Travels Through Historical Fiction: My Heart’s in the Highlands

scotland Ben Nevis

Ben Nevis, highest point in the UK

Several years ago, our family had the wonderful adventure of driving through Scotland. We went in search of golf for husband and sons, castles and cathedrals for me, and in hope of a connection with ancestry for all of us. It was a delightfully successful trip with excursions to many famous sites and attractions. I could write for days about that part of our trip, but I suspect readers of a blog devoted to historical fiction are already familiar with the fundamentals of Tourism Scotland. Writing about experiences of the less well-known variety is always fun for the author and perhaps will be for the reader, as well.

Scotland N Berwick Bass rock and Glen View Golf Course _1053836051

North Berwick Golf Club fairway with Bass Rock in the background.

Once over the border into Scotland, our first stop was North Berwick (pronounced “Ber-ick”) and the lovely links course there. We stayed in a quaint Victorian hotel where our windows looked out to the course, the Bass Rock, and the Firth of Forth. I don’t remember the hotel’s name or the name of the castle ruins nearby that we visited, but I still have a mental image of the largest pink rose I have ever seen. Like Alaska where daylight can lasts for 22 hours at mid-summer, Scotland is far enough north to have extremely long summer days. Extended daylight often encourages superior growth in plants and may have been the reason for the gigantic rose, but whatever the source of its size, it was a magnificent sight as its canes arched over the front door and laid a blossom against the white of the hotel’s stucco wall. The guys enjoyed the golf, too.giant_pink_rose_by_zazi_chan

From North Berwick, we went on to Edinburgh and the Royal Mile, but a couple of days too early for the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. I wasn’t able to talk my men into staying. My disappointment was laid to rest, however, in a small town that we really had not anticipated visiting. Our destination was Inverness, but distance and a late departure necessitated an overnight stop. Kingussie is not a major tourist destination, but it offered a once in a life time experience for us.

My husband needed to call his office in Houston, so we were directed to a red phone booth on the main street. During his

Kingussie piper Glyn Morris_0

Kingussie piper Glyn Morris

call, we began to hear bagpipes playing in the distance. As he discussed the details of a crude oil contract, the piping grew louder, then magic happened. Down the middle of the high street came a bagpipe band dressed in full formal dress kilts, playing with superior precision and great dignity. The Kingussie Bagpipe Band was returning from a major competition which they had won. The discussion of crude oil contracts ceased so that colleagues on the trading floor in Houston could hear the music as my husband held the phone out to capture the impromptu concert. I hope the pipers heard the applause they received from Texas!

The next morning the guys again golfed while I sat at the club house reading and watching RAF fighters doing low level training maneuvers through the valley in which Kingussie Golf Course is set. Both the pipers and the golf course were unexpected delights.

From Inverness, we traveled as far north as Dornoch and then back to Inverness where we put my husband on the Royal Scotsman back to London and his flight home. Our sons and I soldiered on. Driving on the left for the first time was an adventure. Picture, if you will, a narrow two lane road with rocky cliff faces on one side and a drop of several yards down into Lock Ness on the other. Now visualize meeting head-on two huge tour busses coming around a sharp curve. The bus drivers had creatives views on where their lanes ended and mine began. Palpitations hardly describes my reaction. We survived. I felt invincible from that point on. The Highlands lay before us.scotalnd loch ness highway

One cannot visit the Highlands without thinking of the most famous, if inaccurate, portrayal of Scottish royalty in all of literature, that of MacBeth, Shakespeare’s Thane of Glamis and Cawdor. Cawdor Castle is known for its gardens and for the 5th Earl Cawdor having said, “I wish the Bard had never written his damned play!” Despite the Earl’s declaration, the present inhabitants of Cawdor Castle put the literary connection to good and profitable use. Stones

Scotland macBeth Cawdor-Castle_5

Cawdor Castle

of the original tower have been dated by architectural historians to around the late 14th century.[1] The historical MacBeth was born in 1005. Maybe the 5th Earl was on to something. Obviously, the Bard took some liberties with the historical facts. Such is the prerogative of authors of historical fictions.

 

51AVxw4UjTL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Scotland is a favorite setting of many authors. One only need look at the historical romance genre to find more Highlanders than probably ever inhabited the region in any given period. Then there are the works by Outlander author Diane Galbaldon that have taken Amazon and television by such storm.

My favorite novel set in Scotland is Lady MacBeth: a Novel by Susan Fraser King published in 2009. While certainly a work of fiction, it strikes much closer to the truth of Highland life during the Medieval period and of the historical MacBeths than earlier works. Here is what the jacket back says:

Lady Gruadh, called Rue, is the last female descendant of Scotland’s most royal line. Married to a powerful northern lord, she is widowed while still carrying his child and forced to marry her husband’s murderer: a rising warlord named Macbeth. Encountering danger from Vikings, Saxons, and treacherous Scottish lords, Rue begins to respect the man she once despised–and then realizes that Macbeth’s complex ambitions extend beyond the borders of the vast northern region. Among the powerful warlords and their steel games, only Macbeth can unite Scotland–but his wife’s royal blood is the key to his ultimate success.

Determined to protect her son and a proud legacy of warrior kings and strong women, Rue invokes the ancient wisdom and secret practices of her female ancestors as she strives to hold her own in a warrior society. Finally, side by side as the last Celtic king and queen of Scotland, she and Macbeth must face the gathering storm brought on by their combined destiny.

Lady Macbeth as you’ve never seen her . . .

Rue is a definitely a different Lady MacBeth from the one we all read in high school!  Happy reading!

My Heart’s in the Highlands by Robert burns

Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North,
The birth-place of Valour, the country of Worth;
Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,
The hills of the Highlands for ever I love.

My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here;
My heart’s in the Highlands a-chasing the deer;
A-chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart’s in the Highlands wherever I go.

Farewell to the mountains high covered with snow;
Farewell to the straths and green valleys below;
Farewell to the forests and wild-hanging woods;
Farewell to the torrents and loud-pouring floods.

My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here;
My heart’s in the Highlands a-chasing the deer;
A-chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart’s in the Highlands wherever I go.

For your listening pleasure, my favorite choral arrangement of Robert Burns’s poem:

My Heart’s in the Highlands by Donna Hartman Schulz

Notes

  1. http://www.cawdorcastle.com/The-Castle/Shakespeare-Heritage.aspx, retrieved 5/5/2016.

 

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