One Residents Take on the Battle of Largs

TWalter Scott
To say that the last couple of weeks of devising the Walk Largs tour have been hectic is something of an understatement.  Having set myself a tight deadline to get up and running, what ensued could be described as controlled chaos as I scoured as many sources as possible looking for relevant information to include in the tour.  One of the most useful of the sources that I came across was a locally produced booklet entitled ‘The Buildings of Largs’ which is to be found in the local interests section of the library and out of which I hoped to garner some information regarding another matter entirely when I perused upon the information that the great Romanticiser of all things Scottish Walter Scott once resided at 1 Gallowgate Square.
Perhaps I should be looking for more than one source before announcing to the world that the famous novelist once lived in Largs, but whatever the case he did certainly have some knowledge of the town.  We have much to thank Scott for – or to blame some might say – for his great tartanisation of the nation particularly due to his contrivance of clan tartanry at the pageant for the visit of George IV in 1822.  His reputation as as a writer who pioneered the hills, heather and claymore wielding Highlander Romantic notion of Scotland caused me to wonder whether he employed his shortbread tin inclinations on the events surrounding the Battle of Largs.  The only writings I could track down by him concerning the subject is from his book entitled Tales of a Grandfather in which he gives a fairly factual, if less than accurate, portrayal surrounding the events of 1262.  It would only be of academic interest to take him to task on any of his several embellishments of the truth he makes – for instance, he has the gallant Scottish army of Alexander III turn up from the moment that the Norsemen set foot on Ayrshire soil rather than two days after a storm drives the fleet of Hakon ashore -, however, what is more interesting is that he makes mention of a mound in which the Norsemen buried their dead.
‘The traces of the battle of Largs… are still to be found on the shores where the action was fought.  There are visible great rocks and heaps of stones, beneath which lie interred remains of the slain.  Human bones are to be found in great quantities, and also warlike weapons. particularly axes, and swords…’  (1909:54)
Today that mound is to be found roughly between the Room restaurant and the old kirkyard in a patch of overgrown ground which is now, almost entirely, surrounded by development.  Like much of Scott’s writing, we should be wary of his account of the fantastic antiquaries that were found on the site, but given that the site is catalogued on Historic Environment Scotland’s Canmore site we can be sure, like much of Scott’s writing, that there is some truth to the tale. Still, trying to explain that to the very dilligent worker of the residential care home on Lade Street as to why I was peering over the wall of their midden was quite another matter.
Walk Largs tours take place every Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 11am and 2pm meeting at Magnus.  Alternatively, Private tours for individuals or groups can be booked at or through facebook.


The Simson Memorial

Simson Memorial

The C-listed memorial to mathematician Robert Simson (1687-1768) is located in the town’s cemetery and was constructed in 1877, over a hundred years after his death.  John Fullerton of Overton, who was responsible for its erection described, Simson as the ‘restorer of Grecian geometry’ or Euclidean geometry as it would more likely be referred to as nowadays.

Perhaps Simson is not as well know as other Scottish Enlightenment figures such as Adam Smith or David Hume, but his contribution has probably had just as profound effect on the modern world.

The hill in the background is West Kilbride Law (Scots for rounded hill) and no doubt the former Chair of Mathematics at Glasgow University spent happy many hours there perusing his theories.

Gaelic promotes Cultural Diversity


The inspiration of this blog has been a conversation with a friend who feels that the promotion of what he sees as a Scottish mono-culture as being incompatible with the multiculturalism.  His experience of regularly visiting London on work has persuaded him that we are inward and backward looking and, in contrast to London, much less ethnically diverse.  There are good economic reasons for this, however, I want to focus on the concept of multiculturalism and how the promotion of Gaelic encourages a more culturally diverse environment.

Gaelic is at the point of extinction because of a planned and sustained program of cultural assimilation going back to the Enlightenment. It is not a result of natural selection as some claim.  Here in Britain – in fact, you could say the British state was founded on this notion – we have adopted a French Jacobin model of the nation state in that we all have equality in the eyes of the law, but through the medium of English. There is no provision for different ethno-linguistic groups.  This is not a natural state of affairs. Most people in the world speak more than one language (most speakers of English speak it as a 2nd language), however, English is a currency of mutual exchange between speakers of different languages and, in that respect, plays a crucial function. The near eradication of Gaelic from out landscape was not necessary and neither would it be necessary for speakers of other languages to dispense of their culture for integration into a multi-cultural Scotland to be possible.

