Americans in Scotland Part # 14. May 2, 2007 0:52:29 GMT
Post by mary ailean on May 2, 2007 0:52:29 GMT
Tuesday, July 4
It was up and out the door by 9:30 a.m. for our exciting day of travel to Plockton and Skye, and wonderful Cille Choirill before that. We were both anxious to visit the church we'd seen on Monarch of the Glen, BBC's 7 year long TV series. Bruce, and I, headed for the Roy Bridge area, after passing by a very still Loch Laggan. I got out of the car to take a camcorder picture of Ardverikie House from across the loch on the A86 using the telephoto. My digital photo from the same spot is above and the link below has a professional picture taken from there. When you get to the tiny picture of Ardverikie in the group on the right, click on it for the larger picture. You'll see the back of the 'House' up closer.
When we arrived at the foot of the Cille Choirill hill, we found the spot where the key was placed. Bruce took it off the hook, got back in the car, and we wound up the hill to the church. Choirill is near Monessie (I m'un Easa) Gorge, east of Roy Bridge. Anyone who goes over can ask at the Ardverikie Estate office for the key location. The hill is called 'Hangman's Hill', Tom a'Chrochaire, by tradition. I've read that there is a Gaelic phrase used for those laid to rest there, 'Chaidh e thar a' Mhaim', or 'he went over the ridge'. You'll notice two spellings are used for the church, Cille Choireil and Cille Choirill. I gave Paul the first spelling for the picture captions because Choireil is the man the church is named for, and it is spelled in the guidebooks that way. Then on the link with Lochaber history I see 'Choirill' used, so I will go with the locals!
The original sixth century building, built by Choireil, a nephew and disciple of Columba, was a simple cell. It was replaced in the 15th century by Ailean nan Creach. Ailean used to be a man's name in Scotland, now replaced by Alan. This creation was known as 'Kilkarill', and was dedicated to St. Choireil. The kirk was restored in the early 1930s, financed mainly by Canadian descendants of Brae Lochaber's 19th century emigrants. The church, opened by Bishop MacDonald of Victoria, British Columbia, has been a continuously active church since the 15th century.
(some interesting funeral notes here)
In my guidebook I read that within the sacred, crowded ground lies a 'who's who' of Brae Lochaber. The graves of Lochaber's clergy are on Tom Aingeal, High Brae, or the upper burial ground. Just this week I looked back at the Monarch DVD episodes of 3:11 and 5:6 to really figure out which area in the graveyard was used for Hector's grave. In the rush before leaving on the trip I didn't look at the film to place it. The grave, I now see, is on the door side of the church and back a bit beyond the great Celtic stone that is a bit slanted now from ground settling or upheaval.
Nancy's pictures of the graveyard helped me to locate it, too. The stone is the largest of its kind in the cemetery. It is inscribed to 'Iain Lom, Bard na Ceapaich', (Bard of Keppoch). Iain Lom was the man who guided Montrose's army through the winter snowstorm to the walls of Inverlochy Castle. He had been appointed Poet Laureate by Charles II, the only Gaelic poet to be named Laureate.
We parked the rental car in the parking lot down the hill and walked up. Our Vauxhall rental was the only car in the lot. At 10:00, when we arrived, it was quite warm even with a slight breeze, and I left my coat in the car. I had another 'I can't believe I'm here' moment when I first saw the chapel. It was so very quiet on the hill. The only sound was a hawk overhead, and the bleating of a solitary lamb on a nearby hill below us. One of the first things that I noticed was the large, slanted heart-shaped ring of trees on the green hill across Glen Spean. You can see it to the left and above on the picture at the top here.
Before entering we wondered what several broken stones were doing on the ground, but we passed them by. I slowly walked around the church that was surprisingly light inside, and remarked about it's small size to Bruce. It looked huge when filled with people for Hector's funeral on MOTG. One enters through a single door at the back, and part way up the one center aisle there is a step, even before the altar rise. I can't imagine why it was necessary, and I wonder how many people have tripped while walking back down the aisle to leave. There is probably a good reason for it to be there, but pity the bride!
There is a plaque to the left side of the altar that says, "In Timore Deo Deservire" or “ to serve in fear of God”. The full phrase, an antiphon (response) in a Mass, is "in timore didicit Deo deservire," that is, "he has learned to serve in the fear of God."
(F.V., my Latin source in Maine helped with the translation.)
There is a lovely standing crucifix on the altar that is bronze on wood. The altar itself is made of stone, and it has a wooden top. I sat down on one of the wooden folding chairs for a while, and Bruce took the guest book outside to read on a bench by the door of the church. I had the unholy thought that he beat me to it! We had decided not to rush our visit, and so I knew I would get to read the over-sized book eventually. When I went outside again, it was to climb the hill to read as many of the gravestones as I could. There are stones all the way up to a high point, and down the other side.
