Heritage and Culture
The Highlands of Scotland are rich in heritage and culture and the Glen Spean and Great Glen area is no exception. Whether you want to explore the many historical sites, immerse yourself in the Gaelic language, country dancing or local music, or experience the thrills of a shinty game or Highland Games, you'll find it all here. Below you will find the pick of just a few of the historical highlights. Music and dancing are just as likely to be spontaneous events in a bar or hall as organised and advertised, so keep your eyes and ears open!
IN & AROUND SPEAN BRIDGE
THE COMMANDO MEMORIAL - The Memorial commands wonderful views of Ben Nevis, the Grey Corries and the western end of the Great Glen. It was unveiled in 1952 by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and commemorates the elite soldiers of the Commandos who died during the Second World War. Achnacarry, six miles from Spean Bridge, was the Commandos' Basic Training Centre from 1942. Over 25,000 men were trained here and in the surrounding area including British, American, French, Belgian, Norwegian, Polish, German (Jewish) and Dutch troops. With Ben Nevis only an 18 mile run from Achnacarry, reaching the summit was just one of the challenges for a day's training! Many veteran Commandos make the annual pilgrimage to attend the Service of Remembrance and Wreath Laying held at the Memorial in November. At any time, this moving tribute offers a rewarding visit, and spectacular photos are often available, especially at sunset.
CALEDONIAN CANAL - The canal and locks at Gairlochy and South Laggan are peaceful and attractive locations. The Caledonian Canal was constructed by Thomas Telford and was one of Britain's greatest engineering achievements of the early 19th century. A vital inland passage for shipping was created through the Great Glen connecting the Atlantic at Fort William and the North Sea at Inverness. Twenty two miles of canal link Loch Lochy, Loch Oich and Loch Ness.
It was also in the Gairlochy area that Viscount Dundee gathered the Highland Clans during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1689. Dundee led them to a brilliant victory at Killiecrankie in Perthshire, but was himself killed in the battle.
ACHNACARRY HOUSE – This is the home of the 27th Chief of Clan Cameron, Donald Cameron of Lochiel. It was also the location of the Commandos Basic Training Centre in the Second World War. Opposite the house is the Clan Cameron Museum.
THE DARK MILE – After the settlement of Clunes, the road leads westwards towards the Dark Mile, which is in a picturesque little valley stretching from Loch Lochy to Loch Arkaig. On the hillside to the north lies a cave where Bonnie Prince Charlie took refuge when he was a fugitive after the Battle of Culloden.
At the end of the dark mile is CIA-AIG WATERFALL. The deep pool below the waterfall is called The Witches Cauldron. According to legend, Cameron clansmen chased a witch, who had placed a curse on their cattle, over the falls to her death. This location was also featured in the Liam Neeson movie 'Rob Roy'.
HIGH BRIDGE - A footpath from Spean Bridge takes you to High Bridge, built by General Wade in 1736 to span the gorge of the River Spean. The photograph shows the bridge in 1893.
Now impressive ruins, it was here on the 16 August 1745 that the first shots were fired in the Jacobite Uprising. As a detachment of around 80 government soldiers approached High Bridge they were ambushed by just eleven men and a bag piper commanded by Donald MacDonell of Tirnadris. Shouting wildly, and with the pipes playing, the clansmen leapt between the rocks and bushes on the opposite bank of the river. These actions fooled the soldiers into thinking that the bridge was defended by a much larger force of Highlanders. The troops turned and retreated, finally surrendering at the head of Loch Lochy when confronted by MacDonell reinforcements.
The lovely circular walk of 3 miles includes riverbank, oak and birch woodland, the remains of a former branch railway, the bridge ruins, a section of Wade's military road, outstanding mountain views and the iconic Commando Memorial.
WELL OF THE SEVEN HEADS - This monument commemorates gruesome events that took place in the 1660s. The seven heads are those of the murderers of two of the Keppoch family, powerful members of a sept of Clan Macdonald. The heads were washed in the spring here before being shown to the Chief of the Glengarry Macdonalds as proof that the murders had been avenged. In the 19th century the story was verified by the exhumation of a mound at Inverlair in Glen Spean which revealed at least seven headless corpses.
IN & AROUND ROY BRIDGE
ST MARGARET'S CHURCH, ROY BRIDGE - This beautiful granite Roman Catholic church was built in 1929 in a simple Gothic style. There has been a small, but strong, Roman Catholic community in this area for centuries as the former chiefs of MacDonnell of Keppoch adhered to the faith.
The church contains a shrine to Saint Mary MacKillop (1842-1909) whose father left Glen Roy for Australia in 1838. Mary founded the Order of the Sisters of St Joseph and worked tirelessly establishing schools for the education of the poor in Australia. The Order flourished and continues to educate the poor in developing countries throughout the world. In 2010 Mary was canonised in Rome by Pope Benedict XVI and so she has become Australia's first saint - Mary of the Cross.
EAST OF ROY BRIDGE
The lovely little church of CILLE CHOIRILL sits high above the road, about a mile beyond Roy Bridge on the A86. Dedicated to St Cairell, a sixth century Irish bishop, the earliest church recorded on this holy spot is said to have been built by a 15th century Cameron chief. However, the site was probably hallowed ground long before this date. The present building was restored in 1932 by the efforts of local people, aided by support from the descendants of emigrant clans folk in Nova Scotia. For centuries Cille Choirill has been the ancestral burial place of the MacDonells of Keppoch, many of whose monuments still survive. The famous warrior-bard Iain Lom MacDonald who died in 1709 is said to lie here, although the tall beautiful carved stone commemorating him does not mark the actual grave. Iain Lom was appointed Poet Laureate by Charles II and is the only Gaelic bard to be so honoured. Cille Choirill has also featured in the BBC TV series 'Monarch of the Glen'.