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The forgotten cave-dwellers of Scotland’s far North

Cave dwelling has stone age connotations for most people today , but in Scotland living in caves only ceased 100 years ago when it was outlawed in 1915. Alison Campsie looks back at the mysterious people who lived in Wick’s Tinker’s Cave at the end of the the 19th Century.



The people of Tinker’s Cave in Wick, who were visited by Dr Arthur Mitchell, an expert in mental illness, in 1886.

ALISON CAMPSIE Email 14:28Tuesday 13 October 2015 16

Cave dwelling has stone age connotations for most people today , but in Scotland living in caves only ceased 100 years ago when it was outlawed in 1915. Alison Campsie looks back at the mysterious people who lived in Wick’s Tinker’s Cave at the end of the the 19th Century.

They were found resting in a cave, 24 men women and children, some naked and scarred, and all making the most of the dying embers of the fire.
These were the cave dwellers of Wick, documented by Dr Arthur Mitchell, a physician who studied mental illness and who led several commissions into “lunacy” in 19th Century Scotland.


In August 1886, Dr Mitchell’s studies took him and a colleague to the “great cave” at the south side of Wick Bay at a time when caves were not uncommonly inhabited across the north and west of Scotland.

The two reached the cave in falling light, around nine o’clock at night, and found the cave in a cliff with its mouth close to the sea, with high tides encroaching on the rugged habitation.

Dr Mitchell, in his account of the visit, said: “They received us civilly, perhaps with more than mere civility, after a judicious distribution of pence and tobacco. To our great relief, the dogs, which were numerous and vicious, seemed to understand that we were welcome.”

The spot at Wick became known locally as Tinker’s Cave, due to the folk living there being involved in the tin trade.


Broken noses and scars were a common disfigurement, and a revelation at the same time of the brutality of their lives Dr Arthur Mitchell, 1886. Dr Mitchell found the cave dwellers lying on “straw, grass and bracken” spread over the rocks and shingle, with each having “one or two dirty, ragged blankets.” Two of the beds were next to a peat fire, with more further back in the shelter of the cave.

His account added: “On the bed nearest the entrance lay a man and his wife, both absolutely naked, and two little children in the same state. “On the next bed lay another couple, an infant, and one or two elder children. Then came a bed with a bundle of children, whom I did not count. A youngish man and his wife, not quite naked, and some children, occupied the fourth bed, while the fifth from the mouth of the cave was in possession of the remaining couple and two of their children, one of whom was on the spot of its birth.

“Far back in the cave-upstairs in the garret, as they facetiously called it-were three or four biggish boys, who were undressed, but had not lain down. One of them, moving about with a flickering light in his hand, contributed greatly to the weirdness of the scene.”


Sir Arthur Mitchell, the physician with an interest in mental illness who visited Tinker’s Cave near Wick in the 1800s Dr Mitchell was told of another birth and also of the recent death of a child from typhus.

The physician added: The Procurator-Fiscal saw this dead child lying naked on a large flat stone. Its father lay beside it in the delirium of typhus, when death paid this visit to an abode with no door to knock at.”

On his visit, and according to his account, men and women – “naked to their waists” – gathered to speak to Dr Mitchell and his colleague – and showed “no sense of shame.”

A boy brought a candle from the garret and a woman tended the fire, lit her pipe – and then “proceeded to suckle her child,” he wrote.

The following day, Dr Mitchell returned to find 18 “inmates” eating an early supper of porridge and treacle, which he noted as “well-cooked and clean.”

Three fires warmed the cave, each surrounded by women and “ragged” children. Stones were used as tables and chairs at the cave, which Dr Mitchell found was occupied during both summer and winter, depsite there being no cover at the cave mouth, to protect from the “fierce” winds.

In his account, Dr Mitchell wrote: “I believe I am correct in saying that there is no parallel illustration of modern cave life in Scotland.”

He added: “The Tinkers of the Wick caves are a mixed breed. There is no Gipsy blood in them. Some of them claim a West Island origin. Others say they are true Caithness men, and others again look for their ancestors among the Southern Scotch. They were not strongly built, nor had they a look of vigorous bodily health. Their heads and faces were usually bad in form.

“Broken noses and scars were a common disfigurement, and a revelation at the same time of the brutality of their lives. One girl might have been painted for a rustic beauty of the Norse type, and there was a boy among them with an excellent head.”

