The Battle of Glen Shiel 2019June 10, 2019
Three hundred years ago today, the Battle of Glen Shiel took place in one of Scotland’s most beautiful and remote areas. A Meetup group that I’m a member of decided to commemorate the event with a traverse of the Five Sisters, a spectacular mountain ridge walk.
It didn’t go quite as planned!
We were intending to make a brief trip to the battle site, about 1.5km from the start of the hillwalk, to pay our respects and say a few words, and then to drive to the start of the walk and climb the Five Sisters.
Painting of the Battle of Glen Shiel by the artist Peter Tillemans.
We had expected to meet others commemorating the same event, but what we didn’t realise was that a big “official” commemoration event was due to take place later that day, at 3pm – a gathering of the descendents of some of the clans who had fought in the original battle, with army representatives, Scottish Minister for Tourism Fiona Hyslop, and TV historian Neil Oliver.
When we arrived at the layby near the battle site, at 9am, we found It cordoned off with road cones and we were told to go away. Our group leader asked if we could have five minutes to pay our respects, and they seemed to relent. A man from the National Trust kindly started walking towards the battle site with us, talking about the history of the battle.
Ordered to leave
Suddenly a very angry woman came running up and started shouting at us to leave immediately.
We decided to obey, as we hadn’t come for a confrontation. But we were furious!
I think it’s fantastic that some of the descendants of the original clans who fought in the battle have been able to return to pay their respects – some of them from countries where their ancestors migrated to after the Highland Clearances.
But this is a public site, and it’s of interest to many people. The site should not have been cordoned off on a day when many people might have wanted to visit – especially without any notice or forewarning. Historical commemorations should not be exclusive to one particular group.
The fact that the Minister for Tourism was laying a wreath that day makes our eviction even more ironic!
The Battle of Glen Shiel, in June 1719, was part of the Jacobite campaign to restore the Royal Stuart line to the throne, just 12 years after Scotland and England became officially united in the Union of the Crowns. The Jacobites fought against government troops of the Hanoverian King George I.
Their army was reinforced by 300 Spanish soldiers, whose main motivation was a territorial dispute with the British. Despite their superior numbers, the Jacobite army was defeated by the government forces’ use of a new type of mortar artillery. The Spanish soldiers fled to the mountains, one of which is now named Sgurr nan Spainteach, or “The Peak of the Spaniards”.
The Five Sisters route. A more detailed map can be seen at this link.
A spectacular ridge walk
Our group also headed in the same direction, as this Sgurr nan Spainteach, directly above the battle site, is the first of the “Five Sisters”.
It’s a steep climb, and the weather was very warm – though not as hot as it was in the week before the Battle of Glen Shiel, 300 years ago, when apparently one of the Spanish troops died of heat stroke!
After a 500m climb, we had a brief break at the Bealach na Lapain before continuing the more gradual ascent along the ridge.
View along the ridge to the Peak of the Spaniards and Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe beyond. A higher resolution version can be seen here.
These peaks are very rocky, and there was quite a bit of tricky downclimbing to do.
Scrambling down from the Peak of the Spaniards.
Magnificent views opened up from the summit of Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe, at 1027m the first of three Munros (hills with altitude of at least 3,000 feet) in the Five Sisters ridge.
Views towards the next “Sister”, Sgurr na Carnach, Loch Duich and the ocean beyond. A larger version can be seen here.
The path to the summit of the next Munro Sister, Sgurr na Carnach, was a rocky one, short and steep.
View up towards the rocky summit of Sgurr na Carnach.
It wasn’t too long before we were at the summit.
Me at the summit of Sgurr nan Carnach, the second Munro of the day, and Munro no. 125 for me! Larger version here.
Unfortunately, the skies were getting significantly darker. Heavy rain had been forecast from 4pm, and it was just after 3. We knew we were in for a soaking!
The steep path up Sgurr Fhuaran, the third Munro and fourth Sister of the day, with dark clouds gathering. Larger version here.
A panoramic view from Sgurr na Carnach.
As we climbed up the steep flank of Sgurr Fhuaran, a distinct rumble of thunder was heard. It was the first thunderclap I’d heard that day, and I hadn’t seen any lightning. We were so close to the summit, and we knew that there was a path back down from there, so we decided to keep climbing.
We had to stop to put on waterproof trousers because the rain was pelting down!
Soggy summit of Sgurr Fhuaran.
The views from Sgurr Fhuaran would have been spectacular if we’d been able to see them, as at 1067m, it’s the highest of the Five Sisters. But we weren’t going to hang around!
The descent was tricky, as the rocks had become wet and slippy. There were no more thunderclaps and no sign of any lightning, so we continued on to the fifth “Sister”, Sgurr nan Saighead. We walked along the path that bypasses the 929m summit, traversing at an altitude of 870m. No one was in any mood to climb to another rocky summit in these weather conditions!
The last part of the ridge walk is the most exposed section, with spectacularly steep drops. I thought it was too wet and cloudy to get any good shots, but my friend Mandy took these spectacular photos.
I will return in more settled weather to get the views from the last section of this spectacular ridge walk! And also to see the remains of the battle site that we missed this time.
Panoramic view from the summit of Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe. Larger version here.