Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Christmas Adventures - Fort George

While gazing out over the Moray Firth one morning, I noticed a strange feature in the distance. On the farthermost point across the Firth was a strange section of coastline that looked more the stone wall of a castle or fortress.  
Click to enlarge
A little while later, I was reading a tourist brochure on attractions in the Inverness area and thought that a local military fort sounded interesting. I flipped over to the map page and discovered that the attraction, Fort George, was the exact thing I had been looking at across the Firth! Well if that wasn't a good reason to visit...

[In researching this blog post, I realised just how little I know about British history between 1600 and 1800. With each step back in time, I discovered that I needed to take yet another step back in order to better understand the information I compiled. As with any study of history, one is essentially always in the middle of another, bigger, story, and the researcher must always work out just how much of the bigger picture is necessary to gain a good understanding of an event, person, or topic. At the end of the day, there is no right or wrong answer, and it often comes down to personal preference just how much 'bigger picture' or 'background knowledge' is taken into consideration. Thus, forgive me if you find the extent of historical information in many of these blog posts is too much or too little for your liking (Incidentally, if you want more history, pay me to tell it to you or write it for you. I shall be well pleased to do this, and your historical knowledge will increase abundantly as I have ample time for such pursuits as this!).]

So, we come to the story of Fort George, embedded in the larger history of Scotland, and woven into the fabric of the United Kingdom.

In 1685, King Charles II made a deathbed conversion to Catholicism and passed away, leaving his brother to become King of England, Scotland, and Ireland. King James II quickly caused concern amongst his subjects with his increasing religious tolerance and his ties with Catholic France. His daughter, Mary, was the heir presumptive, protestant, and married to her Dutch, protestant cousin, William of Orange. When James II's Catholic wife gave birth to a son in 1688, daughter Mary, her political and religious allies, and her Dutch husband decided it was time to take action and protect the United Kingdom from the Catholic sympathies of the King. 

In June 1688, William of Orange landed on English shore accompanied by an army, set to attack the King's forces. The invaders were soon joined by defecting protestant officers, and the King's other daughter also joined the opposition. King James II was disinclined to launch a counter-attack and instead fled to France, to his ally King Louis XIV. In his absence, parliament refused to depose the King, but did decide that the throne had been left vacant and would thus fall to daughter Mary. Mary and her husband happily took up the throne and ruled jointly for five years (William for a further eight years after Mary's death), and parliament passed a law decreeing that no Roman Catholic would be able to ascend the English throne, nor could any monarch marry a Catholic. 

The attack by William of Orange became known as the 'Glorious Revolution'. It had important consequences for the development of England: most importantly as it ensured that Protestantism maintained its firm footing, largely through the suppression of Catholicism; and it created modern parliamentary democracy after the 1689 Bill of Rights which ensured no future monarch would hold absolute power, and any citizen could petition the monarch without fear of reprisals. Interestingly, the economic and military co-operation between the Netherlands and England would help to shift the dominance in world trade from the Dutch Empire to the British Empire. 

While many Scots soon accepted the new King and Queen, there was a faction of mainly Highland Clansmen who remained loyal to the former King James. Known as 'Jacobites', these supporters viewed the new monarchy as part of an illegal coup d'etat, and set about trying to return James, and later his descendants through the House of Stuart, to the Scottish and English thrones. From 1688 to 1746, the Jacobites took part in a series of  rebellions and uprisings, including two major campaigns in 1715 and 1745.

In the Jacobite Rising of 1745, the grandson of James II, Charles Stuart, attempted to regain the monarchy for the House of Stuart. Charles, also known as 'Bonnie Prince Charlie' and 'The Young Pretender', was supported by a number of clan chieftains  as well as some Irishmen and Frenchmen. While Charles had promised to arrive with troops and munitions, by the time he landed in the Hebrides he had little of either, and lost the support of some chieftains. Nonetheless, on August 19 Charles raised the standard at Glenfinnan in the western Highlands, and set off southwards. The Jacobite force was around 3,000 men at this stage, and was largely supported by the clans MacDonald, McPhee, MacDonnell, and Cameron. Much of the British Army was flighting in Belgium and Germany in the War of the Austrian Succession, and there were few troops available to fight what they thought was a large force of Jacobites. Soon, the rebels had taken Inverness, Perth, and much of Edinburgh, and the English had put a bounty on Charles Stuart's head. Throughout August and September 1745, English and Jacobite forces clashed throughout Scotland, but Charles Stuart had one goal - the monarchy. 