Despite his welcome reception to the cave, Dr Mitchell was unflinching in his conclusions. He noted them as illiterate and with no religious belief, and added: “These cave-dwellers of Wick were the offscourings of society, such as might be found in any town slum. Virtue and chastity exist feebly among them, and honour and truth more feebly still.”

Cave dwelling in Scotland formally came to an end in 1915 under the Defence of the Realm Act, possibly to keep coastlines free from fires during World War 1. However, research has found that 55 people were still listed as living in caves in the 1917 government census.

Read more at: http://www.scotsman.com/heritage/people-places/the-forgotten-cave-dwellers-of-scotland-s-far-north-1-3915730

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The forgotten links between Highlanders and Native Americans

Despite an ocean separating their ancestral homelands, Scottish Highlanders and Native Americans encountered each other frequently on America’s wild frontier, fighting, trading and even living together. Both cultures were treated as tribal societies and driven from their lands by British authorities who would later romanticise the very ways of life they had destroyed.


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Despite an ocean separating their ancestral homelands, Scottish Highlanders and Native Americans encountered each other frequently on America’s wild frontier, fighting, trading and even living together. Both cultures were treated as tribal societies and driven from their lands by British authorities who would later romanticise the very ways of life they had destroyed.

The two peoples on the edge of Britain’s Empire underwent similar experiences at the hands of colonial powers.

Changing Times

American Indians and Highland Scots encountered colonisers in eras of major change on both sides of the Atlantic. The cliff of St Kilda Island. Over the centuries warfare and forced removal pushed many Highlanders across the Atlantic ocean.

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In the eighteenth century Scotland’s Gaelic speaking Highlanders and the Indians of North America were facing increased pressure and aggression from a rapidly expanding Great Britain, that was fast becoming the most powerful nation on earth. In Scotland there was a clash between two cultures, one that was based on ancient obligations of honour and kinship and the other, an aggressive pursuit of progress and profit. British and American governments believed the Highlands and Indian lands had to be pacified before they could be civilised. This view led to several brutal and bloody confrontations as both sets of peoples – who were fiercely independent – resisted the tide of colonialism.

Historian and author Colin Calloway explains: “Both groups of people experienced displacement and other forms of colonial assault on their social and political structures, their cultures, language, and ways of life. “Highlanders and Indians organised their societies around clan and kinship, occupied land communally as tribal homelands rather than as real estate, and found themselves in the way of an expanding capitalist world that stressed individual ambition, private ownership, and aggressive exploitation of resources for profit.”

While Highlanders had been travelling to American since the 1600s, one of the first major waves of migration came after the major Jacobite defeat at Culloden in 1745, when many Highlanders left (or were sent) across the Atlantic.

Despite differences between clan and tribes, eighteenth century observers viewed Highland and Indian ways of life as basically the same. They both came from rugged lands, had a strong warrior tradition within a tribal society and were used to hardship and it wasn’t long before the two cultures met. As a result the two peoples often filled roles in colonial American society such as hunters and fur traders where interactions were common.

“The most common, extensive, and enduring interactions occurred in areas where Scots were active in the fur and deerskin trades,” says Calloway. “The beaver trade among the northern tribes across Canada and the deerskin trade among the south eastern (USA) tribes like the Creeks, Cherokees, and Choctaws lasted long into the eighteenth century.”

Trading with Indian tribes was commonplace and relations between Highland men and Native women ranged from casual encounters to enduring relationships. Intermarriage between Highlanders and Indians reached all across North America and entire Scots-Indian families were produced from these unions. Most of these Scots-Indians lived a quiet simple life but some played a significant role in American history.

Alexander McGillivray was the son of a Scottish trader father and a Creek-French mother. He was the dominant chief of the powerful Creek confederacy in the late eighteenth century, and played a pivotal role conducting the tribe’s foreign policies with Britain, Spain, and the United States. In 1790 George Washington even invited him to the temporary federal capital in New York City, where he negotiated the first treaty made by the United States after the adoption of the Constitution.

Scots-Indian, John Ross was the principal chief of the Cherokees during the era of Indian Removal around 1830, when the United States expelled 80,000 Indian people from their homelands east of the Mississippi to new lands in the West. Ross led the majority of Cherokee people in opposing Removal, wrote letters and petitions, lobbied in Congress and led them in rebuilding the Cherokee Nation in Indian Territory.


