National Geographic : 1984 Jul
Scotland, Ghosts, and Glory By ROWE FINDLEY ASSISTANT EDITOR Photographs by PETER CARMICHAEL ROW THE PIPES HURL song against song, where lately they took harmo nious turns. "My Love, She's But a Lassie Yet" and "Comin' Thro' the Rye" are overcome by "A Hundred Pipers" a-skirling "Scotland the Brave." First the sound rides down from battlemented heights above the River Ness; now it sweeps in on the other ear from across the blue river itself, bridged golden by a July sun still plan ing easily above northwestern hills-tune and countertune, lilt and drone, peace and war. I feel the tug of rival parades, compet ing for favor of a capricious wind. And that is the story of Scotland itself, ever competing waves of hopeful humanity struggling across a leonine landscape where mountains and glacier-gouged lochs now frustrate confrontations but again funnel unknowing armies on collision courses, as if they march within the closing palm of fate. Despite the wind's ethereal phrasing, the bagpipes I hear are real-at first a solitary piper striding before the turreted court chambers of Inverness, "capital of the High lands," then a drum-cadenced pipe band in a stadium beyond the hurrying river. The stadium bandsmen, I soon learn, are the Inverness and District pipers, Roddie MacLeod, pipe major. They give martial pulse to a kilted show of balladeers keening lost love in the glens, of bonnylassies spring ing through a Highland fling with the grace of a gamboling doe. The performers, all am ateurs, take the stage on summer nights for visitors, who on this particular evening come from 17 countries and as far away as New Zealand. Amateur or no, all these Gaelic rhythms stir some deep ancestral memory, as did a peat barrow full of other sights and sounds and smells of Scotland. There was the old year's death by Loch Lomond, while full moon and snow showers alternately ruled the sky, and the old Inver beg Inn overflowed with the reels and glad sad songs of a ceilidh (KAY-lee) to mark Hogmanay-the New Year's coming. There was the Robbie Burns supper, tra ditional birthday salute to Scotland's poet hero, in Halfway House near Ayr, with the steaming haggis borne by a chef in white, preceded by a piper, and the Immortal Memory delivered by the Reverend James Currie of puckish wit and Friar Tuck cheer. There were marveling tours of Victorian blocks in Glasgow, of Edinburgh's Royal Mile; there were crescent-bay villages in the Hebrides, resolute golfers racing wind and failing light at St. Andrews, rock-rooted lighthouses in the Shetlands, fetes to the bat tles and resident bandits of the Borders. There was bell heather to purple Deeside Heather carpets the path of hunters returningfrom a stag shoot in Scotland's stark, lonely Highlands-emptiestquarterin crowded Britain.Cherishing the traditionalwhile pioneeringthe new, Scots remain very much their own people, as the author learns in a homecoming to his ancestralland of tartanand tweed.