Scottish Women

Having been married to a Scottish woman, and having a brace of daughters who are also Scottish women, I have first hand experience of how capable they are. However it appears that they have always been a formidable bunch.

I was reading a book entitled Women of Scotland by Helen Susan Swift, that gives thumbnail sketches of Scotswomen from away back in time to the present day, from warriors to scientists, writers to fisherwomen, witches to politicians. Fascinating stuff.

With that book in mind my own Scotswoman suggested that we visit Corrimony Cairn, which is a four thousand year old chambered cairn in Glen Urquhart, a few miles from Loch Ness and about a 45 minute drive from Inverness. At present Cathy is in ‘visiting’ mode, trying to look at every site run by Historic Scotland, so we have spent time in castles, churches, ancient sites and what-have-you all across northern Scotland.

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The cairn from outside, with hints of the standing stones.

In saying that I was intrigued by Corrimony. It is a passage grave within a cairn, which means one is able to get down on hands and knees and crawl inside what was a burial chamber. Corrimony Cairn is amazingly preserved, surrounded by eleven standing stones and has been excavated. At some time in the fairly recent past the cap stone and roof has been removed, allowing one to see inside the chamber, with the skillful stonework on view.

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The entrance.

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Cathy looking inside the entrance passageway.

This cairn was created some four thousand years ago, so it was ancient when Christ was a boy. The workmanship is remarkable, and the sheer amount of labour involved in hauling the stones here to surround the grave is breathtaking.

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Now, you may be wondering what this cairn has to do with Scottish women? Well it seems that it was built for a female. That will not be surprising in Scotland, where women are at least equal to men, but other nations may be intrigued. I wondered who this woman may have been? What had she done? Was she a queen? A religious leader?  A prophet? A engineer? A merchant?

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I doubt we will ever know. We can guess that she was important. One of the many Scotswomen who have left their mark on the nation: I wonder if any walking around today will leave a legacy that survives for four thousand years?

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Journal from a neglected war

Concentration camps, barbed wire, machine-guns, guerrilla warfare, scorched earth tactics. The words could come from any journal of the Second World War. The names of some of the participants are also familiar: Winston Churchill, Kitchener, Sir John French, Mahatma Gandhi. Yet these names and men were involved in a much earlier conflict, one in which the world’s major global power fought against two tiny independent republics.

By 1899 Britain had painted her red empire across a quarter of the globe. From Canada to Cape Town, Antigua to Auckland, the multi-crossed Union flag flapped in pride. Victoria, the Queen-Empress cast her maternal gaze across the sea-lanes; slavery was nearly non-existent, trade was free and piracy squashed while her Royal Navy dominated the seas.  Yet not everybody wished to exchange national independence for imperial security and in one corner of Africa the Boer republics of Transvaal and the Orange Free State fought back against British attempts to annex them into the Empire.

This is not the place to argue the rights – if any – and wrongs of the annexation. This blog will look at the experiences of one of the British soldiers, Private Robert Brown of the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders, who fought in the initial stages of what proved to be a long, costly but ultimately victorious war.

Robert Brown came from a mining background in Fife, although many of his family were from Midlothian, south of Edinburgh. In common with the majority of Scottish private soldiers he was young, unmarried and fairly carefree. Unlike most men from the ranks he left a journal of his experiences.

After leaving their barracks in Ireland, they settled down in the troopship ‘some passing the time playing the cards, others draughts. . . twice a week we had a smoking concert also a boxing competition.’ Boxing was one of the methods by which the army was trained; it also helped the men maintain fitness levels and remove any frustrations.

Arriving on the 17th November 1899 after a three week voyage, they immediately ‘entrained. . . for De Aar. We got a harty send off from the natives at Cape Town. . . arrived at De Aar at 5 AM on the 19 November . . . After staying here for 7 days the order came for us to entrain for Orange River a welcome order for us we were beginning to think we were not going to see any fighting at all.’

The soldiers of Queen Victoria’s Army were always keen to get into action. Professional fighting men, they seemed to like to fight. Arriving at Orange River ‘we again took the train for Belmont. On the road up we saw the battlefield of Belmont and the smell from it was sickening.’

Belmont was one of the early minor British victories.

Joining the Highland Brigade of Methuen’s Division ‘it was 10 PM and the night was very dark. . .got to our ground where we piled arms and lay down after we had a drink of tea. We only had our Great coats so we had to make the best of it.’

Next morning, 28th November the Argyles were wakened at three in the morning and marched straight into the Battle of Modder River. ‘To se the way we advanced you would have thought we were having a field day in Aldershot. The men were chatting away to one another as if nothing was going on. I think the first think that brought us to our senses was a Boer shell bursting over our heads. . . the Boers seemed to have the range for we were being picked off one by one it was pittyfull to hear the wounded crying for stretchers and water.’

