In the middle of Scotland

Centre of Scotland, stoneHave you ever found yourself in the middle of Scotland?  Not just vaguely messing about in it, as it were, or immersed in its cultural hub (wherever that is), but bang in the geographical centre of the country? There really is a centre of Scotland – of course there is – and its location is marked by a splendid chunk of rock, just to make sure you don’t walk on by without realising  where you are.  The centre of Scotland stone sits on a patch of grass on an unclassified lane, the Glentruim Road, between the A889 and the A9 in the Scottish Highlands.  It is just a few miles south-west of Newtonmore in the Cairngorm National Park.  The lane was in fact part of General Wade’s network of military roads, built in the wake of the 1715 Jacobite rebellion to help move troops around more easily should a further rebellion break out.  This particular road was constructed in 1719 to connect nearby Ruthven Barracks with Fort Augustus, and includes the high Corrieyairack Pass ten miles away to the west.

Centre of ScotlandThe stone at the centre of Scotland was unveiled as recently as 2015.  Before that, lost souls seeking the nucleus of the nation – and, clearly, people are desperate to know exactly where this is – had to scrabble about searching for a crude cross carved into one of the boulders on the dry stone wall that runs along the northern edge of the road.  What they did before the cross was put there is anyone’s guess.  And it’s a good job dear old General Wade built the convenient road, too.  Anyway, the hard to spot cross was simply not good enough for centrist-loving folk; a nice, handsome, boulder makes much more of a statement and cannot be missed.

Cross, Centre of Scotland

X marks the spot. Thanks, Pat!

To be honest, we wouldn’t have known about it, but for our good friends Pat and Amanda.  Pat, bless him, even found the original cross in the wall and took the photo of it that I have included here.  Thanks, Pat.

As you can see, the charms of Scotland’s centre are unlikely to keep you engaged for more than a modest moment or two; but there is a wonderful view over the Spey Valley – and an interesting monument to the Macpherson clan nearby, of which more in a minute.

The stone at the centre of Scotland is one of those quirky attractions that appeals to the hard-core fan of A Bit About Britain.  But how – and why – did it start?  Who thought of it?  I picture a boffin-like chap sitting over his porridge one fine day, having an epiphany moment:  “Ah – if only we knew where the centre of Scotland was!  Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?!  Imagine all the wonderful things we could do: the benefits to mankind; the articles that could be written; it might even become a visitor attraction!”  Fair enough, you say, but how would you go about calculating it?  Is it the spot farthest from all borders and boundaries, the point where all the lines on a map intersect?  Do you include islands? – Scotland has more than 790 of those, numbers depending on whether a lonely wave-lashed, guano-stained, rock poking up out of the ocean is classified as an island. Is your reckoning purely two-dimensional, or do you take height/depth into account as well? In which case, how deep do a country’s borders run?  It shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that there are several contenders for the illustrious accolade of being Scotland’s middle.  I liked the suggestion on Newtonmore’s website – Newtonmore is the closest village to the centre of Scotland – that the centre of Scotland is “the point at which a cardboard cut-out of Scotland could be perfectly balanced on the tip of a pencil.” But then I discovered that’s pretty much the method that the Ordnance Survey, the UK’s national mapping agency, uses; it is called the gravitational method.  The experts at OS also point out that the centre will shift over time, because the shape of a land mass constantly evolves due to erosion and other geomorphological processes. We all knew that, didn’t we?

Spey Valley, Centre of Scotland, Highlands of ScotlandSo, inevitably, you’re going to ask about the centres of England, Wales, Britain and the United Kingdom.  All in good time.  Similar difficulties apply, of course, a further factor being the political dimension: should, for example (and with tongue firmly in cheek), England ever become independent, then the centre of the UK will change. Right now, I’m going to be lazy and refer you to what the Ordnance Survey has to say about the geographic centre of Britain.

Macpherson Memorial, Glentruim, HighlandsThe Macpherson monument (you hadn’t forgotten that, had you?) is a cairn erected in 1996 to the eternal memory of Ewan Macpherson of Cluny (1706-64), who was colonel of the local Badenoch men in the ’45 rising.  He was at Derby with Bonnie Prince Charlie, the skirmish at Clifton (reckoned by some to be the last battle on English soil) and the Battle of Falkirk.  In the awful aftermath of the Battle of Culloden, he spent nine years on the run from the government, sometimes hiding in a cave, eventually escaping to France. He was chief of the clan from 1746 until his death in Dunkirk.  The monument stands in sight of Creag Dhubh (black rock), a 2350 foot (716 metre) high mountain to the north, which was also Clan Macpherson’s war cry.  At the bottom of the commemorative plaque is the Macpherson clan motto, “Na Bean Don Chat Gun Làmhainn”, “Touch Not The Cat But A Glove”, sometimes rendered as “Touch Not The Cat Bot A Glove”. ‘Bot’ means without. The reference is to a wildcat and the wildcat’s ‘glove’ is its pad. The ungloved cat has its vicious claws out.  So, the motto is (apparently) a warning not to tangle with the violent Macphersons.  Macpherson, by the way, means ‘son of the parson’; they breed tough parsons in the Highlands.

Macpherson, clan motto, memorialIf you get the chance, visit the Clan Macpherson Museum in Newtonmore – it’s fascinating. And there’s a good hostelry, the Glen Hotel, opposite.

