Objection to Application Ref. No. 20/01728/FUL

To the Inverness south area planning committee,

I am writing to object to the planning application of Land at TreeTop Stables, Faebuie, Culloden Moor, Inverness. Planning application Ref. No: 20/01728/FUL. My objection is based on a mixture of material issues and heritage impact concerns. This objection is submitted on the 26th May 2020.

I will get to the material concerns I have, but please read the following historical and heritage concerns first. To overlook or undermine these concerns would be a shameful disgrace.

There is no credible historian who would suggest that the area of Treetop was not marched through by part of the front line of the Hanoverian army in battle order, as the Austrians had done in theatres of war against the unpredictable Turks; which is a significant point and one that proves the importance of this area of ground to our understanding of the deployment of cavalry and foot soldiers by Cumberland, learning from his Austrian allies in Flanders, in the build up to battle against an unpredictable Jacobite army. Christopher Duffy has conducted the most significant study of this important build up which is published and available to you all in Fight for a Throne: The Jacobite ’45 Reconsidered (Helion, 2015) pp. 450-464. I have worked closely with Christopher for many years to understand the wider topography and tactical nuances of this battle site and the fact that his work and the work of Tony Pollard, Murray Pittock and others has not even been referenced in any of the application documents is telling of the ignorance of up to date research that we allow in the planning application procedure when it comes to developing such an important heritage site. As always since 2018, I am available to take councillors around the entirety of the battle site to give them an insight at any convenient time. Despite offering this several times, I have yet to be taken up on the offer.

This application is within both the agreed Battlefield Inventory Boundary and the Culloden Muir Conservation Area boundary for good reason: Because it is on the Battlefield of Culloden. The site of Treetop is very close to the position of the second line of the Hanoverian army. There is some academic debate to be had amongst knowledgeable historians who have not been consulted about this area of ground before development is proposed for it, as to the exact movements and positions. We know that part of the front line of the Hanoverian army moved through it; we know that cavalry were in the area and ended up on the right flank of the Hanoverian army at Viewhill and, debatably may have also split from this area or further east to end up moving from the area of the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) visitor centre to outflank the Jacobite army through the Culwhinniac enclosure to Culchunaig – depressingly, this description of manoeuvres now reads like a list of development applications since 2018.

Back to Treetop; the debate to be had is whether part of the second line of the Hanoverian army also moved through the ground in battle order and was positioned west of it; or whether they were positioned on it; or whether they were positioned slightly east of the area proposed for the accommodation.  This is not particularly a great issue, as whichever conclusion is drawn; all of them still define this as very much on Culloden Battlefield. What is certain is that the second line would not have been crammed up against the front line, which is absolutely clear from the way in which Cumberland was able to manoeuvre four regiments into tactical positions whilst Jacobites crashed through his font line on the Hanoverian left flank. Why can’t historians be more precise? Because battles are rarely measured in millimetre accuracy and the fact we are being asked to be so precise is undermining and ignorant of the expertise available and is completely ridiculous when we are talking about a fast-moving tactical deployment over a geophysically diverse battle site. The very worst thing we can do to that battle site if we wish to learn more about it; is cover it with developments.

What we know beyond debate is that the third line of the Hanoverian army was in the area of Treetop.  It was not a huge third line and Pultney’s regiment were brought forward to Viewhill before the battle began to be positioned beside the Royal Scots. Battereau’s regiment were brought forward from the third line to the right flank of the second line – almost certainly through, if not onto the land at Treetop. This left Blakeney’s regiment to the south and perhaps a little further east of the development. Even further east of this was the Hanoverian army’s baggage. We know from eyewitness accounts that Cumberland rode the lines of his army and spoke to every battalion. We also know that Hawley was in command of the left wing and Cumberland positioned himself to the more tactically advantageous position of command on the right of his army – The area around Viewhill and Treetop farm. This is a large area but, in a battle situation on a horse, anyone who thinks Cumberland was immobile and rooted to one position is imbecilic. He was in the area, without doubt. We also know that a soldier in Bligh’s regiment, in the middle of the second line, lost his leg after a cannon ball took it which had been aimed at Cumberland’s position – one of few injuries caused by Jacobite cannon fire.

All of this is proof that Treetop is on the battlefield of Culloden and to even infer or debate that it is not is ridiculous in 2020. It is beyond doubt. HES have suggested that the area of ground at Treetop was boggy because it was flat. This is highly likely, but it is not a certainty and there is absolutely no categorical proof to suggest it could not be moved across. The worst of the boggy ground was southwest of Viewhill, where the charge took place. It would have been useful if anyone had asked the NTS whether it would be possible to have LiDAR experts engaged to look at the LiDAR scan that I commissioned and includes this area to look into this in greater detail; but of course that has not happened – to the ridicule of everyone involved.

Ignorance is inexcusable when discussing developments upon Culloden Battlefield in 2020. It is also inexcusable to claim or infer that sites like this are not on Culloden Battlefield, as has been done in the G.H. Johnston Supporting Policy Statement (4.19, p.23) and HRI Architects Pre-Application Summary and Design Report (1.02, p.1). This must be called out and corrected by Councillors. I will again call on Councillors to call land that is on Culloden Battlefield “on Culloden Battlefield” in all public communications, including social media postings which I have recently been aware of. This is land within the agreed battlefield inventory area. Thankfully the applicant is fully aware that the site is on the battle site and that cannot be claimed otherwise, as I personally informed the applicant of this in great detail in 2019 at the public exhibition held at Treetop stables.

I would have hoped that the applicant would have committed better due diligence to review the documents that have been paid for and to ask the authors for more accurate reports with referencing. This is an important point because inaccuracies like these should be investigated and proper research should be committed when dealing with such an important inventoried battle site. It is a great disappointment that Historic Environment Scotland (HES) have not picked up on this and other inaccuracies in the application documents.

Inaccuracies in the documentation are not confined to the inference of being away from the battle site or out of site of the battle site. There are some pretty ridiculous inaccuracies in the Visual Impact Assessment by Benton Scott-Simmons. One of the most notable is that they do not seem to think the NTS own segments of forestry that they have owned for many years; along with the area of ground that the NTS visitor centre and car park are on. It’s publicly available information and they have failed to research it accurately. If this is inaccurate, what else is inaccurate? Due diligence must be displayed by Councillors and these documents must be reviewed where there is clearly inaccurate data.

There is some interesting use of trees as a supporting argument for giving this application approval in the planning documents. Trees are not permanent and tree cover is not a reason to allow development on a conservation area. As we know from the current Forestry and Land Scotland plans, much of the intervening forestry is due in the very near future to be felled. This completely undermines the applicant’s argument that forestry is an appropriate visual screen.

There is also mention of the “core” battle site. The “core” battle site is the entire battle site; and this battle was not fought in small pockets of hand to hand fighting as non-academic descriptions may confuse us; the battle of Culloden hung on the whole of the tactical deployments and manoeuvres that created the outcome. As we are well aware by now; less than one third of that is owned and protected by the National Trust for Scotland. The conservation area is the only protection for the wider battlefield and must be implemented by the Highland Council to the fullest effect against unnecessary developments such as this.

I would also, again, advise that both historical and archaeological knowledge must be combined, rather than just archaeological knowledge being requested. Archaeology tells us what was dropped and left behind; history tells us what happened based on knowledge of the build-up; records of; and outcome of the event. This is not the case in many applications, where basic archaeology is regarded as sufficient mitigation for proposals. In this application, a walk-over survey has failed to find anything deemed to be of historical value. Not surprising in the slightest – but are we saying that this means the sound evidence for this being part of the battle site can be ignored? I don’t think so.

It’s very interesting that AOC archaeology were paid in a commercial capacity to conduct the archaeological report, given that they are the authors of the Culloden Muir Conservation Area; a classic development tactic. We are becoming used to these and G.H. Johnston are also clearly well versed in tactical planning manoeuvres too. It is no surprise that G.H. Johnston are involved here as they have been with almost every application on Culloden Battlefield. What disappoints me about the AOC walk-over survey is how basic it is and how the background research is so sadly lacking in quality. There is a very random inclusion of a measurement of “200m” from some action, but no explanation of where from and where to that measurement has been taken; what action it is referring to; and any referencing to show where this information came from. As we have seen here, Treetop is not 200m from the battle site, it is on it.

That basic error of research by AOC is disappointing at the very least and I would encourage Councillors to be very concerned about this lack of academic quality when defining the area of the battle site. The report is also dated September 2016 – four years old. Archaeological research techniques have moved on dramatically since then and there is now a LiDAR scan and various pieces of historical research available which were not at that time. Are we happy to base a decision as important as this on an outdated and old archaeological report, given that there is so much more historical information available that proves this site to be one of importance?

The proposal for holiday lodges, a spa and a restaurant at Treetop is completely disrespectful to the battle site, the conservation area, its integrity and its conservation. Commercialism and conservationism are at odds in the Highlands at the moment and have been since at least 2018. The income generation on Drummossie Muir is substantial already and rather than increasing businesses on the site, an argument must be made that income already generated should be ring-fenced to be kept in the Highlands and to support the conservation of the site. The battle site will be damaged if the Treetops development goes ahead, but so will the opportunity for the Highland council to make sincere efforts to drive Highland tourism that sustains conservation and jobs in the Highlands in the future. It will also undermine the Highland Council’s conservation messages and support of Highland heritage and culture drastically.

The proposed development will also bring dangerous levels of traffic to roads which are already at peak levels during tourist season. It is argued that the road is not dangerous and there are a small number of vehicles using it. Are we supposed to completely ignore the fact that the survey was conducted between the 11th September 2017 and the 24th September 2017? This is one of the quietest periods of the year after the summer tourism season has come to an end and the October holidays are yet to begin. As manager of Culloden, this was the time of year when adjustments were being made and recuperation was beginning at the end of the coach and cruise season. This transport survey is not applicable to the season when both this proposed business and the area in general will be at its busiest. That must be considered. At the height of summer Culloden Road and the junction at the Keppoch Inn simply cannot stand up to additional traffic, particularly of the levels required to run a business like this. In managing Culloden Battlefield, I am also very aware that road maintenance and gritting of the B9006 is an issue and an increase of traffic is an unnecessary increase in roadwork requirements, maintenance requirements and risks to the public.

