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The Flight of the Heron by D K Broster

William Heinemann, 1956, 286 p. First published 1925.

 The Flight of the Heron cover

Broster wasn’t Scottish but the background to her story most certainly is, probably the most worked-over seam in Scottish history, the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745-6, from Scott kicking off the whole historical novel malarkey with Waverley to Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander.

The focus here is very much not on the battles of that rebellion but on the relationship between Jacobite Ewen Cameron (of Ardroy) and a Government Army Officer, the Englishman Captain (later Major) Keith Windham of the Royal Scots.

Just after Bonnie Prince Charlie has landed in Scotland, Windham is captured by Cameron (due to no fault of his own – his horse shying at a heron rising in front of it, which only slightly injures him but breaks the horse’s leg – leaving him all but defenceless.) Windham is surprised to find Cameron not the barbarian of his expectations but a gentleman with fine and chivalrous manners. Having given his parole, Windham is indebted to Cameron for intervening when on a stroll round the Ardroy estate he comes across locals retrieving their arms cache from the thatched roofs of their houses and is thereby thought to be a spy. In the meantime, we find that Cameron’s foster-father – who is a seer – has predicted that Cameron and Windham will meet a total of five times, leaving the reader totting up their encounters. Sure enough the pairs’ paths cross again in Edinburgh after the Battle of Prestonpans when Windham has sallied from the castle in an attempt to capture the Prince – to whom Cameron is now aide-de-camp – who is visiting a house nearby, and once again Windham finds himself indebted to Cameron for allowing him to escape the clutches of Highlander reinforcements.

Windham’s opportunity to repay these favours occurs in the aftermath of Culloden when he arrives just in time to prevent the execution of an almost dying Cameron – wounded and exhausted, barely able to stand – at the hands of a detachment of Government soldiers sweeping the countryside for rebels. Windham’s speiring of Cameron as to the whereabouts of Clan Chief Lochiel then becomes a source of distrust between them before two final meetings in prison resolve their situation.

The book is dedicated to Violet Jacob, whose Flemington – which covers much the same ground as this – and Tales from Angus I read in 2015. Broster is not as good a stylist as Jacob was, though. Indeed, her prose tends to the utilitarian, but she does have an eye for landscape.

It is, however, impossible to read this book nowadays without wondering about its undercurrent, Windham’s several times expressed “strong attraction” for Cameron. His striving to ensure Cameron does not suffer unduly in the Government soldiers’ hands – even to the point of incurring the direct displeasure of the Duke of Cumberland – speaks of something more than mere obligation or friendship. A something that perhaps could not be addressed in so many words on the book’s first printing in 1925.

Pedant’s corner:- the very first word! Prolouge (Prologue,) h (he,) “‘the Elector’s’” (the meaning was ‘of the ‘Elector’ hence, the ‘Elector’’s,) a missing full stop, “a file of soldiers were advancing” (a file … was advancing,) Glangarry (Glengarry, I think,) “more then stupefaction” (more than,) ‘Hangman Hawley (‘Hangman Hawley’,) Mullins’ (Mullins’s,) an unnecessary end quotation mark, “which was, be believed” (which was, he believed,) Babenoch (Badenoch,) “‘for you solicitude’” (your,) “aide-de-camps” (aides-de-camp, as was used elsewhere, except for one “aides-de-camps”) a few missing commas before pieces of direct speech, lous d’or (louis d’or,) will-o-the-wisps (wills-o-the-wisp,) “were else” (where else,) staunch (stanch.)

The House of Dun

The House of Dun lies in the parish of Dun, west of Montrose. The present house was designed by the famous architect William Adam. Two of his drawing designs for the house can be seen here.

One of the resons I wanted to visit is because The House of Dun is the ancestral home of Violet Jacob whose Flemington and Tales of Angus I read four years ago now.

Estate entrance:-

Entrance, House of Dun

Game Larder, in entrance courtyard, House of Dun. How the other half lived:-

Game Larder, House of Dun

House of Dun:-

House of Dun

Rear view:-

House of Dun, Montrose

Model:-

Model, House of Dun

Side view:-

House of Dun, Montrose

My 2015 in Books

This has been a good year for books with me though I didn’t read much of what I had intended to as first I was distracted by the list of 100 best Scottish Books and then by the threat to local libraries – a threat which has now become a firm decision. As a result the tbr pile has got higher and higher as I continued to buy books and didn’t get round to reading many of them.

