Furth, Fortune, and Fill the Fetters
In the village of Blair Atholl in the Scottish Highlands, I discovered why Scotland is the stuff of legend. An American mother might send her children out in the world with wuss admonitions to “Make good choices” or “Fully fund your 401K”. A Scottish mum only has to grab a clan motto like the one above from Clan Murray, and she’s saying “Off you go to kill our enemies, pillage many cheeseburgers, and perhaps capture a few tender young haggis, if they’re in season. Oh, and by the way, do it whilst wearing a skirt—commando—and playing an instrument loud enough to wake the dead or at least Uncle Hamish after his last trip to the pub.”On our drive we passed beautiful scenery and distilleries. The beautiful distilleries were doing a brisk tourist trade despite the fact that spring hasn’t come to the Highlands yet. (Note: It’s possible that spring actually did come and we missed it, the way we missed spring that day in Glasgow when the sun came out…)
But our destination was the working watermill at Blair Atholl, where local millers have been grinding up stuff since at least the sixteenth century. The mill has a waterwheel powering grain elevators, giant cogs with teeth made of apple wood, and of course, enormous millstones. The flour was used by the attached teashop to produce breads and pastries and bagels so good they could make a grown Scot shed tears of joy.
Once stuffed, we headed for Blair Castle, ancestral residence of the Duke of Atholl and home to Clan Murray. We were not surprised to see the two bagpipers at the door. We were, however, a bit surprised when they began to play the theme from Starwars. I guess there are only so many times you can play Amazing Grace or Scotland the Brave.
Prominently displayed was the motto and crest of the Duke’s private army. Yes, he commands Europe’s only legitimate private army, the Scottish infantry regiment of Atholl Highlanders. Apparently Queen Victoria was so charmed when they served as her honor guard during her visit in 1842 that she gave the Duke a charter to maintain them as his private army and wear her colors. One of the docents said he was a member of the infantry regiment, and that they have represented the Highlands all over the world. He said they haven’t seen active military deployment, but since they dance with swords, march along in kilts, and pull their cannon along the road with them, it isn’t surprising that nobody has challenged them.