The development at Viewhill (Cairnfields) was passed after comments were made about the danger of the movement of school children as pedestrians under the railway bridge at Balloch. From my memory it was decided that, were there more houses, work would be required on this. What is proposed here will lead to pedestrians children included coming to and from Balloch. The problem commented on is now before you; so who is going to pay for the additional work for transport and pedestrian safety that was highlighted as being necessary by Councillors in the debate about Viewhill?

The infrastructure is simply not there to allow this development. This will lead to an addition to the backlog of maintenance needs, as well as an inexcusable increase of risk to the public. I wholly support the Council’s publicised aims to support sensible and necessary development and conservation of the Culloden Muir area and this decision is a prime example of an opportunity to make a very positive signal of those intentions by rejecting this application.

In another objection comment, it has been raised that an industrial shed has been erected on site at Treetop. As far as I am able to research, there has been no planning consent granted for this. This is presumably the same industrial structure that is described in the Pre-Application Summary and Design Report which is “A steel framed and profiled steel clad industrial building with large external plant and equipment storage” (1.03, p.1). Whatever it is, it clearly needs to be investigated by planning Councillors and Officers and, if there is any evidence that a building has been developed without planning permission, it must be investigated fully.

I make my case on several grounds for this proposal to be rejected:

1) It does not suit the historical importance and integrity of the surrounding area.

2) It brings dangers which should be avoided.

3) It will destroy conservation efforts which have been ongoing for generations and ignores the conservation area and the reasons for it being implemented by Highland Council.

4) It will destroy future information and data gathering which must be protected by our generation.

5) The necessity of the development for the local area is negligible, as is the support for other local businesses the development application claims it will give.

6) If absolutely necessary, a development like this would be better positioned elsewhere in the locality out with the inventory and conservation area boundaries where all of the above factors could be minimised. The applicant and the applicant’s family own such land and I would suggest they should investigate the potential of this development being sited elsewhere.

7) Tree cover is being used to support the application, but this is not permanent, not owned by the development owners and is not a reasonable mitigation for the impact the development will have. It is also clear that this forestry is in current felling plans and will be thinned and potentially completely deforested in coming years. It is also commercial forestry that was originally planted in the 1930s and 1950s and is not part of the historic landscape.

8) There is reason to investigate whether the applicant has erected a building without planning consent.

I ask, sincerely, that this proposal is rejected and that the conservation of one of our most important cultural assets is strengthened by a strong signal from Highland Council that we must protect our heritage. We have seen development applications fall onto the desk of the Inverness South Area Planning Committee at Viewhill; Treetops; Muirfield (shed); Culchunaig; Muirfield (house); and now Treetops (again) since 2018. If this application is given the go-ahead, we will see more. Highland Council must consider whether it wishes to protect the integrity of conservation at Culloden Battlefield. That choice is clearly now on the shoulders of those Council Officers and Councillors who will be debating this application.

I hope that my comments are helpful towards a sensible decision and that, if I can be of any assistance, the Highland Council will contact me directly. I intend to be available for this purpose.

Yours, with growing concern,

Andrew Grant McKenzie MA (Hons) FSA Scot

Highland Historian: Heritage Consultancy & Bespoke Tour Guiding

Former Property Manager of Culloden Battlefield and Visitor Centre (The National Trust for Scotland)

Objection to Planning Application 20/00967/FUL on Culloden Battlefield

To the Inverness south area planning committee (Highland Council),

I am writing to object to the planning application: 20/00967/FUL | Erection of house | Land 730M NW of King’s Stables Cottage Westhill Inverness

The developer describes their farm as a “Small family run farm on the edge of Culloden battlefield” on Facebook, so we cannot claim they are unaware of the site they intend to develop, as other recent development applicants have.

As you already know, I was made redundant by the National Trust for Scotland as Property Manager of Culloden Battlefield in 2018, and had worked there since 2008. My experiences in the management, conservation and academic understanding of the battle site as a whole give me an insight that I hope will not be overlooked or ignored, which unfortunately has been the case with historical information regarding many of the applications on the battle site.

I will outline some historical elements, but I will focus on material planning objections; knowing as I do that these matters do not come into discussions anywhere near as regularly as they should due to the planning process being entirely based on material planning considerations regardless of the fact we are dealing with such an important and significant historic site, which is currently being developed at a greater rate than it has ever been developed in history.

To be absolutely clear, here are my key material objections to the development:

  1. It is unnecessary – the recent agricultural shed was built to securely house machinery and the developer’s home is not far away. An additional house is not necessary.
  2. The additional road junction onto the B9006 will be dangerous – this area of the B9006 (I travelled it daily for 10 years) is already a dangerous corner and additional traffic coming onto the road at this point will add to the dangers.
  3. It is completely at odds with the policies outlined in the Culloden Muir Conservation Area published by Highland Council in 2016.
  4. The archaeological report is inadequate and inaccurate and has missed significant areas of knowledge and has ignored items previously removed. The mapping of the lines alone is completely incorrect and does not have any justification based on research. This MUST be addressed! I will be happy to advise. The sources referenced include no recent historical research and virtually no historical analysis at all.
  5. It is proposed on a greenfield site within a conservation area and a battlefield inventory – unless there is a necessity for it, which there isn’t, it should be rejected.

I trust that the NTS will object strongly against this development, but as the planning committee are aware, the NTS view of conservation at Culloden has changed significantly and their efforts have reduced since 2016. At that time I was still Property Manager, and I had put a very strong and affordable case for the purchase of land close to this development when it was available to the directors of that organisation. The response from them was that it would not be done for conservational reasons and due to it not being a commercial project; the plan I created to purchase large areas of Blackpark and Viewhill farms was stopped.

This is incredibly important, because if the NTS does not object, it is a continuation of a dereliction of duty to work towards conservation of historic sites all over Scotland, regardless of direct ownership, and evidence that the council must not rely on their opinion against developments as it has been doing in all recent applications. By this, I am referring to the regular phrases in the discussions before voting on applications such as “if the NTS doesn’t object, how can we prevent it” (not verbatim and said in the discussions over Viewhill and Treetops) and similar.

Instead, knowledgeable and expert advice – particularly historical – must be regarded as just as important as the objections of NTS and HES once were by the planning committee. I do, however, remain hopeful that they will object.

My objection is based on a mixture of points, but the material issues are clear; there is an increase of risk, particularly in relation to the additional junction at a particularly dangerous area of the B9006 which has already seen crashes in the past. The access road also cuts through a known area of the battle site and will destroy any future chance of categorically locating the Culloden Park Enclosure’s south east corner, where the last firing cannon was silenced with intense fire at the end of the battle. It was also the only geographically definite location of a Jacobite line, being the definite placement of the left flank of the front line. We must consider this area of the utmost importance in terms of any possibility of accurately mapping the battle site in the future. The walls in this location featured in a contemporary sketch by Paul Sandby.

The possibility of locating this area has already been damaged by the agricultural shed which has destroyed a known area of the battle site previously. If we were to be able to locate this corner, it would be one of the only definite geographical locators on the entire battle site and, from it; many other areas of the battle site would be able to be measured. It is VASTLY important that we do not ignorantly destroy this area!

The application also risks a damaging and irreversible impact on the area’s environmental conservation. This is the first development proposed on a Greenfield site since the introduction of the Culloden Muir Conservation Area in 2016. If this development, within a conservation area boundary and a battlefield inventory boundary on a greenfield site goes ahead, the “development floodgates” I warned of from 2013-2016 and we have seen come true will be a mere trickle by comparison. You must consider what precedent your recent decisions on Culloden Battlefield developments has already set; and what the decision on this one will set.

Since 2014 I worked with Highland Council to implement the Culloden Muir Conservation Area, which must be adhered to, but as a result of the Scottish Government reporter decision at Viewhill, this has previously been undermined, both before and during our discussions towards implementation; and afterwards. I would fully expect this proposal to be rejected in line with the Culloden Muir Conservation Area. This is yet another opportunity for Highland Council to stand up for conservation of a nationally and internationally important heritage site.

The very reason that Highland Council requested the Conservation Area was because, after I had discussions with the planning team about the mistakes made by the Scottish Reporter in their decision on Viewhill which brought unwanted pressure to Highland Council, it was realised that the area needed to be far better protected.

The Muirfield application before you now is clearly in conflict with the aims of the council to ensure that developers could not purchase land, put an agricultural building on it and then within a few years apply for luxury housing. This is exactly what has happened here. On the face of it, this is entirely contrary to the Culloden Muir Conservation Area’s raison d’etre.

