Picture This: Ruined Ruthven Barracks

by Keith Savage

Mounted on a sloped platform of green earth beneath a cornflower blue sky, the ruined Ruthven Barracks seems to pirouette on my right. I stop the car and trudge along the side of the highway as semis careen by, shrieking and blowing like a blossom of thunderstorms in the night. When the trees part, I see sunshine scrubbing the gloom off the stones moldering beneath the white ribbon of the Cairngorm mountains. This is the real world painting a picture in my mind. At this moment, with the winds clutched tight in the mountains, the valley hangs in silence.

Almost 800 years ago the Wolf of Badenoch, Alexander Stewart, roamed this land. The son of a king, he clashed with the church and burned Elgin to the ground. His castle has long been lost to the eyes of men, and one fortification after another has crowned the green ramparts in the valley of Ruthven. The Jacobite uprisings of the 18th century prompted English troops to build several military bastions throughout central Scotland bent on containing their impulse to freedom. The barracks look like the exposed skeleton of an ancestor. Perhaps it’s a fitting image for a Scotland on the verge of independence.

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