My books of the year were (in order of reading):-
Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
Electric Brae by Andrew Greig
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel
Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson
Traveller of the Century by Andrés Neuman
The Affair in Arcady by James Wellard
Flemington and Tales from Angus by Violet Jacob
The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
Ash: A Secret History by Mary Gentle
Young Adam by Alexander Trocchi
Song of Time by Ian R MacLeod
The Gowk Storm by Nancy Brysson Morrison
The Bridge Over the Drina by Ivo Andrić
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Fair Helen by Andrew Greig
The Dear, Green Place by Archie Hind
Greenvoe by George Mackay Brown
The Tin Drum by Günter Grass
Europe at Midnight by Dave Hutchinson
The Cone-Gatherers by Robin Jenkins
A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
Born Free by Laura Hird
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

If you were counting that’s 25 in all, of which 15 were by male authors and 10 by women, 8 had SF/fantasy elements and 11 were Scottish (in the broadest sense of inclusion.)

Reading Scotland 2015

A lot of my Scottish reading this year was prompted by the list of 100 best Scottish Books I discovered in February. Those marked below with an asterisk are in that 100 best list. (In the case of Andrew Greig’s Electric Brae I read it before I was aware of the list and for Robert Louis Stevenson his novella was in the book of his shorter fiction that I read.)

Electric Brae by Andrew Greig*
A Sparrow’s Flight by Margaret Elphinstone
The Guinea Stamp by Annie S Swan
The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark
The White Bird Passes by Jessie Kesson*
Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks by Christopher Brookmyre
Buddha Da by Anne Donovan*
Flemington by Violet Jacob*
Tales From Angus by Violet Jacob
Annals of the Parish by John Galt
The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
Change and Decay in All Around I See by Allan Massie
The Hangman’s Song by James Oswald
Wish I Was Here by Jackie Kay
The Hope That Kills Us Edited by Adrian Searle
Other stories and other stories by Ali Smith
Young Adam by Alexander Trocchi*
The Gowk Storm by Nancy Brysson Morrison*
No Mean City by H McArthur and H Kingsley Long*
Shorter Scottish Fiction by Robert Louis Stevenson*
The Expedition of Humphry Clinker by Tobias Smollett*
Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith
Fair Helen by Andrew Greig
The Dear, Green Place by Archie Hind*
Fur Sadie by Archie Hind
Greenvoe by George Mackay Brown*
Stepping Out by Cynthia Rogerson
Open the Door! by Catherine Carswell*
The Silver Darlings by Neil M Gunn*
Scotia Nova edited by Alistair Findlay and Tessa Ransford
After the Dance: selected short stories of Iain Crichton Smith
John Macnab by John Buchan
Another Time, Another Place by Jessie Kesson
Consider the Lilies by Iain Crichton Smith*
The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan*
Poems Iain Banks Ken MacLeod
Mistaken by Annie S Swan
Me and Ma Gal by Des Dillon*
Tea with the Taliban: poems by Owen Gallagher
A Choosing by Liz Lochhead
The Cone Gatherers by Robin Jenkins*
Born Free by Laura Hird*
the first person and other stories by Ali Smith

That makes 42 books in all (plus 2 if the Violet Jacob and Archie Hind count double.) None were non-fiction, 3 were poetry, 2 SF/Fantasy, 19 + (4x½ + 3 doublers) by men, 13 + (3 doublers and 1 triple) by women, 2 had various authors/contributors.

Battlefield of Prestonpans

Recently I have been travelling quite frequently up and down the A1 from Edinburgh to Dunbar, mainly to visit Eric Brown.

I had always wondered what the prominent hill with the flag on it just off the road a few miles east of Edinburgh was. A few weeks ago detouring into Prestonpans on the return I found out. Coincidentally I was reading Violet Jacobs’s Flemington at the time.

On the B 1361 into Prestonpans there was a sign pointing to the Battlefield of Prestonpans, 1745, the first battle of the Jacobite Rebellion of that year. I had previously thought the battlefield would lie somewhat closer to the Firth.

The prominent hill is the battlefield viewpoint, a converted coal bing, seen here from its foot.

The flag flying at the summit is Bonnie Prince Charlie’s battle standard.

