March 14, 2002 - "You Must Open Your Eyes."
The Line is from Mel Gibson's award winning movie "Braveheart". Today the message is focused on Heritage Sites and Historic locations in Scotland. Heitage Sites? What's really going on?
We've all heard the phrase "Potaytoe" or "Po-ta-toe" used to point out differing points of view. Sometimes these differences of insight and opinion can take on remarkable heights, creating battlelines of ideals and values.
In Scotland a "potaytoe" battle has been raging like wildfire. This battle is about what to do and how to manage the thousands of historic and heritage sites scattered all over the country. Recently Clan Stirling was asked about memorials and other opportunities in and around Stirling by one of our thousands of visitors.
Stirling castle is now maintained and run by a government funded entity called Historic Scotland. Many Scots are not too happy about how the castle has been "upgraded" (remember "Potaytoe" again) by Historic Scotland. This Historic Scotland group is setup as a private corporation, but obtains it's funds from the government. Historic Scotland has the ability to set entry fees, charge admission, sell tourists trinkets, etc.
It now costs about $8.00 dollars to get into Stirling Castle - one of Scotlands most historic national monuments. A number of local historians and politicians are not too happy about the situation. As one said to me the last time I was in Stirling "It's like you American's having to pay $8.00 to go in the Lincoln Memorial."
What should have been done here? Many feel the Royal Hall should have been restored to the time period it represents, and left the bike parking, and other "stuff" out.
The restoration or preserve issue gets even more complicated when the castle, kirk, estate house, manor, statue or building is already in ruin. Then what do you do? Restore it? Rebuild it? Leave it well enough alone, knowing that within another century time, earth, wind and rain will reclaim it to nature? What would you do?
THE BATTLE AGAINST HISTORIC SCOTLAND AT URQUHART CASTLE
Castle Urquhart (pronounced "urkhurt") stands on a rocky promontary on the north shore of Loch Ness. When you get there you can't help thinking, "Well, if I were going to build a castle this is where I'd build it!" There is evidence people have resided here at least 4000 years. At nearby Corrimony is a burial cairn dating from about 2000 BC.
Some evidence has been found of a fort on this promontory dating from the Iron Age, and also remains from Pictish times. The earliest written records for the existence of a castle date from the 1200's. Loch Ness cuts a great divide along what is called Glen Mor, or The Great Glen, a 60 mile fissure scoured by glaciers during the last ice age. The Loch itself is over 700 feet deep, and the nearby surrounding hills rise by about the same amount. At the north east end, where the waters of the loch flow along the River Ness through Inverness and into the North Sea, is the flatter and more fertile land of Moray.
In 1228 the people of Moray rose up against the authority of King Alexander II (1198 - 1249). By 1230 he had put down the revolt and, as conquerors often do, established his own loyal men in charge of estates in the area. He granted his son-in-law Alan Durward the lordship of Urquhart, and it is almost certain that the earliest parts of medieval castle date from his time. After his death in 1275 the castle passed to John Comyn, appointed by Edward I of England.
After a series of humiliating defeats John Balliol (1250 - 1296) had relinquished his kingship, and much of Scotland and many of its castles, including Urquhart, were under English control.
By 1346 ownership of the castle passed from the Earls of Moray back to the Scottish Crown again, and it seems likely that with Crown money much substantial building and repair was completed at this time.
Throughout the end of the 1300's and well into the 1400's Castle Urquhart fell again and again to Clan MacDonald, Lords of the Isles only to be retaken again and again by the Crown. The only consequence was the suffering and devastation of the ordinary people living in the Great Glen. Eventually the MacDonald's power was temporarily curbed in this area and for about 35 years the Grants of Freuchie looked after the castle on behalf of the Gordons of Huntly. But soon the MacDonalds were back; in the 1500's they besieged it twice, again leaving the ordinary local inhabitants of the Glen dead and devastated.
By the 1600's the castle was abandoned by the Grants to the people of the Glen. Those walls which had for so long been a cause of suffering to them, now became their comfort as they dismantled masonry and removed stones to build their own houses.
SO WHAT SHOULD BE DONE?
From it's long history there are many "restorations" possible. A LOT WENT ON HERE. The ruins signify something very meaningful and substansial. As a young 19 year old I had a chance to visit several places in Poland where Jewish prisoners had choosen to blow the buildings up on themselves rather than work for the Nazi's. I've also had a chance to visit Sir Johnne De Grahames castle which is in ruin too.
These "ruins" where there was "nothing to see". But in both feelings and experience they are TWO OF THE MOST POWERFUL MEMORIALS AND TESTAMENTS TO CULTURE AND HISTORY I'VE EVER BEEN TO. The energy and feelings felt there are almost sacred. They are at least special JUST THE WAY THEY ARE. At the very least they convey in an extremely powerful way the feelings, hopes, and sorrows of the people that lived there. (More about Clan Stirling's visit to John De Grahame's Castle in Feb 2000) See the Article "February 12, 2000 - Going Out of the World to Kippen."
