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Scotland --- Up to 1800

The Magic Chanter, Sheila Douglas, Scottish Children's Press, 1997, £4,95 126 pages ISBN 1 899827 10 2

Nine year old Iain Barlass lives in Perth in Central Scotland. He suddenly discovers that he has a very special gift. From time to time he can see events that happened years ago. There are little cameos of a Carthusian monk and of a clan battle. Then he is given a chanter, or pipe, by a tinker woman. It is a magic pipe and Iain finds that he can play it, although he has never been taught how. When he goes with his school up the Sleepy Glen he plays it and Seamus Dhu appears and shows him a more detailed picture of the past. Then, later, Iain and Seamus, together with Iain's father and teacher, work together to bring life back to the deserted glen.

This book is intended for younger children - in the eight to twelve age group. Within the framework of an original story it introduces some simple and basic history for young minds. The history is easily absorbed because the young readers are not overburdened with facts. For example, there is a chapter giving a vivid description of the Highland Clearances but the Jacobite Rebellions are not mentioned at all. The children are shown what happened but are not expected to consider the whys and wherefores. Very wise for this age group.

I liked the little touch at the end of regenerating the deserted glen. In other words, the past being used to provide an answer to a modern problem.

This is an interesting story which contains a fair amount of easily remembered history. It should certainly be of use to Scottish schools but it would be unfair to regard this as a glorified textbook. It is an appealing story in its own right. It should also be of interest south of the Border as a remembrance of a holiday in Scotland.


The Stronghold, Mollie Hunter, Canongate, 1995, £3.99. 204 pages ISBN 0 86241 500 4

The strange defensive towers known as 'brochs' are found only in the north of Scotland and in the Orkney Islands. It is not known why or how they were built, but it is thought that they may have been a defence against Roman ships raiding for slaves.

In The Stronghold Mollie Hunter has supplied her own answer. She has given an imaginative reconstruction of a primitive society in the Orkney Islands in the first century AD. Coll has worked out how to build a tower which will be unassailable by the Romans. But before it can be built he has to face danger. Can he save Fand, the chief's daughter, from being offered up as a sacrifice by the Druid priest and can he unmask the traitor Taran?

The fact that part of this book involves the question of the sacrifice of a virgin pushes it into the teenage category.

This is an exciting, well-told story which provides a possible explanation to a historical mystery.

Sword Song, Rosemary Sutcliff, The Bodley Head, 1997, £12.99 Hardback. ISBN 0-370-32394-7

Sadly Rosemary Sutcliff died in July 1992. She was working on this book when she died. She was two thirds through the second draft. It was transcribed by Anthony Lawton.

Her earlier book, The Shield Ring, was about the Vikings of the Lake District. Sword Song is also about the West Coast Vikings. It starts and ends in Rafnglas (or Ravenglass) which is very near the setting for The Shield Ring.

Sixteen year old Bjarni Sigurdson did not mean to kill the holy man who had kicked his dog but the horse-pond was near and Bjarni did not think the old man would drown in the short time he held him under. But he did and Bjarni was guilty of man-slaying. To make matters worse Rafn, his Chief, had once sworn an oath that, in his settlement, the followers of Christ should be safe so Bjarni had made his chief an oath-breaker.

Bjarni is given a sword and banished from the settlement for five years.

What is he to do? All he can think of is to hire his sword. For the next five years he is a mercenary swordsman. Descriptions of seafights are interspersed with domestic matters such as harvests and weddings. Much of the story is set in the Western Islands of Scotland. There is even a chapter set on Iona.

At last Bjarni's five years are up and he decides to return to his own settlement. But there are more dangers in store for him. He is shipwrecked and gets involved with a girl who is in danger of being killed because she is thought to be a witch.

A worthy tribute to the memory of Rosemary Sutcliff.


The Land the Ravens Found, Naomi Mitchison. 187 pages.

This book was first published in 1968.

This is a fictionalised account of the vision of a remarkable woman and of the early Viking settlements in Iceland. The story sticks very closely to the known historical facts.

In the far north of Scotland, on the shores of the Pentland Firth, is the Hall of Aud, called the Deep-minded because of her great wisdom. Aud is the mother of Thorstan the Red, the conqueror of Caithness and Sutherland. Thorstan goes on a raiding foray to the south and is killed by the Scots. His thirteen-year-old son Anlaf is now the man of the family.

What is Anlaf to do now? Is he going to defend his father's conquests against the Scots? Although only thirteen it is for him to decide. Anlaf asks if there is anything else which can be done with honour. His grandmother has an answer. It is not only the Scots Anlaf has to worry about. There is also Earl Sigurd of the Orkneys. Earl Sigurd is the liegeman of King Harald of Norway and King Harald's father had made Anlaf's grandfather an outlaw.

Anlaf has two uncles in Iceland, the land the ravens found. Aud thinks that they should go to Iceland. After listening to her Anlaf agrees.

They build a ship. As they do not want their intentions to leak out they build it in the shelter of the forest and only bring it out when it is ready to be launched. Then those chosen set sail for Iceland. The party is a mixture of Norse and freed Scots thralls.

The voyage is difficult and dangerous but eventually a safe landfall is made in Iceland. Contact is made with Aud's kinsfolk. Aud stakes her claim to a land-holding and has a new hall built. The land is cleared and planted. Although a woman it is Aud who guides her little community through their first years in Iceland. She gradually gives parcels of land to the others who had come from Scotland with her. She lives long enough to see them all settled and Anlaf married.

There is a historical note at the end. The skeleton of this story comes from the Landnamabok, the account of the families who settled in Iceland in the ninth and tenth centuries. There is a translation called the Origines Icelandicea.

This book forms a valuable counterpart to the many books which show the Vikings as raiders and fighters. That aspect is mentioned but in The Land the Ravens Found the emphasis is on domestic life and the Vikings as farmers. There is also a chapter on the Icelandic Thing and the primitive system of law and order. This book would form a useful supplement to a more serious study of the Vikings.

The story of Aud and her expedition to Iceland also forms an important part of Sword Song by Rosemary Sutcliffe.

Sadly The Land the Ravens Found is now out of print.


Ghost Dog of the Solway, Mary S. Moffat, Castle of Dreams, 1996, £4.95. 183 pages ISBN 1-86185-002-6

A Viking community of peaceful farmers, traders and craftsmen is devastated by a raid from a band of outlaws. But help comes in the form of the appearance of a huge, ghostly hound.

A thousand years later the area is still being terrorised by the spectre of the mysterious hound -- until two teenagers, and a very spirited little Yorkshire terrier called Filey, decide to banish the ghostdog for ever.

A carefully researched historical adventure story. An exciting and eerie ghost story for older children -- and dog lovers of all ages. All set against the backdrop of the low rolling hills of SouthWest Scotland, and the vast sands and fast flowing tides of the Solway.

Includes workbook


The King's Swift Rider, Mollie Hunter, Harper Collins NY, 1998, 322 pages, ISBN 0-06-447216-7

Available over the internet at the British price of £3.25 from

Sixteen year old Martin Crawford saves the life of Robert the Bruce when he is being hunted down by the English among the hills of Carrick. From then on Martin's life is linked with that of Bruce. He serves Bruce faithfully throughout his campaigns and then, at last, as Abbot of Melrose Abbey Martin finally buries the heart of Bruce.

