Saturday, July 23, 2011

Ghosts of Culloden..

A friend once said of Culloden:
Even the birds don't chirp here...

Remembered as one of the bloodiest battles between the English and the Scots, its only when we start reading the visual display at the Culloden center that we understand how loosely these definitions hold,  For there were many Scottish clans who fought for the English during the course of this battle. Bannockburn was a happy place, but Culloden is just sad, we feel it when we walked in and we feel it when we walk through the fields. Our audio guides attempt to recreate what happened  in these green fields of today, many many many years ago.

Culloden is important. It shaped history. Emotive,  as it is historically important , its hard to completely understand the events that lead to the moment of battle.  The visitor center is excellent. It reconstructs the battle as it were with accounts from both sides fighting. Along with it, dates and important events leading up to the bloody Apr 16th 1746 in Culloden, tell a tale of a struggle for power between the Jacobites and the English. A struggle that came at the cost of many lives and altered the course of history forever.

Remembering the dead - Those who fought in Culloden...

I Realize again how flawed my understanding of history is. Reading can sometimes make actual events simplistic without meaning to. Its easy to take sides, to judge is even easier...But to stand back and view everything, giving every story an equal ear is so incredibly hard.
Today the moors where we stand are a picture of peace, but the ground beneath holds the graves of hundreds of men. Is life ever worth giving , even for a war? I wonder .. And while I hold mine precious I respect those who give their lives in pursuit of something they deem higher than themselves.

Exploring the display at the Visitors Center..
It started with one king , who ruled two kingdoms under two names -  As James II he ruled over all England and Ireland and as James VII he ruled all Scotland. The Catholic King ,was seen as a threat to an increasingly protestant English elite who turned to his son-in-law William of Orange for help; And as always when there is a struggle for power people turn against one another, even your own blood.. More so your own blood! And so James was deposed and  replaced by his daughter Mary II and her husband William III both protestants.  James fled to France. The Jacobite uprising  sought to restore power to the Stuart Kings , the last of the lineage being the recently disposed James.
History unravels.. The thrill of seeing 'Madras' in a place far from home..
At that time , The kingdoms of Scotland, England and Ireland were divided over religion. The Jacobite uprising found sympathy with a Catholic population who felt largely discriminated against by the ruling Protestants; May of the Jacobites were protestants themselves. Clans were sharply divided and in the end there were a few who even fought on the side of the English.
The battlefield..
England had for a while been ruled by the Whigs, believers in Constitutional Monarchism wherein the powers of the king are not absolute and he serves as head of state within the framework of a constitution.
Going by what we have today it might seem like the Whigs were right. But that's where the plot thickens. Plagued by corruption charges, struggling to contain political infighting and internal dissent , the Whigs did not see the Jacobite uprising coming. The French threw their support behind the Jacobites and it seemed like this was a threat that the English had to take seriously.
Markers of events that happened here...
The Whigs found a leader in William , The Duke of Cumberland. What precipitated the rising was an English defeat on May 11 1745; The French defeated the English forces at the Fonteoy of Flaunders.
Scottish Loyalties were already divided then.  The Jacobites fought with the French; The highlanders with the English...
The French King 'Bonnie Prince Charles'  saw an opportunity, a moment of weakness in the enemy and left France. He intended to gather support. But a series of unfortunate events saw him turn back from his march to London and move all the way up again, an English army at his heel.

In memory of the clans..
It all culminated in Culloden. A weakened Jacobite army tired from its march back from London was crushed by the English.....
Memorial to the dead in the background
There are gravestones to every clan who fought here.  Over 1000 people died , most buried at the site of where we stand now.
Those who fell in battle..

In honour of their Clans.. 

Its a hot sunny day and its incredibly quiet. We walk up to the memorial erected in honour of the dead.

When we leave I feel an incredible sadness, I can't quiet define why..
The ghosts of Culloden hang around to this day!

Meena Venkataraman

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Romance of the Urquhart..

Is there anything more beautiful than a Castle in Ruin? Perched on the clear blue waters of the Lochness, we can see history crumble gently. The wind blows in whispers and the Lochness ripples its head in agreement. If I had to pick favourites, this would be it; The Urquhart resplendent in the gorgeous yellow sunshine.
All the world is a stage and all its men and women merely players and so Urquhart played its role in the affairs of men.

