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Little Scottish Treasures
General George Wade
It’s rare that you hear pleasant words spoken in the Highlands about a British General from the early 1700’s but there is one exception, an Irishman called George Wade. He is remembered here with a little verse that goes “If you had seen this road before it was made, You would lift up your arms and thank General Wade”.
In 1724 George Wade became Commander in Chief of North Britain, and he had sound plan of how to ensure security in the Highlands of Scotland after two failed Jacobite uprisings. Wade set to work constructing major fortifications, with a network of roads and bridges throughout the land, which until then had no real roads. He also commissioned local militia, creating a regiment, that later under his supervision would become The Black Watch.
By 1736 there were 240 miles of roads and 40 new bridges substantial enough for wheeled carriages (some of which are still in use today).
The irony of this achievement was that it was in fact Wade’s enemies, the Jacobite forces led by Prince Charles Stuart who ended up using the roads to great effect during the next uprising of 1745.
You will often find sections of Wade’s original roads in rural areas as a long wide ridge running close by modern roads. There is the occasional stone bearing Wade's name and magnificent bridges like the one in Aberfeldy standing testament to the Great General Wade, a man who was replaced in 1745 by Prince Willam ‘The Duke of Cumberland’, but that’s another story.
The Watchers & A Moment in Time
When driving over the snow road north of Ballater there are two strong pieces of advice 1) Take a moment to stop 2) Sit and take in your surroundings for a short period. As if to emphasise the importance of this advice there are two art installations located in a bend on the road high above Corgarff castle, itself an isolated testament to the Forbes Clan who built it in the 1550's.
The first sculpture is ‘A moment in time’ by Louise Gardiner which is a large standing stone with a poem carved onto it, reading “Take a moment to behold as still skies or storms unfold, warm your soul before you go, in sun, rain, sleet or snow.” The stone itself has three holes drilled through it to mimic looking through a telescope toward three very different views.
The other installation is called ‘The Watchers’ by John Kennedy of Landlab. This consists of four seats shrouded in folded steel facing west to the rolling expanse of the Cairngorm mountains. Although abstract and modern in design, the watchers fit into the landscape perfectly almost mimicking the neolithic standing stones scattered around this part of the world. When sitting cocooned within one of the sculptures silence envelopes you and you instantly feel alone, at peace and one longs to linger a little while more.
The Watchers and A Moment in Time are not mere sculptures; they are invitations to surrender to the present moment, and to feel the connection between your inner self and the natural world. So, the next time you find yourself on the A939, take a moment to stop, sit, and let the beauty of the Cairngorms National Park wash over you. Allow the Watchers to inspire you, to awaken your soul, and to remind you of the profound beauty that exists in the world around us.
Blue Pool of Torwood
Today we were off to visit a ruined castle but our adventure also took us to a mysterious pool located in the forest nearby.
This is the ‘Blue Pool’ of Torwood which has been known of by locals to the area for decades, as many of them had been known to have taken a dip in it. The pool of bright blue water is roughly 6m across and thought to be about 4m deep. When you look in you can see old tree trunks at the bottom through the crystal-clear waters & when the sun comes out like today it really is a wonderful site.
Now in this land of Elves, Fauns & Fairies you would expect me to tell some fantastic tale of otherworldly encounters taking place here, but no such story seems to exist, possibly because in the grand scheme of things this site is relatively new in Scottish standards.
The reason for building the pool and the people who built it have been lost in time, but there have been many theories about its purpose and why it feels rather magical within its forest setting, however, the real purpose we believe, is either an old air shaft from the colliery sunk in 1865 a mile away and closed down in 1910, or an old break pressure chamber in the water supply line which fed the town of Grangemouth.
That’s not to say something otherworldly is yet to take place here, as the setting feels just right for such an occurrence.
Jack the Giant Slayer
Three ancient stones lie along the road between Fruid Reservoir & Tweedsmuir, these stones are linked to the legend and death of ‘Jack the giant slayer’.
The largest of the three stones which together may have been part of a druid stone circle, is according to tradition known as the Giant's Stone.
Legend has it that a giant once terrorized this area, until one day he was confronted by an archer called Jack, and in some cases is known as ‘Jack the Giant Slayer’.
During the fight Jack used the ‘Giant Stone’ to hide behind, although he killed the giant Jack received a fatal blow that claimed his life just as the giant died.
The three stones were said to mark the place where Jack was buried and at the end of the 18th century a tomb was found near the largest stone, it was covered with a large slab. Inside the tomb were the remains of a funeral urn.
Like most legends here in Scotland there is truth behind the tales we tell, just some get slightly exaggerated over the centuries.
The Carrick Stone
Carrickstone is a housing estate in Cumbernauld that sits atop a hill, but what many may not be aware of is where it gets its name from.
Behind the houses are two objects that you’d never expect to find here, a Roman altar (The Carrick Stone) and a trig point.
The Roman altar has a small fence around it but has been here for almost two thousand years. Legend has it that Robert the Bruce planted his standard in the hole in it, before The Battle of Bannockburn.
The stone takes its name from him, the ‘Earl of Carrick', continue a short distance along the path to find a trig point, which must have been erected long before the houses appeared in the early 1990's.
The Howff, Dundee
It is rare to go on a tour with us without a walk around at least one ancient cemetery, and everyone seems to enjoy the beauty and tranquillity of these places, whether out in the middle of the countryside or right in the centre of a busy city, Scottish Cemeteries are a wonderful place to visit.
This is ‘The Howff’ (howff simply means meeting place), it is located within Dundee City centre and was originally part of Dundee’s Greyfriars Monastery, where the church clergy met to recognise Robert the Bruce as King in 1314.
In 1564 Mary Queen of Scots granted the land to the council as use for a graveyard, and it was also used as a meeting place for the nine trades of Dundee to do business, which is the reason it was given its peculiar name.
Each trade had its own badge and banner, some of these can be seen carved into the graves, as well as the united trades 'Masonic symbol', these symbols join the popular symbols of death found all over our cemeteries.
A common myth is that a grave with skull & crossbones is a plague grave, this is not true, in fact most plague graves are unmarked and often not located within cemeteries.
The most famous resident of The Howff is 'James Chalmers’, the inventor of the adhesive postage stamp.
When you visit Dundee get away from the rush of the city centre by stepping into The Howff for a little reflection and to admire the work of ancient stonemasons, and when booking a tour with us, include a cemetery as one of your ‘must see locations’ and we will find a special one on your route.