anghara (anghara) wrote,

A couple of days ago when I was doing "question time"...

I asked gillpolack whether she believed that there are places on this earth that are pemanently haunted by their past. She said yes, and then, later, elaborated by sharing an eerie experience about a certain hill in York - it's on her journal, and it's a story worth reading...

...and she said she'd like my take, so here's one of my stories.

I went to Scotland in the late 80's, on a (shudder) package tour - mostly filled with the more obnoxious kind of American tourist, the kind that wears checked shorts in public and the tribe travels together with an assortment of cameras and crisp packets and hollers out to one another in loud voices at every opportunity. But I had a limited time window, and this tour took in everything I wanted to see and the price was right. So, there I was. On the bus.

One of the places we stopped at was Culloden.

This was the place where one of the bloodiest battles of the Jacobite uprising took place. The Highlanders were decimated, with the number of dead so high, and their identities so unknown, that they were buried in large "clan pits"into which they were sorted by the tartan which they wore. There is a grave marker above each grave with nothing by the clan name on it: "Cameron". "Macgregor". And nobody knows any more even how many men lie underneath those stones, let alone who they had once been.

There's a large gravel parking lot, and facing it an audio-visual centre where they showed a looped documentary about the history of the place - when it ended, it would just begin again at the beginning. You came out of that place through a giftshop full of little tartan-clad figurines, a bunch of ashtrays with bagpipes depicted on them, oh, you know the game.

The auditorium was where most of the AMericans went.

I struck out across the parking lot. At the edge of it there was a low fence, a single wooden railing, and beyond that an open field. Beyond that, a little way away, you could see the stones making the clan mass graves and the cairn which was raised to the remembrance of the battle.

The fence was ridiculous, barely there, with just a gap to let you into the field, no gate. And yet... it was a boundary as real and powerful as anything I have evern known. You stepped from the gravel to the grass, across the border demarcated by that fence... and you stepped into a silent world - no engines, no birdsong, nothing... nothing except the whisper, whisper, whisper of many lost voices. COnstant. WIth an almost physical weight.

I crossed to where the graves were. I took one photograph. ANd then I sank down on my knees and just wept.

And the voices whispered, whispered, whispered in my head... until quite suddenly I could not take any more and I fled Culloden's burial ground, across the silent field, back across the boundary... back into a world where car engines revved, and real voices called out to people named Chuck and Betsy telling them to "OOOOH, look at this..."

The thing is, I saw some of those bright and happy people trot off across the field. I saw them talking and pointing and taking a dozen photographs, posing next to the burial stones. And it dawned on me that they could not hear it. They were simply floating above the voices. Living in that day. Not in the past, never in the past, completely unable to let the voice of that past even brush past their consciousness.

Why it spoke to me, I don't know. But when we left the place, sitting in that bus, I still had tears running down my cheeks as I left the ghosts behind me.
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