Glenfinnan Monument: an unwavering monument to Scotland’s past

Although many will associate Glenfinnan with its world-famous viaduct, people from across the globe make what many consider to be almost a pilgrimage to another part of that majestic glen. The magnificent and proud Glenfinnan Monument was erected in the year 1815, but spoke to events that happened a full seven decades earlier. In that year, Charles Edward Stuart, known by many as Bonnie Prince Charlie, and by others particularly as ‘The Young Pretender’ – his father, James being the ‘Old’ – landed in Scotland from France.

An uprising occurs

In response to some messages of support from clan chieftains, Bonnie Prince Charlie’s first point of mainland contact was when he stepped ashore at Loch nan Uamh, which was just to the west of Glenfinnan. This is also the location of The Prince’s Cairn, where, just the following year, he left his ‘kingdom’ on a French naval frigate and returned to France, after his forces were finally defeated on Culloden Moor. Back to the start of our tale. On Monday 19th August 1745, MacMaster of Glenaladale raised the royal standard on the hill near Glenfinnan. The Young Pretender then announced the claim, in his father’s name and to all clans present, to both the Scottish and English thrones. Brandy was then taken in celebration. This became the final of the Jacobite Risings that had occurred across the previous century, but mainly in 1715 and then 30 years later. While a detailed story of the uprising, the final of the attempts to restore the exiled Stuarts to the throne, is for another place, the accumulated force, despite being latterly riven by desertions and dissent, eventually reached right down to Derby, just over 100 miles from heavily defended London itself. The angry choice was eventually made to return north, the final defeat then being delivered on that bleakest of all Scottish moors.

In myth and memory

The story of the Jacobites has been told in many a tale. Sir Walter Scott’s famous novels, Waverley and Rob Roy, featured the cause, as did The Master of Ballantrae by Robert Louis Stevenson. His famous work, Kidnapped, deals with the aftermath of 1745. It also formed part of many flashbacks in the TV series of Highlander. Perhaps bizarrely, it also became the basis of a Doctor Who TV serial. Many of a certain age might recall that this was where The Doctor first met one of his most famous of companions, the always kilted piper Jamie McCrimmon!

A monument rises!

Fast forward to the year 1815. With the cause no longer a worry to the nation’s politicians, Alexander Macdonald of Glenaladale built the 18-foot high memorial tower. It commemorated the raising of the standard, and you can still admire it today. It was designed by Scottish architect James Gillespie Graham, and its construction and placement were probably only possible thanks to the recent construction of a road from Fort William to Arisaig. The Glenfinnan Monument is topped by an unknown kilted Highlander, seeming to gaze towards that forgotten past, searching perhaps for what might have been, or mournful for the cruel times that then followed across the Highlands. Each year, on 19th August, many Jacobite enthusiasts will gather here. On the Saturday closest to this date, Glenfinnan Highland Games are held close by. Placed by the head of Loch Shiel, and with a stunning backdrop of the glen, the monument is now in the careful care of the National Trust for Scotland. Their Visitor Centre will allow you to find out as much as your soul might wish to know, and the cafe can also then thoroughly refresh the body. A terrific guidebook is also available.

Much more to Glenfinnan

Apart from the Glenfinnan Monument, many folk will cross the outstanding Glenfinnan Viaduct on their way from Fort William to Mallaig. Sadly, they’re not taking the route from London to Hogwarts! This is where you’ll almost certainly recognise it from, as well as its many other film and TV appearances. You can choose either a standard ScotRail service or the glorious round trip, available from Fort William to Mallaig on the magnificent Jacobite Steam Train. Time spent on a guided boat trip of the superb Loch Shiel is also a rich experience. Deep, and guarded by mountains in its northern areas, it shallows out to a more marshy or boggy landscape at its southern end. Much unforgettable wildlife has been spotted from on board, from eagles to ospreys, and the occasional majestic red deer. Walking and cycling in the fresh Highland air, in Glenfinnan and so many other areas around Fort William, is a genuine refreshment for even the most jaded of minds. Songwriter Conor Oberst once said that ‘There’s a lot of optimism in changing scenery, in seeing what’s down the road’. Surely, no words could better speak the truth about this corner of Scotland!