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Scottish Highlands and Clan Culture in a Castle

Scottish Highlands, Scotland

The classic image of Scotland is the Highlands — with half the land but only five percent of the people, the highest mountains, and the hairiest cows. We learn about clan heritage at Inveraray Castle, home of the Campbells, which displays clan artifacts and lots of weaponry.

Complete Video Script

Here in Scotland, the Highlands have more than half the land and only 5% of the people. Still, it’s these Highlands — so vast, yet so sparsely populated — that give us the classic image of Scotland.

The highest mountains in Britain are here in Scotland, in the Highlands. While only around 3,000 feet in altitude, they offer a dramatic welcome and a backdrop of constantly changing views for road trippers. Long lakes, called “lochs” here, cut like fjords into a land where the heritage remains strong.

In this region, so much seems proudly Scottish: Clans gather to celebrate traditional sports. Girls grow up dreaming to dance like their mothers did. Whisky is savored with reverence for the culture. And pipers still stir the Scottish soul.

And, in this land so steeped in culture, Scotland’s beloved hairy coo feels perfectly at home. These shaggy Highland cattle have evolved to fit the environment. Their adorable bangs protect their eyes from both insects and the persistent wind.

Historically, Highland society was centered around the clan system. In medieval times, long before being tamed by any central government, the Highlands were inhabited by a collection of proud and often bickering tribes or clans — each with its own chief and deep-seated traditions.

Castles dotting the landscape evoke this strong clan heritage. Scottish people — whether in Scotland or abroad as part of the Scottish diaspora — still relate to their historic clan. And many venerate a particular castle as their historic capital and almost spiritual center.

Inveraray Castle, the residence of the 13th Duke of Argyll, has a stately, turreted exterior set in a delightful garden.

Historically, a stronghold of the Campbell clan, its walls are well-hung with portraits of the many dukes who’ve called this palace home. Here’s the first duke, with dukes number two and three on deck.

As with many such castles, the aristocratic family still lives here — like clan royals. Displays are like the family scrapbook; showing the current duke and his family who still occupy the private half of this palace.

The public half is a museum filled with precious-if-you’re-a-Campbell artifacts. This case features pendants of esteemed family members through the ages. This one’s filled with dirks and daggers set against a nice Campbell tartan.

A highlight is the Armory Hall, which fills the main atrium. Here, swords and rifles are artistically arrayed in starburst patterns. Docents are standing by and happy to answer questions.
Docent: So, our halberds here date from the 1600s. They come from the earlier castle, before this one.
Rick: Now, what is a halberd?
Docent: So, a halberd could be used against charging calvary and you'll notice
they've got tassels on them. It's not just for decoration. Don't know about you. If I'm killing someone, you don't want their blood dripping down your weapon, making it all slippy.
Rick: So, the tassels actually had a function.
Docent: That's right. So, the tassels would soak up the blood.
Rick: And these muskets?
Docent: So, this is our Brown Bess flintlock muskets, all dating from the 1740s. These are all original and they were last used at the Battle of Culloden, 1746, the last battle fought on British soil.

Docent: Yes, so, we have, in this cabinet, some of the belongings of Rob Roy MacGregor, a kind of famous folk hero.
Rick: The famous Rob Roy?
Docent: That's right, Rob Roy MacGregor. So, this is his sporran here.
Rick: And what is a sporran?
Docent: So, a sporran, if you think of a kilt, there's no pockets in a kilt.
Rick: Right.
Docent: So, you'd have your sporran, and, in your sporran, you'd have maybe a wee bag of oatmeal.
Rick: So, this is your bag of essentials —
Docent: Exactly. Yes, for sure, yeah.
Rick: …hanging right here in front.
Docent: Yeah.

You’ll find castles like this all over the Highlands. Today, countless Scottish Americans make a pilgrimage of sorts to their ancestral clan capital. If you’re a Campbell, you’d come here, to Inveraray.