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The Tuesday tree: a forest etched in history

October 11, 2011

Driving north to the Cairngorms the other day, we passed over the gorge of Killiecrankie. This beautiful place with the clunky name is famous for two things. One is the splendour of its dense mixed woodland, which covers the slopes of the steep hillsides all the way down to the river and which blazes with colour in late autumn. The other is its bloody place in the history of Scotland’s Jacobite rebellions. The first battle fought in the Jacobite cause happened on these slopes in 1689, when government troops were routed by a highland charge led by John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee. One of the fleeing government soldiers is said to have made a tremendous leap right across the river: you can still visit the site of ‘The Soldier’s Leap’, and try to imagine whether you too could jump the five and a half metres (about eighteen feet) if the incentive were strong enough. (If the incentive were otherwise certain death from the claymore of the slavering beserker charging at your backside, perhaps you could…)

Driving over the Pass of Killiecrankie always seems a little unnatural to me. Only for the past quarter century or so have you been able to bypass it like this: before the short elevated section of the A9 was built, the road took you winding through the thickly wooded glen, a slower but prettier route. These days, the woods pass by in a blur as cars and lorries race each other along the new road. As an inveterate moving-car-photographer, I tried to take a photo of the woodland from the passenger window as we drove past. The inevitable result: a blurry picture, where the scrubby birches by the side of the road seem to have scribbled over the background forest. But I am rather pleased with this accidental effect. A gentle touch of sepia, and this blurry shot seems to suggest something of the melancholy history of the place, and of the terror of flight from that headlong downhill charge on a summer’s day more than three hundred years ago.

There’s a little bit more travelers’ history of Highland Perthshire in ‘A lonely glen, a loch and a visit from Rabbie Burns‘.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. October 11, 2011 7:00 am

    To lower the tone – we also regret the old road, every time we speed past on the fast new one (usually overtaking a caravan or two). Not for its wooded, melancholic charms and forlorn echoes of brave deeds, but for the now defunct Little Chef. Ideally placed between Edinburgh and our destination. Dunkeld is too soon, the mecca of Bruar too ghastly, tho thousands love it, Dalwhinnie sliding downhill and now closed, Newtonmore/Kingussie/Aviemore too late. But a cup of tea and a toasted teacake at the Little Chef – heaven indeed! When the children were younger, add in a little adventure along the Soldier’s Leap paths, and it was a blissful interlude on our journeys to and from Moray.
    Sorry. I will now let others meditate appropriately on your beautifully atmospheric post. (But I wouldn’t mind a toasted teacake…)

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      October 11, 2011 2:51 pm

      Chuh, honestly, you just can’t get the readership these days.
      Now you’ve got me thinking about toasted teacakes, bother it.
      😉

  2. Toffeeapple permalink
    October 11, 2011 9:20 am

    I like the image very much, ghostly and eerie.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      October 11, 2011 2:53 pm

      Oh good, thank you – I’m glad that it’s not just me who sees it!

  3. hmunro permalink
    October 11, 2011 10:37 am

    Another characteristically wonderful post, DB. Your image is absolutely gorgeous — as is your imagery of “this beautiful place with the clunky name.” You’ve painted such a vivid picture of this place, and of its history … thank you.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      October 11, 2011 2:55 pm

      I’m glad you think it worked! It is a most beautiful glen, and I am always happy to chunter on about Scottish history. 🙂

  4. October 11, 2011 8:19 pm

    I love that photo. Sometimes the ‘accidents’ become the gems. And I seem to remember an old folk song about Killiecrankie?

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      October 11, 2011 10:59 pm

      Yes, that’s right: it’s a song with rather a good tune, though I can remember only a couple of lines of the words by heart. I must look it up again.

  5. October 12, 2011 12:08 am

    Picture of time flying by? Events of old flying into the future?
    Great shot. As a lot of history, your comments, descriptions, and photos make thing I read much more real. Thanks

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      October 12, 2011 5:28 pm

      A pleasure – thank you.

  6. October 23, 2011 7:28 pm

    We will be driving up the A9 next Sunday en route to the north coast, DB. so i will pay special attention when we pass Kiliiecrankie.

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