The morning after Martin has saved him Bruce stumbles upon Martin's house. His widowed mother offers her sons to Bruce. Sean is eager to be a soldier but Martin wants to be a scholar. He has been taught to read and write by one of the monks in a nearby monastery. Martin says he will not fight and Bruce says he can be his page.

But Martin soon finds that Bruce has something more planned for him. He sends him on a mission with Brother Anselm. Martin learns that Brother Anselm is gathering information which will be useful to Bruce. Brother Anselm teaches Martin how to be a spy - how to mingle with the crowds in the market and listen to their gossip. In the evening he continues Martin's schooling and book learning. Later they both travel into England and Martin is present, in the guise of an altar boy, at the death of Edward I of England in the tent on the shores of the Solway Firth.

Later Martin becomes Bruce's courier. Martin does not know what that means. It is a French word. Bruce explains that it is a swift rider - one who carries messages. Martin has to take messages to Bruce's various commanders. Brother Anselm is now old and sick and Martin combines being a swift rider with being a spy. Eventually Bruce asks him to train other spies.

For seven years Martin serves Bruce well. We are shown the campaign to free Scotland through Martin's eyes. Martin is at Bruce's side when he is ill. Later Martin himself plays an important part. It is Martin who tricks the guards into opening the huge doors of Dunstaffnage Castle thereby allowing Bruce's forces to gain entrance. It is Martin who goes to Durham and learns of the weakness of the defences. Martin is with Bruce when he wades through the moat of Perth Castle, testing its depths. Finally it is Martin who, at the Battle of Bannockburn, is the leader of the "small folk" who trick the English into thinking they are a whole new army of reinforcements.

Then, the Battle won, Martin goes to Bruce and asks him to release him to start his quiet life of study.

But this war was far from being one dimensional. It was not just the English Bruce had to fight. It was also their Scottish allies. And this is something which Mollie Hunter makes quite clear.

The cruelty of the times is shown in the form of compelling and significant examples. Bruce's little daughter is a prisoner and she is being kept like an animal in a cage in the Tower of London. Then we share the horror of Martin and Sean when they go home and find the murdered bodies of their mother and elder sister. Martin now knows exactly what "raising the dragon" means - total war with no prisoners and no mercy shown to any creature, man or beast.

Bruce is shown as an inspiring leader who commands great loyalty from his followers, a humane man who can, nevertheless be quite ruthless when the occasion demands it, and a deeply religious man.

The Swift Rider is told in the first person by Martin who comes across as brave and resourceful. He will not fight or kill, but he still plays his part - which is always kept secret. At times this is quite difficult for him, especially when his brother taunts him for being "some sort of clerk."

The Swift Rider describes events of a harsh, cruel age but by having a basically gentle and scholarly leading character like Martin the general effect is somewhat softened.

A well researched reconstruction of the life of Robert the Bruce.

Compelling and forceful.

This book should be on the library shelves of every school in Scotland.

Teenage. Young adult.

The Sterkarm Handshake, Susan Price, Scholastic, 1998, £14.99. 370 pages. ISBN 0-590-54301-6

This book is set in the Borders between Scotland and England at the time of the Border Reivers.

Time travel. This is a story of the clash between two cultures - of divided loyalties; of greed, treachery, violence and cruelty.

Dilsmead Hall, just outside Carlisle, houses the northern enterprise of the FUP. We are not told what the letters "FUP" stand for but it is a large organisation. It has built a Time Tube which can take people back to the 16th century, to the time of the border reivers. The FUP hopes to be able to exploit the untapped resources of the 16th century - coal, oil and gold - and bring them back to the 21st century. They even have plans for time travel holidays.

But there are problems and these are all caused by the Sterkarms, an old reiving family. At first the Sterkarms are kept partially under control because they are told the 21st century people are Elves with magic powers. But even that does not stop them from robbing the FUP's survey teams. And the Sterkarms refuse to give up raiding. Nevertheless the FUP and the Sterkarms are able to work together until one incident brings matters to a head.

Per, the only son of Toorkild, the head of the Sterkarms, is badly wounded in a raid. Andrea, the FUP's observer in the 16th century, knows he will die if he is not given a 21st century blood transfusion. She persuades Windsor, the head of Dilsmead Hall, to allow her to take him back through the Time Tube to be given the benefits of modern medicine. Per's life is saved but unfortunately he does not understand this. He thinks he is being kept in "Elf-land" to be ransomed. (To a certain extent he is correct because Windsor wants to keep Per so that he can keep control of Toorkild). Per escapes back along the Time Tube to Toorkild and the rest of the family who are only too ready to listen to his story of kidnap and ransom. From then on the situation deteriorates until there is war between the Sterkarms and the FUP. Thereafter the story races on to a violent and tragic climax when the Sterkarms travel through the Time Tube to 21st century Carlisle.

The first part of this book is very good indeed. The 16th century is brought home to us in two ways. Firstly we are shown it through the eyes of the FUP personnel. There is a detailed description of the Sternkarm's tower, and, later, of the ride against the Grannams in which Per is wounded. Then later Andrea thinks over what it would really mean if she were to marry Per. " A small amount of pleasure and happiness offset by sixteenth century childbirth and - if she survived that - all the humilitations of Per's infidelity, the grief of children's deaths, the frights and shocks of constant petty warfare and daily drudgery."

Then we see the 21st century through Per's eyes and his observations also throw light on his own time. For example, Per could not understand why his leg had not gone "bad ways." In other words, he could not understand why it had not become infected. He did not know that wounds have to be cleansed. Then Per will not eat the food he is given. He is suspicious because it is Elf-food, but even so he has never seen a banana before and he is used to goat's milk, not cow's. He asks for his pouch and instead, breaks off a lump of solid, cold porridge, which he enjoys.

The characters are boldly drawn and they do come alive. There is Andrea, the FUP observer in the 16th century. She is torn between her friendship for the Sterkarms and her love for Per and her knowledge of the Sterkarm treachery and cruelty. There is the ignorant, arrogant, pompous Windsor who refuses to listen to Andrea who knows far more about the Sterkarms than he does, or to Bryce his head of security. Then there is Joe, the 21st century misfit. And of course there are the Sterkarms, kind and loyal to family and friends but brutal and callous to any they perceive as an enemy.

After the Sterkarms declare war on the 21st century this book reads rather like a traditional western in a different setting. Even the characters have their parallels in many westerns.

This book is well worth reading for the fascinating picture it gives of the borderlands at the time of the reivers - and for the original way in which this picture is conveyed.


Tudor Terror: The King in Blood Red and Gold, Terry Deary, Orion, £3.99, 1997, 189 pages. ISBN 1-85881-517-7

Part of this book is set in the Borders between Scotland and England at the time of the Border Reivers.

This is the second book in the Tudor Terror series and I liked it much better than the first.

The story is set against the background of the Scottish and English reivers at the time of Queen Elizabeth. English raiding parties cross the Border - and do not come back. They just disappear. Although he is over ninety Sir Clifford Marsden agrees to ride north and try to solve the mystery. He is accompanied by his young grandson Will, and also by Hugh Richmond, a London actor who doubles as a spy. Meg the servant girl wants to go too but she is told that the wild border country is no place for a girl so she disguises herself as a boy and follows along behind - and eventually comes to the rescue of the others.

