It was my Granny’s birthday in June, while we were visiting Plockton, and so we paid her a visit in Balmacara Graveyard. I picked fresh flowers from the garden and we drove the twisting single track road out of the village towards Balmacara, following the trail we had taken behind her coffin many years ago, in the autumn of 1999. That day a long convoy of cars had crawled snake like along the road, blocking incoming traffic, as most of the village headed out towards the burial ground, several miles away. I was humbled by the respect shown by all of these people who had lived and breathed beside my Granny in her life. Today though we had no company, and I clutched the flowers as we pulled into several passing places to allow inbound visitors to pass us by.
Perched on the edge of Loch Alsh, with views out across the water to Skye, it’s a beautiful place to be laid to rest. Returned to earth, she lies here beside her mother, father and sister in a family lair, as plots are called in these parts, and I can’t think of anywhere more lovely as a last resting place.
Her headstone is also a memorial to her husband, my Grandfather, who was lost at sea during World War II, and the names of my mother, Aunt and Uncle are also here. Although all of them are still alive, they are scattered to the far corners of the globe, to Canada, Australia and Scotland. There is something deeply moving, and yet comforting about seeing all of these well known family names together in one peaceful green spot, among these familiar hills. A sense of a circle completed, of return, and of renewal, as the dead are gathered together and replaced by the living. Perhaps future generations yet to walk this piece of earth, and yet to draw its air into their lungs, will also visit and remember.
Fore bearers and descendants of MacKenzies, MacRaes, Mathesons and Murchisons have been placed in this hallowed soil for 1,400 years. Although their individual names and stories are lost to the weathering of time, absorbed into the soft green mound of this ancient sacred site, they live on yet in the blood of the present, and the stories yet to come.
Deep at the heart of the original burial mound lies this medieval gravestone. It marks the final resting place of an ancient and powerful Clan Chief, and is carved in the local style with his huge claymore sword resting down the centre of his body. This was a Viking Sea Kingdom for 500 years, and power was carved and held at the edge of a sword. There is no doubt that the patterns and traces from this Norse blood flow still through local veins, mixed with the fierce and poetic Gaelic ancestors.
In the dappled shade of the trees, the leaves whisper stories almost lost, remembering the Culdee monks who first Christianised this holy place of the dead. Thousands of years of human history gathered in this soft green mound, and tales as long and twisted as the threads of your cloak, tracing the rise and fall of kith and kin, weave through the shadows.
‘Remember the men* from whence you came’.
An old Gaelic proverb, which seems fitting.
(*people/ men and women)
Happy Birthday Granny.
These photos were taken in Old Balmacara Graveyard in Kirkton. There is no space left here for burials, and a new site was opened and sanctified a little further along the road towards Balmacara, called New Balmacara Graveyard.
Site records for Scottish Graveyards can be accessed online here: https://www.deceasedonline.com/servlet/GSDOSearch?AcctView=Login&SrchView=Basic&DetsView=Content&ListSource=Contributors§ion=CONTRIBUTORS&context=SMI_HIGHLANDS&lang=E&sessionid=8557667
And here: http://www.parishchest.com/balmacara_cemetery_highlands_mis__P91291