Bonnie Prince Charlie
It is close to dark, the wind is up and black ominous clouds are churning across the sky, (like ghostly galleons tossed upon cloudy skies?) and I’m alone in the middle of Culloden Moor, site of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s final defeat and the devastation of the great clans of Scotland. In the final battle Charlie barely escaped with his life but, tragically, for them, and for all of Scotland, a huge percentage of his followers were slaughtered by the Redcoats on this very spot on the 16th April, 1746. I gather it hasn’t changed very much at all since that terrible day and, as you can imagine, it is a bleak, boggy and barren part of the world that is, I suppose, Scotland’s equivalent of Gallipoli.
The end of any hope of Stewart rule or independence was savagely smashed here and from then onwards Scotland went on to be treated very badly indeed by its English landlords and successive governments, just as England normally tended to treat its colonies. It never really learnt any lessons from history and thirty years later the Americans too were facing the Redcoats after they got fed up with the one-sided treatment of British businesses and parliamentarians expecting to be kept in the finest style by the efforts of the colonists. I’m still wondering why we didn’t have a similar revolution in Australia, though the bayonets and bullets of the Redcoats at Eureka Stockade may have calmed the miners’ thoughts of independence down a bit. There’s still time, though. Comrades!
A huge new building at the edge of the battlefield houses a Culloden Experience, gift shop and the usual stuff, with a big brass plaque announcing the centre was visited by the Queen in June, earlier this year. I thought, a touch uncharitably, maybe, the cheek of the damn woman. The ghosts of the Chiefs would be rattling their ghostly claymores at the thought of the Queen of England anywhere near this special place, and tromping all over their ghostly graves. But then that’d be typical of British aristocracy, wouldn’t it? ‘One is aware that perhaps a touch of unfairness may have once been undertaken by one’s ancestors …’ And let’s not start on the Highland Clearances.
The skies suit my mood as I walk back to my car, sombre and angry – the injustices of history always seem to make me angrier than they should. There’s nothing I can do about it and I really ought to be more concerned about what’s happening around me here and now. Back off the path two young Japanese women are taking photos of each other in stupid poses and laughing hysterically at their own silly antics, directly beneath a big sign that reads This site is a war grave. Please treat it with respect. Perhaps they can’t read English. I sure hope so.
It’s the next day and Al and I have reached Skye, about a three hour drive from our wee hoose. And the weather has finally changed. Today we have even darker clouds than last night and driving rain, which we had been looking forward to in a naive sort of way, but now, ten minutes later, we have both definitely changed our minds as neither of us had counted on the fact that you cannot take any photos at all with horizontal rain splashing directly onto your lens. The raindrops appear as white flares on the finished pictures. We scatter about like demented chooks, ducking and weaving while trying to capture yet another olde bridge over a waterfalle while getting soaked. This evening I’ll no doubt be spending hours cloning all the rain spatters off today’s efforts.
After being hounded all over Scotland by the Redcoats for nearly six months after Culloden, Bonnie Prince Charlie managed to escape over the sea to Skye. As he was whisked away to a secret hiding place near Loch Coruisk he is reported as saying, ‘Not even the Devil would follow me to this place.’ And he is right, it is the devil of a place. The Cuillins Mountains, and calling them the Far Cuillins is not recommenced, especially if you speak quickly, loom huge, dark and menacing not that far inland as the road winds along the coast and then grows narrower as we turn off and head up into a dark valley into the dark sky and over the mountains towards Talisker Distillery. We eventually reach the top and the distillery suddenly appears way beneath us. It is a white building, as they all are here, in a most unexpected delightful setting on the banks of an estuary. As the season has ended we are the only customers in the Talisker shop and Al bluffs his way through a conversation with the manager, but the manager obvious wins as Al comes out carrying a tastefully packaged 3 bottle Talisker tasting pack. ‘You may have trouble with that at Australian Customers,’ I remind him on the way home, and we then have a serious discussion, to start with, about how Customs train their officers for the rubber glove treatment, and who they actually practice on. Is it volunteers (!) or is it a lottery among the recruits? ‘Number 19, you are be today’s candidate.’
‘Oh no, Not again! You’ve pulled out my number three times this week.’
‘I thay, I thay, pick me, pick me inthead.’
I always wondered why he was called Bonnie Prince Charlie, but I now think I know. Flora Macdonald, before her family went into business manufacturing hamburgers, and notice how restrained I was just then, helped him escape by disguising the prince and dressing him up in women’s clothes, passing him off as her maid servant. It fooled the British patrols and no doubt saved his life, but I bet he sure felt like a right Charlie. Eventually, he managed to reach France and he died in Rome, where he’d been born, 42 years later, aged 68, having had to live that down in the great courts of Europe, no doubt for the rest of what must have been a rather disappointed life, always pretending to be a king. I gather he frequently dulled the pain with a certain famous product shipped over from his glens. Most kings of Scotland usually came to very sticky ends indeed at some point, usually involving a point, usually on the end of a claymore or a skein dubh. So perhaps BPC was better where he was, pissed out of his head among of the fleshpots of Europe.
Charlie is still remembered in a toast when Scots get together and it is often made by clinking shots of Loch Jaugh, or some other single malt whisky, over the top of a glass of water in the middle of the table, signifying the sea, as the toast to the King, but secretly, it’s to the King Over the Water, or actually Watter, as they say here.
My friend Ken Suttie pointed out to me some time ago that Princess Diana had a fair amount of Stewart blood in her line, so that it now means when Prince William eventually comes to the throne the Royal Blood Line will again be heavily, and rightfully, Stewart. Christ, I’m starting to sound like Dan Brown. Dan aside, all will be right with the world, especially the rather lovely Caledonian bit to the north of the UK when it happens. This is providing, of course, that Scotland doesn’t rise again in the meantime, though they probably don’t need to anymore as these days the half the cabinet are actually Scottish. Though, to little red republican me, I think I’d prefer the Abraham Lincoln model, governmentt of the people , by the people, etc, to the unelected descendents of Sir John Stewart of Bonkyl ( true) mate of Robert the Bruce. Who, in the picture, actually looks more like Vlad the Impaler.
I have since found out that bonnie is just another word for handsome, which shoots down my theory that it stood for drag queen or Carry On actor. Though not just Sid, Ken and Bernard and crew, but also the Two Ronnies, Morecombe and Wise, Kenny Everett, Alistair Sim and most of the Monty Python crew and also David and Matt from Little Britain can be seen in almost every episode dressed up as their own mothers. Charlie sure was in good company, wasn’t he? And what year did you say the kilt was invented?