Ian Rankin used Mousa Broch as a secret hideout for one of the characters in the eighth Inspector Rebus novel Black and Blue (1997).
Rebus tracks down a man sleeping rough in the broch, fearing that a gang of killers are on his tail. The Orkneyinga Saga describes the location as ‘an unhandy place to get at’ for an attack. Not a bad choice then!
With that I got down on my elbows and knees, took the rope in both hands, and worked myself, feet foremost, through the tunnel.
When the earth failed under my feet, I thought my heart would have stopped; and a moment after I was demeaning myself in mid-air like a drunken jumping-jack.
I have never been a model of piety, but at this juncture prayers and cold sweat burst from me simultaneously.”
This is how the dashing Viscomte Anne de Keroual de St. Ives, a Napoleonic soldier, describes his escape from Edinburgh Castle in Robert Louis Stevenson’s unfinished novel St. Ives: Being The Adventures of a French Prisoner in England (1897).
Edinburgh Castle was used to house prisoners of war throughout much of its history
Stevenson fictionalises a real-life escape made by 49 intrepid French prisoners of war in 1811.
Having cut a hole in the wall, the prisoners using washing lines to abseil down Castle Rock. The escapees were ultimately re-captured. However, the ease of their escape spelt the end for the castle as a prison. The escape hole can still be seen today.
Suffering from illness, Stevenson was unable to write St Ives and instead dictated thirty chapters to his stepdaughter. The novel was completed a year later by Arthur Quiller-Couch and went on to inspire two films and a BBC TV series.
The ‘prisoners’ escape hole’ at Edinburgh Castle
Clava Cairns in Outlander
…well, sort of!
About 4,000 years old, the Clava Cairns were built by our ancient ancestors to host spiritual rituals or as resting places for important individuals. Therefore, the sacred site provides us with many clues to the beliefs of Bronze Age society.
For instance, the standing stones are placed with a focus on the midwinter sunset because this was an important turning point in the year.
Many of today’s visitors associate Clava Cairns with “Craigh na Dun” – a similar, fictional stone circle. It features in Diana Gabaldon’s time travel novel Outlander (1991).
In the book, nurse Claire Randall travels back in time through a portal at the standing stones. While we’re pretty sure you can’t travel through dimensions at Clava Cairns, they remain a very special place.
What have we missed?
From Heart of Midlothian to Harry Potter, Treasure Island to Trainspotting, Scotland’s historic environment features in a wealth of terrific tales. We couldn’t possibly list them all.
Head over to Historic Scotland Twitter or Facebook to let us know what we’ve missed! Maybe you’ve been inspired to pick up the pen and have your own historic story to share?
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