There is a real sense of mystery in this book as the little party follow the trail of the missing raiders, also vivid descriptions of the wild border country complete with references to the Devil's Beef Tub and the Murder Hole - both deeply embedded in the folklore of the region.

Interspersed with this story is another from the days when Sir Clifford was a young man: a story of Flodden Field and the cruelties of Henry VIII.


Escape from Loch Leven, Mollie Hunter, Floris Books, 2003, £4.99, 218 pages. ISBN 0-86315-414-X

This was one of the Canongate Kelpies which is now being published by Floris Books. It was first published in 1981.

After the murder of Darnley and the subsequent marriage of Mary Queen of Scots to Earl Bothwell, Mary was imprisoned in a castle in the middle of Loch Leven by order of the Privy Council. Later a page, young Will Douglas, helped to escape and join the nobles who were still loyal to her.

That is the bare bones of what is a well known story. But here Mollie Hunter has researched deeply and fleshed the story out in this fictionalised account.

Here are all the details of how the Queen was kept in the castle, her servants, the ways in which she spent her days -- and all against a background of political intrigue.

Will Douglas comes to life as a rounded figure and not just a heroic character. He likes gambling and has no compunction about telling lies.

True young Will, like many older than himself, falls under Mary's spell, but the question must be asked. Does this really absolve him from responsibility to his own family? The Keeper of the castle is Will's natural father, a man who has tried to treat him fairly. Mary's escape could have serious consequences for the Keeper and other members of the Douglas family but Will does not care about that.

Told in the first person by Will many years afterwards when he hears of Mary's execution.

Some deep questions are raised when a well known story is brought to life.


Quest for a Queen. The Lark, Frances Mary Hendry, Canongate, 1992, £2.95. 251 pages. ISBN 0-86241-380-X

This book is the first in a trilogy about Mary Queen of Scots. It describes Mary's life at the French court in the years before she leaves for Scotland.

John Russell is the son of a sergeant in the Garde Ecossaise. On his mother's side he is connected to the minor nobility in France. John is chosen to be the whipping boy to the Dauphin Francois. Nobody could strike the future king of France and so, if the young prince misbehaved, then his whipping boy was to be beaten instead. So John goes to the French court. He is soon joined by his young sister, Lark. Her name is really Alice but her father calls her Alouette, which is French for Lark. She is well named because she has a beautiful voice. She is given singing lessons and she soon joins the French court like her brother.

But the French court is a dangerous place. Offend a member of the royal family and death could be the result. At first John gets on quite well with the Dauphin and Francois begins to behave better. Then disaster.

Francois is a sadist who likes to torment small animals, although he always sends John away before he does this. John has one deadly enemy at the court. This is Chicot, the leader of a band of dwarves and jesters. One day Chicot tricks John and Lark into going to the Dauphin's rooms when he is torturing some little puppies. He is pushing their front paws into a burning brazier so that they will walk on their hind legs.

This is too much for Lark. She slaps the Dauphin who draws his dagger. John throws his arms around him to restrain him.

From then on the lives of both John and Lark are hanging by a thread. If news of this got out then they could both be executed. But John threatens to tell the Dauphin's fiancee, Marie -- the future Mary Queen of Scots. The Dauphin in his turn tells Chicot that if he ever breathes a word of the incident he will be hanged.

So John and Lark are safe for the time being. Lark joins Marie's train. John is dismissed from the Dauphin's service but he holds a series of different positions. An Archer, a bodyguard. He serves Queen Catherine and eventually the Dauphin.

There is more danger for both of them. Lark becomes a Calvinist and is caught trying to warn some other Calvinists who are taking part in a rebellion. She is placed in the dungeons awaiting execution but John manages to rescue her. Something else which would lead to an instant death sentence if it ever came out.

King Henri dies and Marie marries the Dauphin. They are now King and Queen of France. But not for long. The Dauphin, always sickly, dies too. Now there is no reason for Chicot to remain quiet. To make matters worse word has got out about the rescue of Lark. But a warning is sent to both John and Lark that they are about to be arrested. The warning comes in time and they flee to the coast and join Marie who is preparing to leave France for Scotland.

This is primarily an adventure story about John and Lark. To a certain extent Marie is kept in the background. But the book gives an excellent of her life at the French court before she went to Scotland. We are shown the almost obscene wealth of the nobility, the cruelty and the utter depravity. Life is cheap. After the Calvinist revolt, the rebels are put to death. But this is not an ordinary series of executions. A mass execution is held as an entertainment for the court. They all watch as the rebels are tortured to death.

An exciting if grim story which fills in the early background to the life of Mary Queen of Scots.


The Dark Shadow, Mary Rhind, Floris Books, 2002, £4.99, pb, 142pp, ISBN 0-86315-406-9

This book was first published in 1988 as one of the Canongate Kelpies - which are now being reprinted by Floris Books.

Fourteen-year-old Lizzie lives in the Fife fishing village of Crail with her mother, her stepfather and her seventeen-year-old brother Davie. Lizzie has been blind since a childhood accident and Davie has always planned to take her to the holy Well of Triduana on the other side of the Firth of Forth. On the death of St Triduana it was found that the spring had special healing powers - especially for the eyes - and Davie wants to take his sister there.

He had planned gto take her on that pilgrimage when he was older and had finished his studies at St Andrews but he is told that that might be too late. For this is during the turbulent times of the Reformation and the Well will probably soon be closed on the grounds of being an object of idolatry and superstition. So Davie had better move fast.

Davie's stepfather, Walter, is a fanatical Reformer who would stop their pilgrimage if he could. But Lizzie and Davie slip away while Walter is out at sea in his fishing boat. They travel through Fife pursued by Walter from whom they have several narrow escapes. Eventually they cross the Forth by ferry at Earlsferry and spend some time with the nuns at Haddington before going on to St Triduana's.

Is there a miracle? Does Lizzie get her sight back? Yes there is a miracle. In fact not one but two. Lizzie gets her sight back - but not in the way she had expected. And Walter undergoes a great change and loses his earlier severity.

But this all happens against a background of violence. St Triduana's is attacked and set on fire by a crazed mob, Lizzie is carried off by a stranger and Davie is thrown into jail in Edinburgh. There is even an encounter with pirates in the Firth of Forth.

This is a fast paced story which gives a good picture of the times. On their travels Lizzie sees a proper bed for the first time as, at home, she sleeps on a bed of turf and heather. Later her simple home in Crail is contrasted with the house of a wealthy Edinburgh merchant.

But above all this is a story of ordinary people suffering because of political decisions which they are powerless to change. The poor and hardworking fishermen of Crail are suddenly told by the Reformers that they can no longer fish on a Sunday. Lizzie's mother had always hoped that when she was older Lizzie could go to a nunnery. But now all the monasteries are being closed. And later there are descriptions of the devastated land outside Edinburgh, laid waste when an English army had come to attack Mary of Guise's garrison of French soldiers at Leith.

An exciting, fast paced story of ordinary people caught up in events beyond their control.

Comes with a rough sketch map of Fife. This book will be of special interest to those who know Fife.


A Queen's Promise, Kirsty White, Franklin Watts, £3.99 1998, Pb. 64 pages. ISBN 0-7496-3125-2

This is one of the Sparks series for children aged seven upwards. It is about 3,000 words long.

James and Meg Wallace live in Dumfries in the middle of the fifteenth century. They are the eldest of six children. Once times had been good for the Wallaces. When father had the horse and cart he had made enough money for the family. But the horse died and Pa could not afford another horse and now the family is struggling to survive.

