On Boxing Day I went for a long wander up Glen nam Fiadh just north of Glen Affric. The weather was abysmal, I walked for miles and miles and although I only took two photos the whole day, the trip obviously left a lasting impression on me. Inadvertently a painting recently flowed out of me which reminded me blundering back down the glen in the dark. It was so wet all day and when night broke the sky cleared and the moon appeared strangely yellow for a time. I didn’t take a photo as I was desperate to get back to my car. There is a lot of bog to cover up there. It’s funny how fleeting little glances can stick in your memory isn’t it?
I have named this ‘Feudal Barony’ as the ownership of Glen Affric has always been a thorn in the highlands side. It is important to note that in the past Glen Affric was a major route from the west – Kintail, Skye and the outer isles – to the bigger agricultural markets in the east. There’s a lot of history buried under the lochs of the hydro schemes up here. Glen nam Fiadh itself runs up from Chisholm bridge (which is still spelt in the anglicised form with an e on the end). Affric, Strathfarrar and Cannich is the land of the Chisholms, Duncan Chisholm has written a trilogy of Albums, ‘The Strtahglass trilogy” you should listen to them, they really convey this area and it’s history beautifully. https://www.duncanchisholm.com/product/the-strathglass-trilogy-triplecd/.
The history of the Glens up here is nasty, steeped in Clan warfare and religious persecution, Thomas Chisholm the laird of Strathglass was imprisoned in 1572 for being Catholic and the deed for the Glen was squabbled over by various so called nobles, Seaforth MacKenzie, Frasers, Ross’s… etc. After two battles and various armed parties out collecting rent for all these ignoble, nobles, the Glen ended up with Frasers. Major hydro schemes were put in during the 50’s and 60’s and a lot of the old (mostly abandoned) crofts and paths were drowned by the swelling of the lochs. Though you can still see signs of where people lived everywhere. There is a great book called ‘the hydro boys’ by Emma Wood that digs into this history. And there is another book ‘Burn on the Hill: The Story of the first compleat munroist’, which is basically the memoirs of an english reverend Ronnie Burns who was a very keen walker and spent a lot of time in the area. I believe it is one of the few written accounts of what life was like up here as he found a very warm welcome among the natives here.
Currently the estate – which is greatly reduced – is owned by David Mathews, an ex second hand car salesmen, race driver and hotel entrepreneur from Rotheram. He is the father in law of Pippa Middleton and his son stars on ‘made in chelsea.’
So there you go… Some craic. In fairness they’ve fairly spiffed the place up, the stalking paths are marked with beautifully made little cairns and they have put in small hydro schemes (which is both good and bad). I really can’t get my head round how society can work this way, or that anyone can own a Glen. Perhaps the darkness of my painting can convey my eternal vexing discomfort at the ways of ‘great british’ Man. But when you’re walking down a drenched glen after many hours of drudgery you realise none of it matters and you don’t even care.