There is a cairn at the side of the B 1361 erected in memory of the dead of the battle:-

According to the information boards on the Battlefield Viewpoint this is the site of the 1745 battle:-

This is the approximate Jacobite position at the battle’s start. It has a golf range on it now.

The battle itself was over in about fifteen minutes. Most of the relatively inexperienced Hanoverian force fled at the first charge of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Highlanders. This left the more hardened government troops sandwiched between the rebel wings. After suffering heavy casualties they gave way. Their commander Sir John Cope led some stragglers down a lane which to this day is named Johnnie Cope’s Road, but couldn’t get them to fight and left the field.

The song Hey Johnnie Cope Are Ye Wakin’ Yet? was written – by Adam Skirving, a namesake of the good lady – to commemorate the Jacobite victory.

This version, by the Corries, is preceded by an account of the first singing of the fourth verse of the UK National Anthem – the one which is no longer officially recognised.

Tales from Angus by Violet Jacob

In Flemington and Tales from Angus, Canongate 2013, 269 p; including 9 p Introduction, 1 p Acknowledgements, 9 p Notes and 6 p Glossary.

 Flemington and Tales from Angus cover

Jacob was born into the Kennedy-Erskine family of the House of Dun near Montrose (and published the family history The Lairds of Dun in 1931. In the memorable stories of Tales From Angus her sympathy with, and compassion for, those born with fewer advantages, her intimacy with and love for the landscape of Angus, shine through. The summaries below do not capture her facility nor her powers of description. Again, the book’s introduction mentions some of the salient points in the stories. Read that afterwards.

Thievie. An old skinflint would do anything rather than hand over his life savings – even to his daughter.
The Disgracefulness of Auntie Thomson. On the arrival in town of a well-dressed stranger the daughter of an upright but proud couple (to flaunt their wealth they take a carriage to a further away Kirk rather than attend the one backing onto their land) turns down her suitor on the grounds his guardian, his Auntie Thomson – is too coarse. The twist here is obvious long before the end but enjoyable just the same.
The Debatable Land. An orphaned young woman taken in as a servant by a woman the attentions of whose son she finds abhorrent finds refuge with a traveller.
The Fiddler. A beautifully constructed tale of a woman haunted by her aid to one of the rebels hunted after Culloden and the fiddler who is the only other person in the know.
A Middle-Aged Drama. A widower takes on a housekeeper and gradually comes to appreciate her. But she has a secret.
Annie Cargill. A man visits his godfather’s house and is spooked by a grave in the adjacent cemetery. A fairly straightforward, but admirably written, ghost story.
The Watch-Tower. A shepherd shelters for the night in a watchtower and finds there an old acquaintance whom he perceives to be the notorious sheep-stealer recently escaped from a nearby jail. Others are on the hunt.
The Figurehead. The mate of the brig “William and Joann” is struck by the resemblance of a girl he sees on a stairhead in Montrose to his ship’s figurehead and starts to court her.
Euphemia. A young lass organises women to bring in a harvest on a Sunday when the men refuse supposedly for Sabbatarian reasons but really for the money.
The Overthrow of Adam Pitcaithley. The son of a farmer strikes up a friendship with a travelling lad but ignores him when in his Sunday finery. Not a wise move.
The Lum Hat. The manuscript of this story – of which a few pages were missing – was found in Jacob’s papers and first published in 1982, many years after her death. The missing pages do not affect the story’s thrust. Christina Mill has led a sheltered life in the house of her father (whose favourite ‘chimney pot’ hat provides the story’s title.) Her disastrous marriage to Baird, a sea captain, and thankfully swift widowhood when his ship founders, leads her to cling to the familiar.
The Fifty-Eight Wild Swans. A man all but bed-ridden with arthritis is struck by a desire to view the many swans newly arrived on a loch just out of sight from his house.
The Yellow Dog. A tale mostly at second hand as the story of the yellow dog, which may or may not be a ghost, is related by one of three men in a smiddy.
Anderson. The boy of the title rescues a kitten from the gaggle of boys about to take great pleasure in drowning it.

Among Jacob’s bons mots are, “No woman, no matter of what age, can be quite cold to the charm of a new garment.” “Hard-working men do not analyse one another much; they either do or do not accept one another, and that is all.” “He was one of the many old men in Scotland who always allude to death as a joke.” She also writes, “Scottish people are addicted, perhaps more than any other, to nicknames,” and repeats the same sentiment elsewhere. Is that a particularly Scottish trait? Her acute observation is particularly evident in The Lum Hat. “In a small town a stranger in church is a godsend.” The cook objects to Christina’s help because of “her passionate belief that the gentry should keep the pose thrust on them by God.” “The stars in their courses fought for Baird, as they do for most thrusters.” “…men married their wives for convenience mainly, and were lucky if they got any attraction thrown in.”