I make my case on several grounds from the policies in the Culloden Muir Conservation Area for this proposal to be rejected:

  1. The proposal goes against policy 1 of the Conservation Area. It is not “for the repair, reuse and conversion of a redundant traditional building within the Battlefield and is of a design and finish sensitive to the architectural design, scale and finish of the original building.” I would push for the council to have a “presumption against development” which is policy number 1. The necessity of the development for the local area is completely unnecessary.
  2. Also in policy 1, it states “The design, scale, mass and detailing of any replacement building should be appropriate to the site and its setting and should reflect the traditional features of the Conservation Area.” This is completely not the case in this proposal and would be a case for ridicule if the Highland Council gave this proposal permission. However, this was also the case at Viewhill.
  3. It will destroy conservation efforts which have been ongoing for generations and ignores the conservation area and the reasons for it being implemented by Highland Council. Policy 2 in the Culloden Muir Conservation Area states “Proposals for new development within the designated Conservation Area must demonstrate that the development will either preserve or enhance the character and appearance of the Conservation Area.” This development is completely contrary to the character and appearance of the Conservation Area that I was an advisor to. It would make me feel that my work was being made to be a joke and that we are no longer putting any interest in conservation at Culloden Battlefield at the levels that truly make a difference if this is to go ahead. It will destroy future information and data gathering which must be protected by our generation.
  4. Policy 3 of the Conservation Area states: “All new development proposals must be supported by a fully detailed design statement clearly demonstrating how the development proposals will either preserve or enhance the character and appearance of the Culloden Muir Conservation Area.  It is expected that design statements will take account of all existing buildings, known historic environment assets and the natural landscape and its key features, including trees. Guidance on preparing a design statement is contained in Planning Advice Note 68 (PAN 68).” The known historic environment is much more detailed than any of the recent proposals, including this one have had the inclination to research. Until proper research is done, the research put into any development is inadequate. Have they even consulted the LiDAR scan? That would be a very small beginning to the research that should have been done.
  5. Policy 4… Again; the research is out there and it is available. It has not been consulted in this development and it has not been used to the extent that would define ‘proper’ research. “All proposals for new development must be supported by detailed landscape visualisations which will clearly show the visual impact of the proposals in respect of any recorded or known historic environment assets within the Conservation Area.  These visualisations shall be produced in accordance with an agreed standard.” Why, then, do the visualisations not include any visualisations from the Prisoner’s Stone and the Culloden Battlefield Trail?
  6. Policy 5 states: “Highland Council may require pre-determination archaeological investigation for any new development proposal that requires groundbreaking within the Conservation Area. The Council will notify applicants where archaeological work is required to support an application, and the scope of such works, on a caseby-case basis. Highland Council will resist development where there are significant archaeological implications.” Let me, once again, push for proper and holistic archaeological research. This should be a given in a Conservation Area. It has not been done and the GUARD report is inadequate and incorrect. If the council are minded to consider this or any other developments, it must come with clauses that are over and above the standard. Archaeological work must be full and as in depth as current technology will allow, paid for by the developers, before a decision on the proposal is made. Historians must be contacted to give an overview which is taken and considered seriously before proposals are granted permission. The LiDAR scan owned by the National Trust for Scotland must be reviewed and analysed by LiDAR experts, archaeologists and historians. This scan covers the whole conservation area. I would suggest that all of these things should be done anyway, regardless of the consideration of proposed developments. Without these things having been done, the decision is being made without the relevant information to make an informed decision given the potential repercussions.
  7. Policy 8 states: “There will be a presumption against any development within the Conservation Area which is likely to have adverse impact on the setting of important historic environment assets or the wider cultural landscape as identified in the designation.” This is Culloden Battlefield. There is a significant argument that the course of Highland, Scottish, British, European and World history was changed as a result of the actions which took place on this battle site. This development will definitely have an adverse impact on an important historic AND cultural landscape.
  8. Policy 10 states: “Where Highland Council is minded to support new development proposals within the Conservation Area the materials and external finishes must be of traditional and natural materials to ensure harmony with the surrounding natural landscape of the Conservation Area.” I cannot fathom how this can include this proposal.

GUARD who were brought in to do the incorrect archaeological report is NOT the academic Glasgow University Archaeological Research Division (also known as GUARD). That academic body includes Dr Tony Pollard who has been at the forefront of archaeological research at Culloden Battlefield. In his book Culloden: The History and Archaeology of the Last Clan Battle (Pen & Sword, 2009), he outlines his intent to return to this area and the importance of the south east corner of the Culloden Park Enclosure. This book was not even referenced in the archaeological report.

The GUARD brought in for the report is a completely separate commercial archaeology company, and clearly not a very academic one in terms of the lack of background research.

In terms of the archaeological report by GUARD – I must draw the council’s attention to some important details that are lacking in this report. One councillor is already very aware of the fact that items have been found in the area of the previous development of the agricultural shed and this proposed development. Regardless of the size or the value of these finds, it is evidence which supports the ongoing historical research.

Unless there is a complete amnesty of items taken and not reported by metal detectorists, we will never have a full archaeological understanding of this area. This is why historical knowledge is so important here. We know that the last firing gun was somewhere in this vicinity and we know that this item was taken away by souvenir hunters at a later date. This was an area of active combat.

The GUARD report does not discuss or research these key matters. It also makes no effort to take into account the LiDAR scan which I commissioned in 2015 and was done in 2016. This is perhaps understandable as this belongs to the NTS and, despite the number of development applications, has not been released to experts for research. Until that happens, there should be no further developments allowed in the conservation area as this is highly likely to offer insights which will lead to further historical and archaeological research and knowledge.

The archaeological report puts very inaccurate information into publication, including a dreadfully inaccurate map of the battle lines; and has disregarded historical research in the referencing of the report. It is completely ignorant of recent historical and archaeological work that has happened in the vicinity. This is completely ridiculous and must be highlighted and addressed.

When such a key document is so flawed, this must be something of great concern to the planning committee. I am available to discuss this in detail.

Effectively, what I am saying is that continuing to allow developments is like seeing a red traffic light and driving through it without wearing a seatbelt or pushing the brake, despite having them available to us – we have the knowledge, we have the potential for more understanding, but we are still being ignorant.

I would advise strongly that both historical and archaeological knowledge must be combined, rather than just archaeological knowledge being requested. Archaeology tells us what was dropped and left behind; history tells us what happened based on knowledge. This is not the case in many applications, where basic archaeology is regarded as sufficient mitigation for proposals. In this application, that must not be the case. It simply cannot go ahead for a multitude of material planning and conservational reasons. Without these things having been done, the decision is being made without the relevant information to make an informed decision given the potential repercussions.

I ask, sincerely, that this proposal is rejected and that the conservation of one of our most important cultural assets is strengthened by a strong signal from Highland Council that we must protect our heritage.

I am available to be contacted for further discussion.

Best wishes,

Andrew Grant McKenzie MA (Hons) FSA Scot


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Deer Interactions at Kingshouse Hotel, Glencoe


To (General Manager),

This letter is an open letter, available on my Highland Historian blog and Facebook page. It is not a complaint letter and is hopefully the beginning of our positive joint-effort to ensure that information is available to all guests, clients and tour guides who use your facilities, whether that is on a regular basis or on a once-in-a-lifetime visit. I hope that my colleagues in tourism and tour guides will also read the letter and take positive action.

I have been visiting the Kingshouse semi-regularly since around 2005. Before that I visited a few times with family. I have watched the development of the site and the activities of those who visit closely, including attending the planning meeting where the modern Kingshouse Hotel received planning permission; due to that meeting also including the Viewhill (Cairnfields) housing development built on Culloden Battlefield being on the agenda.

The issue I am raising here is people and their reactions to animals; particularly deer. This will be no surprise to you as the issue has been discussed widely and you no-doubt look out of the window and see people interacting with the deer on a daily basis. For those who are not aware, my view on this is that the deer herd from Etive and the southern end of Glencoe which regularly gather in the Kingshouse car park are often interacted with by visitors. This ranges from photos from a distance which is great, to photos with the deer which is less-great, to stroking which is too much interaction, to feeding which is completely wrong for guests to be doing. It is not a new issue, but it is developing rapidly with increased footfall.

I have personally watched as people have fed crisps, peanuts, chocolate digestives, oranges and kit-kats (other brands of chocolate biscuit are available) to the enthusiastic deer. A young stag ran into my tent in 2009 by the stream when an inebriated member of a party camping close by tried to make it drink whisky at 5am. Explaining the implications of these actions to one person is one-thing but it will (and does) occur again and again unless something more substantial is done.

The rights-and-wrongs of this biologically have been discussed widely, as have the health and safety implications. I know that your team are aware of these, but again for those not aware, these wild animals can move very quickly and can protect food and even scrap for food on offer. This has been very close to causing injury on several (in fact, many) occasions at the Kingshouse and we are remarkably lucky that incidents of serious injury are not more regular.

I strongly believe, having managed a visitor centre that received over 250,000 visitors to the site and over 115,000 paying visitors to a visitor centre per year, that it is time for Kingshouse to take the lead on an awareness campaign to ensure that the experience of seeing these animals can continue safely. However, I am also offering to help because I recognise that additional tasks on top of day-to-day operations will not be part of your business plan or budget, particularly if there is no legal requirement to act.

There are many options available, but I am imploring you to act on at least one of them. I am happy to meet and discuss options or to be contacted about how we might develop wider awareness of how to safely interact with the deer in the car park, but without Kingshouse taking the lead on this, it will just continue. Your new facilities have already brought an increase of footfall to the area and that will hopefully continue. But with this generated increase comes an increase in your duty of care to your guests, whether they are paying customers or not.

As the interactions usually occur between the guests’ vehicle and the entrance, there is no point in discussing the issue after arrival. There are also many tour guides now using the Kingshouse as a stop. Many of these share my views, but some encourage the interactions. This is something to be reviewed and may lead to positive engagement with companies and tour guides to ensure greater awareness of the implications of enticing wild animals to feed on unnatural resources.

Signage in the car park does not appear to have worked. You do have a message on your website, but this requires the visitor to read English, to click on the link and to read between the lines of your message. It could be clearer and the page is under a heading “meet the deer, dear” which, if the rest is not read, is an encouragement to engage with one of “your best bits” (as if the deer are somehow pets). Whilst it is explained later that they are not pets or belong to the hotel, it is unlikely that many website visitors will read that far. The message is there, but it is too cloudy. We can clarify the message easily.

Let’s discuss and act on this. We have an opportunity to ensure responsible measures are taken to ensure quality and safe experiences during the continuing growth of your business.


Andrew McKenzie

Andrew Grant McKenzie MA (Hons) FSA Scot

Sea-Faring Traditions

The following article was published in the January 2020 Spotlight Magazine – Inverness and District; Nairn and District; Forres and District; Buckie, Keith and District; Turriff, Huntly and District; Strathspey and District and Lewis and Harris editions.

