris, I passed this bench and screeched to a halt. Something about it just appealed to me. I liked the idea of people sitting there and forgetting themselves and leaning back..........

........ and given that these are the views from the bench, forgetting yourself is a distinct possibility.

The rock formations around this beach at Sellebost are stunning. It's a feature of Harris and Lewis. I'm no geologist but I can imagine those who are foaming at the mouth at the sight of these rocks.

Don't forget you can click to enlarge these pics to get the full effect.

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Saturday, 17 October 2009

Luskentyre, Harris

If you're not too busy, come with me for a wee stroll down to Luskentyre beach on Harris. The weather's fine, not too cold, not too windy, in fact pretty darned good for October.....

This is the path leading down towards the beach where a burn finally makes it out to the sea.....

Looking back up towards the little car park.

It really is a remarkable place. The sand is so unusual.... feels like you're walking on demerera sugar. You can take a handful and squeeze it tight and it stays in a perfect impression of your clenched hand.

I'd love to see what it looks like during a storm.......

And also what it feels like on a beautiful summers day.......

Takes a bit of beating as a picnic spot though. Pity I didn't have any sammiches.
The hills in the distance are the Island of Taransay.
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Friday, 16 October 2009

Hebridean Skies

Just back from a week in Harris and Lewis. First time I'd been there. I always thought that Skye would be tough to beat for beauty, but Harris does it hands down. An amazing place which has to be seen to be believed.

This was the view from my daughter's bedroom window. Not a bad sight to see first thing in the morning when you pull the curtains back.

And something you quickly get used to seeing on Harris......... sheeps. They're everywhere. And I mean EVERYWHERE!
There are no restrictions on sheep, they can roam freely. It's hilarious. You find them in the most ridiculous places, bus shelters, your front doorstep, leaning against your car......
I woke up one night to find one in bed with me......... but that's another story....

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Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Hebridean Journey

I'm off to Harris, a Hebridean island off the west coast of Scotland for a week to see my 12 year old daughter.
Hopefully I'll have lots of pics of the island and some places in between to post for you when I get back.
Don't miss me too much.....

Monday, 5 October 2009

Would You Build This For Gordon Brown?

Nice piece of architecture....... blue sky......

Ornate masonry.......splendid columns......

Gargoyles even!.......

Sphynx?....... so where is it?..... Rome......Paris.......London?


Erected in 1851 by the good citizens (for citizens, read landowners) of Forfar in recognition of the Tory who would become a Liberal, Sir Robert Peel. That's right, he of Peelers fame.

They were apparently so grateful for the part he played in repealing the Corn Laws they felt it necessary to dip into their pockets to erect this memorial to him.

They obviously had too much money.......

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Saturday, 3 October 2009

Song of the Week

Continuation of a theme........ I've been listening to The Doors this week. Forgive the rubbish video and concentrate on Jim Morrison's incredible voice.
I guess I like it fine....... so far.
Not sure how old I was when I first heard this album (around 12 I think) but I remember the occasion. I was ill in bed with some mildly disabling ailment (mumps springs to mind).
My brother came home with an armful of LP's. We had a dansette which he brought up to my bedroom and allowed me to play the LP's on the understanding that if I were to scratch or damage any of them I would die a slow and painful death.
Three albums stood out and I played them side by side continuously for about a week.
They were Waiting for the Sun by The Doors, Songs of Leonard Cohen, and Wee Tam and the Big Huge by The Incredible String Band.
Thinking back, I don't think my brother ever did me a bigger favour. Those three albums shaped my musical taste from that moment on. Let's face it a Rock God, a poet and a bunch of off the wall Scottish hippies played a profound influence on the developing mind of this 12 year old. Up to that point I thought the only music available was what they played on the radio.

RIP Gordon and Jim.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Summer's Almost Gone....

October eh? I know I'm raging against the dying of the light here, but just before we forget them, here's some blue skies for Skywatch Friday.

Ok, there's a suggestion of a cloud in this one....... but it's a very near perfect blue sky.

These were all taken on the same day around Lintrathen a few weeks ago.

The forecast here for the next few days?.......... Heavy rain...... Can't wait!

Now where's my wellies?

Brownie points to anyone who can identify the band whose song makes the post title.

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