Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Road to the Isles: Part I - Sense of Place

McIain’s restless soul
In such a wide and diverse world, what makes an individual feel truly at home? I believe that a sense of place is inherited and is carried down through generations by nurture and genetics.
I grew up in London with a live-in grandmother. She survived to the age of 92 and was a fiercely patriotic Macdonald whose ancestors she told me were ousted from their battlements in Argyll and forced to settle for a more humble lifestyle in and around Lochaber. Janet Eton Macdonald would have rather entertained an infestation of rats in her home than patronise a dreaded Campbell. Her nemesis clan she believed slaughtered the entire Macdonald population in their beds during a fateful winter’s night in Glencoe. It’s funny how she failed to appreciate that the Macdonalds actually ousted the MacDougalls from their ancestral home in the first place and at least one Macdonald must have survived the slaughter in order to procreate and eventually produce her.
The truth is that McIain’s clan was not murdered to every man, woman and child but possibly up to 40 were killed by their treacherous assailants and another 30 or so died of exposure when fleeing into the snow. It is not until you reach the glen that the full extent of the tragedy that took place on the 12th February 1691 really hits home. Irrespective of body counts, Glencoe is a place that retains its sorrow in its dour rock faces and tumbling falls. Like my grandmother, its outrage is inherent, it does not forgive and looms as the physical incarnation of McIain’s restless soul.
Following the road north-west through the desolate boggy moorlands of Rannoch Moor, the grim mountains glower down at strangers like giant sentinels, their granite arms firmly crossed. Never did a mountain say “sod off” more than Buachaille Etive Mor and it is with great awe and trepidation that a brave traveller slips quietly through these gargantuan walls of rock to take a long exhale at the open mouth of Loch Leven.
Glencoe is not a place for the faint of heart. Although its scenery is spectacular in every way a landscape can be, it can be hostile and ferocious to the unwary. The rain is often horizontal; the midges have soft wings but a hard bite. It is true to say that kill one of them and thousands will turn up for the funeral. Many come to the glen to pursue radical outdoor activities, braving the crumbling scree, the ice and the sharp teeth of the mountains in order to find white-knuckle adventure.
Me though, I like to visit Glencoe at least once every couple of years to experience that wonderful sense of belonging. When it rains, I wear waterproofs; if the midges are particularly angry, I stay in the car. If god intended me to climb mountains, He would have given me a set of cloven hooves, a spectacular goatee and a penchant for wild scrub. Looking out over the dark water to McIain’s Isle, surrounded by angry mountains iced with black thunder clouds I feel an all-consuming pride to just be part of it.

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