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Issue 44 - Mony's country

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 44
April 2009

 

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Mony's country

David McVey goes on the trail of a Viking prince in Glen Urquhart.

Mony, the legend goes, was a Viking prince, a son of the King of Scandinavia; he and a rampaging band invaded Argyll in the 11th century. The native people defended themselves against the Viking hordes, who were eventually cut off from their longships and fled north-east along the Great Glen. The Vikings made one last stand around the hill of Craigmonie, but were defeated and Mony himself was mortally wounded. He died nearby at the place now known as Corrimony. His sister, who had travelled with the warrior band, survived and lived on nearby, an accepted member of the local community.

That is the story, anyway. Some writers place the events two centuries earlier, while Mony is sometimes Monie, and, frankly, there is little historical evidence that he, his sister, or his warriors ever existed. What does exist is a string of place names running the length of Glen Urquhart that bear witness to Mony and his tale. And if you link all of the sites – and you can do it on foot, by car, by bus or on a bike – you will have had a memorable time among some forgotten corners of the Scottish Highlands. So Mony is a useful fellow, even if he did not exist.

We start the trail at Craigmonie, a low, forested hill above the busy Loch Ness tourist village of Drumnadrochit. The Ordnance Survey map spells the hill’s name as Craig Mony; nothing about Mony is ever simple.

The hill is owned and cared for by the Woodland Trust and the waymarked walks round the forest are sign posted by low pillars bearing the imprint of a scary looking Viking warrior. Face-to-face with Mony at last. The climb to the summit is short, sharp and quick, while gentler souls can simply admire its pine-tufted summit from the village.

Tradition points to Craigmonie as the site of the climactic battle that dealt Mony his mortal blow. What is certain about Craigmonie is that there are signs of an Iron Age (ie, centuries before Mony) defensive settlement on its slopes. The summit was once used as a gallows hill, but these days it is a peaceful place with views over the village to Loch Ness. I have never seen the pine martens that dwell in the forest, but I have sat on the bench at the top watching red squirrels hurl themselves gymnastically between the Scots Pines that overtop the summit. Roe deer are often seen, too.

Glen Urquhart, the valley of the Enrick Water, runs west from Drumnadrochit.

About eight miles on, a narrow side-road leads to Corrimony. It is a short drive, while the energetic can follow forest tracks on foot or bike all the way from Drumnadrochit. The Inverness-Drumnadrochit-Cannich bus can drop you at the Corrimony road-end.

Corrimony is a name that covers the scattered buildings and dwellings along this side-road. Corrimony Church, which you will see by the road, is one of the smallest buildings belonging to the Church of Scotland. Services are still held here once a month. The name ‘Corrimony’, however, is most commonly associated with the Corrimony Chambered Cairn which lies, also hard by the road, a mile further on. The stretch of road between them is a delight to walk, drive or cycle. It is narrow but wellsurfaced, has parallel avenues of soaring broadleaved trees and is surrounded by rich, green fields and woodland. Ignore the more rugged hills to the north and west and you could be in the Chilterns – not near the end of the road in a little-visited Highland glen.

The cairn is in the care of Historic Scotland and is an evocative monument. It dates from the Bronze Age, perhaps 4,000 years ago; again, long before Mony. The cairn is a ‘passage grave’ of a kind common around the Moray Coast; it is thought to have been the burial place of just one person, probably a woman. Those who are nimble, thin, and who do not mind getting the knees of their trousers mucky, can crawl into the now roofless burial chamber.

The road continues for another half-mile, meeting up again with the Enrick, which is in the act of curling round to flow from the south. The area around the upper river is now an RSPB Nature Reserve and a place of great beauty. First, though, we go to the very end of the road, past the hump-backed bridge that leads over the Enrick to Corrimony House, crossing the stream instead on a rather more functional concrete bridge. Soon after going through a gate, we are on a farm track in a livestock field dotted with trees in Capability Brown parkland style.

Again, it is difficult to convince yourself that you are 600ft up in a remote Highland Glen. On the left there is a rather self-effacing standing stone, currently held in a halfnelson by a couple of hefty fallen branches.

This is Mony’s Stone. I missed it at first when I was looking for it. How appropriate that Mony’s Stone should be as elusive as the man himself. Mony’s Stone is traditionally Mony’s burial site, but there is little basis for this legend.

Almost at the end of the Mony trail, now.

The Enrick is calm and gentle where it passes Corrimony House and farm. But upstream it starts to cut up rough with rapids and falls, and frequent puffs of peat-froth clog the eddies. The delightful footpath into the nature reserve follows the west bank of the river through beautiful stands of pine where the Scottish crossbill can be seen.

Further up this river, on an inaccessible craggy section, is Mony’s Cave. Why did Mony need a cave? Surely he was dead or dying by the time he got here? Is this an echo of an alternative burial legend? We cannot possibly know. What is certain is that in this quiet, lonely and very peaceful place of foaming river and wind-tossed woodland, Mony’s trail has gone cold.

Colour me a little sceptical; ‘Mony’ looks to me awfully like the Gaelic Mhonaidh or Monadh, meaning simply ‘moor.’ Alarge hill that lies between Corrimony and Loch Ness is Meall an Fuar Mhonaidh, ‘the hill of the cold moor’, while the Monadhliath – the ‘grey moors’ – lie beyond Loch Ness. Is Craigmonie simply ‘the crag of the moor’? Is Mony, then, simply a later invention to fit some existing place-names?

Well, to be honest, it hardly matters. Stories and legends, whether or not they are true, spice up the landscape and add to its value for resident and visitor alike. And there is no doubt that, if you follow Mony’s trail, you will experience some of the lesser-known delights of this part of the Highlands. Go.

Visit. Enjoy.