methow grist 2011-2014 archive



A trip, evolving history and a castle

Learning history as a chronological record of significant events is quite flat. Learning history in the landscapes and settings where it took place is multi-dimensional and amazingly alive with information about the characters, intrigue, and complications.

More than 20 locals ranging from 10 years old to 80-something spent much of June exploring history in England and Scotland with historian Bill Hottell. For 17 years, Bill has spent one or two winter mornings a week teaching history to the valley’s life-long learners. This coming winter will be winter three for studying British history.

View of Duart Castle taken from ferry leaving Isle of Mull, Scotland. Photo courtesy of Bill Hottell.

Great Britain has layers of history. We tend to think of the English as, well, English, but in the 12,000 years since the glaciers receded the island has been invaded (and then inhabited) by Celts, Romans, Anglos-Saxons, Vikings and Normans to name a few. Each invasion added complexity to the culture. In recent decades, immigration from the Commonwealth and Europe has changed the faces (and food) of Great Britain.

Heritage sites are actively protected. Some old places (for example, Stonehenge) haven’t changed, but places like York Minster, which has been occupied by a church since 627, have evolved following fires and more fires, invaders, looters, wars, etc. Some buildings have been re-purposed, based on the whims of those in power. Other buildings have stayed in the same type of use for hundreds of year; for example the charming Swan Hotel in Lavenham where we stayed two nights.

On the Isle of Mull in Scotland, the group went to Duart Castle and met with Lachlan Maclean, the 28th Chieftain of the Maclean Clan. He can trace his lineage back to 1176.

Some of the Methow Valley travel group chatting with Lachlan Maclean at Duart Castle. Photo courtesy of Bill Hottell.

Duart Castle was built in the 1360’s on land that Mary Macdonald brought as her dowry. The castle has stayed in the family with periodic exceptions like their civil war when Cromwell’s forces killed 750 members of the Maclean Clan.

Large numbers of Scots immigrated to the new world after the clearances which began in the late 1700’s. Scotland has a population of five million, but 50 million people around the world claim Scottish heritage.

There are many accepted spellings of the family name. Six McLean brothers settled in the Methow Valley in the late 1800’s, and some of their descendents still live here. Interest in one’s heritage leads many people to visit Scotland, to search genealogical records and/or to attend Clan reunions: locals Sheela McLean and Tammie McLean Ellis did in 2002.

Our world is ever changing. We can preserve our heritage. Invaders and immigrants make our cultures and customs evolve. Globalization has always been with us. None of us is pure—we’re all mongrels. You can travel, read, listen, watch, but get out and EXPLORE THE WORLD.


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