Oh, ye’ll tak’ the high road, and I’ll tak’ the low road,
And I’ll get to Scotland afore ye;
But me and my true love will never meet again
On the bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond.
(from the song Loch Lommond)
The Highlands is one of the most beautiful places on earth. It is Western Europe’s last wilderness. It was not always this way. There are lost villages, the result of the clearances. Dotted here and there are war memorials to the dead of world wars standing on their own, written in Gaelic, a language few can now read or understand. The people of a hundred years ago and their descendants long gone. It is my spiritual home. Sometimes in the mist it is easy to imagine the Highlander has returned, to see people long dead in the shadows. I never could speak my mother tongue. My God is not the God of the Anglo’s, he is the God of Calvin, a harsh, humourless, dour, God. Much like the Highlands are most of the year. Understood by the people who used to live there, he was one of them, and one of us. But we believed in more than just the harsh Christian God. We believed in the return of the soul after the person dies. We believe that our soul will take the low road home. After death our soul will return to where we were loved, and to where our loved ones are. We will be hame before the living take the high road. A very sad unhappy land inhabited by dead souls, devoid of the living.
One of the loneliest places in the Highlands is Croick. Here in the 1850’s murder was done. From the back of the churchyard you can look across to the ruined outlines of BlackHouses. The homes of people cleared for sheep. They were not poor illiterate peasants. They were prosperous people who paid their way in life. Cleared to make way for sheep so the factor to insure the estate could make even more money. The people were evicted and their homes burnt down. Their last days near their homes were spent in the churchyard/ They wrote their names and their thoughts in beautiful copper plate script on the windows of the church. Scattered to the four corners of the Empire, only their souls and the dead would ever return.
There are two graves from IWW in the church yard. C.A. McLean, Private in 5th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders. His parents lived in Ardgay which is about ten miles away, and perhaps the loneliest war grave I have ever come across. Private John McPherson DCM, 8th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders. John’s family came from Strathcarron, one of the Blackhouses across from the churchyard was more than likely theirs. The irony is that his father was a shepherd. Like others from Strathcarron, the family was scattered. His brother died of exposure in Idaho USA. John lived in South Africa, his wife was a nurse and lived in Johannesburg. So far from his loved ones, ignored in what is now a corner of a foreign churchyard, Croick is very much a place only the dead ever return to.