The British took cover for a number of hours. ‘After lying there for two or three hours more we got the order to cross the line and try and flank them. . . managed to turn the enemy’s flank and I must say when we got down to the river I was thankfull my lips were parched and my tongue was swollen. I was glad to dip my head into the water regardless of the bullets that was flying about. . . but the enemy soon scattered when we got over the river. . . we had been engaged about 14 hours – we lost 131 killed and wounded.’

The Boers withdrew and the British claimed a victory. ‘We had been starved for 2 day. . .we commandeered all the pigs and hens. . . it was great fun to see the highlanders running after the pigs and hens. . . I was surprised to se how light hearted we all were . . . but a soldier is well named as absent minded beggar.’

On the thundery night of the 10th December the Highland Brigade marched to attack the entrenched Boers at Magersfontein.’Everything went in our favour untill we got within about 150 yards from the trenches. . .there was a flash and report of a rifle and before we had time to realise what had happened it seemed as if hell had burst upon us.’

Faced with a fusillade of rifle fire from some thousands of the best marksmen in the world, the brigade went to ground. ‘An officer. . .was running about with no helmet I think he must have gone mad for he ordered 12 of us to advance along with him but we had not gone 50 yards when we had to turn back bearing 6 dead and wounded. . .the officer being among them we formed a fireing line. . .and advanced again.’

Once again the British lay before massed Boer riflemen. ‘We crept up to them within about 300 yards then we charged. I could not explain what sort of feeling came over me I think it was a half mad sort of feeling. . .I saw a Boer aiming at me. . .I don’t know how he missed me but I assure you I did not miss him. I managed to get him as he was turning to get out of the trench with my bayonet I shall never forget the look that was in that mans eyes.. .there was none of them escaped.’

Magersfontein was a defeat. ‘The poor Black Watch returned with only 600 men out of 1100 and the Seaforths had 380 killed and wounded. My regiment had 350 killed. . .the question was who was to blame I think that question could be answered.’

Major-General Hector, ‘Fighting Mac’ MacDonald took over the brigade. The son of a crofter, he had risen by sheer bravery from the ranks.

After a victory at Koodesberg the brigade ‘envaded the Free State. . .the road was bad and our waggons were breaking down . . .the watter also was very scarce. . . all felt done up but we just had to stick it.’

On the 18th February they were again in battle, this time at Paardeberg, where the Boers were in a waggon laager. ‘We were ordered to join the fireing line. . .we were very lucky we only got 20 knocked over. . .both my right hand man and left hand man were knocked over.’

On the 19th ‘the Boers put up the white flag to surrender so our Regiment was told off to go down to. . . take over the prisoners.’ However ‘we had only gone about 500 yards when the Boers started to fire at us. . .it had only been one of the many trichous tricks.’ On the 22nd  ‘I had the pleasure of seeing our officers shareing the same hardships as ourselves.’ So the class system was alive, well and resented in Queen Victoria’s army. ‘About 8 Am 28th we had the pleasure of seeing Conge and about 4000 men surrender.’

After the victory of Paardeberg Private Brown marched with the Argyles as the British pushed the organised Boer army northward. He saw further action at Poplar Grove, Dryfontein and the Waterworks before he fell sick with ‘dysentry and enteric fever.’ In the 8th General Hospital he commented that ‘the men were dyeing like sheep. . .an average of 40 per day. . . I knew nothing for 7 days but after that . . .was sent down to Cape Town. I must give the highest praise to the Colert people on the road down. They treated us splendid. . .it showed how loyal they were to their Queen.’

Sent back to Great Britain, Brown did not fully recover until August. The final words in his journal were ‘I can say I am fit and ready to go out and fight for my country again if required.’

He was not required to.




Posted in Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders, Battles,, Black Watch, Boer War, history, life experience, military, Military history, Queen Victoria's Wars, Scotland, South Africa, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

This week in Scottish History

01 June 1831: 

While accompanying his uncle, John Ross, on an expedition to find the North West Passage, Sir James Clark Ross sledged across the Arctic ice and on this day he found the magnetic North Pole and claimed it for King William.

01 June 1679:

Battle of Drumclog, George Hamilton and William Cleland led a force of Covenanters to defeat a body of Life Guards and dragoons under John Graham of Claverhouse

01 June 1936

Clyde built Queen Mary sailed on her maiden transatlantic voyage. Within two years she would become the undisputed holder of the ‘Blue Riband’ for the fastest round trip across the Atlantic.