The Scottish Governments emphasis in their Gaelic Language Plan is on the development of bilingualism and children who are brought up bilingually go on to pick up other languages more easily, not to mention a better standard of English.  I’m not saying there are no tartan imperialists out there, but the promotion of Gaelic is not about creating some kind of Scottish mono-culture. On the contrary, it’s about creating cultural diversity.

King James I of Scotland

#scottishhistory #Kings James I, despite his grisly end and failed military campaign, on release from English imprisonment proved himself a resilient and canny king in the face of a parliament used to paying little or no tax.

The Freelance History Writer

A sixteenth century portrait of King James I of Scotland by an unknown artist A sixteenth century portrait of King James I of Scotland by an unknown artist

James Stewart I, King of Scots had an unusual reign in many ways. His rule began while he was a prisoner of King Henry IV of England. And his rule certainly ended in a tumultuous and violent manner.

James was born on July 25, 1394 at Dunfermline Palace. He was the son of King Robert III and Annabella Drummond, the daughter of a Scottish nobleman. James was the third son born to King Robert. While we don’t know much about James’ early years, he probably received the education of a boy of his rank for the time. James’ father had become king late in life and probably for health reasons was unable to rule in his own capacity. Consequently, Robert’s brother, the Duke of Albany, governed the kingdom. Robert and Anabella’s second son died young…

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Bute’s Donegal

#Bute #Gaelic #scottishhistory

The site at Dunagoil was fortified between 300 and 150 BC and may well have been the governmental centre of the island before the establishment of St Blane’s monastery in the 5th C. AD.  #Rothesay did not become the island’s capital until the arrival of the #Vikings in the 9th C.

The name itself means ‘fort of the foreigner’ and is from the Gaelic. The language, which many regard as Scotland’s indigenous language, only arrived with the Irish monks who built the monastery, so whatever name the ancient Britons gave to it is a mystery. The foreigners in question are the Vikings, so maybe there was an older Gaelic name which related in some way to the older Brythonic language.

Interestingly, #Donegal – just over the Irish sea – shares the same Gaelic name, Dun nan Gall.

#Cumbernauld Village

I had never previously been to Cumbernauld, so the chance to attend a conference at the Westerwood Hotel this weekend was also an opportunity to put this matter to right.  I had only ever thought about the place as being a new town. so it was a pleasant surprise to find the Village within 10 min walking distance of the leisure and accommodation complex.

Circle Cumbernauld

Laid out in a traditional Medieval market town style with a surviving area of rigs to the southend of the Main Street (Langriggs – now a community garden and dog walking haunt), the well maintained and conserved architecture is a stark contrast to the grey monotonous drone of the M80 which is ever present.

The photo is of the Circle Bar which reminds me of The George in Inverary, at least aesthetically.  The latter is an 18th C. hostelry built as part of a new town in another age, so perhaps the comparison is an apt one, however, many of the buildings here received a makeover in the 19th C., so I’m not going to stick my neck out on this occasion.

It’s not necessary to understand completely to appreciate completely.

Clach an Truseil – The Trusal Stone

Trusal Stone

The stones of Calanais is an iconic image that might well spring to mind when we think of the prehistoric history of Scotland.  Twenty miles or so to the North of monument lies the remains of another circle.

There’s not much of it left.  In fact, there’s only one stone left.  Locals have made good use of these handily sized pieces of blue stone in the construction of walls and buildings, however, the good news is that the one remaining stone is – at 18-19 ft – reputed to be among the tallest in the land.

At circa 5000 years old, it goes back to a time known as the Neolithic, a time when communities had settled down and became farmers, growing crops and domesticating animals, as opposed to nomadic seasonal migration.

Since reading Scotland’s Shops by Lindsay Lennie, it has become a small obsession when visiting new places to window shop for interesting stuff.  Here’s two inter-war period shop fronts that I encountered on a recent visit to Stornoway .Shop1

#1 MacLeod and MacLeod Butchers – The terrazzo cladding is typical of the Art Deco move towards plain, reflective surfaces and away from ostentatious ornamentation.


#2 W.J. MacDonald – Like the previous example, Vitrolite is the choice of materials for the fascia.  This coloured  be rolled glass was often used as a cheaper alternative to terrazzo or granite and was also popular in lime green and black.  It is no longer made and restoration can only be undertaken by salvage.  Sadly, it is often removed or damaged.