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The Scots have a great word for wandering about –‘Stravaiging’. The meaning of ‘Stravaig’ is a bit more subtle than just wandering about though, as it implies more of an ‘aimless wandering’. We don’t spend enough time in the Highlands for our wandering to be truly aimless, so for several of our hill days in May 2019 we tagged on a visit to a bothy for the extra interest. Duror Bothy near Glencoe was the first on the list.
From Glencoe, it’s a short drive on the Oban road to the small settlement of Duror at the mouth of the glen of the same name. The road looks as if it has been there for centuries but has only existed in its current form since the 1930’s. In summer it can be quite busy with tourist traffic, but May is quiet and probably the best time to visit, and the only campervan you will be stuck behind is probably ours.
If the drive is easy, the walk is likewise. A gradually rising forestry track takes you up Glen Duror until a junction is reached on the left, where you branch off into the wood (see what I did there? – ‘branch off’ – oh, never mind 😉). From there it’s a bit more like a maze, heading through the trees until the path opens up to lead to a clearing, with the bothy coming into view at last.
If I’m honest, I’m not a huge fan of wide forestry tracks or narrow paths through the trees – what makes this trip more interesting is the sad story of Seumas a’ Ghlinne, otherwise ‘James of the Glen’. If ever a man was wronged, it was James Stewart, and the bothy was his birthplace and at one time his home.
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James was one of the Stewarts of Appin, who had fought on the side of Bonny Prince Charlie in the 1745 rebellion against the English Monarchy. The Glencoe and Appin areas came under the control of the Campbell Clan, supporters of English rule, and Colin Campbell, known as the ‘Red Fox’, was employed as a tax collector working on behalf of the Crown. As such he was not a popular man and provided a likely target for the disaffected locals.
In May 1752, the Red Fox was going about his masters’ business near to the Ballachulish Ferry when a musket shot rang out, leaving the Campbell man dead. The Authorities would not allow such a direct challenge to their power and looked for a scapegoat. James Stewart had been a constant critic of the Campbells and their English masters, and the murder of Colin Campbell gave them the opportunity to settle old scores. In a sham of a trial, Stewart was found guilty of murder – eleven of the 15 jurors were Campbells and the presiding judge was the Duke of Argyll, the Campbell clan chief
James went to the gallows at a point overlooking the scene of the murder. He showed no fear but expressed regret that future generations would think ill of him. The locals were well aware of the identity of the murderer, but it remained secret despite much speculation at the time and since. As a final act of revenge, James Stewart’s body was left hanging in chains until it slowly fell apart – his remains were subsequently gathered and given a decent burial, and the gallows were eventually thrown into Loch Linnhe by a local half-wit known as “Daft Macphee”.
A monument stands at the site of the execution. On it is a plaque with the following words
James of the Glens
Executed here November 1752
For a crime of which he was not guilty
As recently as 2014, an appeal was lodged with the Scottish Government to pardon Stewart, but this was refused for no better reason than it would be ‘complicated’ and ‘Seumas a Ghlinne’ remains a victim of a miscarriage of justice.
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If the ghost of Seumus still wanders through the glen, we didn’t hear or see it. The bothy is light and airy, probably more so than when Seumas lived there, thanks to renovations by the Mountain Bothies Association. Despite its proximity to the road, the bothy does not seem to have attracted the attention of the louts and vandals who spoil the peace of bothies elsewhere in the Highlands – perhaps Seumas is keeping watch after all.
Text and images © Paul Shorrock except images tagged RW (Richard Webb) and CD (Chris Downer) which are taken from the Geograph Project and are reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence.
Yet another great post Paul and a fine set of pics as always. The hard work and effort you must have to put in to produce such a great blog really is something else. Long may you continue ”mucking about in the mountains” (and valleys too of course so you dont miss the pubs)…. eyes on Wally by the way…
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A little more information: James was eventually buried in the old church just off the road at Duror and next to the sea loch. A small plaque is set into the wall of the ruined chapel which acknowledges this.. The unwelcoming aspect of the chapel makes it more easy to enter from the sea
-loch side. The National Trust and Appin Stewarts have not insisted on sorting out the unfriendly circumstances; it’s an utter disgrace. I visited several weeks ago (and twice over previous years).
James’ nephew, Donald Stewart, seems a likely person to have fired the shot. Stories have it he had to be restrained from confessing to the killing.
Thanks for the additional information Donald – I’ve never been to the Chapel but it’s now on the list of places to visit next time I’m up that way.
I found it surprising that the Scottish government didn’t see fit to re-examine the evidence – the story of Seumas still reaches out to us after so many years.
Thank you for the reply.
When you visit, best to go to the old railway station (now accommodation near Bob and Ang’s B&B),walk onto the pebble beach and then proceed along the beach for about 200 metres until the chapel ruins (next to a residence..) are in view – a small and stubborn gateway marks the entrance and a few more steps bring you into the chapel.
The site is greatly neglected; how this allowed I’m at a loss to know and on the other side of the world to instigate any remedial campaign. Many people will be familiar with Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Kidnapped” which romanticises the event near Ballachulish so I’m sure there would be interest in keeping the chapel “tidy” and accessible for those paying deserved respect to James Stewart.
Quhidder Vill Zie!
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If you had seen it in 2012 then calling it a disgrace would have been justified. It was cleared then and the tombstones recorded and mapped. Unfortunately last year and failing health prevented me from as full maintenance as I would have liked. However, help was at hand when bad weather intervened and now we have this Coronavirus pestilence. You might have noticed that the long south wall had been recently repaired and two tombstones replaced on their pedestals at. Insiders le expense. With luck maintenance will be resumed before too long. For people wanting to visit the place it would be polite to ask permission from the people at the House of Keil as it is so close to their home.
Thanks for the comment Neill – I had planned to visit this year in May, but who knows when things will be back to normal, whatever that is.
I avoid the Highlands in midge season but who knows, September/October might be a possibility.
I understood that 3 Livingstone brothers rowed across & took the remains of Jamie back to give him a decent burial. One of those brothers Charles became the father of Dr David Livingstone. ‘Tall tales from an island’ by Peter Macnab
Thanks for that Elaine, yet another piece in the story of James of the Glen.