One day Meg is full of excitement because she has heard that Queen Mary is coming to Dumfries. Mr Wallace does not like Mary but Ma says she is a good woman and that she has promised to help her people all she can. That night James lies awake. Pa needs a horse and Ma says that Mary has promised to help.

Next morning James and Meg get up early and go to see the Queen's procession. That night, once again, James cannot sleep. When his parents are asleep he slips out of the little cottage and makes his way to Caerlaverock Castle, the home of Lord Maxwell, with whom the Queen is staying. James tells one of the sentries that he must see the Queen but the sentry chases him away. Then James manages to cross the moat and climb the walls of the Castle. He finds a trapdoor and gets inside.

Does he manage to speak to the Queen? Does she keep her promise to help? And does James get a new horse for his father?

This simple little story is very deceptive. The story comes first but a remarkable amount of information is trickled into the narrative. We are shown the contrast between the poverty of the Wallace family and the style and wealth of Lord Maxwell. The Wallaces have to go to bed when it becomes dark because they cannot afford a candle but Caerlaverock Castle is ablaze with lights. James' mother has to wander over the fields gleaning what grain she can. Sometimes the family might just have bread for a meal, or, if they are lucky, a hare which their father has caught. In the Castle James sees maids and footmen with trays of food and wine.

Mention is also made of other events of importance, such as the raids of the border reivers.

I was particularly interested to see that part of the story is set in Caerlaverock Castle. Caerlaverock Castle is about six miles from Dumfries. It is now a ruin. It has a particularly interesting history -- right from the time it was besieged by Edward I. It is noted for its unique architectural style. (It is built in the shape of a triangle). Sir Walter Scott used it as a model for Ellangowan in Guy Mannering.

To get back to A Queen's Promise, Kirsty White has added some very useful notes on: Mary Queen of Scots, John Knox, life in the time of Queen Mary, and the Scots language.

A well researched little book with an authentic background.

An unusual story which shows Queen Mary in a good light.

Illustrated in black and white throughout.

This book is intended for children aged seven and upwards but I feel that children at the upper end of the primary school could learn a great deal from it. But the problem here is that older children are often all too ready to dismiss easy books as "babyish" - little realising what they can get out of such material.

The Spanish Letters, Mollie Hunter, Canongate, 1993, £2.99, 173 pages. ISBN 0-86241-057-6

This book was first published in 1964. It is about adventure, political intrigue and conspiracy in the Edinburgh of 1589.

The Spanish Armada may have been defeated in 1588 but the King of Spain has hopes of another Armada. He sends two of his agents to Edinburgh to negotiate with certain traitorous Scottish nobles. News of this leaks out to Queen Elizabeth's espionage service and Roger Macey, an agent - or spy - of the English government rides north to Edinburgh where he lodges with the Master of Fence, John Forbes, his daughter Marie and her bodyguard, the huge highlander, Angus Mhor.

Right from the start it is obvious that if Macey is to achieve anything at all he will need help. For one thing he has no knowledge of the city. Forbes urges him to enlist the help of the Edinburgh caddies.

The caddies are a bold and closely knit body of men who hang around the streets of Edinburgh looking for strangers. They will guide them, fetch and carry for them and find them lodgings or the hire of a horse. Even better from Macey's point of view, they are sworn never to reveal the business of any who may employ them. Also they are sworn to stand by one another in any danger arising from their pursuit. The caddies are led - and ruled - by a bent old man called Cleek. He is called this because he always carries a cleek or golf club which serves him equally well as a walking stick or a weapon. His closest associates are the one legged Lucky, the giant Tod and fifteen year old Jamie Morton.

Macey allows himself to be persuaded and he very soon finds out how useful the help of the caddies is.

Sixteenth century Edinburgh with its narrow streets and tall buildings forms the background to this tale of spying and adventure:- of swordfights, of codes and secret tunnels, of the palaces of the wealthy and the harbour of Leith. In all this fifteen-year-old Jamie plays a leading part. Marie is kidnapped and the treacherous Earl of Huntly tries to take King James VI prisoner but in each case the Edinburgh caddies race to the rescue. At the end young Jamie finds that there may be something more in life than the free, but somewhat purposeless life of an Edinburgh caddy.

All the leading characters really stay in the memory but I would say that the real heroes are not Macey or Forbes or even Jamie, but the caddies. They remind me somewhat of John Buchan's Gorbals Diehards.

A thrilling story with a sound historical background. One of the best of Mollie Hunter's books.


Curse on the Sea, Geoffrey Trease, Hodder, 1990, £3.99, 186 pages ISBN 0-340-63598-3

In 1633 it was arranged that Charles I should be crowned in Scotland. He had been on the throne for eight years but he had never been crowned in Scotland. After the coronation he went on a tour of Linlithgow, Stirling, Falkland and Dunfermline. Then, on the return journey, disaster. The royal convey had to be transported across the Firth of Forth in ferries. There was a freak storm and one of the overloaded ferries sank and all aboard were drowned. The following year nineteen witches were sentenced to death for having caused the storm.

Geoffrey Trease has taken this incident and woven an exciting story around it.

Rob Hardie is a boy actor in London. Summer is approaching. Summer, the slack time for the London theatres. But Rob is a friend of the aged playwright Ben Jonson who has just written a masque for the Earl of Newcastle; a masque which is to be performed before KIng Charles I himself. Ben Jonson's health prevents him from travelling so he authorises Rob to direct the masque for him and gives him a letter to the Earl of Newcastle. Rob travels to Welbeck Abbey in Sherwood Forest for the masque and the start of a strange adventure. After the masque Rob joins the royal baggage train and travels north to the coronation in Edinburgh. He travels as an assistant to the royal apothecary.

Once in Edinburgh Rob stays for a time with the family of his stern Scots grandfather, and later with a local laird. He also meets, and makes friends with Barbary, the daughter of a wise woman. He sees the coronation and travels with the King on his tour. Barbary is with him on the ferry in the storm.

Barbary is accused of having cursed the ferry and of having caused the storm but Rob helps her to flee to England. Can they escape their pursuers?

This book touches on so many aspects of life in 1633. There are vivid descriptions of the masque, the royal baggage train, seventeenth century healing and cures, the religious differences of the time and the fanatical fear of witches. Many of the characters were real people - including the apothecary.

In Curse on the Sea meticulous historical research has been used to create a fascinating and authentic story.


Escape in Darkness, Kathleen Fidler, Canongate, 1961, £2.99, 160 pages ISBN 086241-157-2

After the death of her niece, Elizabeth, Barbara Ruthven decides to bring up and care for her nephew James as Elizabeth's husband has been killed in a duel a few months earlier. When James is twelve years old Barbara takes the boy back to Scotland - even although the whole Ruthven family is out of favour with King James VI.

Barbara takes him to his kinsman Sir George Bruce, a wealthy man with a large house in Culross, Fife. James makes friends with his cousins Edward and Magdalen. Sir George owns a coalmine which stretches under the Firth of Forth and James is fascinated by the technicalities of it although he is also horrified by the conditions in which the young children work in the mine.