02 June 1398: 

Prince Henry St Clair, said to have landed in Nova Scotia from Orkney


03 June 1726:

James Hutton was born in Edinburgh. His book, A Theory of the Earth, which emphasises the igneous origin of many rocks, is the basis of modern geology.


04 June 1717:

Duke of Atholl captured Rob Roy MacGregor

04 June 1818:

 First recorded inter-club golf match – between Edinburgh Burgess Golfing Society and Bruntsfield Links Golf Club.



05 June 1723:

Adam Smith baptised in his birthplace of Kirkcaldy. He was the world’s leading economist with his Wealth of Nations the first masterpiece in political economy. He was also professor of logic and of moral philosophy at Glasgow.

05 June 1866:

John McDouall Stuart, Australian explorer died in London.



07 June 1811:

Sir James Young Simpson was born in Bathgate. After studying medicine at Edinburgh, he was a professor of midwifery. As such on January 1847 he pioneered ether as an anaesthetic during childbirth. After personal experiments, he discovered chloroform in November 1847 and argued for its use. He won his case when Queen Victoria employed it during the birth of Leopold in 1853.

07 June 1329:

King Robert Bruce died at Cardross. When news of his death spread, it was said that even knights wept bitterly, drove their fists together and tore their clothes like madmen.

07 June 1906:

Lusitania, 35200 tons, launched on Clyde

08 June 1940:

Italy declared war on Great Britain and mobs attacked Italian shops and businesses across Scotland.

08 June 1138:

Scots defeat English at the battle of Clitheroe

12 June 1997:

Residents of Eigg purchase the island from the previous owner, the German Marlin Eckhard Maruma. It was the first time in history that the tenants had been able to buy the island on which they live. The islanders raised £1.5 million, mainly through an Internet campaign. Much of the money came from a single anonymous donation.

12 June 1843:

 Sir David Gill, first astronomer to measure stellar parallax born in Aberdeen


13 June 1337: 

English army abandon their siege of Dunbar Castle. Agnes, Countess of March, had defended it for a number of weeks.

13 June 1819
The Strathnaver Clearances began on the Sutherland estates – families were given 30 minutes to remove their belongings before their cottages were set on fire.

13 June 1831:

Birth of James Clerk Maxwell, first Professor of Experimental Physics at Cambridge University, he created electromagnetic theory of light.

14 June 2003:

Kingusie win Camanadh cup for 8th time in row; also won their 18th successive league title that year and are labeled ‘the most succussful sporting team in the world’

14 June 1946:

John Logie Baird, inventor of the first television, died.

15 June 1919:

Glasgow born Arthur Whitten Brown and the Englishman Jack Alcock became the first men to fly non stop across the Atlantic.

17 June 1823:

Charles Mackintosh patented a waterproof cloth for raincoats

17 June 1867:

Joseph Lister performed the first surgery under aseptic conditions, on his sister Isabella, at Glasgow infirmary

18 June 1815:

Sergeant Ewart captured the French Ensign as Scots play crucial part in the Allied victory of Battle of Waterloo.
19 June 1306:

The battle of Methven took place shortly after the coronation of Robert Bruce. Finding the Earl of Pembroke behind the walls of Perth, Bruce invited him to come out and fight the following day, but Pembroke replied that he did not fight on a Sunday. Bruce withdrew to his camp at Methven, where Pembroke attacked before dawn on the Sunday. The English captured Thomas Randolph, Bruce’s nephew, Alexander Fraser and other prominent nobles. They hanged many of the Scottish prisoners while Bruce escaped with 500 of the survivors.

19 June 1937:

Sir J. M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan died.

June 20 1810:

Worlds first savings bank established, the parish bank friendly society of Ruthwell, by the Reverend Henry Duncan

20 June 1723:

Adam Ferguson, philosopher, historian, “Father of Sociology” born Logierait, Perthshire.

21 June 1919:

German officers scuttle the High Seas Fleet in Scapa Floe as a protest against the Versailles peace treaty.

21 June 1796 Scottish explorer Mungo Park reached the source of the river Niger in Africa.


 22 June 1861:

William Braidwood, Edinburgh Firemaster and head of the worlds first municipal fire brigade killed in London

23 June 1637:

There was a riot in St Giles Church, Edinburgh when Dean Hannay of Edinburgh attempted to read the revised, Episcopal Service Book. A crowd of women shouted ‘Beastly Belly God,’ ‘Wolf!’ and ‘Crafty fox!’ and threw stools and Bibles at the Dean’s head. The women also attacked the Archbishop of St Andrews. They objected to King Charles trying to Anglify the Scottish Church. Tradition has named the ringleader of the riot as a kailwife named Jenny Geddes. If true, then Geddes struck the first blow in the civil wars that were to involve all four nations of Britain.