While I was at the top, on Tom Aingeal, filming, I heard Scottish voices and, looked down the hill to Bruce who was talking with a couple near the church. Since they didn't have purses or anything to mark them as tourists, I assumed they were the caretakers, and I waved to them. I noticed that a great many MacDonalds and Camerons are buried in that section. It is from this high vantage point that the place used for Hector's burial site can best be seen. The Monarch photographer may have stood there for the first scene of Cille Choirill. The best view on the program showed the church side of the graveyard and the piper who played the funeral dirge.
I stood there at the high point for a while thinking that, although the acres of dead bodies take up a much greater space, the wee chapel’s presence is not overshadowed by the graves. Since a soul cannot be kept in the ground, I thought about life and not death while standing at the top. The ash and dirt are now covered by green grass and wildflowers. I am greatly affected by the feel of a place and, for that reason, I couldn't stay long at the Coliseum in Rome. I was saddened by what I knew of the pain and death experienced there. I didn't feel anything like that walking among the stones at Cille Choirill. I did want to honor those memorialized, and I went from grave to grave reading the stones. At this time Bruce was talking to the couple down below.
The Monarch series episode captured the feel of this spot high over Glen Spean quite well. The day that the camera moved down over Hector's grave, and the entire hill, it was dark and rainy. Perhaps the lightness, that I felt the day we were there, was partially due to the sunshine.
When I got back down to Bruce he told me that there had been a break-in the night before. The caretakers had discovered it right before we arrived, and left to call the police. They asked us to avoid touching anything until the officers arrived. We were there for over an hour, and the police never did arrive. The couple told us that the robbers used some pliers and heavy stones to break the lock. Then they took the poor box that had very little in it since it had been emptied on Sunday after the church service. They didn't steal the lovely crucifix, or anything else inside, as far as the caretakers could tell.
Bruce took the camcorder to record the front door breakage, and I got a kick out of listening to him narrate the film at the door like it was part of a ‘Columbo’ episode (American detective show starring Peter Falk). We couldn't imagine someone taking money earmarked for the poor, but such is the world we live in.
I enjoyed discovering several names that I recognized in the large guest book. I found Laura C. from Stirling and Emm Barlow of Surrey, both British "Monarch people". I also enjoyed seeing this entry:
"21 Mar '06 Rob proposed to Caroline while standing in this beautiful church, and she said Yes!" I added my name to the others, and wrote something about what it meant to be there.
Then I scribbled names, from a small piece of paper, that I'd written out the night before, onto a card. These were my prayer intentions for the priest, and I placed them on the altar. I reviewed our camcorder disc recently, and I'd forgotten that I had mentioned praying for the robbers who had desecrated the church the night before. A cash shortage was the least of their needs at that time!
Back outside I noticed that the lamb, near the croft below, was still bleating, but we could see him and he wasn't in any peril. As we were leaving a couple from the Netherlands arrived, and we gave the key to them. When the couple first went inside one of them rang the bell, and it sounded so good that I went back to ask them if they'd ring it again so that I could film the church with the bell ringing in the background for the audio of my camcorder.
The woman said that she'd be happy to do that. She was ringing before I got to the end of the path, and she rang that bell, and rang that bell, with all of her might. It kept going and going. I'm sure that they heard it all the way to Ft. William! Bruce was laughing when I got to the car. Now when we play the film we clip it off before the end of the video because it is so loud. Bless her heart, she was only helping the American!
When we were on the road again, I knew that I had just been to a place I'd remember for the rest of my life. The guest book had been full, and they would soon replace it with a new one so my words won't necessarily be seen by any of you, but I did leave a bit of myself there in that peaceful place.
I will remember walking on the hill, and I'll think of the view from the highest place. I'll remember Rob's proposal, written in the guestbook, when he couldn't keep Caroline's answer to himself. I’ll think of the others coming after who are sure to stand in that ancient setting to sanctify their love. I hadn't expected the visit to Cille Choirill to be as momentous as it was.
It took us about an hour and a half to drive the A86 to A82, and then to switch to the A87 highway on our way to Eilean Donan Castle. This was our second try for Skye. We were driving the same route we set out on the day before when we had to go back rather than wait a long time at the police barricade at an accident scene. We'd been to the Castle on our previously mentioned tour in '01, and this time it was the same busy mecca for travelers. Eilean Donan has that 'postcard Scotland' look that tourists seek out, and the spot was again over-run with people. It was a hot day, in the 80's, and the castle was such a contrast to Cille Choirill that it seemed almost like a Hollywood set. As it has been, actually.