I note that throughout Jacob employs the word “wean” for a child. Hitherto I had thought this a predominantly West Coast usage. On the East coast “bairn” had seemed to me to be exclusive. (It certainly is in Fife – and in The Sunday Post.) Perhaps its use stops just north of Dundee.

Pedant’s corner:- chrysophrase (chrysoprase,) standing in the white patch that then moon had laid, tried is used in the text where treid (the Scots for tread) appears in the glossary.

Flemington by Violet Jacob

In Flemington and Tales from Angus, Canongate, 2013, 291 p, including 16 p introduction, 1 p each Acknowledgements, Note on the Text and Author’s Note, 14 p Notes and 6 p Glossary.

Another from the 100 Best Scottish books list. Again from a local (well, 9 miles away) library. The novel was first published in 1911.

 Flemington and Tales from Angus cover

As soon as the years in which this is set, 1745-6, are discovered certain expectations might arise, a focus on Bonnie Prince Charlie or his entourage, following the rising tide of his fortunes from the standard raising at Glenfinnan through his initial triumphs to Edinburgh and on down to England before the fatal loss of nerve at Derby and thence to his downfall. Jacob, however, is more subtle than this. The events of that last Jacobite rebellion are present here, to be sure, (the Battle of Prestonpans – here rendered as Preston Pans – the advance to and retreat from Derby, the Battles of Falkirk and of Drummossie Moor, otherwise known as Culloden, the bloody and vengeful aftermath of that final battle on British soil) but they occur offstage. Jacob’s focus is relentlessly on individuals, not the broad sweep of history or “great events”. Though the Duke of Cumberland does appear in Flemington’s pages as a character (and not in a flattering portrait) the Young Chevalier never does, except as the driving force for the dilemma into which our titular protagonist falls. The action takes place exclusively in the county of Angus and specifically in the area linking the towns of Forfar, Brechin and Montrose. It is in Montrose harbour that the sole military engagement described in the book – a fictionalisation of a very minor naval incident in the ’45 rebellion – takes place.

To prevent his mother compromising Prince Charlie, protagonist Archibald Flemington’s father was badly used by the Old Pretender in exile at St Germain. Archie was subsequently orphaned and put in the care of his grandmother who, due to those earlier experiences, is now a full supporter of the Hanoverian dynasty. Flemington is a painter but also a government spy trying to discern the plans of the rebel James Logie; to which end he turns up at the door of Logie’s brother, a retired judge. While Flemington is still undercover Logie reveals to him a personal confidence – unrelated to any Jacobite sympathies. This engenders in Flemington a sympathy for Logie which he will not thereafter compromise and so the central tragedy of the story unfolds.

The novel is full of well-drawn and memorable characters: Flemington; his grandmother; Skirlin’ Wattie, the no-legged bagpiper who travels about on a cart drawn by dogs; Callander, the Government Army officer who is dutiful to a fault. Despite his confidence granted to Flemington, James Logie is a shadowier character, though his brother Balnillo is portrayed in all his preposterousness. Wattie is the only one who speaks broad Scots. The context provides clarity enough but the glossary is there if needed.

One chapter begins, “April is slow in Scotland, distrustful of her own identity, timid of her own powers. Half dazed from the long winter sleep, she is often bewildered, and cannot remember whether she belongs to winter or to spring.” How true – especially redolent when reading it in Scotland, in April, and the passage is characteristic of Jacob’s writing which is especially strong on landscape description.

Flemington is an illustration on an individual human scale of the dislocations and traumas, the disruptions, which a Civil War brings in its train and of how character can both resist circumstances and be a victim of them.

I took the precaution of not reading the introduction before the story. Wisely, as the usual spoilers in such things were present.

Pedant’s corner:- I found the reference to English parents strange in a passage contrasting the thoughts of a Scots woman who had spent a long time in France with those who hadn’t. Also mentioned were English dragoons at Culloden. (I haven’t checked. Any dragoons may have been English, though certainly a large part of Cumberland’s army was Scots.) Dulness with one ‘l’?

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