This article is in response to a reader’s request for information about traditions in fishing communities. This is an area where we have plenty of very good collections of traditions thanks to the sharing of stories and information that was commonplace in port villages. As such, it is a vast area of cultural research, but here is a small insight:

Any job at sea has inherent dangers. Many of Scotland’s coastal communities have relied upon the sea for income, food and survival since the earliest human inhabitations. As a result of the danger and the reliance upon powerful natural forces, it is little wonder that traditions and superstitions have developed.

Fishing and survival from the sea was already firmly rooted before Christianity was introduced to Scotland by the Scot-Gaels of Ireland and so, a combination of complex belief systems can be found within fishing traditions.

Every area has its own traditions and some of these are repetitions or adjustments on traditions which exist worldwide, like the belief that crossing paths with certain beings on the way to a boat is a sign of ill fate at sea. Examples of this in Scotland are the belief that meeting a cat, raven, rabbits, dogs or hares; which may be otherworldly beings in disguise, is a sign of extreme danger.

Upon meeting one of these creatures, a seafarer would return home, cross the threshold, and begin the journey to the harbor again. An unlucky sailor would have to repeat the journey several times!

The same was practiced upon the meeting of a minister en-route to the boat in some communities. It was also deemed to be incredibly dangerous to mention a minister either by name or position whilst at sea. This is thought to derive from the ‘sea-gods’ being pre-Christian or un-Christian. There are many examples of sea-gods and beasts around the Scottish coast, all of which appear to have developed as a way to explain the forces of nature by those who experienced them at close-quarters.

Forget St. Columba’s freshwater Loch Ness Monster; saltwater beasts such as the Shoney of Lewis, Manann MacLir and the Muireartach should instill much greater fear! The first two were similar to Davy Jones and are said to hold drowned sailors in their ‘locker’. The Muireartach was a hag of the sea, ready to create storms to drown the sailors at any moment. These un-Christian and other older beasts may also go some way to explain the use of an aquatic beast by St. Columba to evoke respect from those he was trying to convert.

Mermaids were no different, with a belief at Buchan and Peterhead that these sea-beings would entice boats onto specific rocks. This is similar to beliefs in fishing villages around the Minch, where the Blue Men of the Minch, who float waste deep in water, would lure ships onto rocks unless those on board could complete the verses of poems they were reciting in the water.

There are, as you can imagine, many more examples. But what should we make of these traditions? Are they mere fanciful storytelling? Or are they a deeper part of our cultural memory and understanding which have some historical and cultural truth? As with so many examples in our folklore, the latter is certainly true.

On the most basic level, they attempt to explain things like quick weather changes. But on deeper levels, there are examples of eyewitness testimony to shipwrecks, skilled insights into weather systems and efforts to ensure that the longevity of a fishing community would understand the fragility of the world in which they were toiling to survive. The records we have of these things are fragile and, like all heritage, must be conserved and recorded for future generations wherever possible.

If you have a topic you’d like to find out more about, or have local traditions and stories to share, please e-mail andrew@highlandhistorian.com and visit highlandhistorian.com to book your bespoke guided tour!

Andrew Grant McKenzie MA (Hons) FSA Scot



Highland Historian includes social media sites that offer my information and research free of charge for you to enjoy. I believe it is important to continue offering this.

It does, however, take time and resources to share this information. If you would like to support my work, you are able to offer a contribution of a value of your choosing via www.paypal.me/highlandhistorian

All contributions received will be much appreciated and will support the continuation of this work.

All income received as contributions will be declared and does not act as payment for services or a contract of services between Highland Historian and the giver.

The Glencoe Sheep Farming Empire

As well as being a place that defines the early modern development of the Highlands; Glencoe was a place that is closely connected with an industry which was instrumental in forcing the social change in the Highlands which is emblematic of the destruction of the old way of life. The story of sheep farming in Glencoe is significant evidence that change came as a result of Highland landowners as much as any external factors. In Glencoe, this led to the unsettlement of families who had existed in this glen for centuries.

But before any disruption of population, the Glencoe sheep farming empire was to be a ground-breaking business development. It took inspiration from examples outside the Highlands and developed to suit Highland estates and land as well as making the most of connections between land owners and the desperation of the period to improve at all costs. For a short while, until the disastrous consequences of an over-extended business and debts struck, Glencoe was the leader in Highland sheep farming and the remit of its business far outreached the Glencoe estate.

This entire episode of history comes out of the Jacobite period, which not only saw the massacre happen in the glen in 1692, but also saw the involvement of Glencoe men in the 1745 Jacobite rising and their involvement in MacDonnell of Keppoch’s Regiment at the Battle of Culloden.[1]

Alexander MacIain MacDonald, 14th Chief of Glencoe, lived between 1708 and 1750 and was Grandson to Alasdair Ruadh MacIain MacDonald killed during the massacre in 1692.[2] Alexander, 14th of Glencoe and his men were present at the battle of Sherrifmuir in 1715 and Prestonpans in 1745.[3] The chief did not join the Jacobite march into England, but was later in Doune, possibly recruiting while his men fought with MacDonell of Keppoch’s regiment at the battle of Falkirk in 1746. Alexander 14th of Glencoe was then ill at home and not present at the battle of Culloden where his men again bolstered Keppoch’s regiment. After Culloden, Alexander 14th of Glencoe surrendered with his men to Major-General Campbell of Mamore. He was later released in 1749 with the future of the Glencoe estate still to be decided upon.[4]

After this period, Glencoe was an estate which was certainly of interest to the authorities. At this time many estates were forfeited to the crown and annexed. Despite the events in 1692 and the MacDonald of Glencoe support for Jacobitism, including their involvement in Charles Edward Stuart’s army of 1745 and presence at Culloden in 1746, the Glencoe estate was not forfeited or annexed:

“The uncertainty which surrounded so many is well illustrated by the list proposed by Milton, Deskford and Lieutenant-Colonel David Watson, a friend of Cumberland’s, who was Quartermaster-General for Scotland. They included one that was not to be forfeited, Glencoe, and several that were later sold…”[5]

The forfeiture of other estates after the last Jacobite rising of 1745-46 may have, in turn, had a positive effect on Glencoe’s development. These estates enabled the government to raise annexed estates funds from rents and items from the estates which then paid for, amongst other things, roads. The road through Glencoe was one of these and was built with assistance from the funds before the 1770s. This road and the connection it gave the Glencoe estate to the increasingly connected network or roads in the Highlands would have undoubtedly assisted the Glencoe estate’s developments between 1787 and 1814.[6]

Alexander 14th of Glencoe’s son, John MacIain MacDonald, became 15th Chief of the MacDonalds of Glencoe. He died in 1785 and his fourth child and only son, Alexander MacIain MacDonald of Glencoe became 16th Chief of the Glencoe MacDonalds and landowner of the Glencoe estate in 1787.[7], [8]

Having taken on the estate, Alexander almost immediately began taking on rentals and grazing agreements throughout the Highlands. According to Charles Fraser-Mackintosh, sheep farming was unusual behaviour at this time for a Highland landowner and he blamed Lowland landowners for “leading Highlanders astray”.[9]

This brave style of business development may have been influenced by the land usage patterns in the lowlands and possibly further afield, but what is immediately clear is that Highland based landowners, predominantly estate chieftains, were inflicting a business model on the land in their ownership which would not co-exist with populated glens and the working of land for food which would be better for grazing. The business model was profitable and had been proven elsewhere, but it was implemented by Highlanders who wished to make their countryside profitable and knew how.

This, to avoid confusion, was not the clearances. Not at this early stage. It is arguable that it directly led to them in areas like Glencoe, however. In the early stages, this was land owners looking to better their estates. It may even be said that initially their intentions towards people of the estates was fair and positive, but this was hard business and income generation was the driving force. Profitability relied on sound economic and business decisions. It inevitably led to clearance type evictions as debts grew and profitability dropped, but this was some time after initial developments.

This development towards clearance was not just as a result of the profitability of wool, but also the decline in wool prices against the developing cotton trade (1780-1815), which meant that Highland wool producers were forced to expand to maintain profitability, even without the income to pay for their expanding business. The risks of debt-inducing loans were off-set by a belief that economics would counterbalance the expenditure and, in the process, that ‘developments’ which were irrevocable, including the removal of tenants with long histories on the estates, would be worthy of the risk for a selection of the landowning gentry. As we will see, this did not include Alexander MacDonald of Glencoe, but the actions and decisions taken by him, regardless of his personal aims, led to the financial ruin and removal of Rankins and MacDonalds from the Glencoe estate due to economic pressures after 1814.

To understand the extent of Alexander MacDonald’s business development strategy, we must look at the land usage he left upon his death in 1814. It is clear that Alexander expanded to attempt to out-grow the declining wool prices, which was a strategy with inherent risk which Alexander left to the following generations of MacDonalds of Glencoe. At this junction in the Glencoe estate’s history, Alexander had an incredible list of geographically diverse land tenancies. These included, but aren’t limited to:

  • Glencreran in North Argyll from Campbell of Barcaldine,
  • Three leases at Brae Lochaber from MacKintosh of MacKintosh,
  • Glendessaray to the west of Loch Arkaig from Cameron of Locheil,
  • Kinlochnevis in Knoydart from MacDonnell of Glengarry,
  • The central part of Glenstrathfarrar from Fraser of Lovat,
  • Glenmarksie south of Loch Luichart from MacKenzie of Strathgarve,
  • Part of Fersit near Brae Lochaber from the Duke of Gordon,
  • Part of the forest of Monar in Ross-shire from MacKenzie of Fairburn. [10]

Other tenancies include the rental of Corpach from Cameron of Locheil, and the sub-tenancy of Auchteraw near Fort Augustus from Fraser of Lovat.

