It was a nice sunny day in this old land that I call home and it was decided that a wee drive would be the order of the day, but where to go? That was the problem, Gourock Highland Games was on or we could go through to Stirling Castle where Historic Scotland were putting on a Scottish legends weekend, Archie Gemmell was nowhere to be seen by the way!!!
As you may have guessed we opted for Stirling, there’s always loads to do here if you’re into your Scottish history.
As we entered the castle there was a show ready to start, presented by The Historic Saltire Society in the Queen Ann Gardens. It was basically a presentation of the difference between Braveheart the movie and the real William Wallace. Primarily aimed at the kids it probably educated a few of the adults in the audience who believe that Braveheart was actually a documentary!!!
On then we went to the Middle Square where we met the real William Wallace, specially sewn back together for the weekend. Wallace apparently was quite a large man and this fella was medium at best but what he lacked in size he more than made up for in presentation and knowledge of the great Sir Wallace.
Children sat transfixed as he told us of the tales of Williams’s life, his loves, his victories and ultimately his betrayal. He skilfully took us on a rollercoaster of emotions and warned us all of the enormity of evil that lived among the nobles and that their greed would ultimately be the downfall of Scotland, how right he was. I was genuinely impressed by this one man show of patriotism and thanked him personally on a balanced and honest portrayal of Sir William Wallace.
We then took a wee stroll into the Great Hall which just lends itself to these kinds of performances. Next up were some Jacobite Clansmen who gave us a brief glimpse of life as a Jacobite, we learned of their weaponry and how to put on the plaid. The children were actively involved in this performance and their wee faces beamed as they stood their dressed as Jacobites.
We were also informed that when the Highland settlers went over to America the locals were fascinated by their footwear and pointed at the Highlanders feet, but because the Highlanders couldn’t speak English they answered in Gaelic “my foot” which is something like “mogaisean” which is where the word moccasin comes from, it’s not American Indian at all, see you learn something every day!!
There was also a dashing young man all dressed in black who came onto the stage and announced to us all that before Dick Turpin etc, Scotland had it’s fair share of nasty highwaymen, he told the tale of one Sawney Bean, maybe not thought of as a highwayman in the traditional sense but the roads were not safe for travellers while he was around.
Legend has it that Sawney Bean and his wife left their home in East Lothian and came to live in a cave on the Ayrshire coast where they developed a penchant for human flesh. What they used to do was kill travellers who were on the road up there, bring them back and cook them.
The couple had children, their children had children, and eventually the incestuous breed numbered about thirty, which meant that more and more people went missing from the road along the coast. This came to the attention of the king and he had the whole lot captured and taken to Edinburgh. and then, when still alive, they were quartered and they bled to death.
He also told us of the tale of Patrick Gilderoy McGregor a man who murdered his mother and sister because he couldn’t wait to get his hands on the family silver, he wandered around Europe mixing with the Hoi Polloi stealing and murdering until finally he came back to Scotland where the hangman eventually caught up with him. We were informed that in those days the bigger your crime the higher the gibbet!! His was no less than thirty feet high!!!
And the dashing young mans name who told us all these horrible tales, Patrick Gilderoy McGregor.
The highlight of the day for me, apart from the great weather, was Bonnie Prince Charlie onstage in the Great Hall.
I don’t know what I was expecting, probably the Culloden version, but no, what we got was an older Charlie, a woman beater, a drunkard, ill and embittered by the cards that life had dealt him but still possessing the charm and the silver tongue that entrapped so many of the ladies in his life.
Again an honest and open portrayal of one of Scotland’s great heroes or perhaps, villain.
It was left for you to decide, but you couldn’t argue with the facts that were in front of you. Charles was twenty five when he came to Scotland, he lived for another forty three years. A lot happened in those forty three years, not all of it good, if in fact any of it.
So there you have it, a day I never expected, a day that I really enjoyed. If it comes round again I wholeheartedly recommend it to each and every one of you.
Historic Scotland get so many thing wrong when they present Scottish history to the people, today they got everything right.
By George Boyle