23/24 June 1314:

Battle of Bannockburn. This battle was fought between King Robert I of Scotland and Edward II of England. It was one of the most significant Scottish victories of the war of independence as the English, with around 20,000 men marched to relieve the siege of Stirling Castle. King Robert, with 5000 Scots, met them at Bannockburn in a two-day battle. In the first day the king distinguished himself by defeating an English knight in single combat while the Scottish schiltroms pushed back the English cavalry. In the second day the Scots foot advanced, pushing back the English army. ‘On them, they fail!’, shouted the Scots. Keith the Marischal scattered the English archers, their most dangerous arm.


25 June 1799:  
David Douglas, explorer and botanist, born at Scone, Perthshire. In addition to the Douglas Fir, he brought back to Europe lupins, phlox, penstemmon, sunflowers, clarkia, Californian poppy, mimulus, flowering currant, rose of sharon and mahonia. J

25 June 1971:

Lord Boyd Orr, biologist and Nobel Prize Winner, died

25 June 1876:
Seven Scots in the US 7th Cavalry with General Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn

25 June 25 1891: 
The first Sherlock Holmes story by Edinburgh-born author Arthur Conan Doyle was published in the “Strand” magazine, triggering the success of the stories.

26 June 1695:

Darien Company formed to set up a Scottish colony in what is now Panama.


29 June 1308:

Battle of Buittle Castle. Edward Bruce defeated English and traitor Galwegians led by former Guardian of Scotland Ingram de Umfraville and Aymer St John.






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First dig in Kirkwall since 1978 starts today

This gallery contains 2 photos.

Archaeology Orkney Discovering Hidden Kirkwall. The Kirkwall Townscape Heritage Initiative Archaeology Programme. Excavation in RBS Garden Archaeologists from The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute team will be commencing the excavation today. The site in the RBS gardens … Continue reading

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Two Underground Finds in One Day…

This gallery contains 7 photos.

Archaeology Orkney Quite by chance, an Iron Age underground building and a Victorian rubbish-heap has been discovered in Orkney. An exciting discovery was made in Orkney at the weekend. A previously unknown subterranean structure, either a souterrain or a ‘well’, … Continue reading

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This week in Scottish history

01 May 1455

Battle of Arkinholm, near Langholm, Dumfriesshire: The Laird of Johnstone led a royal to victory over the rebellious Douglases. Johnstone sent the severed head of Archibald Douglas, Earl of Moray as a trophy to the king.

01 May 1690

Battle of Haughs of Cromdale; Colonel Sir Thomas Livingstone, King William’s General, defeated the Jacobite army commanded by General Buchan. The Jacobites were mainly Macleans, Macdonalds, Camerons, Macphersons and Grants of Glenmoriston.

01 May 1707

Formation of UK parliament.

 01 May 1873

David Livingstone, explorer and missionary, died in Africa


02 May 1568

Queen Mary escaped from Lochleven Castle

02 May 1933
The story of the Loch Ness Monster first appeared in the press, starting off a long-running debate on whether or not some unknown animal or fish inhabits the murky depths of the loch.
03 May 1557

John Knox began the Reformation in Scotland

04 May 1328

English ratify Treaty of Edinburgh at Northampton, formally conceding defeat to Scotland in the First War of Independence

05 May 1758

James Taylor born – he developed the steamboat engine

06 May  1941

Luftwaffe’s last major bombing attack on Clyde: 280 killed in Greenock

07 May 17467

Glasgow Fire Brigade began when the Fire Insurance Society suggested a regular fire brigade of 24 able men under Robert Gray. They had strong leather caps with the Glasgow coat of arms on them, trained four days a year and were paid 5/- annually, plus money for each fire.

08 May 1701 

Scottish-born pirate Captain William Kidd tried for piracy at London’s Old Bailey. He was hanged on 23 May.

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Our land of Palestine

This is a very short blog to announce that theKindle version of my latest Creativia book, Our Land of Palestine is on sale price of 99 pence or 99 cents for the next few days.


It’s the year 1915, and the British and Ottoman Empires are locked in a deadly struggle in the Middle East.

Commander of a unit of irregular horse, Major Andrew Selkirk lands on the coast of Palestine to retrieve a spy named Abraham. With the enigmatic Rachel as his translator, Selkirk discovers that the Turks have captured Abraham and finds himself involved in a power struggle, as both the Germans and Ottomans hope to bring Afghanistan and Persia to war against Great Britain.

Fighting a personal feud with a vengeful German, Selkirk leads his men across strife-torn Palestine, a land that everybody seems to claim as their own.

The link is:



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