Monday, 31 August 2009

Dark Deeds

I'm back from my holidays in Scotland. A whole week on the banks of Loch Ness and an interesting place it was too.

Aside from the good food and ale that was available across the land (the Scots don't live on deep-fried Mars bars and Irn Bru, although I'm rather partial to the latter), the scenery was incredible. Craggy lochs over-looked by dizzying mountains, ruined castles and towering pines.

A backdrop to some dark deeds and shocking massacres. We found ourselves at Culloden Moor, the scene of the last stand of the Jacobite Clans against government forces. The fierce, feared highlanders employed medieval tactics against a highly trained, modern army and lost. Badly. I wandered the battlefield with my satellite-controlled commentary unit, headphones warming my ears. Flags denote the battle lines and I was struck by the closeness of the enemies but also thinking that something of the atmosphere of the place had been lost.

Until I came to the Well of the Dead.

A small scrubby hollow in the middle of the moor, a spring and little else.

Here, the highlanders became bogged down, quite literally in the moss and mire. The bodies piled four deep as the older clansmen fought to the death, shielding the younger sons who had accompanied them on the adventure.

All those shared moments and family ties: arguments, feuds, laughter, dancing, drinking, hangovers, weddings, births and bereavements all culminating in a bloody ten minutes in which four hundred died by shot and bayonet.

And in that massacre lay the roots of much greater slaughter. Apparently, after Culloden, the redcoats adopted and adapted the Highland Charge, only with fixed bayonets. It became feared across Europe and beyond.

Until the machine guns of the Somme and Paschendale halted it in its stride.