On November 8, a Jacobite army of over 5000 foot soldiers and 500 cavalry entered England. Soon, the forces had taken Carlisle and Manchester, and on December 4, they reached Derby, a town just over halfway between the Scottish border and London. Stuart pushed for an assault on London but there was a fair amount of resistance from the Scottish clansmen, who believed English militia in London would be too strong for the Jacobites. They began their retreat, and, though they continued to battle with British troops, by April 1746 Jacobite success looked a dim prospect. 

On April 17, 1746, Jacobite and British troops met on a boggy moor in Culloden, near Inverness. Despite an impressive 'Highland Charge' against bayonets and muskets, the Jacobites suffered heavy casualties. The Battle of Culloden became the last formal act of the Jacobite Uprising. Many Jacobites were imprisoned and executed, though Charles Stuart escaped to the Isle of Skye, then on to France where he spent the remainder of his life as an exile. 

Following the Battle of Culloden, the British government introduced ruthless measures to prevent such a Rising happening again. Twelve kilometres from Culloden, the ultimate defence against further Jacobite unrest was established. Fort George, named after King George II (1727–60) was designed as the main garrison fortress in the Scottish Highlands. Designer, Lieutenant-General William Skinner, mapped out a complex of ramparts and massive bastions, ditches and firing steps. The defences were heavily concentrated on the landward side of the promontory, from where an anticipated Jacobite assault would come. The remaining seaward sides were protected by long stretches of rampart and smaller bastions.

Aerial view of Fort George,
Photograph of photograph in exhibit at the Fort
Fort George, is the mightiest artillery fortification in Britain, if not Europe. Positioned strategically on a promontory jutting into the Moray Firth, Fort George was intended as an impregnable army base – designed on a monumental scale using sophisticated defence standards. It took 20 years to complete, and, if built today, would cost nearly £1 billion. Within almost a mile of boundary walls was accommodation for a governor, officers, artillery detachment, and a 1600-strong infantry garrison. It also housed a magazine for 2,500 gunpowder barrels, ordnance and provision stores, a brewhouse, and chapel.

(Thanks to Historic Scotland for the above figures. If you want to know more, visit their website)

Later in the 18th century, after the Jacobite threat had evaporated, the Fort became a recruiting base and training camp for the rapidly expanding British Army. It seems to me that Fort George was somewhat of an over-reaction, an expensive show of power by the British Monarchy to any lingering rebellious elements in Scotland. It is perhaps a little disappointing that such an imposing fortress has not seen any conflict, nor had any attack launched against it. It rather feels like it deserves a chance to show off its impregnability!

Fort George is still a working army base today, so it added a touch of excitement to see soldiers walking around the complex. There is a munitions museum on site, and it was crazy to see so many guns on display, and see things like bayonets up close! We also enjoyed wandering around the vast complex, and looking at the canons out on the outer walls. In summer, you can often see dolphins swimming in the Firth, but it was bitterly cold when we visited - there was a light dusting of snow the previous day - and the dolphins were off holidaying in the Mediterranean.

The Dog Cemetery - unfortunately not open to the public
These big houses were once accommodation for VIPs.

The chapel was pretty, and clearly still holds an important place in Army life. We were amused to see the stained glass window (below) which features the only known stained-glass bagpipe-playing angel!!!

One of our favourite parts of Fort George was the historic barrack section, possibly because it was about 4 degrees outside and this was the only section of the complex that was heated....

This area featured three replica rooms based on life for soldiers in the mid-1800s. At this time, soldiers slept five to a room, while married couples shared a room - with only muslin curtains to provide some privacy. The room below is what an officer's room would have looked like, with enough space for a writing desk and an area to entertain visitors.