Barbara receives a doubtful, lukewarm welcome. Sir George's wife, in particular, is openly hostile to her. Tactfully it is agreed that Barbara should go under the name of "Lady Barbara Bruce." She moves out of Sir George's house and goes to stay in two rooms in another house owned by Sir George. This suits her as she is now able to use the Ruthven skill in herbs and healing to help the little mine children and cure their sores and coughs.

But in the seventeenth century, skill in herbs and healing is regarded as being very close to witchcraft and Barbara's acts of charity are to bring her into danger. There follows a thrilling tale of a fearful storm and dreadful destruction, a witchhunt, a little tinker girl and a secret passage.

The first chapter starts rather slowly and, to a careless reader, the details of the family relationships could be rather confusing. This is unfortunate because once Barbara and James arrive in Scotland the story really picks up. The descriptions of the salt burners on the shore, and the coalmine under the Firth are fascinating. The story keeps the reader's interest while building up to an exciting climax with the storm and the witch-hunt.

This is a gripping story which also illuminates seventeenth century conditions -- the frightful conditions of the poorer classes and the cruelty and superstitions of the time.

The characters are sketched in lightly but they do come alive. For example, there are Edward and Magdalen, young but both already showing signs that they will soon be able to fit the positions they have been born to: the vindictive members of the whole Horne family: Isobel, the little tinker girl, timid yet determined and resourceful and Barbara herself, kind and compassionate.

Very highly recommended.


The Witches’ Mark, Donald Lightwood, Floris Books, (Kelpies), 2006, £5.99, paperback, 144 pages, ISBN 0863155723

A fishing village in Fife at the time of Charles II. Pheemie is an old, lonely, deformed woman who lives in a little cottage in the woods just outside the village. But this was a time when superstition was rife and Pheemie is believed to be a witch. The fishermen think she should be burnt. But Pheemie has a worse enemy than any of the fishermen. This is the powerful and evil local laird.

Nevertheless Pheemie does have a few friends. A local lad, fifteen-year-old Murdo, does a simple act of kindness for Pheemie. This leads to him being put off his fishing boat. He goes to live with her and is later joined by his best friend Alex. And Pheemie has a really staunch friend in the local minister who definitely does not believe in witchcraft.

Matters come to a head when the laird decides to bring Pheemie to trial and sends for a witchfinder to come down from Edinburgh to 'test’ her. The minister knows this is against the law. He hides Pheemie in his stable and sends Murdo and Alex to Edinburgh to get a warrant from the Lord Advocate to stop the trial.

Does Pheemie remain hidden or is she discovered? Do the boys get the warrant from the Lord Advocate?

This book is notable for bringing out the fact that despite the hysteria against witches the witch trials with the monstrosities of pricking and swimming were actually governed by the law of the land. The prickers –– the men who would push needles into a so-called witch to find a part where she felt no pain (the witches’ mark) –– had actually to have a license. It also shows that in the second half of the seventeenth century many people were beginning to question the old beliefs in witches.

The story moves at a good pace and clearly brings out the ideas and convictions of the age.

10 - 14

A Dream of Danger, The Massacre of Glencoe, Kirsty White, Franklin Watts, 1998, 3.99, Pb. 62 pages. ISBN 0-7496-3124-4

Morag is the granddaughter of Niall, Chief of Clanranald. She has been having nightmares and her parents think it might help if she goes to stay with her Aunt Mary in Glencoe. They think a change of scenery will be good for her.

But the nightmares continue and even become worse. Morag can never remember the dream when she awakes, only that it has frightened her. Morag hopes that if she ignores her dreams they will go away. Then her aunt tells her that she might have second sight as it runs in the family. This frightens Morag even more.

These are troubled times. King James II is exiled and there is a new King on the throne - King William. The highland clans had fought for King James but they had been defeated. Now they have to take an oath and pledge their loyalty to King William. MacIan, chief of the MacDonalds of Glencoe did not want to sign the oath and he left until the last minute but he did sign - eventually.

Then one hundred and twenty Redcoats come to the glen. Morag looks at the soldiers and thinks they are somehow familiar. They frighten her.

The Redcoats stay in the glen and practise drilling and the highlanders give them hospitality. Morag has an increasing feeling of danger. One night she forces herself to face the danger. She has the dream again but this time, when she wakes, she does not struggle to shake it off as she usually does. Instead she wills herself back to sleep because, if her dream is a warning, she must understand it.

She sees inside the hut where the Redcoats sleep. But they are not asleep. The hut is lit by candles and the Redcoats are fully dressed and holding their weapons as if they are about to go into battle.

Morag wakes up and this time she remembers her dream. She knows that the Redcoats mean to kill them all. But is Morag in time to save the MacDonalds or is it already too late?

This story about the Massacre of Glencoe is given an extra dimension by Morag coming to terms with her second sight. There is also the message that we must confront our fears, not run away from them.

Illustrated in black and white throughout.

Comes with useful notes on: - the Massacre of Glencoe, the Glorious Revolution, Scottish bards, second sight.


Stranger in the Glen, A Tale about Rob Roy, Kirsty White, Franklin Watts, 1997, £6.99. 62 pages. ISBN 0-7496-2586-4

This is one of the Sparks series for Key Stage 2 readers.

Catriona Lamond lives at Rowardennan near Loch Lomond. Her father is about to drive his cattle to the market at Drymen when Rob Roy's man comes to him and says he must pay one hundred merks blackmail. (Blackmail was the money Rob Roy charged to permit cattle through areas which he controlled). Catriona's father cannot afford one hundred merks. If he pays that to Rob Roy he will not be able to pay the rent and if he does not pay then Rob Roy will steal the cattle.

Catriona's parents do not know what to do but she has an idea. That night when everyone is asleep she wakes her younger brother Rory. She tells him that they are going to take the cattle to market themselves. They fetch the drover's dog to help them gather the calves and then they take the hill path - the one which Rob Roy will not be watching. Then the dog runs off after a hare. Without the dog they are much slower and it will soon be morning. Catriona decides to hide in the forest which slopes down to Loch Lomond. The cattle stray but they manage to round most of them up.

Then they are suddenly confronted by Rob Roy himself and his men. A furious Rob Roy. What is going to happen?

This little story about the famous eighteenth century Scottish outlaw moves at a good pace and holds the interest. And Catriona is a spirited young heroine.

Illustrated in black and white throughout.

Comes with useful notes on: Rob Roy MacGregor, Gaelic, and the highland clans.


The Lothian Run, Mollie Hunter, Canongate, 1989, £2.99, 221 pages. ISBN 0 86241 069 X

This book was first published in 1971. The Lothian Run of the title is the name which the Customs men give to the smuggling routes which end in the little ports on the north and south shores of the Firth of Forth.

But this is far more than just a smuggling story. It is written round a very significant incident in 18th century Scottish history - the Porteous Riots of 1736. Briefly, the facts about Captain Porteous are as follows. Two smugglers Andrew Wilson and George Robertson were due to be hanged. A few days before the execution George Robertson managed to escape. When Wilson was hanged Robertson tried to rescue him with a band of men armed with cutlasses. The soldiers fought the rescuers off and the crowd threw stones at the soldiers. Then the Captain of the Town Guard, Captain John Porteous ordered his men to fire on the Edinburgh crowd. They did so and a few citizens were killed. Captain Porteous was later accused of murder, tried and sentenced to death but was later reprieved. But when he was finally released from gaol the Edinburgh mob rioted. Captain Porteous was seized and hanged from the pole above a barber's shop.