This list reads like a ‘who’s who’ of land owners in the Highlands during this period and is clear evidence of MacDonald of Glencoe’s shrewdness in business development and the estate’s power at the time. To put a finer point on this, in order to see all of these tenancies in one view, you would need to look at the Ordinance Survey 1:50,000 maps 25, 26, 33, 34, 40, 41 and 50 simultaneously.[11]

The timing of Alexander’s ownership of the Glencoe estate in 1787 and his apparently sudden interest in sheep farming was for good reason. In 1780 there had been a huge rise in wool prices and anyone who could access land tenancies or money to develop had an irresistible opportunity to build an empire.[12] This was exactly what Alexander MacDonald did.

Further evidence of Alexander MacDonald’s power to develop an empire can be found in the money that other landowners appeared so willing to give Alexander MacDonald to keep his business afloat and to keep the development growing. Alexander’s access to money during this period was nothing short of incredible. We must again look at the point of his death in December 1814 to see the true scale of his borrowing ability. At the point of his death, Alexander had outstanding loans of over £8,000. Today this is equivalent to approximately £512,000[13] and included:

  • £2,000 from MacPherson of Cluny,
  • £1,000 from Isabella MacLeod of Bernera,
  • £1,000 from Rev. Alexander Rose of Inverness,
  • £1,000 from George MacKenzie of Dundonnell,
  • £800 from his uncle, Captain Donald MacDonald,
  • £500 from Angus Kennedy of Leanachan.[14]

There were also various other loans recorded by the Glencoe Trustee Accounts after Alexander’s death. Apart from showing an incredible ability to gain money and land tenancies to build a business which grew to be an Empire at its height; we also begin to see the evidence of a man who was funding a business on money not owned by the business. This was and is a recipe for failure. This failure was also disastrous for the Glencoe estate and the people living there.

“Alexander MacDonald of Glencoe also misjudged the market badly. The very large sums of money which he had been able to borrow enabled him to expand well beyond the limit of prudence and he built a sheep farming empire which he was probably incapable of managing properly.”[15]

It is clear that Alexander MacDonald’s brave ‘have a go’ style of business development was flawed from the beginning. He had developed by pushing the boundaries and was unable to stop that style of management when he achieved success. He ignored the principles of working to supply a market and attempted to manage the market to his own agenda. In doing so he gained his business accruement with borrowed money which the business would never manage to pay off. In doing so he destroyed the Glencoe estate, but the true effect of this wasn’t to be felt until 1935 when the entire estate was auctioned in 40 separate lots.

Of the 40 lots, only 30 sold for a combined value of c.£17,800 after the entire 48,357 acre estate was withdrawn from sale at a bid of £28,000. The National Trust for Scotland, through Mr Arthur Russell, bought the smallest plot of land of just 23 acres for £1,350 – by far the highest price per acre in the sale.[16]

Managing an estate effectively and within your means is the first rule of land ownership. Paying attention to trends in the markets you are reliant on is fundamental to achieving secure management. The years leading up to the sale in 1935 are significant in charting the failure of Alexander MacDonald’s sheep farming empire and the demise of the historic Glencoe estate.

Alexander MacIain MacDonald of Glencoe died in December 1814 at the age of 53. It appears that a group of gentleman calling themselves the ‘Trustees of Glencoe’ took over the estate at this time due to the absence of Alexander’s sons. A Trustee minute of a meeting in January 1817 refers to the men being ‘men from Glencoe’ but, according to historian Iain S. MacDonald; “this slender evidence about their origins lacks corroboration”.[17] Left with Alexander’s debts, it was these Trustees who enforced a raised tenancy rate upon the MacDonald and Rankin families living in Glencoe and, in pursuing them for monies, ruined them.[18]

Alexander’s 5th child, Ewen McDonald, became 17thChief of the faltering estate and was the last to take an active role in the management of the estate. He was to be survived by his brother (Alexander’s 7th child) Ronald MacIain MacDonald, 18th chief, who died in New South Wales; who was survived by the last of the Glencoe MacDonalds, Alexander James John MacDonald, born on the Isle of Man and who died in Middlesex on 7th December 1889, the 19th and last MacDonald of Glencoe.[19]

Ewen, 17th of Glencoe and his brother Colin were serving in the East India Company during the time that the Trustees took charge of Glencoe. A record of the Trustee’s accounts records that £5,000 was sent by Ewen and Colin from India, but £6,500 of debt still remained in 1818. It appears that despite the attempts of the Glencoe brothers, the Trustees could not correct the debts accrued by Alexander and were set for failure from the outset:

“In 1821 a messenger called Stewart in Dingwall was instructed by John Cumming, a Writer there acting for the Glencoe Trustees, to poind stock at Monar. Fortunately for Stewart he was paid promptly by John Cumming, but by 1827 Cumming had still not been reimbursed by the Glencoe Trustees who disputed the amount of Stewart’s charges.”[20]

In 1828, after failure to correct the situation, the Trustees handed the estate to Ewen.[21] It would appear that, at this stage, the Glencoe-based sheep farming empire had all but failed and the historic estate was on a decline towards fragmentation from which it would never recover.

The development from 1828 to the breaking up and sale of the Glencoe estate in 1935 is evidence that the risks taken by Alexander MacIain MacDonald, 16th Chief of Glencoe, had been disastrous for the people and the estate. Despite being one of, if not the biggest sheep farming estate in the Highlands, economic pressures led to an inevitable demise due to the economic insecurity of the risks. It was as a result of the decline from 1814 that the estate was broken up and sold in 1935.

The sale catalogue of 1935 held at the Highland Archive Centre in Inverness also records the development of a deal with Dr Sutherland who bought a larger lot from the estate and after discussion with Mr Russell decided to donate his lot to the National Trust for Scotland.[22] The organisation now claim to own the Glencoe estate and took legal ownership of the name in the mid-2010s, which saw the organisation threaten a small outdoor clothing manufacturer with legal action for producing a ‘Glencoe’ jacket.[23] Other lots were sold for, generally, lower than value bids and were intended as farmland or sporting estates.[24] The Glencoe estate is still split and not owned by a single individual or organisation.

Andrew Grant McKenzie MA (Hons) FSA Scot



Highland Historian includes social media sites that offer my information and research free of charge for you to enjoy. I believe it is important to continue offering this.

It does, however, take time and resources to share this information. If you would like to support my work, you are able to offer a contribution of a value of your choosing via www.paypal.me/highlandhistorian

All contributions received will be much appreciated and will support the continuation of this work.

All income received as contributions will be declared and does not act as payment for services or a contract of services between Highland Historian and the giver.

[1] Livingston, A., Aikman, C.W.H. and Hart B., (1984), No Quarter Given: The Muster Roll of Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s Army, 1745-46, Glasgow, Neil Wilson, pp.152-154

[2] http://www.clanmacfarlanegenealogy.info/genealogy/TNGWebsite/getperson.php?personID=I24266&tree=CC

[3] Lee, H., (1920), History of the Clan Donald: The Families of MacDonald, McDonald and McDonnell, New York, R.L. Polk and Company, p.80

[4] Livingston, A., Aikman, C.W.H. and Hart B., (1984), p.152

[5] Smith, A.M., (1982), Jacobite Estates of the Forty-Five, Edinburgh, John Donald, p.21

[6] Ibid, p.177-178

[7] http://www.ancestryresearchservice.com/genealogy/getperson.php?personID=I68&tree=cameron1

[8] Macdonald, I.S., (1997), Alexander MacDonald Esq of Glencoe: Insights into early Highland Sheep Farming, The Review of Scottish Culture, No. 10, pp.55-66

[9] Mackintosh, C.F. (1897), Antiquarian Notes: Second Series, Inverness, p.9

[10] Macdonald, I.S., (1997), pp.55-66

[11] Ibid, pp.55-66

[12] Ibid, p.56

[13] http://inflation.stephenmorley.org/

[14] Macdonald, I.S., (1997), p.57

[15] Ibid, p.62

[16] Fox and Sons, Walker, Fraser and Steele, (1935), Sale Catalogue, Glencoe Estate: Argyllshire and Perthshire, Highland Council Archives, HCA/D4/243, Inverness

[17] Macdonald, I.S., (1997), p.62

[18] Ibid, p.62

[19] http://www.ancestryresearchservice.com/genealogy/getperson.php?personID=I982&tree=cameron1

[20] Macdonald, I.S., (2000), Some Highland Lawyers and Their Clients, The Review of Scottish Culture, No. 12, pp.85-92

[21] Macdonald, I.S., (1997), pp.62-66

[22] Fox and Sons, Walker, Fraser and Steele, (1935), HCA/D4/243

[23] https://www.ukclimbing.com/news/2017/08/nts_threaten_outdoor_firm_over_glencoe_name_copyright-71219

[24] Fox and Sons, Walker, Fraser and Steele, (1935), HCA/D4/243

Warming by the Hearth’s Fire

The following article was published in the December 2019 Spotlight Magazine – Inverness and District; Nairn and District; Forres and District; Buckie, Keith and District; Turriff, Huntly and District; and Strathspey and District editions.

As we enter the colder months in the North of Scotland, many of us will be considering the use of fire to warm our homes if we have a clean lum and a good stove.

Historically, the hearth, or the place the fire sits, is much more than just a useful heating mechanism. To our ancestors, the hearth was a giver of light; a social gathering point for sharing stories, traditions, music; and staving off the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder. It was the focal point of strong cultural communities in the winter time and Hugh Cheape describes the hearth as being associated with the true West Coast and Hebridean cèilidh.

Alexander Fenton observed that the open grate hearths were more traditional in Highland and North East homes, rather than the European-style wood stoves that are now becoming popular. These open fireplaces are perhaps a close relative of the early central floor fires which we can only guess must have been used since prehistoric periods.

It is difficult to date the earliest use of fire within the home, but ancestors living in caves, crannogs and more recent blackhouses all appear to have had a central fire, but without a chimney to allow the smoke to be removed cleanly. Instead, in crannogs and blackhouses, smoke would dissipate through the roof structures, or through a small central hole which would help create a draw of air.

In castles too, a central fire would have been a usual sight in the earliest wood and stone fortifications. The use of decorative hearths and chimneypieces developed in the early 1600s, according to Ian Gow, which is why many of the surviving castles and ruins usually have obvious hearth structures after 17th century additions. Designs were brought from Europe by various Royals and copied throughout the homes of the Scottish gentry, with personal emblems added for variation.

