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Our day at The Macpherson Clan Gathering
by Betty Ward

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 two.

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: 

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 Edinburgh Airport.

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