Sunday, December 14, 2014

Day 17 - Fort William, the Highland Museum and the Train to Edinburgh

We start the day at the Alexandra Hotel and another wonderful Scottish Breakfast,
just in case we hadn't gained enough weight already.

"Resistance is Futile".

We wander down High Street, made for walking and discover the West Highland Museum (

The West Highland Museum is one of the oldest museums in the Highlands. It was founded in 1922 by a group of local enthusiasts led by Victor Hodgson, who had neither a collection nor a building to display it in. In 1925, after several temporary exhibitions and the acquisition of significant collections, the Museum launched a fundraising appeal, and in 1926 purchased the present building, a former branch of the British Linen Bank.

The Museum exists solely to collect, conserve and present items of significance and historical and cultural interest related to the West Highland area.

The collections span a wide range of subjects, from archeology to odern industry, with a special emphasis on the Jacobite risings of the 18th century. They are an independent charity, financed almost entirely by donations.

The first rooms of the Museum are dedicated to the Commandos.

The Commandos were established on the instructions of Prime Minister Winston Churchill immediately after the Dunkirk evacuation in June 1940, as a means of striking back against the German armies occupying Europe. They formed an elite force capable of conducting irregular warfare in a range of different environments and went on to serve with distinction across the globe.

During the war 1,700 Commandos lost their lives, while many others were seriously wounded: and eight men serving with the Commandos were awarded the Victoria Cross.

In 1942 the Commando Basic Training Centre was established at Achnacarry Castle, some six miles north west of the site of the monument. Volunteers would arrive at Spean Bridge railway station, and would then march the seven miles to Achnacarry Castle, past the site on which the monument now stands. Any not completing the march in under an hour immediately failed the course and caught the next train south, back to their units. Training was carried out over large parts of Lochaber and was highly intensive, often using live ammunition.

Achnacarry Castle is the ancestral home of the chiefs of Clan Cameron, located at Achnacarry, about 24 km NE of Fort William, Scotland. The original castle was built around 1655 and destroyed after the Battle of Culloden in 1746; a new house in Scottish baronial style was built nearby in 1802.

Ewen "Eoghainn MacAilein" Cameron, XIII Chief of Clan Cameron, built the highly disputed Tor Castle (said to have been on Clan Mackintosh lands) in the early 16th century. Tor Castle would remain the seat of the Camerons of Lochiel until demolished by his great-great-great grandson, Sir Ewen "Dubh" Cameron, XVII Chief.

Sir Ewen Cameron wanted a "more convenient" house, which was further removed from the Clan Mackintosh, Clan Campbell and Oliver Cromwell's garrison at Inverlochy Castle. He built Achnacarry Castle in around 1655 in a strategic position on the isthmus between Loch Lochy and Loch Arkaig. One of the few remaining descriptions relate that Lochiel's seat was "a large house, all built of fir-planks, the handsomest of that kind in Britain." Sir Ewen's Bard described the home somewhere around 1663 in song as "The generous house of feasting...Pillared hall of princes...Where wine goes round freely in gleaming glasses...Music resounding under its rafters." Others portrayed "old" Achnacarry as a "man's home," with the feel and look of a grand hunting lodge amidst the West Highlands.

With Sir Ewen's death in the early 18th century his son John became chief of the clan, soon after which his son, Donald would obtain Achnacarry when John went into exile in France after the first Jacobite Uprising.

From Donald Cameron ("The Gentle Lochiel") XIX Chief we find the best description of the grounds of Achnacarry. In his marriage contract a requirement was placed in which Lochiel had to build his wife "a the value of 100 pounds sterling at least, with gardens, office houses [privies], lands, other conveniencys." Donald was planting a long line of beech trees near the banks of the River Arkaig when word of "Bonnie Prince Charlie's" landing arrived in would be the last landscaping done at Achnacarry Castle for years to come.

With the Jacobite army's defeat at the Battle of Culloden in April 1746 the clans retreated into the Scottish Highlands, with Donald taking the lead in re-grouping them. After this last attempt at resistance failed, he and his men took to the mountains. On May 28, 1746, Donald watched as men from Bligh's regiment under the command of Lt. Colonel Edward Cornwallis, burnt Achnacarry to the ground. Many valued relics and personal possessions were relocated prior, but the great fir-planked "old" Achnacarry was left in ashes.

In 1802 Achnacarry, which had spent the last fifty or so years in ruin, was rebuilt under Donald Cameron, XXII Chief of Clan Cameron as a Scottish baronial style home, although this "New Achnacarry" is still referred to as a castle.

