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A ramble through northern Scotland and its history

When Bonnie Prince Charlie fled into exile he was the first of thousands who would later leave the Highlands



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The Jacobites, as they became known, launched their first assault against the Hanovers in 1715. With French backing they clashed with English forces in the battle of Sheriffmuir but the attempt fizzled. A second attempt, using Spanish forces, met a similar fate in 1719. But in 1745 Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Old Pretender’s son, almost pulled it off.

Charles Edward Stuart, "The Young Pretender", set out from France on a mission to recapture the English crown for dad. The 24-year-old Prince landed in the Outer Hebrides with a handful of men and a promise of French support which never came. But against all odds, using personal persuasion and Highland loyalty to the Stuart name, he mobilized the clansmen into an army that took Edinburgh and fought its way south to Derby in central England, where their luck ran out. Overwhelmed by a Hanover force lead by the Duke of Cumberland, Charlie and his Jacobites were pursued back into the Highlands and it all came to an end at the Battle of Culloden.

On April 16, 1746 the Jacobite Scots were cornered and defeated. After the battle a thousand of Charlie's Scottish supporters were condemned to death and, for this atrocity, Cumberland became known as "the butcher." Bonnie Prince Charlie escaped and became a fugitive. But the battle of Culloden still resonates in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland where the legacy of that fateful defeat remains.

From Glenfinnan Betty and I continued west along "The Road to the Isles," the old coastal road that winds through wild mountain landscapes and skirts lonely sea lochs facing the stormy North Atlantic. The road ends at the bustling fishing town of Mallaig where we checked into a B&B in time to poke around the docks and climb to a viewpoint for our first view across the Sound of Sleat to the Isle of Skye.

North of Mallaig, at Kyle, the Isle of Skye is permanently tethered to the mainland by a bridge built in 1995. But the ferry still operates from Mallaig and the next morning, the 30-minute crossing delivered us to Armadale where the partly ruined Clan Macdonald castle, now home to the "Museum of the Isles," is surrounded by magnificent gardens carpeted with tiny blue flowers. According to Betty, who is more botanically literate than me, the blue bells of Scotland are actually cillas. No matter, the Armadale gardens were well worth a stop.