Saturday, January 16, 2010

West Highland Way, Day 5: Glens, Straths, Kirks, and Lachans

My shoe duct-taped up, we struck out into the heart of the Highlands toward Tyndrum. We have a good twelve mile walk today, the first six miles winding through beautiful Glen Falloch,

following the river toward Crianlarich, spectacular gorges and waterfalls on either side.

I had to give up on the shoes a couple miles along the trail and change into my reserve pair of trail hikers. The duct tape had shredded. At least I had a back up pair of walkable shoes - I learned that lesson crossing the Salkantay in the Andes wearing Mary Janes. Thank God it wasn't raining because my spare pair wasn't Gore Tex. Indeed, they were pretty permeable and crossing those streams was rather dicey not to mention the lack of ankle support jumping across the rocks.

We had to share our glen with railroad tracks and the A82. Before I moved to California I always said I would never preface highways with "the", but then I thought I would never "do lunch" either. By now our path was following an old military road built by the English after the '45 to transport troops.

Once we turned northwest away from Crainlarich we were well into forest. We were in no hurry to finish our 12 miles, what with six foot foxglove,

a fairy forest, and no signs of civilization.

Sally had a way of finding a spot for a few minutes of reading all along the Way.

We descended out of the forest into the pastoral valley of Strath Fillan, looking for the ruins of a 13th century kirk.

For the reader, a strath is a wide, flat river valley, a glen is a narrower, deeper, secluded valley, and a kirk is a Scottish church.

We found St. Fillin's Priory in a small grove of trees, just a remnant of what was once a magnificent building restored by Robert the Bruce in 1317. St. Fillan walked and taught the Christian way in this valley in the 8th century. The Bruce carried one of the priest's arm bones into the Battle of Bannochburn and restored this monastery in gratitude for his victory.

On a knoll next to the priory we found the cemetery of a Celtic church dating back to the 8th century.

St. Fillan was the patron saint of the mentally ill. A path down to the River Fillan took us to the Fillan's Holy Pool. Until the 18th century people thought to be insane were dunked in the pool, then left overnight strapped to a bench in the priory. If the bonds were loose in the morning, they were cured! An early version of our seclusion and restraint!

We had only three more miles into Tyndrum, but we were walking history here.

This is the story. Robert the Bruce and his guys, just defeated at the Battle of Methven, came to the priory in 1306 seeking sanctuary. Seems that Alistar MacDougall was a little pissed off that The Bruce had killed his father-in-law in the Greyfriar's Kirk a few months earlier and tracked The Bruce here to St. Fillan's. A battle ensued in a nearby field, now known as Dal Righ (the King's Field) and things didn't go well for the outnumbered Bruce side. As the guys fled east, Bruce covered the retreat of his men by bringing up the rear, killed three men who attacked him at the same time, and the MacDougall Highlanders backed off when they saw this. During the skirmish, though, he lost his cloak and magnificent brooch, still kept today at a MacDougall castle. A few yards from where Bruce killed his assailants he threw his sword and stuff into this little lake called Lachan nan Arm (Lake of the Arms) in order to more quickly flee with his men.
* a lachan is a little lake, this one glacier made.

We had begun to develop a habit of lingering on the last bit of trail at the end of the day, especially a nice day weather wise as this one. That's not to say it wasn't a little wet off and on, just no downpours. Finally, we relent and walk into town.

Being at the junction of several glens, Tyndrum has some history itself, dating back to the days of drovers and their cattle staying here on their way to markets in central Scotland. Rob Roy made one of his escapes from government soldiers by sneaking out a back window of The Old Village Inn while his pursuers were coming in the front door.

Just to the west lies Glen Strae, home to the MacGregor family from the 9th century until they were annihilated in the 18th century. One of our grandfathers times many greats, Sir Parker Steele, came to Glen Strae in the 1600's and had a son born here, Alexander, who died before his son, Reuben, our immigrant, could be born. Alexander, I'm sure, would have come through Tyndrum. Did he stop for a mug of ale? Was he hanging out with Rob? Did he leave the glen when the Campbells hunted down and murdered the MacGregor chiefs? Where is that time machine when you need one?

Tomorrow, we go to the best view in Scotland.

1 comment:

Pat said...

Wonderful post! I love those fairy forests, don't you? Did you bring some water back from Fillan's Holy Pool? I would think you could use that from time to time...