The story of Captain Porteous runs right through The Lothian Run. But as if this is not enough Mollie Hunter has also worked in a Jacobite plot.

Sandy Maxwell is an apprentice in a lawyer's office. To Sandy the deed-room where he works is a small, dusty prison cell. Then Deryck Gilmour, Special Investigations Officer in the service of His Majesty's Customs, calls on the lawyer, Mr Wishart. Deryck Gilmour is trying to catch the escaped smuggler, George Robertson and he is asking Mr Wishart to help him. Mr Wishart at once tells him that his young clerk, Sandy Maxwell could be of assistance. Robertson has friends in the fishing village of Prestonpans - which is near Sandy's home. Sandy also has friends among the fisher-folk. Mr Wishart says that Sandy has a head on his shoulders and can be relied upon to ask the right kind of questions and keep the answers to himself.

So Sandy starts to work for Deryck Gilmour. There is adventure and danger. The story moves between the tall buildings and narrow alleys of Edinburgh, the hills and valleys of the countryside south of Edinburgh and the fishing village of Presonpans. It moves at a rapid pace until the final climax at the riots and lynching of Captain Porteous.

A thrilling story with a sound historical background.

I once heard a story about a teacher who read this book with her class. When she had finished her class gave their verdict in no uncertain terms. In a mixture of traditional Glasgow and modern TV they told her what they thought of Sandy Maxwell.

"He was a right wee grasser. He went to yon wee fushin village and the people were friendly to him and then he went and shopped them to the polis."

Whatever may be said about the sentiments expressed one thing is for sure.

The Lothian Run really meant something to those children.


The Raiders, S.R.Crockett, Alloway Publishing, 1992, £6.50, Trade Paperback. 280 pages. ISBN 0 907526 53 5

This book was first published in 1894.

This story is set in Galloway around the middle of the eighteenth century. The setting moves between an island in the Solway Firth and the wild hills and moors of north eastern Galloway.

When his father dies, Patrick Heron inherits the tidal Rathan Isle and its old tower house. So, although still a teenager, Patrick is a laird, even if an unimportant one. (A "bonnet laird"). The story is told in the first person by Patrick.

On the mainland opposite Rathan Isle is the large farm of Craigdarroch, where May Maxwell lives with her father and seven brothers. Patrick calls her "May Mischief" and in the first few chapters he is always telling us how much he hates her. May's brothers are involved in the smuggling trade between Holland and the Isle of Man. But local smugglers like the Maxwells are quite different from the "Black Smugglers," Dutchmen like the notorious Yawkins. The latter are more organised, cruel and ruthless. Yawkins would land his goods on the Solway shore where bands of fierce gypsies and outlaws would collect it and take the smuggled stuff - along with stolen goods and raided cattle - to their fastness among the wild country on the borders of Galloway and Ayrshire.

May Maxwell's brothers fall foul of Yawkins. Their farm is set on fire, their cattle stolen, their father killed and May abducted. Patrick, who up until now, has repeatedly told us how much he hates May, now joins in the rescue attempt. May is rescued and brought back to the more settled area. She stays with her wealthy cousin Lady Grizel Maxwell. Then the outlaws carry out a raid on Lady Grizel's fortified house. They are driven off but after this the Maxwells decide to rout out the gypsies and outlaws for good. The Maxwells gather a force and ride to the raiders' retreat. Patrick goes with them.

As well as being an adventure story "The Raiders" is also something of a mystery. Since childhood Patrick has known and admired Silver Sand. Silver Sand travels around the countryside with a donkey and a huge wolf-hound. He sells sand for sharpening scythes. He comes to Rathan Isle every month and whenever Patrick sees the smoke of his campfire he runs to join his friend and share his breakfast of fried trout and listen to his tales of the cruelty of the hill gypsies. Silver Sand later shares in Patrick's adventures and it is then that Patrick becomes suspicious of his childhood friend. Whose side is Silver Sand really on? He collects his sand from the shores of the lochs in the fastness of the gypsies and he knows all about their customs. Then he will often be absent when the fighting starts but will suddenly appear afterwards. It is not until near the end that we find out who Silver Sand really is and learn his strange story.

"The Raiders" really brings the Galloway of the eighteenth century to life. Although fiction and a thrilling story it is no mere flight of an author's fancy. The geographic descriptions are authentic and the story and characters are rooted in the history and folklore of the region. The gypsy clans of the Marshalls and Faas are very much part of Gallloway history and the Maxwells were one of the most important families in the area since medieval times. The legendary "murder hole" is famous.

Rathan Isle is actually Heston Island, which is about twenty miles from Dumfries. Today a local boatman takes rippersround it at high tide. I have sailed round it several times. And in the desolate country between Galloway and Ayrshire, Loch Neldricken and Loch Enoch can be found on any map.

As well as being an exciting story "The Raiders" is full of atmospheric descriptions. At the beginning Patrick tells us how he likes to climb to the highest point of Rathen Isle and look over the surrounding countryside. And, after the attack on the farm, of how he took refuge with May in the great sea cave.

Later the wild hills and gullies, moors and bogs of the gypsies' stronghold are vividly described and we taken to their lair - a little village on an island in the middle of Loch Enoch.

Despite all the efforts of the Maxwells, when retribution does finally fall on the outlaws it comes from the savage forces of nature - from a devastating snowstorm. A snowstorm which Patrick, Silver Sand and the little girl Marion ride out safely in a cave high up in the hills and cliffs.

One incident which I find particularly memorable is when Patrick is racing across the frozen lochs on his "ice runners" which his father had brought him from Holland.

Patrick tells the story, for the most part, in standard English with the occasional Scots word which serves to increase the general atmosphere. But when it comes to direct speech, the characters speak the Scots of Robert Burns. The Scots words are explained in a glossary at the back.

"The Raiders" is a thrilling story with an authentic background, good characterisation and vivid descriptions. It deserves to be better known. In some ways it is a kind of Scots "Lorna Doone."

12 to adult

Bonnie Prince Charlie. A Tale of Fontenoy and Culloden, G.A. Henty, PrestonSpeed, 2000, Pb., 290 pages, ISBN 1-887159-55-X

Available over the internet from

PrestonSpeed is republishing all the books of G.A. Henty. And not abridged editions either. The original versions. This book was first published in 1887.

After the Rebellion of 1715 many of the Jacobites managed to escape to France where they served the French King in the Scots regiment. One of these Scots was Colonel Leslie. He fell in love with the daughter of a powerful aristocratic family. They married secretly and a son was born. Because of this Colonel Leslie had incurred the wrath of two noble families -- the family of his wife and the family of the nobleman she was intended to marry.

Colonel Leslie was arrested and his wife was sent to a convent.

But before he was arrested Colonel Leslie managed to get a message to his oldest friend, Malcolm Anderson. He told him to take his son to Scotland. Malcolm does so and this is where the story begins.

Malcolm takes the infant Ronald Leslie to his brother, a Glasgow baillie, who brings the child up as his son. Malcolm finds work as a cattle drover. He visits his brother and family from time to time and sees that the boy learns fencing.

Then, when Ronald is a young man, he hears of a plan to arrest a Jacobite agent. Ronald makes a wild attempt to warn the agent. The agent escapes but Ronald is arrested and is taken by ship to London for trial.

