Published: 28/08/2014
ISBN: 9781783064427
Format: Paperback



'Matheson’s work is a good example of how one can perform deep analysis on a particular borderland while still providing a nation-focused narrative... For those who know little of Scottish history this is an excellent book to begin learning more, and for Scottish scholars it provides a detailed examination of one of Scotland’s lesser known frontiers.'
Borderlands History

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About the Author



Alister Farquhar Matheson was born on 16th March, 1941 and brought up and educated in Edinburgh. After graduating with his first degree from the University there, he spent several years working in th... read more

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Scotland's Northwest Frontier
A Forgotten British Borderland
by Alister Farquhar Matheson

The western coastal lands of the Northern Highlands are squeezed between the northern Hebrides and Drumalban, the mountainous spine of Highland Scotland. This is a region justly famed for some of the finest and most unspoilt scenery in the British Isles – but what happened here in times past? Scotland's Northwest Frontier provides the answer.

For a long time, this area was a frontier zone between the medieval kingdoms of Norway and Scotland, and then between the Gaelic Lords of the Isles and the Scottish kings. In the 18th century, this remote seaboard was Britain’s ‘Afghanistan’, a dangerous region often beyond the control of London and Edinburgh. It was the last hiding place of Bonnie Prince Charlie before his escape to France after his Jacobite army had been crushed on Culloden Moor.

A land of clans and lost causes, this is the story of powerful lords and warrior chiefs, Presbyterian soldiers of the Covenant and Hanoverian redcoats, Highland Clearances, road and railway builders, whisky smugglers and opium traders, from Viking times to the beginning of the 21st century.

Scotland's Northwest Frontier is the entertaining story of what was for long a lawless region, followed through eight turbulent centuries. Backed by comprehensive appendices and glossary, this is one for the fireside, a travelling companion and an invaluable reference source for the bookshelf. Scotland's Northwest Frontier will appeal to those interested in Scottish history, and people who descend from Scottish clans and families.

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SCOTLAND’S NORTH-WEST FRONTIER --- Where did it all start?


“Ever since childhood I have been fascinated by the past with its stories, personalities and remains in the landscape. The seed for this book was first planted when I became the next guardian of an old family manuscript, known to Highland historians as the Iomaire Manuscript. This was written, in English, by an ancestor, who was born only a few decades after the last battle on British soil, Culloden (1746). Indeed his father, when a very young man, fought on the rebel side led by Bonnie Prince Charlie on that fateful day but managed to escape the subsequent bloodshed in the aftermath of comprehensive defeat of the Jacobites by government troops. Roderick of Iomair (Ruairidh an Iomaire) farmed on Loch Carron-side in Wester Ross, and his manuscript, carefully preserved down the generations, tells the story and genealogies of his clan in Lochalsh, the peninsula which points into the western seas towards the Skye Bridge and the Isle of Skye. The original manuscript has now been archived at the National Library of Scotland.
“My research over many years into the historical circumstances behind Roderick’s story has led to this book, Scotland’s North-West Frontier, a narrative history of the North-West Highlands between Fort William and Cape Wrath (1200-2000) set against the backdrop of Scottish and British history. It turned out to be a gripping tale – of a crumbling Scoto-Norwegian frontier in the west of Scotland, of mighty medieval Gaelic lords, and of clan rivalry and warfare. Indeed it took centuries before this far-off region became an integral part of modern Britain.

“The West Highlands have always had a special resonance for me because of its distinctive and tumultuous history, allied with dramatic and constantly changing scenery. The photograph of the head of Loch nan Uamh (Loch of the Cave, pronounced as Loch nun ooer) is a good example showing fine scenery with a train crossing the concrete viaduct built at the end of the 19th century. Yet this remote sea loch has an unexpected past for it was here that Bonnie Prince Charlie landed to begin the 1745 Rising and from here that he later departed for France, leaving Scotland for ever after many months on the run in the north-west. It was here too that the last naval engagement in British waters between surface vessels took place. Two large French privateers, bringing cash and weapons for the Jacobite cause, were attacked in the sea loch by three smaller ships of the British Navy. After six hours exchanging broadsides the British withdrew, leaving the French to make hasty repairs and retreat to France. This region may be a quiet backwater today, but in the mid 18th century Loch nan Uamh and the old North-West Frontier were at the centre of British politics!”

Borderlands History

The Scots Magazine

Books Monthly

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