Eilean Donan has been used as a location for so many movies. ‘Loch Ness’ with Ted Danson, and ‘The Master of Ballantrae’ with Errol Flynn are just two of the movies filmed at the castle. It is the most famous for being the location for ‘Highlander’ with Sean Connery and Christopher Lambert, the one made in 1999. The gift shop was crowded, but I did find a necessary camera battery and a guidebook. We were there at dusk the time before, and now we were seeing the ancient old gal in the harsh light of day. I would guess that it’s that great high-sided stone, serpentined bridge to the castle that brought Hollywood to her door.
I'd heard that Eilean Donan was the ancestral home of the Mackenzies, but I have learned that it fell to the MacRaes around 1362. In 1719 the castle was ruined and restoration didn't begin until 1912. We didn't go inside, but the pictures show a very comfortable 'house', and the banquet hall looked especially well done. In 1932 the reconstruction was completed and the bridge to the island was also finished.
I'll remember the piper that had been hired to play for the tourists in front of the stone bridge more than anything. I can't forget him because he is on our camcorder disc filmed that day! He was playing his bagpipes just a wee bit too fast for the piece to sound good, but mostly I'll remember the people running up to have their picture taken with him! I don't know how a musician could concentrate on his fingering with all of that distraction, so I'll give him a break and think he was just in a hurry to beat a fast retreat! Poor guy-his placement for the best picture, with the castle behind him, was in the full sun and it was hot! Bruce and I said goodbye to the island castle of Eilean Donan, and headed on.
We turned off for the road to Plockton just after Balmacara. It was one way for a while, and slow going since we had to stop in the pull over areas about 4-5 times. You approach Plockton from the inland side, and go past some nice cottages and lovely streets, and then down a hill to come out on the view that is famous! We parked in a lot on the main street, and walked up to the Plockton Hotel about midway to the end of the lochside area. The grey stone edifice had been painted black and the grouting white, but every other building on the street was white washed stone.
This West Highland village is so pretty you can't use too many superlatives to describe it. The sun turns the water to sapphire blue, and the only palm trees in all of Scotland line the garden strip on the main street. This is a stretch of coastline that is warmed by the balmy currents of the Gulf Stream, and it is sheltered from the winds by the encircling hills. The street is lined with climbing roses, and other brightly colored flowers, as well as green foliage. I've read that in the not too distant past Highland cattle roamed the streets, but that the beasts were finally restricted from town.
I loved the long row of white-washed buildings, and the sailboats bobbing in the harbor. The daily cruises to watch seals and otters are advertised by a sign near the water. There are swarms of seals just outside the harbor, and we heard that the main tour guides on 'Calum's Seal Trips' deliver a good commentary of the area.
We'd seen Plockton on the BBC series "Hamish Macbeth", the one loosely based on the fiction of M.C. Beaton. There is a wonderful cast of characters that live in the fictitious town of Lochdubh. Many of the main characters have also had roles in Monarch of the Glen. I lagged a bit behind Bruce as we walked in front of the pub and rental cottages. I wanted to lean over one of the fenced off garden areas to take a picture of a cute West Highland white terrier.
A man had walked the dog over from one of the buildings across the street, and he'd locked him inside one of the fenced gardens that is between the street and the shoreline. Mr. Dog had a lovely plot of grass with shelter from the sun, but he didn't want to be there, and he was looking longingly through the pickets of the gate. He would be the first of two Westies that I would see in Plockton. Lochdubh's constable played by Robert Carlyle has a Westie, wee Jock. Plockton seemed to be a town of dog lovers.
I could see Bruce up ahead talking to an older couple, perhaps in their mid to late 70's. They had just opened the hatch back of their car to take out their lovely Collie. When I caught up to them, Bruce was asking the dog's name. They call her Rhonna, and she is their third Collie, the woman told him. I said hello, and mentioned that it was the fourth of July, our independence day celebration in the United States, and it felt odd to be out of the country on that day.
The gentleman, Bob, told us that it was Rhonna's birthday, and that she was eleven years old. I told the two about our last dog, a sheltie, and the woman decided that Rhonna should pose for our camera in front of the rock wall across the street. She asked Bob to take Rhonna across, and he circled her until she sat down, looking gorgeous.
We continued talking to this friendly couple, for ten minutes more, and Bruce asked about the castle across the loch that was in our view. He was told that he was looking at Castle Duncraig. The woman wondered aloud if the family who purchased the castle a few years ago is still there, since it took all of their money to buy their prize. She said that they ran out of money before they could do much in the way of renovation. Bob told us that they'd made a TV series on BBC about the family and their desire to 'get away from it all' to a castle in Scotland that they'd seen advertised. We knew nothing about Duncraig Castle, but when we returned home I read about Duncraig in the next issue of Scottish Life Magazine (Autumn 2006).
(CONTINUED IN THE NEXT POST)