From this point on the pace is fast and furious. Malcolm rescues Ronald and smuggles him aboard a ship for France -- a ship which is soon to be wrecked. Once in France Malcolm seeks out his old regiment. Ronald serves with it at the Battle of Fontenoy.

Now they are in France Ronald is determined to find where his parents are being imprisoned and rescue them. They find out the name of the convent where his mother is being kept and manage to make contact with her. After many adventures and much excitement both his parents are set free.

Then Ronald kills the King's favourite in a duel. This is at the time when Bonnie Prince Charlie is setting out to sail to Scotland. Ronald and Malcolm make their way to him and embark with him. From then on we follow their fortunes, and those of the Prince, up to the Battle of Culloden. Their final escape provides more excitement.

This is an exciting, fast paced story but there is more to it than that. The historical background is detailed and accurate. I found the details of the exiled Scots living in France especially interesting. This is something which tends to be glossed over in Scottish history. G.A. Henty used to be a war correspondent and, as such, he was able to give a particularly accurate account of the campaigns of the '45.

To return to the French section: Henty shows a France in which the seeds of the Revolution have already taken root. Colonel Leslie has been imprisoned under one of the hated lettres de cachet which made their own contribution to the events of the Reign of Terror and, later, Ronald comes to realise that he could never live in a country in which the King is all powerful.

This novel was first published in 1887 and ideas have changed since then. Particularly in the way in which wars are written about. Henty is very accurate in describing the campaigns but he does tend to skate over the misery and suffering caused by war. In fact, in the early stages, Ronald tends to treat it as a game, although we are given some idea of the carnage after the Battle of Culloden. But that was the style at the time and, as the background history is so good, I think it would be a pity if Henty were to be rejected on this account. Instead I would point this out to children and encourage them to read -- in addition -- some of the many modern books which show the cruelty, devastation and futility of war.

There is also the fact that writing such as Henty's is a kind of historical source in itself -- a source which helps to explain the frenzy which swept Britain at the beginning of the First World War.

I have said that Henty is very accurate. But there is one point where this accuracy slips. At the Battle of Culloden he keeps referring to the Scots and English -- even although he has previously gone to a great deal of trouble to show that Bonnie Prince Charlie had the support of only a small section of the Highlands.

I read a lot of Henty between the ages of ten and twelve and I am really excited that PrestonSpeed is now republishing all his books. And because of Amazon it is now easy obtaining a copy of an American-published book. I find that Henty's books mean far more to me now than they did when I was twelve.

This book is well worth reading. Henty gives a different perspective to the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745.

11 to adult

Quest for a Kelpie, Frances Hendry, Canongate, 1986, £6.95, Hardback, 153 pages. ISBN 0-86241-128-9

When she is ten years old a gipsy tells Jeannie Main,
"Ye will make a king and break a king, but will ye ride the kelpie? ... Seek out the kelpie, Jean Main."

There is more but young Jeannie does not understand any of it. To her it seems a lot of rubbish. But later her grandfather explains about the kelpie. The kelpie appears in the form of a large black horse or bull. It may seem to be very quiet and docile but if anyone should try to ride it will carry them off to its home at the foot of the loch and the person on its back will be drowned.

But there is more than this to the legend of the Scottish water horse. If anyone should succeed in riding the kelpie and making it obey them then it would grant them their heart's desire.

Jeannie remembers this when her father is injured in an accident and left paralysed. If she could ride a kelpie she would ask that he would be restored to health. And, if she could ever find one, there is a good chance that she would be able to make it obey her. For Jean once hid and spied on a ritual ceremony of the horse masters and she knows the special word which will make any horse obey. But where is she to find a kelpie?

To this background of traditional Scottish legend and folklore is grafted a story set in the harsh reality of history. Jeannie belongs to a fishing family in Nairn, in the north east of Scotland. But she has red hair and the other fishers say she is unlucky and she is forbidden to go near the boats. So, instead, Jeannie goes into service in Nairn in the town house of Patrick Clark, the surgeon. She soon settles down in her new life. She is clever and she learns quickly and does well. And she becomes very friendly with the younger daughter, Celia.

Two years pass and then there is the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. The town house is occupied first, by Highlanders, and later by soldiers from Cumberland's Army. And Jeannie plays her own part in the events of the Rebellion.

Jeannie's new master is also a Depute Sheriff. This leads into examples of the harsh and summary justice of the time.

As well as the story element this book gives a good picture of life at the time. The story is told in the first person by Jeannie and this is used very effectively to describe social conditions. Jeannie moves between her own home among the fishers, to her grandfather's croft, and the Nairn town house. She describes them all by contrasting them with her own house. For example, in her grandfather's little house "There wasn't a chimney like ours" and later she goes on to say that in her own home there was a separate door for the animals, "but not here." In other words, it is quite natural for the animals to be kept in the house. And when she goes to Nairn Jeannie stares in wonderment at the fine house and comments "There was a floor of smooth stones, not like ours of dried blood and burnt shell. And there was oiled linen in the window behind the shutters."
A very skilful use of the first person.

An exciting story, a detailed and authentic historical background, and even a touch of traditional legend. What more could anyone ask for?


My Story. The '45 Rising. The Diary of Euphemia Grant, Scotland, 1745-1746, Frances Mary Hendry, Scholastic, 2001, £4.99. 195 pages. ISBN 0-439-99229-X

This is one of Scholastic's fictional diary series, My Story.

Fifteen-year-old Euphemia Grant is the daughter of a merchant in Inverness. She goes to spend some time with her uncle and aunt in Edinburgh and she is there when Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Highlanders occupy the city. Phemie attends the various balls and parties and is thrilled when Prince Charles dances with her. But although Phemie may have her head in the clouds she still manages to keep her feet on the ground and she is worried about the effect the Jacobites are having on her cousin Alan. Her fears are proved correct when Alan enlists in the Jacobite Army and marches away with them. But he writes to Phemie and, through his letters we can follow the course of the Jacobite campaign.

Meanwhile Phemie returns home to Inverness and arrives just before the Battle of Culloden. Before the Battle the attics of their house shelter loyalist refugees who have had their houses looted. Later the stables are filled with Jacobite prisoners and the kitchens with Redcoat guards. Phemie helps tend the wounded. In the midst of all this her cousin Alan arrives, badly wounded and Phemie is with him when an army surgeon amputates his leg.

As well as the actual rebellion this book also contains several of the minutia of seventeenth century life in Scotland.

The military campaigns apart, there is also a romance worked into the story. Phemie has many suitors but her choice is the ill-fated Alan.

A particularly interesting little snippet is when Phemie learns the original words of 'God save the King' with the line 'Rebellious Scots to crush.'
Years after finishing this diary Phemie finds it again when she is clearing out the attic and she decides to add a footnote where she tells of the death of the Duke of Cumberland and the life of dissipation being led by Prince Charlie in Italy. (She had seen him herself on a visit to Italy the previous year). Thinking of all the misery and suffering caused by the Rebellion she ends her diary with the words,

"May God curse both the two of them!"

Comes with historical notes and a section of contemporary illustrations.
This book forms a good introduction to the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 for young people but it must be said that the diary format has its limitations. For one thing it does not have the plot and structure of a conventional novel. It also does not have the same impact as the brevity of Phemie's style means that events do not stay in the memory as they would if more time was spent on them.

This is more an easy way of learning history than a story or a novel.

