Caledonia: Going home.


Caledonia is the name the Romans gave to the land to the north of their province of Britannia. Tacitus and other historians described Caledonia as the area north of Hadrian's Wall, home of the large central Pictish tribe, the Caledonii. Today, the name is applied to Scotland as a whole, a romantic reminder of a fiercely tribal and independant past.

Once upon a time, my family lived near what is now the English border. A castle there still bears my family name (I must go kick the usurpers out some time). My ancestors did actually secede from both England and Scotland; they made their own laws, raised their own taxes and dispensed their own justice. This wonderful state of affairs lasted for a surprisingly long while; until the surrounding powers noticed, resulting in a hasty departure to the colony of New south Wales.

For me, returning to Scotland is going home. The culture, the people, the landscape are all so familiar, so comfortable. 

Scotland can claim many a National Treasure. One of them is Dougie MacLean. Caledonia, from his first album, is regarded by many as Scotland's unofficial national anthem. Oft covered, Caledonia still belongs to Dougie MacLean.

Which, inevitably, brings us to Scotland's national poet, the Bard of Ayrshire, Rabbie Burns. An inspiration to both Libertarians and Socialists, a pioneer of the Romantic movement, an icon bordering on cult leader to the Scottish diaspora and general all round Wilde-style tart, Burns secured immortality in the mere 37 years he spent on this Earth. Like many who come to understand the nature of things, he slipped into depression and disillusionment in the final years of his short life. Burns' funeral took place on Monday 25 July 1796; the day his son Maxwell was born.  

Rabbie Burns. This picture shamelessly recycled from the Whisky Pages.

Rabbie Burns. This picture shamelessly recycled from the Whisky Pages.

 

Eddi Reader, former vocalist of Fairground Attraction, is perhaps now best known for her long solo career and a fondness for the works of Robert Burns. 

The first time I heard Gaelic spoken in conversation was in the village of Sanna, an idyllic hamlet on the far western tip of the Ardnamurchan Peninsula. A small collection of crofts and white stone houses aside pristine white sandy beaches, Sanna was the setting of Alasdair Maclean's autobiographical book Night Falls on Ardnamurchan. In an odd twist of fate, I was there with Maclean's niece; a raven haired, azure eyed beauty from the nearby Isle of Skye, but that is very much another story. What struck me about that wonderful, beautiful, language, was how lyrical and melodious it was. I had no idea of the content of that conversation, but listening to it was sheer joy. 

Sanna Bay

Sanna Bay

Julie Fowlis grew up in a Gaelic-speaking community on North Uist, an island in the Outer Hebrides. After university, she moved to the Isle of Skye to attended the Sabhal Mòr Ostaig Gaelic language college and study traditional Scottish music. She has released five albums and has a continuing broadcasting career. This Celtic song tells the story of a girl taken by an Each-uisge; a shape-shifting water horse. In its human form it is said to appear as a handsome man, only recognisable as the Each-uisge by the weeds or sand in its hair. Because of this, people in the Highlands were often wary of lone animals and strangers by the sea and sea lochs, where the Each-uisge was reputed to live. Not to be confused with the Water Kelpie, a water horse inhabiting the fresh water lochs and pools of Scotland. The Kelpie can not disguise its hooves when in human form, leading to its association with Satan by Robert Burns in his 1786 poem "Address to the Deil". Hmm..explains why my father never took his boots off. 

William Crampton