We were pleased to read the plaque below - the example of a rank-and-file soldier's life was that of a Private Moffat! (I should mention that it was great being in Scotland - in England we're often asked to repeat our name, and always asked to spell it. In Scotland, no one blinked an eye, and understood us first time, every time.)

We would have liked to spend longer poking around Fort George, and listening to all of the excerpts on our hand-held audio guides. Unfortunately it was bitterly cold, but we managed to last for just over two hours. Time to head back to the bothy, to a warm fire and a hot drink.

Hopefully the history lesson was not too dry nor long, but I found it fascinating to learn more about the events that have shaped Scotland, and its relationship with England. Also, our bothy was a mere five minute drive from the battlefield of Culloden, and fifteen minutes from Fort George, so it felt especially relevant to delve into the story of the local area. 

One final note - those Highlanders who took part in the Jacobite Uprisings were by no means a majority, but as a result of their actions, Parliament passed the 'Heritable Jurisdictions (Scotland) Act 1746', which abolished traditional rights of jurisdiction of clan chiefs, took power previously possessed by Scottish lords and gave it to sheriffs, and took away a chieftain's right to call men to arms. Parliament also passed the 'Act of Proscription 1746' which was an attempt to crush the clan system and prevent future rebellion. This Act made the wearing of traditional Highland dress a punishable offence, and forbade Highland Scots from keeping arms. The Act was repealed in 1782.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Christmas Adventures - Hunt for Nessie

I must say, I'm surprised we haven't had any more comments on the photograph at the bottom of our Hadrian's Wall post ( Or is it that our friends and family are so clever that you all know what those creatures are that are hanging off the farmer's fence??!! If you don't know, I'd love to hear your guesses - you'll be surprised when you hear the answer!

Now, back to our Scottish Holiday. After having a whole lazy-day on Christmas Day, I was itching to get out and about on Boxing Day. Most tourist places were closed, so I managed to convince Adam that we should drive to Loch Ness and search for Nessie.

  • Loch Ness is situated on a geological fault that runs from Inverness (to the north) to Fort William (in the south) - and yes, this did make me a little nervous! 
  • The loch is over 36 kilometres long, 2.7 kilometres across at its widest point, and, in its deepest place, the bottom lies 226 metres down... 
  • Loch Ness contains more fresh water than all the other lakes in England combined.
  • The water is relatively murky, due to the high peat content of the soil around the loch.
  • Loch Ness is also incredibly beautiful - much like the rest of Scotland...

Unfortunately, after searching the azure water for quite some time, neither of us had made any sightings of anything even remotely suspicious. Though this duck could almost pass for a prehistoric monster. Right??

 We also saw one of the search-for-Nessie tour boats, and wished we'd booked a trip on the stunning loch.

Next, we went to the Five-star Loch Ness Exhibition Centre at Drumnadrochit for a revision session in Nessie mythology. The information was interesting, but we agreed we'd rate it more of a three-star attraction, and probably not worth $14 NZD per person. However, it was not a waste of time, mostly because we got to see this:
(a submarine that took part in a search for the monster) (And Adam)
And this:
(A water horse - one of the original mythological creatures said to inhabit the Loch Ness. Cool stuff.)

When we'd finished at the Exhibition Centre and its gift shop, we drove to Urquhart Castle, a ruin on the shores of the Lake that makes a magnificent backdrop for pictures. Unfortunately, it was closed and my morals refused to allow us to jump the fence and enter anyway, like so many other tourists were doing... Morals are such a nuisance, eh?

To console ourselves, we drove a bit further around the lake and took some more pictures.

As it was then growing ever colder and darker (i.e. it was nearly 3pm), we decided to abandon our hunt for Nessie and head back to our bothy with its warm fire. 

Well, that was another thing crossed off my bucket list - though unfortunately we didn't even catch a glimpse of anything suspicious on the lake. Loch Ness is an absolutely stunning place; both of us agree we'd go back in a heartbeat, and I'd thoroughly recommend you all try and visit that part of the world. 