Driving down to the Urqhart..
We arrived in Lochness a day before. The drive was breathtaking, the scenery arresting. As the lanes got narrower we had to stop trusting the Satnav and go with our instincts instead. We were delighted to discover that out B&B sat by the lake. Our delight was short lived for I found myself ruing that we only had a night to explore the place. But as always we left the next day vowing to come back for a longer stint at this fantastic place..
The Lochness
As we drove down past startlingly green Pine forests under a skittish sun  we stopped for a few pictures.
The Lochness was a constant, A calming presence interwoven with the character and history of this place. We talk about Nessie the monster - Legend? Myth? The calm waters don't say much. If there are monsters they are definitely not out and about today.
Reading about the Urqhart , the castle offers very good visual displays to the visitor..
When we enter, we walk into the visitors center. There are several visual displays describing the history of the castle. A video presentation is about to begin. We hurry into the hall. The video details the history of the castle from it speculated beginnings during the 13th century, its capture by Edward 1 of England; its redemption by Andrew De Moray ; it's gifting to a noble Scottish family of importance and its destruction on 1692 by Williamite forces during the Jacobite uprising. Urqhart weathered many a storm to where it stands now. When the curtain finally lifted to unveil a view of the castle I was speechless. Yes it was in ruin, but the brown stonework ravished by the blue waters of the Lochness was of incomparable beauty.
The beautiful ruin..
We walked  into the castle to explore. We cross over a wooden bridge, there appears to have been a draw bridge once here. Much smaller than the Edinburgh castle and the Sterling Castle, Urqhart still holds its own . We walk up the tall tower. The view from here is amazing. I remove my shades getting rid of this sunglass tinted reality, and squint into the bright sunlight. The outlines of trees not quiet into spring move gently in the breeze.
Watching the lake from the Urquhart..
Standing here we can see why the positioning of the Urquhart is so strategic , affording clear and unobstructed view over the waters of the Lochness on three sides it would have been hard for the enemy to approach unnoticed.
Exploring the Castle..

We clamber down and walk all the way to the edge of the Loch. No Nessie we hope :).

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Sterling Castle at 'Stirling'..

We stopped at the beautiful castle at Stirling, the second on our trip here. As with the one in Edinburgh, I was immediately struck by the strategic positioning and the view it commandeered; in times of peace the totally gorgeous Scottish countryside, and in times of war a hawk's eye view of the enemies approach if they were ever to get so close..
View the castle overlooks..
Outside stands a statue of Robert the Bruce. He seems to be overseeing the land beyond.
The iconic Robert the Bruce..
We walk into the palace. The next tour is about to start. ( The tours are free). We join in. Our rendezvous with the sunshine seems to endure. As we walk through this beautiful piece of 15th century Renaissance Art, history unravels. Here lived James V and it was under his reign that the palace was complete at around 1595. The rooms and halls are exquisitely decorated. James 5 was married to Mary of Guise. But his newborn daughter who would one day rule , Mary Queen of Scots did not see her father for long, for  James V died five days after she was born.
The Bowling Grounds..
We walk into the beautiful bowling grounds.  The beautiful maintained green lawns is an accurate reflection of how it would how looked in its days of royal splendor.

The walls are adorned with beautiful structures. It is ironic that I use the word beautiful for each of these grotesque creations some of whose faces are contorted in pain are ugly. But the carving is so painstakingly detailed that their pain seems to make the stone come alive in their suffering.

Inside the Great Hall..
The great hall that we walk into is massive, the largest banqueting hall of it time in Scotland. We see the dias where the king and queen once sat. At the far end of the hall hangs the symbol of the Unicorn, representing The Scottish Royal court of Arms. The beams stands high above us. The hall saw two great events, the baptism of the first born of Mary Queen of Scots and he in turn celebrated the baptism of his son prince Henry here. After a restoration project spanning 35 years the hall was finally restored to its former glory.

The inner hall of the queen has the magnificent Stirling tapestries. James V had two tapestries bearing the  symbol of the unicorn. The Stirling tapestries are a set of 7 and are a more recent project commissioned by Historic Scotland. The seven tell the story of the Unicorn and are meant to be viewed as some sort of a parable.
The Unicorn..

Monument to the 75th Stirlingshire regiment : Says.. India, Seringapattanam, Delhi, Relief of Lucknow..
We walk around and out of the castle and something catches my eye, a monument which looks like a cross with the words Seringapatnam caved on it. Its a tribute to the regiment which fought in the Mysore campaign from 1792 to 1799. I stand and contemplate how stories can be told and retold. For us who studied Indian history, the wars were the heroic fight of Tipu Sultan, The Tiger of Mysore  against the colonizing English.  For some others it was symbolic of the English conquest in foreign lands.
I remember  Chimananda Adichie and what she says about 'The danger of a single story.  Standing here I feel am part of both stories and I can see the scale of death and destruction on both sides and I feel a deep sense of sadness for all the lives lost not just Indian.

Meena Venkataraman


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