10-Jul-2002 -- After a not unsuccessful visit to the New World we are now approaching
Sailing on the Great Circle Route from Cape Race (Newfoundland) to the
Pentland Firth North of Scotland, today we passed the channel
between the Outer Hebrides and Scotland, in which there are two confluences.
This channel can be divided into three parts, namely the southern one,
called the "Sea of The Hebrides", the central part, named "The Little
Minch", and the Northern part, known as "The Northern Minch".
Coming from West, we first had to round Barra Head on
Island (the southernmost island of the Outer Hebrides Group), with its
lighthouse on top.
The first confluence to visit was 57°N / 7°W, an offshore point in the Sea of The Hebrides.
The confluence is
located 23.2 km East of Barra Island.
The Outer Hebrides are a chain of islands and islets, North of Beneray comes
Mingulay, then Barra, South Uist, Benbecula, North
Uist, and finally the far largest one, Isle of Lewis.
On the Eastern side of the Sea of The Hebrides there is the Isle of Skye and
several smaller Islands, of which the closest to the confluence ones are
Rhum and Canna.
In the vicinity of these two there is another very small island, Òigh Sgeir,
but it is only 8 metres high and therefore not visible on such a distance.
These names show us already, that we are, although within the UK, no longer
in the range of an Anglosaxon language.
Although Scotland seems to be a peaceful and scarcely populated country, its
history is written with blood.
Already after the last glacial period nomadic hunters began to settle in
Scotland, but they had left hardly any trace. This changed with the next
wave of immigration in the Younger Stone Age after about 3,500 b. Chr. Men
began to settle down there and villages formed. The population increased
rapidly. This period seems to having been a Golden Age, for we know a lot of
relics from this time, as burial chambers and stone circles, having
presumably served for astronomical calculations.
Around 1,500 b. Chr. this civilization began to decay again, and 500 years
later armed intruders, coming across the Irish Sea landed first on the Outer
Hebrides, just in the vicinity of this confluence. From there they reached
the Central Highland.
From 600 b. Chr. Celtic tribes began to invade the country. From this time
come the well known "wheel-houses", and "Hill-forts", well conserved
especially on the Eastern Coast.
The Romans called Scotland "Caledonia". In 121/122 AD they began to secure
the conquered territory with the "Hadrian's Wall", 120 km long, extending
from the Firth of Solway in the West until the Mouth of River Tyne in the
East. Later the border has been shifted farther towards North, but could not
resist the encroachments of the Northern tribes, the Picts. All buildings
of the Picts had a protecting function: pile dwellings on artificial islands
in the lakes ("crannogs"), underground chambers and tunnels ("soutterains"),
double wall stone towers ("brochs") and small stone fortresses ("duns").
The Birth of Scotland:
The Picts later were joined by three new tribes in the 4th century. They
came from Ireland, were of Celtic origin and spoke Gaelic. These so called
Skotes settled on the West coast.
British and romanized Celtics from the South founded the Kingdom of
In the 5th and 6th century the Germanic Anglosaxons, coming from continental
Europe settled down on England's coast and spread themselves until Southeast
In 563 the Irish St. Columban built a monastery on the Island of Iona in
order to christianize the local population.
The political power struggles between the Skotes and the Picts ended, when
they united in 843, in view of the permanent menace of the Vikings. Under
the Skotes' leader Kenneth MacAlpine the Kingdom of Scotia was formed, which
incorporated in 1018 the territory of the Angles and the Kingdom of
Strathclyde. Scotland was united within its today's borders.
After the conquest of England through the Normans in 1066 under William the
Conqueror the Anglosaxon aristocracy flew towards North and brought with
them the highly developed culture they had attained from the Romans
(jurisdiction, Latin ecclesiastical rites, Roman architecture), displacing
the Celtic ecclesiastical system and the traditions of the Gales.
In the 12th and 13th century commercial centers ("burghs") with own legal
independence were formed. Many of these old towns had broad streets on which
a market was held, they had a huge cross ("mercat cross"), a "tolbooth
tower" as prison and a city hall, a beautiful stone church ("kirk", mostly
in Gothic style) and a castle above the port.
The Battle with England:
After a long time of peace and welfare (1214-1285) raids and attacks from
England began, especially in the area of the borders. When Robert the Bruce
and John Balliol where fighting for the Scottish throne, Edward I. of
England (the "Scots' Hammer") saw the opportunity to extend his power
towards North. With Edward's help John Balliol obtained the Crown, but
formed subsequently an alliance with France and invaded England. Edward
defended himself and occupied wide areas of Scotland, and finally John
Balliol had to abdicate. The country remained occupied and was administered
by English officials. The Scottish aristocracy subdued itself.
A citizen from the Lowlands, William Wallace, called for resistance. His
small group grew with each success, and in 1297 he defeated the English in
the Battle of Stirling Bridge. But in the following year his troops were
annihilated near Falkirk. Wallace, however, succeeded to go into hiding, but
in 1305 he was betrayed and executed.
In 1306, when Robert the Bruce, the grandson of the former rival of John
Balliol, was incoronated, he fought a long and troublesome guerilla war
against the English occupants. The end of his battle against the English was
his famous victory in 1314 in the Battle of Bannock Burn. In 1328 a peace
treaty was signed, and Scotland was granted independence.
After the death of Robert the Bruce an unstable time began under his son
David. David's nephew, Robert II., followed on the throne. His family
obtained the hereditary title of "High Stewarts". In order to make this more
clear the family changed its name from FitzAlan into Stewart, later Stuart.
The early Stuarts:
The reign of the Stuarts resembles a Renaissance-epic, full of coups d'état
and betrayal, murder and revenge. In the 15th and 16th century all kings
from James I. to James V. fought against the intervention of the powerful
aristocracy. Every single ruler tried to knock down the well established
nobility and to replace it by trustworthy royal adherents. But whenever a
step was done in the direction to reinforce the central power, the early
death of the monarch annihilated and cancelled this development again. An
aggravating fact was, that the heir of the throne in most cases was still a
Finally the weakened Scottish army was defeated by the English in the Battle
of Solway Moss in 1542. The last thing dying king James V. had learned, was
that his wife had given birth to a daughter, named Mary.
Here we interrupt and leave Mary Stuart alone for a while, the next Scottish
confluence is already in sight.