WHAT HISTORIC SCOTLAND DECIDED TO DO WITH URQUHART CASTLE
Historic Scotland's ambitions are positive - but is the cure is worse than the sickness? Listen to and see in the following pictures what "Hysterical Scotland" (as some in Scotland call them) did to this irreplaceable piece of Scottish History.
"Build a £4.5 million visitor centre at the site also means the castle now has some of the best visitor facilities in the country, which will enable the full story of the castle and the people who lived there to be told for the first time.
It has taken nearly three years to complete the ambitious project at Urquhart Castle that is centred on a new state of the art visitor centre built into a man made hill combining energy efficiency and ease of access, with wheelchair provision throughout.
The new car park is situated on the top level of the new centre and once inside visitors descend via stairs or an elevator into the main foyer of the centre which houses an auditorium, artefacts, a café, retail outlet, education room and washroom facilities.
The purpose built 80 seater auditorium hosts an audiovisual presentation on the history of the castle and the cinema's drop-down screen retracts after the showing to reveal a panoramic view of the ruins.
A host of characters who would have been part of Scottish mediaeval society from lords and ladies to the most humble of servants are depicted on the walls of the centre and artefacts found on the site, including fragments of a harp and clusters of arrow shafts, loaned to Historic Scotland from the National Museums of Scotland help tell the story of the mediaeval castle.
A three-dimensional model of the castle as it would have appeared when it was first built takes pride of place in the centre and gives a true impression of how imposing a building it once was.
On leaving the centre visitors cross a landscaped area that leads to the sloping path which connects to the main attraction, the castle itself. It stands on an irregular outcrop of rock on a small promontory of uneven land halfway along Loch Ness.
Part of the overall project included the widening of the main A82 road along the side of the loch to provide lanes for traffic turning into the Urquhart Castle car park.
Hailing the new visitor centre as a great boost to tourism in the area Historic Scotland North Region Director, Bob McIlwraith, said, "The centre has an innovative design which combines environmental efficiency with ease of access.
"An exciting new audiovisual presentation tells the story of Urquhart Castle and there is also a display of artefacts that have been discovered onsite, which have been loaned to Historic Scotland from the National Museums of Scotland."
Is this how we want our Scottish heritage and culture to be 'preserved' for our grandchilden and great grandchildren? What does all this do to the special nature of this place? Cheri and I visited Urquhart Castle in 1996. Some say it's a deliberate attempt to degrade and denegrate Scottish Culture by those in power in London, a pay-back for choosing National self rule in 1997. These types of things are happening all over Scotland RIGHT NOW. It's very important to be aware, get involved, and SPEAK UP.
WHAT LOCAL SCOTS AND SCOTTISH HISTORIANS ARE SAYING -
"Sadly Hysterical Scotland has been allowed to destroy world renowned Urquhart Castle. The systematic rape of the democratic process by Prime Minister Tony Blair, his henchmen and his cronies has effectively allowed local government (elected by local people) to be trampled. We are now witnessing the results of the most sick and crass kind of quango-led greed."
"The site has been ruined forever in a few short months. Boycott Historic Scotland NOW!"
"Ask yourself: Do you really want to spend your holiday and your money visiting a vast building site that is witnessing the destruction of one of the most beautiful and famous parts of the Highlands of Scotland? There are plenty of other places to visit nearby."
"Historic Scotland's own remit says: "we safeguard and protect the nation's built heritage". What a sham, what a sick joke."
"Look at these pictures - they are just the start of the rape of Urquhart Castle - we have been promised up to 70 huge lorries per day trucking through our tiny local village as they dump some 80,000 cubic metres of slag on this beautiful site."
"Shame on you Historic Scotland. You are a disgrace."
I encourage all of you to take some time to learn more. This battle goes on. Historic Scotland's next target is GLENCOE. If you live in America, Australia, New Zealand or one of the other 76 countries that have visited Clan Stirling Online, your history and heritage is being hampered with and developed. Many of these sites are on the "Edge of Forever", about to be totally changed or totally lost.
Glencoe you ask? What's Glencoe got to do with this? It's the same Glencoe where Some 38 members of the MacDonald clan were murdered in their sleep by the rival Campbell clan in the notorious Glencoe Massacre of 1692 during a bloody power struggle. The Same Glencoe where now a CAMPBELL has been appointed head of the local visitor center.
But that's another story. Please get educated. Get involved. Don't wait until it's too late. Learn more about your area. Ask questions. What happens affects us all, Scots, American, and Maori. Mel Gibson said it best in Braveheart -
Please pass the "Potaytoes".
Michael L. Jex