With prominent ancestors like Ross, perhaps the Highland influence is most keenly felt today among Native Americans in the Cherokee clan. It is believed that up to a half of the Cherokee Nation could be descendants of Ludovick Grant, a laird’s son from Creichie in Aberdeenshire. Grant was captured while fighting for the Jacobite army in the battle of Preston in 1715 and was due to be hanged but he escaped death and instead was transported to South Carolina, where he was an indentured servant. Following his release from his seven years of servitude, he began working as a trader for the Cherokee people and ended up marrying into the tribe and producing a daughter who became the ancestress of a huge proportion of Cherokees.

In 2004 Cree families from Canada traveled to the Orkney Islands tracing a 200-year genetic link back to the Scottish Islands. Although the traditional ways of life of both peoples were all but wiped out by colonisation and industrialisation, Highland and Native American culture endured. Even as Britain and the USA destroyed tribal societies they created romantic images of the people. Highland culture was no longer a byword for savagery but came to represent Scottish culture as a whole in the eyes of people inside and outside Scotland.

Native Americans were transformed by paintings and literature into a heroic foe, defeated by a great nation and the barbarity of what happened to them was glossed over in favour of an imagined, nostalgic past. Colin Calloway is the author of White People, Indians and Highlanders.

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Union between Scotland and England

The Union Between Scotland & England

The relationship between England and Scotland has been a long and tempestuous one.  Even if we simply examine the last 300 years the relationship between the two has been uneasy.  The first joining of nations came in 1603, with the union of the two crowns when James VI of Scotland succeeded the heirless Elizabeth I to become James I of England.  Despite numerous calls for a union of the two countries’ parliaments over the next century, and the brief union of the two nations imposed by Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth during the 1650s, it would not be until 1707 that the political union would take place following the economic impact of Scotland’s failed Darien Expedition.

Even once united politically the Union remained tenuous as political crisis gripped Britain during the late 17th century.  In 1715 and again in 1745 major rebellions took place in aid of the Jacobite cause, these however were brutally suppressed by Britain.  By the late 18th and early 19th Century the political landscape had settled with Scots becoming some of the period’s key figures including General James Abercrombie, Admiral Thomas Cochrane, Chancellor Henry Brougham and Keir Hardie among innumerable others from almost every field from the arts to law, from architecture to science.

Despite a number of moves during the mid 20th century by the British government to devolve power north it was not until 1999, that the first Scottish Parliament was formed.  2007 saw the Scottish Independence Party come to power for the first time and by 2011 the calls for a referendum on independence had gained momentum.  In 2012 it was agreed by both governments to hold a vote to allow the people of Scotland to decided their future.  The referendum saw the Scottish people vote in favour of remaining within the Union.  However, increased devolution was promised by the British Government and the next nine months will see negotiation over the details of increased home rule.  In turn the referendum has spurred calls for increased local powers and franchise for both England and Wales with calls for each to have their own individual parliaments deciding on regional matters while the Union Parliament decides on matters of national and international importance. With next year’s general election this is likely to become a key issue in deciding the political landscape.

Image:  Treaty of Union which agreed the terms of the Union between England and Scotland, it was made law when the Acts of Union were assented to by the English and Scottish parliaments in 1706 and 1707 respectively. (source)

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Book readers and history buffs know the outcome of the Battle of Prestonpans, which is the focus on Outlander, Episode 210.  If you don’t know, then there may be a little spoiler here.

Initially known as the Battle of Gladsmuir, the Battle of Prestonpans, fought on September 21, 1745, was the first battle of the second Jacobite Rising.  The Jacobite army, consisting of loyal followers of James Francis Edward Stuart and led by his son, Charles Edward Stuart (aka Bonnie Prince Charlie), met and defeated England’s King George’s forces led by Sir John Cope.  The victory was a huge morale boost for the Jacobite army.

How did the Jacobites win the Battle of Prestonpans?

“On September 20, Cope’s forces encountered Charles’ advance guard.  Cope decided to stand his ground and engage the Jacobite army.  He drew up his army facing south with a marshy ditch to their front and the park walls around Preston House protecting their right flank.  A Highlander supporter, Robert Anderson, was a local farmer’s son who knew the area well and convinced Charles’ Lieutenant General, Lord George Murray, of an excellent narrow route through the marshlands.  Commencing at 4:00 a.m., he moved the entire Jacobite force, walking three abreast along that route, known as the Riggonhead Defile, in silence, arriving to the east of Cope’s army at Seton West Mains.  Although Cope kept fires burning and posted picket during the night as the Highlanders were making their move, they were not spotted by the pickets until around 5:00 a.m.