In most Scottish homes, only one fire would be in regular use, regardless of the number of rooms or hearths. This is perhaps a link with the old cottage dwellings. Many cottages were a longer structure than the romantic view of the Scottish blackhouse – usually a smaller structure dating from the 1800s. This is because the original houses would be used to house animals during winter at one end of the house, with the fire in the middle.

Changes occurred when the ‘byre’ section was closed off from the main living area, with a hearth built into the central wall. Many of the byre sections were later dismantled, like the cottage at Culloden battlefield, or not built on later croft structures like those of the 1800s in Caithness.

As Gary West notes, the hearth was also an intriguing part of custom and superstition in the Highlands. After Culloden, the Gaelic poet John Roy Stuart wrote a curse on Cumberland:

“May your hearth be bare,
No wife, son or brother there,
Without Clarsach music, without candle light.”

The fact that Cumberland died unmarried, with no legitimate heir and predeceased by his brothers is seen as testament to Stuart’s curse. For Stuart, the hearth was clearly a very central family symbol to be attacked and included in this deeply personal curse.

If you don’t own a stove or fireplace, see if you can find one in a friend or relative’s house, a bar, or a hotel this winter. It will be a good place to meet people and discover common interests. If you’re lucky, one of them might also be a good musician…

If you have a topic you’d like to find out more about, or have local traditions and stories to share, please e-mail andrew@highlandhistorian.com and visit highlandhistorian.com to book your bespoke guided tour!

Andrew Grant McKenzie MA (Hons) FSA Scot



Highland Historian includes social media sites that offer my information and research free of charge for you to enjoy. I believe it is important to continue offering this.

It does, however, take time and resources to share this information. If you would like to support my work, you are able to offer a contribution of a value of your choosing via www.paypal.me/highlandhistorian

All contributions received will be much appreciated and will support the continuation of this work.

All income received as contributions will be declared and does not act as payment for services or a contract of services between Highland Historian and the giver.

Philip Rankin – RAF Pilot and the ‘Godfather of Scottish Skiing’

As we approach winter in the Highlands, with temperatures dropping below zero centigrade once more and the nights drawing in; it’s a good time to think about the beginnings of the Scottish Ski tourism industry which, fingers crossed, will see a better year than the last few! If you’d like to book me for your transport to and from ski resorts or the mountains this winter, just get in touch by emailing andrew@highlandhistorian.com!

Philip Rankin was born on 16th April 1917 and his activities in the 1950s can be proclaimed as the beginning of the Scottish ski industry. A contemporary and friend of Hamish MacInnes, the creativity and imagination of this pair in Glencoe is a huge part of why the glen is renowned worldwide for its outdoor activities. Their creativity was part of what led to the drive of the Scottish Ski Club, Creagh Dhu Climbing Club and Scottish Mountaineering Club to regularly visit Glencoe whilst mountaineering, climbing and skiing as pastimes in Scotland were all in their infancy. As his nickname dictates, Philip Rankin became the ‘Godfather of Scottish skiing’ as we know it today.

But in order to get to that point, Rankin had an adventurous and dangerous experience of the Second World War which he barely survived. Rankin flew Spitfires and Mosquitos for the Royal Air Force and was based in Oxfordshire, Cairo, Calcutta and Rhodesia. In his own words, he described himself as;

“… the most expensive and useless pilot in the RAF… I always arrived just after the battle was finished or left before it started. It wasn’t until 1945 (1944 – ed.) that I first scratched the paint on anything.”

The incident he referenced occurred in late 1944 whilst flying an RAF Mosquito on a photographic reconnaissance mission over the Nazi-held island of Walcheren in the Netherlands. It was certainly a little bit more catastrophic than “scratching the paint” as Rankin’s plane was riddled by anti-aircraft guns. Running out of power, Rankin’s plane began to dip into the English Channel after he had nursed it away from danger. This scenario, for most, would have been deadly.

As luck would have it, an air-sea rescue crew had spotted the Mosquito’s trail of smoke and had followed it towards the point it entered the water. Shortly after being flung through the plane’s canopy, Rankin was plucked from the ocean and was believed to be paralysed. He eventually ended up being treated at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire.

It was at this point that the encouragement which subsequently led to the invention of the Scottish ski industry occurred. Rankin had a Canadian doctor whose remarkable advice to Rankin for the most effective form of physiotherapy was to walk up snow slopes, preferably on snowshoes or on skis with skins! This bizarre advice must have been rooted in Rankin’s love of the mountains and skiing, but the encouragement came with a stern warning not to use the skis to go downhill – advice which it appears Rankin ignored. Although little is written about his recovery, it appears that Rankin was incredibly lucky and recovered remarkably well.

As with many people’s experience of life after a period of excitement, Rankin found himself bored and searching for a way out of a dull existence after the war. By his own admission:

“I went from quite an exciting life to reverting to my destiny, alleged, of being a partner in a small Glasgow light engineering firm, which I found extremely boring. I went skiing, I think, to get away from the tedium…”

It was during these forays to the mountains that Rankin started to consider possible sites for ski runs similar to the permanent resorts which were already well established in the Alps. Scotland had nothing like this and despite a few attempts at uplift, including motor vehicle engines being used to run removable rope tows and a caterpillar vehicle known as ‘The Weasel’ (which, according to some sources was a fellow survivor of the battle of Walcheren!) as well as attempts by the Scottish Ski Club and inventive skiers like Donnaie Mackenzie and William Blackwood on Ben Lawers and Cairngorm; there was no concerted effort or group of activists working together until Rankin made his successful attempt to build a permanent ski uplift in Scotland.

It was through Rankin’s role as Editor of the Scottish Ski Club Journal that, in 1952, he enlightened members to his consideration of Meall a Bhuiridh to the east of Glencoe as a focus for efforts. This may have surprised many of his readers as there had been such a discussion and enthusiasm for Ben Lawers and Cairngorm. Rankin’s impassioned articles often stirred support for his ideas and he quickly gained a pivotal position in the Club. Of the on-going discussions about the creation of resorts, he wrote:

“Scottish skiing is in that awkward stage between pigtails and perms, when lemonade is no longer good enough and our legs cannot stand cocktails.”

Rather than the much-discussed Cairngorm and Ben Lawers, for Rankin, Meall a Bhuiridh was ideal and offered the slope, the north facing aspect and the access from Glasgow on the A82 that lit up his imagination. Showing an understanding of the great limiting factor which still causes problems for today’s Scottish ski resort owners, in the 1952/3 edition of the Scottish Ski Club Journal, Rankin wrote:

“It has an ample corrie deeply scored with ravines, which collect such a mass of snow as to be virtually impervious to even weeks of thaw.”

He may also have been aware that members of the Glasgow-based Creagh Dhu Climbing Club, otherwise known as the ‘Mafia of Glencoe’ due to their infamous activities, had been skiing there since 1938. It seems that this article and Rankin’s enthusiasm were enough to put an end to the Scottish Ski Club’s aims of opening a ski resort on Ben Lawers and turned their collective attention to Glencoe.

Further support came from the owner of the Blackmount Estate, Philip Fleming and, after Rankin had quit his job, some of the yard staff from the engineering firm who were also members of the Creagh Dhu, offered to help Rankin achieve his dream. Between 1953 and 1956 work began on the T bar uplifts and progress was dependent on Rankin’s ability to muster and haggle for metal materials from yards in Glasgow and the major pieces of metal work took at least 4 people to lift. The project was reported to have cost around £5,000. In an interview in 2013, Rankin named Jack Williamson, Jimmy Hamilton and Bill Smith as key members of the original work party.

By 1956 the tow was working and opened to the public before the realisation that there was the requirement for a lower chairlift to bring skiers up from the car park, with the lower T bar’s base being at an altitude of c.2350ft. This was achieved in 1959 when the access chair lift was completed. In remembering Rankin after his death, Alan Forbes of the Scottish Ski Club wrote:

“A few years later the access chair broke down and all the skiers had to climb to the plateau and on the descent a prominent Argyllshire landowner shouted to Philip that it was like the old days and Philip replied that It had discouraged the riff-raff and he thought he might leave it off for a week or two!”

In 1960 the resort opened fully under the company ‘White Corries Ltd.’ which was set up privately by Rankin. Rankin and his wife Goodrun ran the Glencoe ski resort successfully from 1960 until 1992 when he retired. His last ski run on the mountain was in 2000 as an octogenarian.  In an interview with journalist Roger Cox, Rankin remembered this run and gave an indication of his love of the higher slopes where the original uplift was built:

“It was a very good one and I remember I took a tremendous pearler in the process… Oh, I don’t bother about the lower slopes, the top of that mountain – that’s the real thing.”

To mark Rankin’s achievements and impact on Scottish skiing he was awarded a lifetime achievement award by Snowsport Scotland in November 2016 as well as having a green run opened in his honour on Beinn a Bhuiridh called ‘Rankin’s Return’. Philip Rankin died aged 99 years and 11 months in March 2017. The fact that the original uplift created by Rankin’s enthusiastic and hands-on approach is still in operation today, over 60 years since its conception, is a remarkable achievement and is evidence of his accuracy and knowledge of how ideal the position was for both the uplift and the ski run on Beinn a Bhuiridh.

Andrew Grant McKenzie MA (Hons) FSA Scot



Highland Historian includes social media sites that offer my information and research free of charge for you to enjoy. I believe it is important to continue offering this.

It does, however, take time and resources to share this information. If you would like to support my work, you are able to offer a contribution of a value of your choosing via www.paypal.me/highlandhistorian

All contributions received will be much appreciated and will support the continuation of this work.

All income received as contributions will be declared and does not act as payment for services or a contract of services between Highland Historian and the giver.