Macpherson Clan Museum, Newtonmore

50 thoughts on “In the middle of Scotland

  1. Lisa G.

    I love that first photo, Mike. Just finished reading The Road to Little Dribbling, and I realized that your blog is a lot like Bill Bryson – very knowledgeable and vastly entertaining. But without the rude parts. 😉

  2. Clare Pooley

    It is good to know that someone had gone to all the trouble of calculating the centre of Scotland and marking it with a cross. And now, someone has transported a stone there to make it easier to see! I appreciate dedication like that and if I’m ever in the area I will definitely look for the rock, admire the view, visit the Macpherson Monument and have a drink at the local hostelry. Thank you Mike, yet again, for introducing me to another interesting feature of our wonderful British Isles.

  3. Mj Hoop

    I love it that the hotels/hosterlies/ inns are such old structures. Human-sized, & as you say, well-located. Charming, if sometimes cold and barren looking. Even the B&Bs in many places are interesting and every bit as much a feature as some guy’s big old rock. That changing sky is magnificent. One could be outdoors or by a window 24/7, lest miss an exhilarating and powerful change in the view.

    Nice photos. Boring rock. We have plenty of those over here in my mountains. But the history makes yours more classy. Nice post!

  4. hilarymb

    Hi Mike – well that was an interesting find … and I’d love to get there to visit – to see the stone, to read the plaque, and to see the cat! It is fun trying to ascertain – things we probably never really need to know … except it is near the head of the Spey valley, obviously where good whiskey can be found … and where a good night’s sleep might be taken.

    Working out the centre, or the number of islands, or the length of the coastline … and then realising we are sitting on a floating mass … no wonder it’s difficult and for that matter never static … we live precariously … and happily with our odd brain and its knowledge demands.

    Lovely post – cheers Hilary

      1. hilarymb

        Perhaps that’s why the Romans took grapes north … I cannot stand whisky! Except wine growing never got to the Spey … ?! I stay in my south on chalk – good for vines. When I did the A-Z and used F for fractals when talking about British coasts … I realised how complicated calculating length, height etc of our little lands. I think I need a glass of wine … way too early! Cheers H

  5. mekslibrarian

    You have piqued my curiosity – I am now wondering whether there is a middle of Germany marked by a monument, and whether that was shifted before or after the reunion of the two Germanies.

  6. artandarchitecturemainly

    The Glen Hotel in the photo looks good, inside and out. Even better, it is well located for a tour of the Speyside Malt Whisky Trail. Yes the castles and museum are excellent but the whiskey was sublime.

  7. Masrud

    So much here to ponder! Glad you explained the sign. Kinda like the Ilkey (sp??) Moor song, right?
    And of course knowing where the exact center is is important. It’s the kind of thing we expect from the British, who are far more interesting than we are. Here we are simply occupied with trying to climb out of a snowbank.

    1. Mike@bitaboutbritain Post author

      Hmm – not sure about the linguistics of ‘bar’ v ‘bot’! I think trying to climb out of a snowbank is probably more of a priority than working out the centre of wherever one happens to be!

  8. Mark Spitzer

    Mike – where did the stone itself come from and how was it selected? (I’m assuming it didn’t just happen to be sitting there at the center point)

    1. Mike@bitaboutbritain Post author

      You mean maybe the Gods put it there? 🙂 I’m afraid all I know is that stone was supplied by George Campbell, which seems to be a firm of contractors in Newtonmore. Probably, the folk at the Newtonmore website (link in the text) could tell you more.

  9. Anne Clare

    FINALLY! Now, when I make it over there someday (fingers crossed!) I’ll know just where to go! As I’m sporting a few nice scratches from our kitten, it seems like those MacPhersons knew what they were talking about… Great article, as always. Thanks!

  10. Easymalc

    I’ve enjoyed reading this post about something that I had even considered before. It’s now got me thinking about where is the centre of anywhere. I’m almost wishing I hadn’t read it now

  11. franklparker

    Hate to be pedantic, Mike, but is it in the centre of Scotland including all (or even some) of the islands or just the mainland? The same would, of course, apply to Wales. As it happens I live quite close to the centre of Ireland – although I don’t think there’s a rock to mark it. I’ll check and let you know. Of course, finding the centre of Ireland introduces another problem, apart from the one about islands, as there is that border that’s stimied TM the PM’s attempt to deliver Brexit.

    1. Mike@bitaboutbritain Post author

      I think I’ve covered the general issues in the article, Frank – and provided the appropriate link to the experts at the OS for folk that want to know more. To specifically answer your question – I don’t think it really matters!

  12. Helen Devries

    ‘Had you seen these roads before they were made
    You would lift up your hands and bless General Wade’.
    Something my father recited…though I’ve probably misremembered it somewhat…but where it came from I have no idea.

  13. M.B. Henry

    I have not been in the center of Scotland. I haven’t been there at all! 🙁 It’s on my list though – and I’m glad there’s a rock there now because I never would have been able to find that tiny little cross in the stone. Such an interesting read, as always 🙂

  14. Alli Templeton

    What a lovely idea to mark the centre of Scotland, and with the added benefit of a beautiful view. I had no idea the centre was marked at all, but last time I was up in the area was before 2015, and there’s no way I’d have noticed the previous ‘x’ marker! Interesting story behind the Macpherson monument as well, and I love their ‘don’t mess with the Macphersons’ motto. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

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