Scotland's geography is pure magic, mythological monsters or not.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Christmas Adventures - Christmas on the Moray Firth

After waving a fond goodbye to Moffat, we began the four hour drive to Inverness. The scenery along the drive was so beautiful, and the roads were good - dual carriageways for almost the entire journey. The first part of the drive reminded us of driving through the Mackenzie Country and through the Waikari/Culverden areas of the South Island - altitude, hills, tussock, green grass and yellow fields. Stunning. 

Next was the beautiful (I'm running out of adjectives, Scotland!) Cairngorms National Park. The park has a tourist town called Aviemore, so again we felt right at home as back in NZ, Adam's family go camping at Lake Aviemore each summer! (Also, for any readers who don't know New Zealand - the majority of our place names are carbon copies of UK ones. In both London and Christchurch (NZ) there are suburbs called 'Bromley', 'Bexley', 'Addington', 'Northwood', 'Islington', 'Richmond', etc, and one of our biggest cities is called 'Dunedin' - Little Edin(burgh) - and was closely modelled on the Scottish capital. Another piece of trivia - it is common for sheep farms and high-country pastoral leases to have Scottish names, such as Braemar, Kilmarnock, and Ben Nevis. When we came across road signs pointing the way to these places I must say I felt a little homesick!)

After leaving the National Park we continued north-west, towards Inverness. Our holiday home turned out to be a little bit east of Inverness, right on the shore of the Moray Firth. 

The location was just perfect, and over the week we stayed we loved being able to sit inside and watch such glorious scenery outside. My favourite part was in the evenings when we cranked the fire up, turned the lights off and opened the curtains to watch the twinkling lights around the Firth. I don't think I could ever get bored of living beside the sea.

The cosy bothy
Now to tell you about our Christmas.
When I got out of bed at 8am on Christmas morning, this was what greeted me: 

Looking north-east. The smoke is from a timber factory.
While we were in Scotland sunrise was officially 9am so it was very confusing to wake up at 8am and it still be dark outside. However, it meant that each morning one could watch the sunrise whilst eating breakfast, which felt like a great privilege. After taking some more photographs, we sat down for breakfast.

Looking West - Inverness is further left of the picture
Christmas brunch - coffee, croissants, and fruit.

And then decided to open our presents from each other, and from family back home in New Zealand.

The wee Christmas Tree

Thanks, Mum and Dad!
Yes, after all my hard work unwrapping presents
I had definitely done enough.
We took a break and read for a while, before preparing Christmas lunch. We took the lazy route and bought a basted chicken that came already tied up in an oven bag, inside a foil tray. All I had to do was take it out of the fridge, pop it into the oven, and voila!

Before long we were drinking our French brut (purchased in Paris) and eating a lovely dinner of roasted chicken, potatoes, kumara, parsnip, and peas drenched in gravy. 
What a view!
(My stomach is already longing for next Christmas lunch, when I shall eat yams or die trying!! I have missed them *so* much over the past 15 months. My grocer friend, Mike, tried to grow some and was mildly successful - only a small crop this year, but hopefully next year's efforts will yield more yams. Or 'Oka' as they will be known over here.)

After lunch, we ventured outside for some exercise. Unfortunately, we had about 15 minutes of sun with a bitterly cold wind before a rainstorm swept through and we had to rush back inside to our lovely warm fire. We did manage to take a few glamour shots, though.
Taken with our great 50mm camera lens
See? The lens takes great portraits.
Such a beautiful backdrop
The last rays of sunshine for the day
We shall definitely treasure our memories of this low-key Christmas in its truly stunning location.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Christmas Adventures - A Clan visit to Moffat

The Scottish town of Moffat is a former coaching stop and spa town, and is the ancestral home of the clan Moffat. The name is derived from the Gaelic magh and fada which mean 'field' and 'long', so - 'from the long field'. It is located just over the border from England, and is one hour south (by car) from Glasgow.
Moffat is marked by the large 'A'
The border is marked in red.
Also note the location of Inverness, in the north

In historical times, Moffat was a market town that served four parishes and was a hub for farming communities on the hill lands north of Moffat, and for dairy and arable farmers to the south. It was of particular importance to the wool trade, and the Moffat Ram proudly attests to this heritage. There is also an interesting local geographical feature known as the Devil's Beef Tub (a 150m deep hollow) that was used by the Johnstone and Moffat clans to smuggle cattle.

