From Cheltenham to Lochiel

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It is a strange sensation, rereading a much-loved book after several decades, especially when you first came across it at an impressionable age. Would not my adult eyes, I wondered, see a creaking plot, banal or outdated sentiments, or a sugary romanticism, which had not struck me when I was young? It’s a risk. It may not be the book’s fault, simply that one has grown out of sympathy with the idea. For example, I cannot now bear to read Le Grand Meaulnes, for, in the intervening years since I was 16, it has become as lost to me as the lost domain itself. So it was with trepidation that I approached ‘The Jacobite Trilogy’ by D. K. Broster and, in particular, the first and best-known novel in the series, The Flight of the Heron (1925), a book I first read when I was 10.

I was especially fearful because this historical novel, about the rising of the Highland clans in support of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745, had such a profound effect on my youthful attitudes. In particular, it turned me (a Lowlander by blood whose Presbyterian forbears had almost certainly fought in ‘Butcher’ Cumberland’s army) into a staunch, enduring Jacobite. (Strangely, this led me into trouble. Although generally a polite child, I was downright rude to a teacher at school simply because her name was Campbell. Looking back, she must have been baffled as well as irritated by this eccentric behaviour, since the school was in rural Berkshire and, in 1963, 10-year-olds were generally more preoccupied with the Fab Four.)

Like many of the historical works of John Buchan which I read a little later, the trilogy also encouraged me to think that individuals can affect the course of history, a view that I have never quite forsaken. And I became sensitive to the allure of what the Scots call ‘romance’, which added hugely to my enjoyment of reading fiction.

I need not have worried that the enchantment might be broken. Rereading The Flight of the Heron

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About the contributor

Ursula Buchan writes on gardening. She is indebted for the biographical information about D. K. Broster to an appreciation of her by Belinda Copson.

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