|The first weekend in August we
set off on our annual journey to Newtonmore and to the Macpherson Clan
Gathering. Making our way north from Falkirk on a beautiful Saturday
morning Granny, Pop and number one grandson joined the M9 motorway at
junction 5 and passed the steel jungle of BP Oil in Grangemouth on the
first step of our journey. There is something architectural about the many
columns and cooling towers needed to process oil into sellable products. A
well-known skyline in these parts during the day but spectacular at night.
After a couple of miles we looked went over
the river Carron where it meets the Forth and Clyde Canal on its way to
Bowling past Glasgow on the west coast. A few boats were tied at their
moorings but it is early days yet. The Falkirk Wheel is not ready for
operation until the spring of 2002 when the giant boatlift, the first of
its kind, will lift boats from the Forth & Clyde canal to the Union
Canal on higher ground. The towpath has been completed and there are a
party of walkers, probably making their way to Lock 16 to the west of
Falkirk where they’ll find the Union Inn a good stopover for a jar or
Connor is excited about going to The
Gathering. He’ll be one of the privileged marchers and at aged 6, the
youngest. It is the tradition that Macphersons march down the hill towards
the field where The Gathering is held to officially open the games. But we
have a two-hour journey ahead of us and lots to see in the meantime.
The first castle we pass is Airth Castle
which is now a popular hotel where you can stay in one of the haunted
rooms. Next castle off to the east is Plean Castle, locally known as
Cockabendy Castle. A church minister owns it. In front of us in all their
splendour are the Ochil Hills. A range of hills around 2,000 feet and well
used by walkers and ramblers. A couple of my favourite glens are where we
often took our own boys many years ago. Dollar Glen can conceal a torrent
of foam crashing down in the form of the Burn of Sorrow and especially in
the spring making walking a bit treacherous. The walk up the glen is well
worth while and at the top you arrive at Castle Campbell or Castle Gloom,
a stronghold of the Campbell Clan.
Further on the road Stirling Castle looks
worldly atop its extinct volcano. The newly refurbished Great Hall looks a
bit austere in its new livery but the folks around here have grown used to
it now. Behind the castle, looming out over the south is the Wallace
Monument built in 1820 to commemorate one of our Scottish heroes and his
achievements in winning freedom for the Scots. Climb the stairs to the top
and you will be rewarded with a magnificent view taking in all the
neighbouring counties and the River Forth wending its way to the North
Sea. The pretty towns of Bridge of Allan and Dunblane hug the sides of the
Ochils as we take the A9 road signed to Perth.
Connor is chatting all the way and keeps us
entertained with his latest songs he mimicks from his TV watching of the
past week. We see the fair city of Perth stretched out in the distance but
we skirt the west side and the rolling hills of Perthshire and take the
Inverness road. Blair Castle is a magnificent castle which looks stark
white against the green backdrop of Blair Athol. It is the only castle in
Scotland allowed to keep a private army – the Athol Highlanders. Well
worth a visit and full of interesting antiques.
We make a stop for a spot of lunch at The
House of Bruar, a few miles north of Pitlochry. Connor follows his pop,
both kilts swinging with the natural swagger of a couple of highlanders
ready to do battle. The place is hoaching with visitors and foreigners and
eyes naturally turn to the bold pair. During the week we’d bought a wee
Bonnie Price Charlie jacket and Connor was proudly wearing it with his
jabot blowing in the breeze.
On past Loch Tummel and Glen Garry with the
hills turning to mountains as the sun gets higher in the sky. I always
know when we are at the highest point of the road, the Drumochter Pass,
when we reach the snow gates and the wooden marker posts at the side of
the road. The colours of the pine forests contrast with the rocky outcrops
and the many shades of green of the countryside as we pass alongside
Glentruim, Macpherson country.
Listening to a CD of The Corries and, as if
on cue, they give their rendering of Macpherson’s Rant as we turn off
the main road towards Newtonmore. The field is busy. Lots of people, a
good turnout, something to do with the weather. We are in time for Connor
getting himself in position behind his dad for the march down the hill.
Opposite them is Creag Dhubh, the hill eagerly waiting the footsteps of
the hillracers, part of the fun of participating in the games. The young
and fit will win the day.
The pipe band leads the fray and the many
proud kilties follow behind with the wave of visitors with cameras parting
to let them through. The march, the line-up of the various Chieftains with
their Septs, the grouse feather standing proud on their Glen Garry. The
colourful display followed by the speech of the Cheiftain of the Clan,
Cluny Macpherson adds to the adventure of being in a time warp where the
same scene has been re-enacted time and time again. Connor has done it. He
has completed the march and has the widest grin imaginable.
The Games get off to a good start with
participants from Australia and Canada as well as the indigenous
musclemen. Shot Putt, Throwing the Hammer, Tossing the Caber, Running
Heats, Highland Dancing, the crowd clapping and wanting more. The sweat,
queues for ice-cream, the shows, queues for toilets, sair feet, the beer
tent, tired but happy. A day to remember. What I could not remember was
the man’s name with whom I had spoken to earlier because I thought I
knew him from last year.
It was pointed out that it was Hamish
Clarke. He is an actor and plays the part of Duncan in the popular TV
series ‘The Monarch of the Glen’. I watch it every Sunday night. The
series is filmed in the scenic area near Laggan, the next wee village to
Newtonmore. The day was complete. I learnt that filming was underway for a
new series to be screened in October. Couch potato, I’ll be there! As I
will be next year for The Gathering on the first weekend in August.
See you there!
Betty runs the Ashbank Guest House, Main Street,
Redding, Falkirk FK2 9UQ
Tel: +44 (0)1324-716649 Fax: +44 (0)1324-712431 E-Mail: [email protected]
A Scottish welcome awaits you at our 100 year old detached stone cottage with a private
garden. Beautiful views over the Forth Valley to 'Braveheart' country and the Ochil Hills.
Rates are from Ł20 per person. Brochure available on request. Near main
line train station and M9 motorway. Pick-ups available Polmont Station and