Friday, 3 June 2011

The Braes O' Killiecrankie

Sorry, I just don't have the heart to write today - so I've dusted off something I wrote 6 or so years ago ...please be brutally blunt about it  from a critique point of view - It's a style that just might not work...

The Braes of Killiecrankie

Killiecrankie is a special place. Hidden between Perthshire mountains and blanketed by tall Scottish Pine and Aspen; it takes a bit of finding. Find it I did though, and making my way through the clearing to 'the leap' - I settled on one of the imposing rocks which skirt and overlook the sometimes slow, sometimes raging river Garry. The sun beat down and the rock was warm, little beads of sweat ran from my hands and I could feel the handles of my Guitar and Mandolin cases were moist.

In 1769 Thomas Pennant had been to this exact spot and described the scene as one of 'Horrible Grandeur'. He spoke of “high mountains” and a river that “raged and ran wild in a seething cauldron of foam through the narrow pass”. 
My mind wandered further back through well remembered history books to July 1689 when the impossible happened...and right there, right then, I wanted it to have happened - in the name of love.

On that day in 1689 gunfire raged throughout the gorge, on that day the Flower of Scotland blossomed and rose to attack the Government forces of King William's army. The dreaded Redcoats of King William's led by Mackay, were in Scotland, and the Scots (Jacobites) rose to repel them. Outnumbered, out-gunned, half starved and poorly clothed, the Jacobites stood side by side on the mountainside at Killiecrankie and vowed 'justice this day will be done'.

The Jacobite rebels had started out with but fifty men when the Viscount of Dundee - 'Iain Dubh nan Cath' - (Black John of the Battles) raised aloft the proud standard of the Jacobite rebellion in Edinburgh. The Scots Jacobites rallied to his call and as his little band of men weaved their way through towns and villages, so the flag of freedom drew more and more men determined to rid Scotland of oppression and injustice and give it back its rightful King. The brave Highlanders were amongst the first to rise and heed the call, then Dunfermline, then three hundred Irish warriors sailed over to join Black John, Viscount of Dundee.

From my vantage point I could see where the little army had assembled on the mountainside at Craig Eallaich and I wondered what it must have felt like that day, waiting for the moment to strike. I took my guitar from its case and leaning into the rock, started the first refrains of  ‘The Braes O’ Killiecrankie...’


Whare hae ye been sae braw, lad? 
Whare hae ye been sae brankie, O? 
Whare hae ye been sae braw, lad? 
Cam ye by Killiecrankie, O?'

An ye had been whare I hae been, 
Ye wad na been sae cantie, O! 
An ye had seen what I hae seen 
On the braes o' Killiecrankie, O!  

I faught at land, I faught at sea, 
At hame I faught my auntie, O; 
But I met the Devil and Dundee 
On the braes o' Killiecrankie, O! 

'The bauld Pitcur fell in a furr, 
An' Clavers gat a clankie, O, 
Or I had fed an Athole gled 
On the braes o' Killiecrankie, O!

O fie Mackay, what gart you lie
I’ the bush ayont the brankie-o
Ye’d better kiss’d King Willies loof
Thank come to Killiecrankie-O


Where have you been so fine, lad?
Where have you been so jolly, O?
Where have you been so fine, lad?
Came you by Killiecrankie, O?'

If you had been where I have been,
You would not have been so jolly, O!
If you had seen what I have seen
On the hill sides of Killiecrankie, O!

I fought at land, I fought at sea,
At home I fought my auntie, O;
But I met the Devil and Dundee
On the hillsides of Killiecrankie, O!

The bold Pitcur fell in a furrow,
And Clavers got a knock, O,
Else I had fed an Athole hawk
On the hill sides of Killiecrankie, O!