The current building and the surrounding estate gained fame as the Commando Training Depot
for the Allied Forces from 1942 to 1945. British Commandos, United States Army Rangers and commandos from France, the Netherlands, Norway, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Belgium trained there. Each training course culminated in an "opposed landing" exercise around the area of nearby Bunarkaig on Loch Lochy As live ammunition was used, there were some casualties whilst training at Achnacarry. The castle also suffered some damage due to fire.

Several military associations still sponsor a Commando March either annually or from time to time. Generally it is a timed seven mile march, in full battle gear, backpack and combat boots, from Spean Bridge (site of the striking Commando memorial) to Achnacarry.

We move on through the Museum and soon discover the Massacre at Glencoe.

Early in the morning of 13 February 1692, in the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution and the Jacobite uprising of 1689 led by John Graham of Claverhouse, a massacre took place in Glen Coe, in the Highlands of Scotland.

This incident is referred to as the Massacre of Glencoe, or in Scottish Gaelic Mort Ghlinne Comhann (murder of Glen Coe).

We encourage you to watch the documentary ( and listen to the beautiful song by John McDermott (

The order to kill the MacDonald's was signed by,
The massacre began simultaneously in three settlements along the glen, Invercoe, Inverrigan, and Achnacon, although the killing took place all over the glen as fleeing MacDonalds were pursued.

Thirty-eight MacDonalds from the Clan MacDonald of Glencoe were killed by the guests who had accepted their hospitality, on the grounds that the MacDonalds had not been prompt in pledging allegiance to the new monarchs, William and Mary.

Another forty women and children died of exposure after their homes were burned.

Leaving the horror of Glencoe, we discover Donn's relative: Simon Fraser, the 11th Lord Lovat.

Simon Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat (1667–1747), was a Scottish Jacobite and Chief of Clan Fraser of
Lovat,who was famous for his violent feuding and his changes of allegiance.

In 1715, he had been a supporter of the House of Hanover, but in 1745 he changed sides and supported the Stuart claim on the crown of the United Kingdom. Lovat was among the Highlanders defeated at the Battle of Culloden and convicted of treason against the Crown. He was the last man in Britain to be publicly beheaded, on Tower Hill, London.

The barony of Lovat dates from about 1460, in the person of Hugh Fraser, a descendant of Simon Fraser (killed at Halidon Hill in 1333) who acquired the tower and fort of Lovat near Beauly, Inverness-shire, and from whom the clan Fraser was called Macshimi (sons of Simon).

Simon was educated at King's College, Aberdeen, and his correspondence afterwards gives proof, not only of a command of good English and idiomatic French, but of such an acquaintance with the Latin classics as to leave him never at a loss for an apt quotation from Virgil or Horace.

Whether Lovat ever felt any real loyalty to the Stuarts or was actuated by self-interest is difficult to determine, but that he was a born traitor and deceiver there can be no doubt.

One of his first acts on leaving college was to recruit three hundred men from his clan to form part of a regiment in the service of William and Mary, in which he himself was to hold a command, his object being to have a body of well-trained soldiers under his influence, whom at a moment's notice he might carry over to the interest of King James.

His older brother, Alexander Fraser, was heir apparent to the barony and served in the army of Viscount Dundee (Claverhouse) at the Battle of Killiecrankie (1689). Soon thereafter, at a feast at Beauly, the piper was playing "Bittack" or "MacThomas", a song which includes the lines "There is a dirk upon Thomas' son rattling and glancing above the band of the breeches, when a knife might very well satisfy him; he has a sword and a shoulder belt, when a straw rope might answer him." Alexander Fraser took this as a personal affront and drew his dirk. While he afterward maintained that he meant only to puncture the piper's bag and stop the music, he fatally stabbed the piper. A Jacobite who had killed a man could expect no leniency from the government of William and Mary, so he fled to Wales and disappeared. With his older brother out of the way, Simon became heir apparent.

Among other outrages in which Simon Fraser was engaged about this time was a rape and forced marriage committed on the widow of the 10th Lord Lovat, with the view apparently of securing his own succession to the estates; and it is a curious instance of influence that, after being subjected by him to horrible ill-usage, she is said to have become seriously attached to him.

A prosecution, however, having been instituted against him by Lady Lovat's family, Simon retired first to his native strongholds in the Highlands, and afterwards to France, where he found his way in July 1702 to the court of St Germain.