In the early part of the 17th Century, a mineral well was discovered in Moffat. Soon, the town became known as a spa town with healing waters, and it reached its heyday in Victorian times, when the wealthy would travel from far away to "take the waters" in the bath houses of Moffat.

I found this delightful passage in a historic advertisement: "Vicarlands House: A Hydropathic Establishment. Board with medical attention and use of baths - 2 pound 2 shillings per week. Smoking strictly prohibited, lights out by 10:30pm, bath attendants start operations at 5:30 am, early rising will be habitually enjoined and expected."

Another establishment, the Hydropathic Hotel, was opened in April 1878. It was a luxurious spa hotel with 300 bedrooms and cost £87,000 to build. During WW1, convalescing soldiers stayed at the hotel. Unfortunately, it burnt down in a fire in 1921.
The Hydropathic Hotel
For 150 years the town thrived on its name as a spa destination, but the depression of the 1920s saw wealth dwindle, while the development of new medicines meant less reliance on the healing properties of mineral waters. Around this time agriculture was also suffering a decline, pushed out by forestry, and Moffat’s main selling-point now is as a tourist town. There are many walking routes over the Moffat Hills, and Moffat proclaims itself as a "walkers are welcome" town! (Which made us feel right at home!)

Historic Map of Moffat
Some other gems about Moffat, largely compiled from the website.

In 1837, the Statistical Account described Moffat's residents as "particularly clean and decent", with "gross acts of immorality...seldom heard of", and English that was "among the best be found in any Scottish village". When the Account was compiled, Moffat boasted 50 weavers, 6 shoemakers, 6 tailors, 2 bakers, 5 masons, 1 surgeon, and 1 watchmaker.

According to "Graham's 'Social Life of Scotland in the Eighteenth Century'", "In spring there meet round the little wells of Moffat a throng in their gayest and brightest from society in town and country, sipping their sulphur waters and discussing their pleasant gossip ... city clergy, men of letters, country gentlemen and ladies of fashion and the diseased and decrepit of the poorest rank, who had toilsomely travelled from far-off districts to taste the magic waters."

I also found this wonderful picture in a local history book that was lent to us while in the B&B in Moffat:

"The Mighty Men of Moffat, A Legend in their Time" - a local tug-o'-war team!!
I'm not sure of the date of this photograph, though.
Unfortunately it rained the entire time we were in Moffat, but we braved the cold and raced around in the rain like nutters to take these pictures:
The mascot of the Moffat RFC is The Ram
Internationally famous for its toffee!

This is the Moffat House Hotel, designed by John Adam, a famous Scottish Architect.
He also designed Fort George, which you will hear more about in another blog post.
The Moffat Hotel and its bar - Adam's Lounge Bar!
The Town Hall and the Police Station, side-by-side
We also had a wee look around the town cemetery, and stumbled across the grave of Francis Moffat. 

In the mid-sixteenth century, the Moffat clan came under attack, and was unable to appoint a successor chief. Without a chief, the clan officially ceased to exist(!), and many of its members left the UK to avoid persecution.

After many years, Major Francis Moffat returned from fighting in World War Two and began to research his family history. After 35 years of research, Moffat confirmed that his family was directly descended from the last Moffat clan chieftan.

In July 1983, Major Moffat was proclaimed "Chief of the Name and Arms of the Family of Moffat" by the Court of the Lord Lyon (the official heraldic authority of Scotland), and was able to assume the title of "The Moffat of That Ilk", or clan chief. 

In case you're wondering - he appointed his daughter as his successor, so after his death, the title has fallen to her.

Moffat - what a place!!! It was a small town, but we enjoyed our time there and were reluctant to leave. Luckily, the rest of Scotland proved equally as awesome...