Sadly, it was to be our last night in Scotland. We had found a place to stay just outside Pitlochry. The next morning we would begin the long drive to our next rendezvous… a meeting with a friend in Yorkshire. After the dousing we had enjoyed with the rain over the weekend, there was, it has to be said, a certain irony in the name of our hotel…
We booked in, then wandered into Pitlochry in search of supplies. Our needs were simple, which was just as well as, by that time, most of the town was already closed and evening was drawing in. I’ve always had a fondness for Pitlochry for some reason. Although the town dates back a thousand years or so, what now remains is largely Victorian, a reminder of Queen Victoria’s visit in 1842. The arrival of the railway in 1863 helped make Pitlochry a popular place to visit and, nestled between the mountains and the river, it remains a tourist centre to this day. Even so, it has a homely feel to it.
Duly resupplied, we retired to the hotel to get an early night. It had everything we would need… and definitely something extra too.
“I’m sure I closed that door.” My companion rattled the handle and shrugged; it was an old building, after all, perhaps it hadn’t quite closed.
We ate our supper and wandered down to the street, standing at the bottom of the stairs that led to the only two rooms in that part of the building. The evening was pleasant but a chill was settling in so we did not linger above a few minutes.
“I know I locked that door,” said my companion in consternation. The door was unlocked and standing wide open… I knew he had locked it too… and as no-one could have passed us to climb the few stairs to the rooms, perhaps we were not the only ‘guests’ to be lodged in that part of the old inn…
Next morning we were away early. The day was grey, damp and dull as we headed towards a place we had long wanted to see. We thought we would take the opportunity to visit an ancient being, if we could find it, before meandering back to England. It was only supposed to be a flying visit… but we should have known better. We were going to get seriously sidetracked on our way south… though not as seriously as we would have liked, had there been time to spare. We could have taken the direct route… a mere two hundred and fifty miles of motorway… but where would be the fun in that? We would, instead, take the back roads and see where they led… adding another hundred miles to the journey but allowing us to really enjoy our last day in Scotland.
The first thing to catch our attention was the Black Watch memorial in Aberfeldy. The Black Watch are known for their gallantry and courage and have fought in many of the major battles of the nation’s history, from Waterloo to El Alamein, often when the odds have been weighted against them. The memorial stands near Wade’s Bridge on the banks of the River Tay. The bridge is named for General Wade who, in the eighteenth century, rebuilt many bridges and created the network of military roads that still form the basis of the road system through the Highlands. The monument itself is built to resemble a huge cairn and stands on earthen banks reminiscent of older burial mounds.
The statue at its crown shows Private Farquhar Shaw dressed in the original uniform of the Black Watch Regiment. That soldier’s story is a sad one; in 1743 the regiment was unusually ordered to march to England. They were destined to be sent to Flanders, but the unfounded rumour was that the unit was to be transported to the American plantations… and for Highlanders, this was considered a fate worse than death. Some of the soldiers chose not to wait unresisting for that fate to befall them and left London for home. They were intercepted and brought back. While most of the soldiers escaped with a reprimand, because of the misunderstanding, three, including Farquhar Shaw, were accused of desertion and shot as an example.
We stayed in Aberfeldy just long enough to pay our respects at the monument, then we crossed the general’s bridge and headed out into the morning. As we neared our destination, a red squirrel ran across the road. It is the first I have seen in many years, though in my childhood, most squirrels were still these native beauties. The introduction of the American grey squirrel, along with habitat loss, has decimated our native population and they are sadly at risk of extinction in Britain, though small colonies are slowly stabilising with help. It was only the briefest glimpse, but it brought a moment of hope to the morning. As the sun began to pierce the low-lying cloud that shrouded the hills, it looked like we might have a beautiful day for getting sidetracked…