The Laird’s Land Rover

The following article was published in the November 2019 Spotlight Magazine – Inverness and District; Nairn and District; Forres and District; Buckie, Keith and District; Turriff, Huntly and District; and Strathspey and District editions.

Having spent a lot of this summer on the road with guests, I thought I would write a short piece on the vehicle I do the majority of my touring in: The Land Rover Defender.

But this short history is not really about its development and manufacture by the Rover Car Company, Leyland Motor Corporation, British Leyland, Land Rover Ltd., BMW, Ford Motors, or any of those companies’ trials and tribulations. Instead, we’re looking at the firm origins of the Land Rover in the Gàidhealtachd.


The island of Islay is where the Land Rover name originated and, despite that being irrefutable, the story is rarely told. Land Rover did comment on it in a 2015 article and other commentary on the origins has followed, but rarely do they talk about the individual responsible for the name.

Unfortunately for him, the recognition did not include the financial rewards one might have expected for naming the brand which, for 68 years between 1948 and 2016, continually produced the Series and Defender models which were developed on Islay.

In 1930, Spencer Wilks’ enthusiasm for car design was matched by his younger brother Maurice and they were both appointed to the board of the developing Rover Car Company. Spencer then purchased the Laggan Estate on Islay after becoming a Managing Director of Rover in 1933. After the end of World War II, Spencer began working with Rover car parts, taking inspiration from American and British military overland vehicles.

As a result of this creative work, Spencer and Maurice led the company towards the aim of producing a commercial vehicle that could be used for agricultural purposes as well as military purposes on all terrains. In 1947, Spencer took several prototype vehicles to Islay to put them through rigorous testing, helped by his gamekeeper.

Spencer’s witty gamekeeper was named Ian Fraser and during the prototype testing, he would watch the Laird driving his vehicles on the hills and in the bogs whilst he attempted to do his work on the island and lead shooting parties. He was known to make remarks such as; “there’s the Laird in his land-Rover” as Spencer passed, more than likely spoiling the likelihood of a successful stalk. As the Wilks brothers’ company was already named Rover, this quip was clearly a comment on the vehicle’s intended use on rough land rather than road and the name caught favour with Spencer.

In 1948 the first Series model Land Rovers were produced (the forerunner of the Defender). Since then, many pre-production models were handed over to Ian Fraser and his son Duncan on Islay for rough-testing until Wilks’ death in 1971!

Many Defender models are still on the roads throughout Scotland and my guests and I regularly acknowledge them with a raised hand, as is the custom for Defender drivers; but if you see the Highland Historian Land Rover, feel free to give me a wave in a salute to Ian Fraser, the Islay gamekeeper.

If you have a topic you’d like to find out more about, or have local traditions and stories to share, please e-mail andrew@highlandhistorian.com and visit highlandhistorian.com to book your bespoke guided tour!

Andrew Grant McKenzie MA (Hons) FSA Scot



Highland Historian includes social media sites that offer my information and research free of charge for you to enjoy. I believe it is important to continue offering this.

It does, however, take time and resources to share this information. If you would like to support my work, you are able to offer a contribution of a value of your choosing via www.paypal.me/highlandhistorian

All contributions received will be much appreciated and will support the continuation of this work.

All income received as contributions will be declared and does not act as payment for services or a contract of services between Highland Historian and the giver.

Water, Wells and Wellness

The following article was published in the July 2019 Spotlight Magazine –Nairn and District; Elgin, Lossie and District; Forres and District; Buckie, Keith and District; Turriff, Huntly and District; and Strathspey and District editions.

The superstitions, beliefs and traditions of our communities are full of intrigue and mystery; as well as truths that may only become apparent once the stories have been understood. This phenomenal importance in the storytelling tradition is certainly not confined to the west. In north east communities, there is a noteworthy similarity in folkways.

If we truly want to understand our culture, the stories are integral to our education. The writing of histories must not be ignorant of the significance of these traditions and what their belief systems are based on. There is far more truth in folklore than it ever appears upon the first hearing of a simple folk tale.

The fact that this is so often closely linked with the sea, agriculture and the power of nature is not surprising. The most prominent pockets of what I.F. Grant called “well worship” in her book Highland Folk Ways, appear to exist in areas which incoming Christian monks struggled to amend the peoples’ longer-held beliefs. The north east, like some pockets of the west, was not populated by Christian monks until later in the development of Scottish Christianity and so, older beliefs flourished and many still remain in some form.

The coastal communities of the north east, the west coast and islands are bound together in this cultural development due to the so-called “superstitions” which emanated from living from the sea or from poor arable land. Christian monks eventually stopped trying to dissuade these older beliefs and healing pools named after saints began to emerge. Examples of this are St Fillan’s pool in the River Earn near Crieff and St Maelrubha’s well on Skye and the water off Eilean Maolruibhe in Loch Maree. This renaming in honour of Christian figures gave legitimacy to the water-beliefs already present. The use of these waters for curing mental illness by shock immersion is not entirely different from the ‘modern’ uses of cold water swimming today.

The power of water in belief systems still exists to this day with the carrying of coffins by the community over the first running water before being transported to the grave site. This tradition has been known in Portree in recent years and appears to exist in varying forms in other areas. This mixing of the nature traditions that predate Christianity and the formality of Christianity have created traditions which are almost entirely unique to the communities they developed in.

Healing wells feature prominently across the Highland region. Particularly noteworthy are the clootie wells close to Inverness and the traditions of healing wells at Annat in Torridon and on the Isle of Skye. It is a common theme that the ill would drink three times from the well or spring and circle it three times “sunwise” (clockwise) for the healing to have permanence. In the Torridon example, some folklorists maintain that this included for many hundreds of years, the drinking of the spring water from a human skull! This tradition has been recorded several times, most recently by an author who claims to have witnessed it in recent years.

In the north east, healing wells were certainly revered and respected in a similar way. In 1842, a well at Oxhill in Rathven was being used regularly for its healing properties. This well, however, was not the community’s preference as their belief in another well in the parish had outlived the well itself. When the older well was filled in by a farm tenant, mothers from Buckie brought their children and, finding the well gone, scooped a pool with their hands in the earth. Once full of water, the children bathed in the pool before being carried home, asleep, on their mothers’ backs. In 1890, healing wells were still in use at Strathdon and Corgarff where offerings were still being found.

If you have a topic you’d like to find out more about, or have local traditions and stories to share, please e-mail andrew@highlandhistorian.com and visit highlandhistorian.com to book your bespoke guided tour!

Andrew Grant McKenzie MA (Hons) FSA Scot



Highland Historian includes social media sites that offer my information and research free of charge for you to enjoy. I believe it is important to continue offering this.

It does, however, take time and resources to share this information. If you would like to support my work, you are able to offer a contribution of a value of your choosing via www.paypal.me/highlandhistorian

All contributions received will be much appreciated and will support the continuation of this work.

All income received as contributions will be declared and does not act as payment for services or a contract of services between Highland Historian and the giver.

The Battle of Glenshiel, 1719 – 300th Anniversary

On the 10th June 1719, the Battle of Glenshiel took place in the Mackenzie heartland of Kintail between early evening and sunset. It is also the birthday of James Stuart, born in 1688 and known to Hanoverians as the Old Pretender and to Jacobites as the rightful heir to the throne of his deposed father. The battle has often been overlooked within Jacobite-period historiography, but I would argue that against the press commentary recently that this is a battle that has never been ‘forgotten’, certainly not within the circles of people I have known and continue to develop my own historical awareness alongside.

There is currently a valid debate that the battle may have been a remnant of the Jacobite movement of 1715; attempting to capitalise on a scenario that would have seen the heightened support for Jacobitism across the UK due to recent events join a three-pronged invasion supported by Spain and Sweden. There are others who feel the 1719; with a change in leadership, style and external support, was a separate rising. I tend to be of the latter opinion with recognition of the former opinion.

The reason for this is that, if 1719 and 1715 are to be seen as the same rising, there is nothing that should dissuade us from seeing the Glencoe massacre of 1692 as part of the 1689 rising and the invasion attempt of 1708 being part of the 1715 rising, or the 1744 plans being part of the 1745 rising. To be frank, I feel that it confuses the explanation that I prefer; which is that the Jacobite period had four active risings in 1689, 1715, 1719 and 1745, each with links and with a timeline of important events between them. The overarching link of the period is in the development of a changing Jacobitism, and the maintaining element that the movement was in favour of the return of a Catholic Stuart monarch to the throne.

Therefore, looking upon 1719 as a separate rising; but as an integral part of the Jacobite movement which had been present in Scotland since 1689 and the recent formidable effort of the 1715 rising, we can see that it fits importantly into a time period where the Highlands was not the only area of interest for the Jacobite cause. This is particularly true of 1719. Had the rising worked as planned, the Battle of Glenshiel or the alternative options for the force of Spaniards that had landed in the West Highlands and receiving localised support, would have been a mere tactical confusion in order to support the main force invading Cornwall from Spain. This, alongside the secondary force invading from Sweden from the North Sea in Scotland and into England would have created a dramatic battlefield pincer movement on two flanks with a strong diversionary reserve, except instead of a small battle-scale tactic, this would have been across the UK with London as the eventual target.

Given the support in the north of England in 1715 for the Jacobite cause and the untapped support in Cornwall, there is a genuine chance that this tactical approach to an invasion of the UK would have had a high chance of success. Perhaps 1719 was the Jacobite rising that had the biggest opportunity to succeed at the outset, rather than being necessary to be developed as it progressed as the other risings had to be. The downfall of this, however, was exactly what befell the 1719 campaign – if it’s so tightly planned from the outset, it all has to succeed from the outset.

The alternative view of the campaign is that it would have seen the Swedish invasion meet the Spanish-supported diversionary force coming from the West Highlands whilst the Spanish invasion of England happened simultaneously. A simultaneous invasion of both England and Scotland by differing forces of the same movement would have been an incredibly powerful sign for native Jacobite supporters to rise up in both countries. But as we now know, all of this is subjective opinion as it did not happen as planned.