The Last Wolf, Michael Morpurgo, Doubleday, 2002, £10.99, hardback, 92pages, ISBN 0-385-60222

With his foster father slain at the Battle of Culloden, fifteen-year-old Robbie McLeod is hiding in the hills. He is fleeing from a band of Butcher Cumberland's Redcoats and is about to be caught when the soldiers suddenly break off the chase in search of a different quarry. They kill a wolf and Robbie later sees, painted on a rock, "Near this rock was killed the last wolf in Scotland 24th April, 1746."

But it was not the last wolf because Robbie finds its cub. Convinced that its mother had saved his life, Robbie cares for the tiny creature. Later he takes it to Edinburgh -- after first disguising its now familiar wolf shape with sheep shears. He is found by a ship's captain whose own son was also killed at Culloden. This captain is smuggling Jacobite refugees over to America and Robbie and the now young wolf go with them.

This rather unusual story of the savage aftermath of the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 is given a modern framework. A twenty-first century descendant of Robbie Mcleod is bored while convalescing from a bout of pneumonia. His granddaughter lends him her computer and her grandfather starts to research his family history. He makes contact with a distant cousin in America who has recently found the will of Robbie McLeod. And as well as his possessions Robbie also left an account of his life.

An interesting story of the Jacobite Rebellion which is given an extra dimension by the relationship between the boy and the wolf. Should appeal to animal lovers as well as budding historians.

Simply told for age eight upwards but the content should appeal to animal lovers of all ages.


Kidnapped, Robert Louis Stevenson, Penguin Classics, 1994, £2.99, 219 pages. ISBN 0-14-043401-1

This book was first published in 1886. This edition comes complete with historical notes, a bibliography and a glossary of Scots words. Kidnapped is also published in Penguin Classics at £1 but I think that the dearer edition is well worth the extra money.

After the death of his parents sixteen-year-old David Balfour leaves the valley in the Scottish Borders where he has been brought up. The minister, Mr Campbell, gives him a letter and tells him to take it to the house of Shaws at Cramond near Edinburgh. The letter has been written by David's father and he says that the house of Shaws is where he came from.

Excited by the prospect that he may have wealthy relatives David sets off. But as he gets near his destination he finds that the name of Shaws is universally hated. When he gets his first sight of the house he is horrified. It is unfinished. Part of it is unroofed and many of the windows are unglazed. When he knocks at the door, a man wearing a nightcap threatens him with a When he knocks at the door, a man wearing a nightcap threatens him with a blunderbuss from an upstairs window, but, when David gives his name, he says he will come down and let him in. He opens the door and says,

"Go into the kitchen and touch naething."

David finds out that this is his misery Uncle Ebenezer. Later he finds out that his father was the elder son and that he, David, is the rightful heir to Shaws but before he can see a lawyer he finds himself a prisoner aboard the brig Covenant. His uncle has arranged for him to be sold into slavery in the Carolinas.

This is only the beginning of David's troubles and misfortunes. The brig runs down a small boat in a fog but one man manages to jump aboard. This is the Jacobite Alan Breck Stewart - a collector of the second rent the unfortunate Highlanders pay to their exiled clan chiefs abroad. David and Alan become friends and David helps Alan defend himself against the crew of the Covenant who try to rob him.

Then further disaster. The brig is wrecked but David and Alan both reach land safely - although separately. They meet up again in Appin just as Colin Campbell, the factor appointed by the government to collect the official rents, is murdered. David is suspected of being an accomplice. So David and Alan find themselves on the run.

David wants to find his way back to Cramond and the lawyer Mr Rankeillor to see if he can recover his inheritance - and get himself cleared of suspicion regarding the murder. But before him is a long and arduous journey through difficult terrain with the ever present danger of capture by the Redcoats. Will he reach Cramond safely?

Kidnapped is simply packed with adventure. It is also full of characters who come alive and just leap from the pages. The background is given in meticulous detail. There are maps and, as it says in the notes,

"All of the other Appin locations mentioned in Kidnapped can be precisely traced with the book in one hand and a good map in the other."

This authenticity is maintained all through the book.

I have loved this book ever since I first read it at the age of twelve. It is a thrilling adventure story which vividly reveals conditions in the Highlands after the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. It is the kind of book which seems better each time it is read.

Stevenson wrote a sequel to Kidnapped - Catriona. This is not a children's book but it does explain what happened to David and Alan afterwards - and what happened about the murder.


The White Cockade, Janis Dawson, Scholastic, 1998, £2.99. 195 pages. ISBN 0590139479

This is another in the Forget me Not teenage romance series.

When Jenna Marsden's mother dies she knows that her grasping stepfather means to get his greedy hands on her inheritance. She knows she must escape. She lays her plans carefully and books her passage on a ship sailing from London to Inverness, where she will be met by someone who will take her to her grandfather, a local laird.

The year is 1746 and Jenna arrives at her grandfather's house just before the Battle of Culloden. Her grandfather is for King George but his son, Ewan, is a supporter of the Stewarts. He is wounded at Culloden but his faithful steward, Sandy manages to get him home where Jenna helps to tend his wounds and hide him from the soldiers led by Lieutenant James Farnby. Jenna's situation is further complicated by the fact that both Ewan and James are attracted to her.

The White Cockade has more of a story than many romances. In fact there is so much action that it could almost qualify as mixed genre - adventure/romance. We are shown Jenna hiding Ewan in the cellar while the Redcoats are just above in the kitchen, Jenna being held a prisoner by the wild highlander Red Rory and his men, and finally Jenna being threatened with a knife by the sinister Bonn-a-se'. But, true to the romance genre, all is resolved in the end.

The fact that the story moves at a fast pace does not stop much information about the Scottish Highlands from being included. Some examples are: - the local way of dressing with the men in kilts or trews (narrow tartan trousers) and the poorer people (men and women) going barefoot, the "black houses" made of sods of earth, and the highland ponies known as garrons. These facts are carefully woven into the story as in the case of the detailed description of Ewan's blue bonnet. It probably saves Jenna's life when she stumbles upon some clansmen in the act of hiding guns. But when they see Ewan's silver badge on the bonnet they send for him instead of harming her.

There is a historical note about the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 at the end.

An exciting, enjoyable story with a good background.


Over the Sea to Skye. A Tale of Bonnie Prince Charlie. Kirsty White, Franklin Watts, 1998, £3.99, Paperback. 64 pages. ISBN 0-7496-3126-0

This book was first published in hardback in 1997. It is one of the Sparks series for children of seven upwards. it is about 5.000 words long.

Maggie is the daughter of the chief of the McDonnell clan. Her father has always supported the Jacobite cause but he says that Charlie's army should have stopped in Edinburgh and should never have invaded England and he orders his own men to return home. Maggie's two young brothers are excited about the Rebellion and play at fighting but Maggie tells them that "Nothing's right about war. No good ever comes from killing people."

Then Charlie is defeated at Drummosie, or Culloden and the McDonnell castle is surrounded by Redcoats searching for Charlie and anyone else who has survived the battle. Maggie goes for a ride and comes across Prince Charlie hiding in the hills with a few of his loyal followers. They ask Maggie for help. How can Maggie help the Prince and what part does her wily old Uncle Lachlan play?

A lightly told story with a humorous touch. Explains simply the main points of the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. Comes with some very useful notes on Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Jacobites, Flora MacDonald, and highland dress.


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