Oh wild Mackay in the field you lie
In the bush beyond the splendour
You’d better to have kissed King William’s hand
Than come to Killiecrankie-O

One thousand nine hundred Scottish Jacobite rebels took the field that day, headlong they charged King William's elite army led by Mackay which was four thousand strong. Black John, Viscount of Dundee, leading from the front was fatally wounded by a gunshot piercing his side, but the brave Jacobites never faltered. Carrying their heroic leader from the battlefield they returned with the Jacobite standard flying high and split the Government army in two, then split them again, before hand to hand fighting commenced along the riverside. The Jacobites, fired by injustice, routed the Government army. So furiously did they fight, the song itself tells of how the Government troops thought Black John must have been the Devil himself.

From the rock I thought on the ‘impossibility’ which had brought me here. Was it the impossibility of a rag tag army of men routing an elite Government army? No. The Scots are at their best when the odds are stacked against them. Was it to view the scene for myself? No, I knew the land well enough and the story of the Battle of Killiecrankie just as well. Was it to get a feel of the place for myself? No, it wasn't that either. 
It was the name of one soldier and the thought of one woman which brought me here.

Donald Macbean, the soldier who did the impossible. He’d stood exactly on the spot where I sat with my Guitar in hand. On that day he’d been separated from his fellow troops and was now being sighted by enemy muskets. Trapped on the same side of the gorge as the enemy - they were now taking aim at him from the trees. A raging river and an impossible expanse of it prevented his escape. Donald Macbean then did the impossible - he stepped back, ran, and made a jump of such length across the gorge that no man has ever replicated it, none have even dared try.

For him it was a leap of faith. He should have tumbled headlong into the gorge and perished on the rocks or in the raging river below.  Yet he made the leap and landed safely on the other side. To this day that rock marks the spot known as 'The Soldiers leap' of Killiecrankie. I like to think that as he jumped, he called upon, or at least thought of his love whilst doing so. Because surely, no power on earth other than love - could have carried him to safety. Donald Macbean had brought me here - and the woman? Ah, she was in Australia.

Not every leap of faith is made from rocks...I wanted to see where the impossible happens, before trying it for myself.



  1. Powerful....great history lesson....drama, tension and a surprise ending...what more could anyone ask?

  2. I like how you're able to personalize your stories, it draws the reader in. Your story also led me to contemplate the survival instinct v love... I'd like to think that love is the stronger!

    Re the battle itself, I just feel, 'What a waste of life...' Scot against Scot, divide and rule strikes again!

  3. I will be honest...although I am not sure I should be given recent events and I offer my sincere condolences to you and yours on the loss of your mum. OKay then here is my opinion... I prefer and quite enjoy your 'blog' entries a LOT more. They are charming, engaging, well-written, humorous and lovely. For me this previous entry/style is rather heavy. too historically detailed, and not engaging...difficult to read and follow. And at the end of reading it I have to re-read idea what it was about. Forgive me if that was painful at all. Your friend in writing... Mare

  4. I am interested in the first paragraph,you, your mandolin and guitar cases, the woman, and parts of the last three paragraph... the rest was tedious.

  5. Thank you mybabyjohn! Annie you're quite right - Reading Scottish history can be a very painful affair. Sure the English poked us in the eye for centuries but if truth be told, if left to ourselves - we'd have gone blind long before they did it to us.

    Perpetua I deeply appreciate your comments! Unless one gets honest criticism then one doesn;t know where they are going wrong for some readers. I know I can't please everyone all the time (learned that as a musician) but any criticism is always taken on board to see if refinements can be made! So, THANK YOU!


  6. Rory!!! Thank you!!! For a. courageously asking and receiving and b. for not taking offense and c. who am I anyway? I can see a beautiful book- of short tales "Scottish Scribbles" by the Scottish Scribbler-Rory Grant...on the longer side of short at least 11-13 "scribbles"/'s a mishmash of your favorite themes/ or more focused or loosely focused around a main thematic idea/component. Yes....compiled from these lovely stories and blog entries. I can see you organizing it and then send it off and print it- make a "blog book" from Blogger even...self-publish- it'll be the prototype. I see it Rory and I want a copy. People will eat it up. :)

  7. Hello! Would you mind if I share your blog with my twitter group?
    There's a lot of folks that I think would really enjoy your content. Please let me know. Many thanks

    Stop by my homepage; order quantrim