Bill Leslie's Carolina Conversations

Return to the Isle of Skye: Scotland's beauty revisted

Posted November 10, 2013

The Isle of Skye is like a trip into another world. The large and northern Scottish Island has many dimensions. Some of the landscapes look almost lunar. Others evoke fairytale images of trolls and ghosts. Still others knock your socks off with a rugged but breathtaking beauty.

My first trip here came more than 25 years ago. I consider it one of my greatest accomplishments at WRAL. I convinced the television station to pay for me to go to Scotland! Photographer Rick Armstrong and I did a WRAL news series called “Tar Heel Tartans.” It was a look at North Carolina’s cozy connection with Scotland. We took a bagpiper with us. We followed Bill Caudill to the Isle of Skye, where he traced his family roots. The trip must have had a profound impact on the young college student from Waxhaw, NC. Caudill went on to become director of the Scottish Heritage Center at St. Andrews College in NC. I usually get to see Bill at least once a year at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games in Linville. We still talk about his magical first trip to Scotland.

After our flight to London, we traveled by train overnight to Inverness in the Scottish Highlands. We rented a car and began what would become a rolling history lesson. Bill Caudill was a history major and he played the role of professor. He explained to Rick and me why North Carolina is the home of many residents of Scottish descent. Lowland Scots, including my Leslie ancestors, migrated to Northern Ireland for a chance at a better life living on land taken away from Irish Catholics. However, crop failures, rising land rent, religious tensions and other factors drove these Ulster-Scots on to America. My branch of the Leslie family moved from Pennsylvania down the Great Wagon Road to the Waxhaw area near Charlotte. Many other Scots-Irish travelers wound up in the mountains of North Carolina.

Our trip to Scotland included a stop at Culloden. This was the scene of a 1745 battle that would play a major role in the migration of Highland Scots to North Carolina. After the decisive English victory at Culloden, many Highland Scots were forced to give up their land. A favorable political and economic climate in North Carolina prompted large numbers of Highland Scots to settle in the Cape Fear region. Today you can still see evidence of those early Highland settlements in Cumberland, Scotland, Moore, Robeson and other NC counties. These early Scots included Flora McDonald who helped save the life of Bonnie Prince Charlie after his disastrous defeat at Culloden.

I remember the tears streaming down Bill Caudill’s face when he touched the land of his people’s birth on the Isle of Skye. I had a similar reaction when I stepped on the grounds of the Leslie Castle in Aberdeenshire. This trip prompted me to write a song called Celtic Soul which I recorded with the group Bragh Adair. Here are the lyrics:

Steaming north on a stallion of iron,
Up the Highland highway of steel.
Over bogs and bridges,
And heathery ridges,
And mountains so green they seem surreal,
How strange to be in a foreign land,
And feel more at home than I’ve ever been,
Where the lightning flashes,
And the thunder rolls,
I have come to claim my Celtic Soul.

O, how wild and rugged this land,
How sacred this place where I stand,
It’s a feeling that burns,
In a heart that yearns,
To touch the very place of my people’s birth,
Spirits of my ancient kin,
Rise up to greet me on the wind,
Where the lightning flashes,
And the thunder rolls,
I have come to claim my Celtic Soul.

With the help of photographer Richard Childs we will take you now on a journey to Scotland including the Isle of Skye. One of my favorite places on Skye is the beautiful town of Portree and Trotternish Ridge nearby. The music that accompanies the images is called “Portree” which is track 3 on my latest CD “Scotland – Grace of the Wild.”

scotland Isle of Skye


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