From the four corners of the globe the Camerons came. When asked their destination, whether by airport immigration officers or fellow travelers along the way, the response was one in the same - Lochaber, the land of our forefathers, otherwise known as "Cameron Country." So many would descend upon Lochaber that local papers would later refer to "Camerons from throughout the world arriving in droves," with their "invasion" credited for invigorating the local tourism trade. Over four days, beginning on Thursday, August 2nd, Camerons participated in scheduled events that culminated in an International Gathering at Achnacarry, residence of Colonel Sir Donald Hamish Cameron of Lochiel, K.T., the XXVI Chief of Clan Cameron. Lochiel throws open the gates of his estate and welcomes all clansfolk once every five to ten years - this first get together of the new Millennium was by far the grandest Gathering yet.
As the Camerons began arriving for the Gathering in Fort William, Banavie, Spean Bridge and other communities in the Achnacarry "neighborhood," approximately seventy determined men, women and children joined together early on the morning of August 2nd at the Glen Nevis Visitor Centre to kick-off the weekend's events. The goal: to ascend the trail up Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in Britain, to the cold and cloud shrouded summit. Why climb this mountain? In addition to the usual answer, which of course is "because it's there," Camerons wanted to glimpse a view of their ancestral homeland from the summit, perhaps gaining a taste of what their forefathers experienced in these same mountains. Hikers were given a grand send-off by their well-wishers and also Donald Angus Cameron, Younger of Lochiel, and his son, Donald Andrew Cameron, both of whom arrived in the glen to bid adieu to the Camerons as they went skyward. Led by expert guides the Cameron team set off at about 8:30 AM, and within a two hours were immersed in the clouds. Throughout the morning the view to the glen below would clear for a few minutes at a time, but before long the clouds were all that could be seen. Among other clansfolk making the ascent were Lochiel's granddaughter, Emily Cameron, President of the Clan Cameron Association's Scotland Branch, David Cameron (who celebrated his sixtieth birthday by making the ascent) and representatives from eight branches of the Clan Cameron Association. There were even two children, both nine years of age, who made the trek up to 4,406 feet with their fathers: Maihri Cameron of England and Ryan Cameron of the United States.
After approximately two and one half-hours the trekkers reached the Red Burn, which at 2,230 feet above sea level is the halfway point on the ascent. After taking the first lengthy pause of the morning's effort a group of twenty or so Camerons turned back down the mountain to the Visitor Centre. Many climbers never reach the Red Burn, consequently, making it there in itself is quite an accomplishment. Regardless of whether they would turn back or head upward to the summit, many clansfolk took the opportunity to re-fill their water bottles from the burn, which streams down with crystal clear, ice cold runoff.
Given the varied speed of participants, the summit was reached in four to five hours, and a rough count indicated that fifty-two Camerons succeeded making it to the peak. These sons of the hound were given an unfriendly greeting: temperatures that were just above freezing, sleet-like rain and wind gusts were thrown in, just to make the experience a wee bit more interesting. A portion of the clansfolk remained on the summit long enough to hear Alasdair (Astie) Cameron of Nevis Bridge, Lochaber play "March of the Cameron Men" on his bagpipes, which he has packed up the mountain. When asked about the experience the following day, he related that it was next to impossible to finger the pipes, given the freezing conditions on the summit. There was also a partial group photo taken on the summit, though it was difficult to view the faces on participants through the fog. Let it be known that a Cameron tartan flag, upon an oaken pole, blew in the stiff wind on the summit at approximately 1:15PM.
As rumors had suggested, the descent was in many ways more difficult than the ascent. The continuous rain that greeted hikers in the morning hours turned burns and small scenic waterfalls into torrents on the way down - one had to concede that he or she would, quite simply, get "soaked." The majority of hikers made it back down to the glen by 5 PM, with the final group making it back just after 7 PM. It was a wet, miserable day, but based on the overall reaction of participants they wouldn't trade the memories of that difficult time on the mountain for anything.
