Luss/Dumbarton – Today was a bit disappointing as I had a whole plan in my mind for the day. In the Spring, I found another branch of my family tree was Scottish; and not just Scottish, they were steeped in the history of the country rubbing elbows with kings and queens. Here I always thought they were German. That’s what happens when the last name Colquhoun is rewritten in America to Coen. It turns out they spent generations on the banks of Loch Lomond. Part of the ancestral home is still standing as well as church where centuries of Colquhoun clan chieftains were buried. My goal was to go to the church and play my harp and hopefully be inspired by the surroundings to write some more music. The hitch in the plan is that the church and ruins are on the grounds of a private golf course and no one is admitted that aren’t members. Funny, there was nothing I read that stated that. I did get to go to a newer church built by the family with a graveyard filled with distant cousins. Instead we headed to Dumbarton Castle and climbed every single step…and trust me there are many. The few of the Glasgow area was breathtaking. As I didn’t get to go with my initial plan, I took my harp down to the shores of Loch Lomond at sunset to play contemplating the strength of ancestral memory and its impact on us.
We left Luss behind today, and traveled through The Glen of Weeping, otherwise known as Glen Coe. I became interested in this area after hearing the story of the Glen Coe massacre in a song. The steep peaks surrounding the glen are formidable and moody. It was raining as we drove through and the mist hovered closely around the mountains. We stopped at the Glen Coe visitor center to learn more of the history of the region.
After leaving Glen Coe, we stopped to visit Starfish Harps in North Ballanchulish Dave and Davey were most gracious allowing me to sample the harps and tour the work shop. Dave gave me information about each one and talked about their harp building that they build each harp by hand. Davey was working on assembling a harp in the work shop and described some of their process and beliefs about harp building. It is a small operation, but they appear to be doing very well. They have some lovely harps.
In the evening, we went into Inverness to attend a Traditional Scottish music session. It was rainy and driving in unfamiliar territory in the city was a bit difficult. However, we found where we were supposed to be and enjoyed some local musicians playing trad music for a packed bar. It is great to see that there continues to be a love for traditional music here.
Another very rainy day. Started the morning with a drive to Strathpeffer to have a lesson with Cheyenne Brown. Her German Shepherd Leo greeted me when I arrived (very welcome as I am missing mine just a bit.) She has a lovely little studio outside her home just big enough for a couple harps. Cheyenne taught me a lovely tune that she had written herself called the Seals of Rhu. She was inspired to write this after seeing the seals on a small point in the Firth of Clyde just north of Dumbarton. It’s interesting to see other people’s teaching style and strategies to get tunes to stick in your head. I hope this one sticks in mine. It’s a great tune and I look forward to playing it. I also found it helpful to have fresh eyes looking at my technique and commenting on it.
In the afternoon, we took in the Culloden Battlefield and Museum. Such a sobering display. They do an excellent job of showing you the perspective from both sides of the conflict; the British and the Scottish running their respective exhibits side by side so you see and hear what they were thinking on both sides at the same time. After the failure of Bonnie Prince Charlie to defeat the British and win back his father’s throne, the British worked hard to destroy the Scottish culture. I wonder the impact on the music that we play. Many from Scotland settled in America during “The Clearances” bringing the music and adapting it to their new country; particularly in the region of Appalachia. It’s interesting to think about how this chain of events impacted American culture, even to this day.
Following Culloden, we traveled a short distance (about 2 miles) to the ancient burial site, Clava Cairns. This site is over 4000 years old. It has several large cairns as well as a number of standing stones over about 4 acres of land. Two years ago, I had visited Clava Cairns with the Harpa Tour and I was inspired to write a tune that I hoped would capture the mystical nature of the place. One of the things I really wanted to do on this trip was to go back to Clave Cairns and play my piece and to record it there. Fortunately, the rain ended shortly before sunset and I could play my song and record it there. There were several visitors to the cairns while I was there, who stopped to listen and to talk about the location and I could share about the Scottish Harp Society of America and the inspiration of Clava Cairns.