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Historical journey for Gregor and Meg

By SPP Reporter

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Gregor and Meg get a Jacobite send off as they start their walk at Culloden.
Gregor and Meg get a Jacobite send off as they start their walk at Culloden.

WHEN Gregor Ewing decided he and his faithful collie Meg should go on a long walk, he looked to history for a challenge to inspire it.

He found it in the man he calls "the Bear Grylls of his day" — Bonnie Prince Charlie.

The handsome, foppish prince who stares out from the tops of shortbread tins and whisky bottle labels might not immediately be viewed as a counterpart of the modern day Everest-scaling adventurer.

However, retracing the Young Pretender’s route after Culloden gave Ewing, who relates his own adventures in the book Charlie, Meg and Me, a new found respect for the Prince.

"On Skye, for example, he walked overnight from Portree to Elgol. To do that at night was a major, major accomplishment," Ewing said.

"And also he had the mental wear that he could be caught at any moment and the mental anguish that he had brought so much misery to the Highlands — innocent people as well as soldiers were being killed left, right and centre.

"The Highlanders themselves said he was as tough as any of them. He was able to cope with extreme difficulties from the start. In some respects Bonnie Prince Charlie was a foppish prince, a bit of a dandy and a playboy, but during this period he had a long red beard, a black kilt and a raggedy shirt and a pair of pistols in his belt — he was a Highlander in all but name really."

However, Ewing’s main impetus for the journey was a long held ambition for a walking adventure.

"I was looking to do a long distance walk, but I have a career and have a family, so I couldn’t just go away on a whim," Ewing explained.

"I’m familiar with the north-west Highlands from being up there on holiday, and I saw a lot of caves and markers associated with Bonnie Prince Charlie. I looked into it, and I realised a lot of these things were to do with his wanderings after the Battle of Culloden.

"I’ve always been interested in Scottish history, but the combination of the two, history and walking, made it irresistible."

When changes in the family business in Falkirk opened up the opportunity to take time off, Ewing put his plans into motion and in April 2012, close to the anniversary of the battle, he and Meg set off on their six week adventure.

The early departure also allowed them to avoid midgie season — an important consideration as Ewing and Meg were wild camping for most of their trek.

To guide him, Ewing made use of a Victorian era book detailing Prince Charles’s post-Culloden wanderings, together with Ordinance Survey maps, enabling him to track down almost all the caves and monuments associated with Bonnie Prince Charlie.

The one exception was perhaps the most famous of them all, Cluny’s Cage on Ben Alder.

Cluny’s Cage, which may have been a hut formed by a lattice-work of trees, was the hiding place of the Clan Chattan chief Cluny MacPherson for several years after Culloden. As well as sheltering Bonnie Prince Charlie, it also features in Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel "Kidnapped".

"The location has been a long term mystery and one I would love to clear up," Ewing said.

"My own opinion is that it’s on the other side of Loch Ericht. My own experience suggests it’s wrong. Where it’s marked on the OS map and where Prince Charles is marked as spending the next evening are just a couple of hours walk away. He’s just found out that there are ships arrived from France, so he’s heading back to the west coast as fast as possible. I don’t think he would have walked for two or three hours and then stopped."

As well as the physical challenge of the walk, Ewing also had the mental challenge of doing it without any human company — though Meg, who carried her own gear in a special hardness was a big help, he adds.

His journey that took him across the Highland to the Western Isles as well as Skye and included falling into a bog up to his waist at Glen Pean at the end of Loch Arkaig in Lochaber.

Meg in Glen Pean, where Gregor got up to his waist in trouble.
Meg in Glen Pean, where Gregor got up to his waist in trouble.

"I was able to get out, but it gave me a fright and I realised there was no-one there to help," he said.

"The dog just sailed over what I thought was a piece of grass, but it was actually a marsh and I was up to my waist before I knew it.

"You don’t know how difficult it’s going to be from the map, but one of Prince Charles’s own companions called Glen Pean the cruellest journey."

Because he was on a strict timetable, Ewing also found himself ascending Creag Meagaidh just north of Ben Alder in conditions he would normally have avoided, a whiteout severely reducing visibility on a mountain with 1000 foot drops.

"It was a case where I might have I got disorientated with the snow and the wind. I survived it, but it was definitely a frightening experience."

Yet not frightening enough to put him off future walks.

"Next year is the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn, so I might look at some of Robert the Bruce’s journeys," he said.

"Then there’s the Duke of Montrose in the 17th century. He fought a lot of battles and did a lot of tramping around Scotland. It might be worth following him."

Charlie, Meg and Me by Gregor Ewing is published by Luath Press, priced £9.99.

The author will be signing copies of the book at the Inverness Visitor Information Centre, Castle Wynd, at 2pm on Saturday 24th August 2013.

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