The Tuesday tree: a forest etched in history
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‘.