In The Footsteps of Bonnie Prince Charlie

19 Jul 2012 in Heritage, Highland, Showcase

OneTouch Theatre, Eden Court, Inverness, 18 July 2012

BONNIE Prince Charlie must be the most famous member of our line-up of romantic losers.

HE became so within decades of the defeat on Drumossie Moor in the wild spring of 1746, a shift possibly without equal in our popular culture, thanks to James Macpherson, Sir Walter Scott, Lady Nairne and a regiment of other creative worthies, writes Jim Miller.

It has to said, though, that the Prince had shovel loads of charisma before a Jacobite foot ever trod on the fateful Moor. Witness the swooning of the young ladies in Edinburgh in the autumn of 1745 when the Prince and his force occupied the city.

Jimmie Macgregor

Jimmie Macgregor

The story of his escape from the battlefield and the weeks he spent as a fugitive in the Highlands makes an ideal plot for a romantic thriller. That no one betrayed him for Hanover gold, that he put himself into the hands of a brave woman, that he hid in caves and bothies and endured cold, hunger and wet before that boat finally arrived to take him off to France – you almost could not make it up.

As material for an illustrated talk and an excuse for a stravaig through the mountains and islands, what could be better than to follow the fugitive’s trail? And who better to present it than the inimitable Jimmie Macgregor?

I can remember Jimmie appearing with Robin Hall in speckled black-and-white on the BBC Tonight programme when the duo sang old Scots songs. Most folk now probably know him from his TV programmes about walking the West Highland Way and other long-distance routes. He has also been active in nature conservation.

During this long and active life – he is now 82 years old – he has not changed a great deal. All right, he has put on weight and his hair has turned snowy white but he still presents the same cheery grin and the same, lively, amusing patter.

“The last thing this is going to be is a history lecture,” he said when he came on stage. As it turned out, his story held a good deal of history but it also had plenty of humour and, I was delighted to hear, a robust use of Scots.

With regard to a badly balanced Jacobite pistol, he said, “I don’t think ye could shoot a coo in the ersh with it.”

The audience, 110-strong in the One Touch, was with him every step of the way, during his asides and digressions – “This has nothing to do with Bonnie Prince Charlie,” he said, showing a picture of ponies on the Uists – and even during a short-lived fankle with his computer and the digital projection.

By the time the interval came – “I meant to stop quite a bit earlier,” said Jimmie – and we were between, roughly, Elgol and Mallaig, I was no longer sure whose itinerary we were following – the Prince’s or Jimmie’s – but it did not really matter. As Stevenson said, it is the travelling that counts.

© Jim Miller, 2012