The Swedish invasion from the north east was the first part of the plan to fail, before it was even attempted. The reason for this was that the Swedish King, Charles XII, having invaded Norway in 1716, was killed at Fredricksten near Fredrickshald on 30th November 1718. His sister, Ulrika Eleonora inherited the thronw but was forced to sign the 1719 Instrument of Government which effectively removed the Swedish from disputes with the Hanoverian household temporarily. Secondly, the invasion force from Spain hoping to be the main prong of the invasion in Cornwall was unable to attempt the invasion due to the weather. The weather, as we know from recent commemorations of D Day and from events like the failed French Jacobite invasion of 1708, was the key factor in any cross-channel operations.

But by the time the failure to begin the invasion of Cornwall was apparent; the expeditionary force bound for the North West Highlands had already left. In command of it were to be several Highland chiefs, including Tullibardine, his brother Lord George Murray, George Keith the Earl Marischal, William Mackenzie the Earl of Seaforth (forfeit), Cameron of Lochiel, Rob Roy MacGregor and Spaniards under the command of de Castro Bolaño. After landing in Lewis and constructing their plans at Stornoway, the force moved into Mackenzie territory and particularly the Gairloch estate in an effort to raise men for the Mackenzie chief, the Earl of Seaforth.

Historiography of the period often misunderstands the importance of the Mackenzie territories and the rather unique make-up of the biggest singular, but very much separated, clan territory of the period. At this time, Mackenzie territory had become the only continuous clan territory to stretch from the west coast from Kintail in the south to Coigach in the north; and then all the way across to the north east coast at the Black isle and the coast of the Beauly firth. It was in the latter area that the chief, Seaforth’s estate was situated in the best agricultural land within the wider clan territory. Seaforth also controlled Kintail, the heartland of the clan and the original territory. The secondary family, the Cromartie Mackenzies, was just north of here at what is now Strathpeffer, but also with land at Coigach. Within the whole of Mackenzie territory, by the 1690s there were up to 21 landed estates, with individual titles handed out by the Stuart monarchs just before the beginning of the Jacobite period. Each of these estates could have supplied regiments of over 300 fighting men.

But, as we well know, clan society is complex and had already begun to change dramatically. Whilst the Mackenzie chief had been a Jacobite supporter throughout the Jacobite period until 1719, he had also technically lost his title and his estates were forfeit from 1716 after his involvement in the 1715 Jacobite rising. His clan had not been a completely Jacobite force and had not supplied holistic active military numbers, but largely they were Jacobite supporting in the early Jacobite period. It is largely for this reason that the majority of the clans north of the coast to coast Mackenzie territory (such as the Munros, MacLeods and Mackays) took such active rolls, including one commander in chief of the army in Scotland, against the Jacobites.

But in 1719, the title-less and landless Mackenzie chief did not manage to receive the support he desired for a Jacobite invasion within his own territory. We may never know at what point Tullibardine and his Jacobite force became aware of the failure of the southern invasion, but this may have played some part in the reason for such a poor return on the effort to raise men. Seaforth, however, did manage to get the support of one kinsman who supplied between 200 and 350 men to the effort. However, there is also a possibility that Mackenzie of Torridon and Mackenzie of Inchcoulter may have also given information to the Hanoverians about the Jacobite force’s movements.

The decision to position the Jacobite force at Kintail must have been partially the decision of William Mackenzie (Seaforth). Part of the reason for this may well be the intrinsic importance of Kintail to Mackenzies, even to this day. This is something that is evident in military situations since the Jacobite period, with the funeral march and last post of the Seaforth Highlanders being “We Will Return Home to Kintail” for many years. We, as modern historians, must not be ignorant of the power of emblematic notions like being surrounded by your traditional, cultural, ancestral and protective “home” in situations of pressure. For what was potentially over half of the Jacobite force at the Battle of Glenshiel, this was the case, as they were Mackenzies or men of other clans who were long-term allies of the Mackenzie chief – including the Macraes, Mathesons, Maclennans and Murchisons.

The news of the Jacobite plot did not take long to get to General Joseph Wightman, commander in chief of eight regiments across Scotland and based at Edinburgh Castle. He moved north to Inverness and took charge of the Hanoverian advance on Glenshiel, which commenced from Cille Chuimein (not yet known as Fort Augustus) on the 5th June. Before this, however, Eilean Donan Castle, the original seat of the Clan Mackenzie, had been destroyed by the British Navy on the 11th May, the day after it had been taken from the Spanish contingent holding it since the 11th April as a base and store for gunpowder. The Spaniards were imprisoned before being released back to Spain. Wightman’s northern force of c.1,100 men were mostly Highlanders from territories north of Mackenzie territory.

Munro of Culcairn (who was killed whilst ‘policing’ the Highlands in 1746 in an unsolved assassination with plenty of willing suspects he had mistreated – if it was indeed Munro they were aiming to kill) had political reasons to be involved against the Mackenzies and brought many of Wightman’s soldiers with him to the battle. Others were under the command of Colonel Clayton who commanded the old Fort George, now the site of the modern Inverness Castle, and may have included men from some of the Mackenzie estates and other Highlanders from the area around Inverness.

The Jacobite army lined up, effectively in a horseshoe battle plan, at the thinnest point in Glenshiel between Cluanie and Achnagart where the Jacobite camp was. There is now a bridge just west of the position built by Major William Caulfield after 1747. On the Jacobite left flank was Seaforth in the command of men from Mackenzie estates at c.500m above seal level and Rob Roy MacGregor to his right. In the Jacobite centre was the Spanish regiment, highly trained musketeers at c.250m. to their right was the glen floor and the River Shiel at c.100m above sea level. On the Jacobite right flank, across the river, was Lord George Murray with Mackenzies on a knoll around 250m above sea level. The beginning of June 1719 was so hot that one of the Spaniards actually died of heat exhaustion on the march to the battle site.

Some of Claytons men were based at Cille Chuimein and these men were gathered en-route after the Hanoverian force had marched down the eastern side of Loch Ness. In the final advance into Kintail, Wightman had a commanding sight of the enemy as the Jacobites had dug in and created emplacements high on the hill sides. He advanced in battle order, with his detachments lined right across the Glen leading up the sides of it across the River Shiel.

In the early evening the musket fire started. Oddly for the Jacobite period, this battle in its entirety was a musket and artillery fight. Wightman initially attacked the Mackenzie men on the Jacobite right flank under Lord George Murray and Seaforth’s Mackenzies on the Jacobite left flank and musket fire was exchanged for some time. Wightman then used four coehorn mortars to fire grenades of explosive shrapnel at Murray’s men initially. Due to the heat of the day, the grass caught fire and Murray was pushed back to the west.

Coehorn mortars had never been used in a pitched battle before and this was their first use in the British isles. The confusion they caused in the Jacobite ranks was huge and the perfect battle plan, created so that a charge wouldn’t be necessary if musketry was accurate and heavy artillery would have been relatively useless, was what the Jacobites had hoped would win the day. When the Coehorn mortars were then used on Seaforth’s men, Seaforth himself was wounded badly and Rob Roy MacGregor came to his aid. An eyewitness account has caused much confusion, but it was certainly Seaforth being referred to, not MacGregor, as the injured party. Seaforth had never fully recovered from his injuries when he died on Lewis in 1740.

As the Mackenzie men began to disperse, the Spanish took formation and fired their muskets at Wightman’s men as the Highland Jacobites began to flee. This was a calculated decision as, due to their position as professional soldiers in the service of a foreign monarch, they would be treated as prisoners of war when captured. Highland Jacobites would be seen as rebels and executed.

The brave fighting retreat of the Spaniards saw them climb one of the longest and steepest continuous slopes in the Scottish mountains at sunset (around 9pm) at which point the battle effectively ended. The climb took them from c.250m to 990m at the summit of Sgurr nan Spainteach, named since the battle by local people out of respect for the Spaniards actions at Glenshiel. After spending the night on the 5 sisters of Kintail and into Glen Lichd, the Spaniards returned to Achnagart to surrender the following day. They were sent to Edinburgh Castle and eventually released back to Spain.

This, interestingly, is more than likely the reason why the Spaniards did not return home by sea when they knew the invasion of Cornwall had failed. We know the Jacobites knew this by the battle, but we do not know when they found out; but with the possibility of being killed at sea, either by storms, lack of supplies or attack by the British Navy who had shown their strength already at Eilean Donan, the honourable act of fighting against the enemy and being able to become prisoners of war was potentially a safer and more honourable option – both of which would have been heavily in favour of staying rather than fleeing.

With that, the 1719 Jacobite rising, the power of Clan Mackenzie in Kintail and the hope of Jacobites across the UK after 1715, was over. Of the Hanoverian force of c.1,100, only 21 were killed. Of the Jacobite force of c.1,200, a similar number were killed, but numbers vary dramatically. It is thought that well over 4,000 bullets were fired.

The 7th-9th June 2019 saw the 300th Anniversary Commemoration event organised by the Association of Highland Clan Societies, the Clan Mackenzie Society of Scotland and the UK and the 1745 Association with support from Visit Scotland (Event Scotland) and the National Trust for Scotland (landowners at the battle site). This included many historical talks and presentations as well as vibrant discussion amongst historians of multiple generations. This is testament to the fact that we are in a great place for the longevity and developing historical awareness of our Highland past – as long as that is supported and individuals are able to make ends-meet in doing so. Please support historians and their work wherever possible; even if you don’t always agree with their conclusions (therein lies the beauty of historical debate, of course!).

Andrew Grant McKenzie MA (Hons) FSA Scot



Highland Historian includes social media sites that offer my information and research free of charge for you to enjoy. I believe it is important to continue offering this.

It does, however, take time and resources to share this information. If you would like to support my work, you are able to offer a contribution of a value of your choosing via www.paypal.me/highlandhistorian

All contributions received will be much appreciated and will support the continuation of this work.

All income received as contributions will be declared and does not act as payment for services or a contract of services between Highland Historian and the giver.