“At 6:00 a.m., as dawn broke on September 21, 1745, Cope’s foot soldiers and dragoons beheld the spectacle of some 2000 Highlanders charging through the early mist, making ‘wild war cries and with the blood-curdling skirl of the pipes.’

“Cope’s inexperienced army had just wheeled round from facing south to facing east in great haste but could only fire their cannons and muskets just once before the Highlanders were upon them.  They they fled, despite Cope and his officers’ attempts to force them at pistol point to make a stand.  Cope’s army, facing east to confront the Jacobites, now had the ditch to their south and the walls of Preston House to the west behind them, blocking their panicked retreat.

“The ‘battle engagement’ was all over in less than fifteen minutes with hundreds of government troops killed or wounded and 1500 taken prisoner as the redcoats fled the field.  The Hanoverian baggage train at Cockenzie was captured with only a single shot fired, and it contained £5000, many muskets, and ammunition.  The Highlanders suffered less than 100 troops killed or wounded.  The wounded and prisoners were given the best care possible at Prince Charles’ insistence.”

Their good fortune would not hold when the Jacobite army met British troops, led by William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, in their final confrontation at Culloden Moor on April 16, 1746.


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In a field not far from the Gleneagles golf course, Highlanders in full regalia train to fight. It’s a sunny day in central Scotland. A collection of tents, campfires and animals dot the open grasslands, and men dressed in clan tartans do a shoddy job of lining into formation. They’re a collection of farmers and common soldiers, not a trained military ready to face off against bayonets with much more than pitchforks and a Highland charge.

Nearby stands a woman who knows they are destined to fail.

A Return to Scotland

After spending half of Season 2 in Paris (shot on location in Prague and in studio sound stages), Outlander — which was just renewed for both Season 3 and Season 4 by Starz — has returned to its Scottish roots. Claire and Jamie Fraser headed home to Lallybroch in last week’s “The Fox’s Lair” after an attempt to change the course of Charles Stuart’s Jacobite uprising that can only be described as “disastrous.”

Now the Frasers have joined with the Scotsmen who have volunteered to be a part of the Jacobite army that fights the British. Claire is cursed with the knowledge of how devastating the Jacobites’ defeat is on Scottish culture. Her instinct is for she and her husband to flee the impending war. Jamie, by contrast, wants to stand and fight to save his people.

Things are just beginning to ramp up.

The crew of Outlander has missed shooting on location in Scotland, but after a week of terrible rains that turned the massive farm they’re shooting on into a muddy mess, they welcome the sunlight and balmy weather. It’s the perfect weather for Sam Heughan’s Jamie Fraser to train these wannabe soldiers how to use the weapons they’ll be fighting the British with.

“It feels like things are just beginning to ramp up,” Heughan told me later in his trailer after he’d wrapped for the day, sipping a glass of Laphroaig, his favorite whisky. “The first half of the season there’s a lot of talk about this great battle, about Culloden, about how we know this whole people and culture are doomed. Ultimately Jamie realizes that he can’t [stop Charles Stuart from raising the army]. He has to join them and has to help.”

In person, Heughan is open and charming, as quick to joke and small talk as he is to earnestly discuss the show. But across a shaded field, surrounded by silent crew members observing him train Highlander soldiers how to battle the Redcoats’ muskets, he becomes Jamie Fraser. He takes on a stronger Scottish lilt than his usual tones, voice echoing through the valley as he barks commands. Moving through the motions of disarming the enemy, he becomes a Scottish hero of the people.

Jamie has had a difficult Season 2, but back on his home turf, it’s clear he’s regained his confidence. He and his wife Claire are fighting to change the future by aiming to defeat the British at the upcoming Battle on Culloden Moor, and Heughan plays Jamie fully confident that Charles Stuart’s army can win.

“I think that’s why he throws himself into training these people,” he explained. “Best thing to do, if they are going to have to fight, is to learn to be a modern army. That’s what he’s doing here. He’s training them to be more than just Highland warriors.”