In 1699, on his father's death, he inherited the title of Lord Lovat. One of his first steps towards gaining influence in France seems to have been to announce his conversion to Catholicism. He then proceeded to put the project of restoring the exiled family into a practical shape. Hitherto nothing seems to have been known among the Jacobite exiles of the efficiency of the Highlanders as a military force. But Lovat saw that, as they were the only part of the British population accustomed to the independent use of arms, they could be at once put in action against the reigning power. His plan therefore was to land five thousand French troops at Dundee, where they might reach the north-eastern passes of the Highlands in a days march, and be in a position to divert the British troops till the Highlands should have time to rise.

Immediately afterwards five hundred men were to land on the west coast, seize Fort William or Inverlochy, and thus prevent the access of any military force from the south to the central Highlands. The whole scheme indicates Lovat's sagacity as a military strategist, and his plan was continuously kept in view in all future attempts of the Jacobites, and finally acted on in the outbreak of 1745.

The advisers of the Old Pretender seem to have been either slow to trust their coadjutor or to comprehend his project.

At last, however, he was dispatched (1703) on a secret mission to the Highlands to sound out those clan chiefs who were likely to rise, and to ascertain what forces they could bring into the field. He found, however, that there was little disposition to join the rebellion, and he then apparently made up his mind to secure his own safety by revealing all that he knew to the government of Queen Anne. He persuaded the duke of Queensberry that his rival, the duke of Atholl, was in the Jacobite plot, and that if Queensberry supported him he could obtain evidence of this at St Germain. Queensberry foolishly entered into the intrigue with him against Atholl, but when Lovat had gone to France with a pass from Queensberry the affair was betrayed to Atholl by Robert Ferguson, and resulted in Queensberry's discomfiture. The story is obscure, and is complicated by partisanship on either side; but Lovat was certainly playing a double game.

On returning to Paris suspicions got afloat as to Lovat's proceedings, and he was imprisoned in the castle of Angoulême. He remained nearly ten years under supervision, till in November 1714 he made his escape to England.

For some twenty-five years after this he was chiefly occupied in lawsuits for the recovery of his estates and the re-establishment of his fortune, in both of which objects he was successful. The intervals of his leisure were filled with Jacobite and Anti-Jacobite intrigues, in which he seems to have alternately, as suited his interests, acted the traitor to both parties. But he so far obtained the confidence of the government as to secure the appointments of sheriff of Inverness and of colonel of an independent company. His disloyal practices, however, soon led to his being suspected; and he was deprived of both his appointments.

When the rebellion broke out, Lovat acted with characteristic duplicity.

He represented to the Jacobites, what was probably in the main true, that though eager for their success his weak health and advanced years prevented him from joining the standard of the prince in person, while to the Lord President Forbes he professed his cordial attachment to the existing state of things, but lamented that his son, in spite of all his remonstrances, had joined Bonnie Prince Charlie, and succeeded in taking with him a strong force from the clan of the Frasers.

The truth was that the lad was unwilling to go, but was compelled by his father.

Lovat's false professions of fidelity did not long deceive the government, and after the Battle of Culloden he was obliged to retreat to the Highlands, after seeing from a distant height his castle of Dounie burnt by the royal army. Even then, broken down by disease and old age, carried on a litter and unable to move without assistance, his mental resources did not fail; and in a conference with several of the Jacobite leaders he proposed that they should raise a body of three thousand men, which would be enough to make their mountains impregnable, and at length force the government to give them advantageous terms, but the project was not carried out.

Lovat was arrested on an island in Loch Morar. He was conveyed in a litter to London, and after a trial of five days (with evidence given against him by the fellow Jacobite John Murray of Broughton) sentence of death was pronounced on 19 March 1747. He was executed by John Thrift on 9 April 1747, the last man to be beheaded in England.

Shortly before the execution, a scaffold for spectators viewing the beheading had collapsed and left 20 dead, much to his amusement. This became the origin of the saying "laughing your head off".

Just before submitting his head to the block
he repeated the line from Horace: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, "It is sweet and right to die for your country."

The famous etching by William Hogarth shows Lovat awaiting execution in The Tower, counting with his fingers the various Clans that he had brought to his cause and battle to support the Stuart claim to the throne.

As we leave Lord Lovat, we discover the Fairie Pipes, originally played for Robert the Bruce at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.

We leave the Museum and head down High Street for a wee dram and see if we can raise the Clans once more.

Walking upright we're off to the catch the train for Edinburgh.

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