The Wild North Highlands

A Different Country

From the earliest of times the North Highlands has been seen as a different country and with good reason. The fault line, now known as the Great Glen, is in fact the joining together of two completely separate land masses that crashed together some half a billion years ago. The land looks different because it is different.

What we now know as the Cairngorms was once known as the spine of Scotland or the Mounth both indicating a place where that which was beyond was somehow other and different.

Yet beyond this forbidding barrier there were lands that were lush and fertile as well as lands that were harsh and brutal and the earliest settlers who made it over the mountains to establish their small communities are even today something of a mystery.

Early written records throughout Britain came only with the monasteries and the interpretation of such works is as much an art as a science even today. Before around 500 CE we rely more on the stories told in the stones themselves.

You will only come to appreciate the true achievements of our archaeologists when you visit the sites and examine just how much information can be extracted from a very basic set of data.

But we do know that Neanderthals made it up to the far north and settled, to be followed by wandering tribes of Southern and Eastern European origin. These folk mingled and merged to slowly become what the Romans would call Picts. It was after Roman times that Picts adopted the name for themselves and the Picts of Fe in Fife were very different to the Picts of Cait in the far north Caithness, Sutherland, Orkney and Shetland. Even the Picts of Fortriu around Inverness-shire and Moray were different to them both.

Then the Vikings came and stamped their influence on the far north while the Irish extended their influence over the far north west. The North Highlands became an embattled and fought over place with pockets of power and influence jealously held and traded in battle and negotiations of marriage, a feudal existence. When the Normans completely held sway over the South, the barons sent to the North lived for centuries in a state of dispute with their neighbouring territories.

In the thirteenth century the English Monarchs developed and maintain a line of forts to keep the barbarians of the North Highlands exactly where they were and it was in these days that the romantically named but widely feared Lords of the Isles held sway as cattle rustlers and looters of the worst kind, even sailing boats up through Loch Ness to encroach on Inverness itself.

Throughout the changes of the reformation the North Highlands remained mainly Catholic and also retained links with mainland Europe that were lost elsewhere in Britain.

It was partly this that led to Inverness-shire as being the end point of the Jacobite Revolutions, as the North Highlands were finally beaten into submission by sheer weight of force and determination from the Hanoverian Crown that could brook no rivals.

For over a hundred years from that fateful day in 1746 the Northern Highlanders were treated as no more than animals to be bought, sold and exploited by rich landowners who were to make and lose fortunes in slavery-based industry such as sugar in the West Indies.

But the tide was quietly turning, travelling for leisure was becoming possible and Martin Martin, later to be followed by Thomas Pennant, found the folk in the far north to be interesting and worthy of note. Samuel Johnson was to travel up here and Sir Walter Scott would write of them, leading eventually to the visit of Victoria and Albert in 1848.

The North Highands were still a different world, but now an attractive and romantic one, a place of curiosity and beauty.

You should come and see for yourself.

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