A Familiar Face Returns

Adding a wrinkle to Jamie’s plan to train the Scottish volunteers is that a familiar face has come to challenge him for command. I duck into a small barn to avoid appearing on camera as Jamie greets his uncle Dougal — the character’s first appearance in Season 2, and actor Graham McTavish’s big return to the series.

The first words out of Dougal’s mouth after he says “hello” to Jamie are an acknowledgment of his nephew’s rape at the hands of Black Jack Randall in Season 1. Dougal clearly believes his arrival means he’s in charge, and his disrespect of Jamie is intentional. He just doesn’t know how much James Fraser has changed since their last encounter.

“He’s not the person that they thought he was,” McTavish later told me. “Suddenly Dougal’s on the back foot, which is a very interesting place.”

That day of filming ends up being the first 10 or so minutes of Sunday’s episode, “Je Suis Prest.” Dougal reunites with the Frasers and Murtagh over and over as the camera shoots them from multiple angles. Duncan Lacroix trains the recruits for several takes, repeatedly yelling “what are you laughing at, bastard!” in one extra’s face. Heughan walks through training sequences with the volunteers as the stunt coordinator advises him between takes.

As the day wears on, some of the extras sit down in the Highlander camp out of the camera’s view. This day of filming is just setup for the big sequences yet to come: the battles at Prestonpans and, later, Culloden. During one break, I heard one extra turn to another and ask, “You looking forward to the battle stuff? The way I’m imagining it in my head, I hope it comes out.”

That enthusiasm for the fight sequences was a repeated refrain on set. Outlander is building up to a fictional recreation of two battles key to Scotland’s history. Heughan, who learned about Prestonpans and Culloden repeatedly during school, was excited to bring these key scenes to life. But he also was aware how important it is that Outlander get them right.

In Scotland, history’s always around you somewhere.

“Bonnie Prince Charlie, Robert the Bruce, William Wallace: these are all stories that you grew up being surrounded by. In Scotland, history’s always around you somewhere. The place names and the music and the people, but it’s mostly the landscape. You walk around and you go, ‘Oh, there’s the site,’” Heughan said. “We’re not far from Prestonpans. It’s all there. When we come through Stirling, there’s a great battlefield just there. It’s just like, it’s all there. It feels great to be given that gift of bringing it to the screen.”

Bringing History to Life

Adding authenticity to the depiction of these scenes is the fact that many of the extras are played by members of the Clanranald Trust, an educational organization that strives to bring awareness of Scottish culture through recreations of the past. The men from Clanranald would arrive at 4 a.m. each day of filming, sleep together in a big church they built and work together like a clan. That dynamic translated to the screen. Their real-life hierarchy appears in the show when the leader of Clanranald plays the man who helps Jamie train the recruits in several sequences.

“It is all good fun, and we’re having a great time doing it, but you have to remember that you’re respecting a group of people that were real and that this really happened,” McTavish said. “So, yes, it’s very alive for us particularly, because we’re doing this. You want to make sure, for [the Clanranald extras] as well, that you’re treating it with respect and you have a responsibility to the memory that those people went through.”

You have to remember that you’re respecting a group of people that were real.

In real life, the Battle of Culloden was disastrous for the Jacobites who fought in it. Not only was it a devastating defeat, but the uprising caused a crackdown on Highlander culture; those who rebelled were put on trial for high treason and many were killed, Britain made a point to absorb Scotland even more, and wearing Highland tartans was outlawed. This was a key turning point for the nation, the repercussions of which are still felt today.

Outlander is bringing fiction and magic into a hugely significant moment in Scotland’s history. Claire and Jamie are trying to change fate, but the Starz series has already made a point to let viewers know the Frasers are poised for failure: theopening scene of Season 2 shows Claire back in the 20th century learning that the British won at Culloden. But don’t expect the end of the season to be predictable just because the outcome seems to be unchangeable.

“Ultimately the show has always been about relationships. Not only is that the climax of history, but it’s also the climax of the relationships that are happening at the time. It’s all doomed, and we can’t stop history from happening,” Heughan said of the upcoming finale. “[Season 2] certainly has a climax. [Showrunner Ron Moore] has also got some surprises.”

Outlander airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Starz.

Terri Schwartz is Entertainment Editor at IGN. Talk to her on Twitter at@Terri_Schwartz.




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