Seeing & Looking
TODAY: NATIONAL ARGYLE DAY
Today, January 8th, is National Argyle Day. In Scotland, the tartan patterns of overlapping diamond motifs have a long and colorful past. We drove from Edinburgh to Skye in search of our AirBnB. The journey across Skye took us back into Scottish history, In city and in rural Scotland, we saw people wearing argyle patterns. Arriving at our lodging, I came across one of Scotland's great mysteries, the Appin Murder, about the assassination of Colin Roy Campbell. This tale is one of power, politics and murder, and it was the source for Kidnapped, Robert Louis Stevenson's famous novel. There is tartan mentioned in Stevenson's book as well.
A WRONG TURN
Driving to our lodging, we took a wrong turn before we finally locate Ballachulish House Bothy in Glencoe. A Bothy is a seasonal worker's lodging. This delay worked in our favor because there was a break in the damp weather as we arrived. Driving a rented Mercedes up the driveway which paralleled the creek, a rainbow appeared as the wind abated.
We parked the car by the storm-swollen creek. Our warmly-dressed host came out to greet us, and led us inside the 19th century, white, rectangular, stone and slate abode. Described as a self-catering bed-and-breakfast, its exterior doors were a distinctive vivid blue. Inside, on the mantle above the fireplace, rested a complete set of Robert Louis Stevenson's novels. The book Kidnapped was in the middle of the three-foot wide stack about halfway between The Hair Trunk and Saint Ives. As the wind howled around Ballachulish house that night, I turned the pages. Kidnapped is a famous fictional tale, set around historical Scottish events and real historical characters. Its main character is David Balfour, a 17-year-old seeking an inheritance from his uncle. Alan Breck Stewart is David's companion in the novel. Kidnapped's central theme is the concept of justice, the imperfections of the justice system and the lack of a universal definition of justice.
MURDER AND HANGING OF JAMES OF THE GLEN
Our Ballachulish guesthouse, built in 1640, was famous for its connection to the Appin Murder, the last great Scottish mystery. Colin Campbell of Glenure, called The Red Fox, was shot in the back near Appin, Scotland. He was a government employee under the Hanoverian King George II, the 5th Great Grandfather of Elizabeth II. The Kings men took land from Jacobite clans and arrested Seaumas a’ Ghlinne, or James of the Glen, the Steward of Appin, a quiet, educated man. James was arrested, imprisoned and hanged for the murder of The Red Fox.
James' trial was a mockery; from the start there was no doubt about its outcome. Witnesses were bullied and bribed. Presiding was the Lord Justice General, Archibald Campbell, Duke of Argyll. The Campbells were Hanoverians, like the King. They wanted to clear as many Stewarts off their land as quickly as possible. James of the Glen (James Stewart) was found guilty, not of having committed the murder but of being a member of the conspiracy to commit it. James of the Glen was hanged on 8 November 1752 on a gibbet above the narrows at Ballachulish. Since that day, many believe that an innocent man was cynically hanged for political reasons.
HOW IT GOT KIDNAPPED
The historical mystery of the murder inspired Robert Louis Stevenson to write Kidnapped. In Stevenson's novel, the action takes place at a time when wearing argyle Tartan was against the law. In his story, Stevenson introduces the fictional character of young David Balfour, who witnesses the murder. Although David Balfour flees with Alan Breck, he suspects him of the killing even, initially, by Balfour. The pair's adventures on the run in the Scottish Highlands create the famous tale.
HE TARTANS OF KIDNAPPED
Here's the thing about argyle. Tartan is a woven material, generally of wool, having stripes of different colors and varying in breadth. Kilt patterns represent the Clan. There are tartans for regions and districts in Scotland, such as Argyllshire in Western Scotland. Argyll is also a surname, and the family tartan was first recorded in 1819. In Scotland, the tartan you wear in battle is a code of honor.
THE JOURNEY CONTINUED
Leaving Glen Coe to explore other regions on the Isle of Skye, I pondered on the time that has passed since the Appin Murder. The injustice of the case, and the drama of Kidnapped, still stay with me. I think of English write and poet D.H. Lawrence, who worte: Ethics and equity and the principles of justice do not change with the calendar."
1. Ballachulish Guest House Bothy AirBnB
2. Kidnapped, Disney 1960 Film
Photos and Writings by Jim Austin Jimages
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