Saturday, December 12, 2009

Long Shadows

The sun stays low on the horizon throughout its brief daily sojourn in this season. The result is that shadows tend to be longer than when the sky is higher, hence long shadows to describe this time of year. The phrase also conjures in my mind the social or psychological impact of objects, such as the relic of this 18th century barracks at Glenelg looming out of the winter twilight.

At first I took the sign on the gate "No entry to Bernera barracks" too literally, so I waded through a damp field to get the back of the barracks. Only then did I realize that the No entry sign was not a sign post for the path to the barracks, but to the barracks themselves. They are in such a ruinous condition that getting too close to them is risky.

The next day we returned in daylight to have a closer look and took the footpath to the front of what remains of the enclosing wall and the two dormitory buildings. This gable end looks like watchful eyes to me. I tried to imagine what it must have felt like to have had this outpost of what was, essentially, an occupying army, overlooking the glen. Even now in its partial decay, it remains the largest building in the area.

The internet provided information about the architecture--a barracks was a new idea in the 18th century, replacing fortifications; plans of its layout, names of the designer and some of the social history, but nothing to tell me what it was like for the one solider who manned the barracks in its waning days or how the people felt about its intrusion. I could well imagine that a soldier from London looking out over the empty glen could feel an intense isolation.

The barracks was never filled to its capacity--240 troops. The officers lived in a separate set of buildings that still exist today but as private homes. A major battle took place before the barracks--a depot for government troops--could be built. Bernera was one of four such buildings conceived by General Wade as part of the strategy to tame the highlands. It took three or five years (sources vary) to build the barracks and the construction was more expensive than originally planned. The barracks was never fully occupied and became, in turn, a poor house and, ironically, housing for some of the people displaced by the clearances.

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At 1:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 1:21 PM, Blogger Hayden said...

wonderful piece. so shocking to think of one man - and an enemy to the locals - living there alone. Not a happy situation, I'd not have wanted the job.


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