Friday, August 3rd saw fair weather return to Lochaber, which is always a welcome sign. In the early afternoon hours over two hundred Camerons gathered for the Lochiel Estate Tour. This remarkable event began in the Achnacarry Town Hall, where Donald Angus Cameron, Younger of Lochiel was once again on hand to extend a warm welcome to clansfolk. Donald spoke briefly, then turned the floor over to four gentlemen, each of whom explained a different facet to the workings of the estate. Estate Manager Richard Sedwick gave an overview of the estate. His talk examined the Scottish Parliament's potential land reforms in the future and also the unique partnerships which Lochiel has approved for the Cameron lands. The next speaker, local historian Ian Rhodes, focused on Cameron history and also the resurgence of Gaelic in Lochaber, even amongst young school children. Stave Bracan of Marine Harvest, a company which has entered into long-term leases on Loch Arkaig, then took the floor. Marine Harvest has established numerous salmon hatcheries upon the loch, where the fish the early portions of their life before being shipped off to the Atlantic to complete their growth. The town hall meeting concluded with John Risby of the Forestry Commission, who detailed their 1,200 hectares (nearly 3,000 acres) leases upon the Lochiel Estate. With the noble goal of restoring the ancient Caledonian Pine Forest the Forestry Commission's work upon the estate is a wonderful investment in the future. As the speakers concluded their presentations many a Cameron's eyes were opened in regard to the functionality of a 70,000 acre estate in the twenty-first century.
Camerons were then led outside for a talk regarding deer stalking efforts. One of the major obstacles in reforestation efforts is that the red deer consume the young seedlings at quite an alarming rate. Hunting is an ideal solution to keeping the deer population in check, ensure the Forestry Commission's work and also provides a valuable source of revenue to support the estate. Many of the "wee ones" were thrilled to meet and greet the Highland ponies, which the stalkers use in their work. The stalkers were dressed in Lochiel tweed, which is a unique shade of green that enables them to secure the best possible camouflage amongst the heath and heather of the hillsides of the estate. While the ponies were seemingly calm and reserved, the estate's sheep were anything but "happy." Since they are only handled twice each year, and roam free for the most part at all other times, they were not overly enthused at being sheared in a demonstration for the attendees.
The next "leg" of the estate tour was the actual driving portion of the afternoon and took visitors northward into the heart of Lochiel's estate, to areas usually off-limits to visitors. After driving within sight of the shore of the River Arkaig cars were led across a bridge (quite near the site of the 1665 standoff between Camerons and Mackintoshes at the Fords of Arkaig) which provided scenic views of beautiful, pristine Loch Arkaig. Beginning at the northeast corner of the loch the tour then entered the "Dark Mile," a road which earned its name from being quite narrow and densely tree-shaded in the past. The River Arkaig runs roughly parallel to the Dark Mile, on the other side of Torr a Ghallain, the scenic low tree-clad ridge that separates the river and the road. On this route Camerons were treated to a roadside visit of Caig (Cia-aig) Falls, where the River Caig comes dashing down from the high hills north of Achnacarry into a deep pool that in turn flows into the Caig Burn. Legend has it that Camerons once chased a witch, in the form of a cat, over these falls to her death - the waters beneath still retain the name "Witch's Pool." Many Camerons may remember Caig Falls and its adjacent vintage bridge from their role in the motion picture "Rob Roy," where the title character uses a noose, meant for his own neck, to rappel off a Red Coat's neck into the Witch's Pool, effectively escaping his captors.
After stopping to view herds of cattle, an occasional red deer and the ever-present roaming sheep, the caravan rounded the corner of the road at Clunes and headed back toward Achnacarry. The Clan Cameron Museum awaited their return and busily supplied clansfolk with a myriad of wonderful Gathering-oriented gifts, including commemorative envelopes, pins, hats, and specially produced t-shirts proclaiming "Cameron - The Greatest Clan in the World." The museum was also well stocked with copies of the 4th edition (2001) of "The Camerons, A History of Clan Cameron," which had been revised with up-to-date information and improved photographic plates. Many Camerons were surprised to see a blushing bride and smiling groom stroll onto the museum grounds. At the same time the Camerons toured the estate Milwaukee, Wisconsin natives Richard Pfeiffer and Kerry Jo Vogl were exchanging their vows in Fort William, at MacIntosh Memorial Church. These Lake Michigan Chapter members had the company of Stone Mountain Branch members Marlene Cameron and James Whittum, who acted as their kilted Cameron witnesses for the service, which featured a young, talented local Lochaber piper, Ewen Henderson. The happy couple joined the Association's newly wed Western U.S. Regional President Shaun Rex and her husband Aaron Buchanan as the second set of honeymooning Camerons during the weekend in Lochaber.
Friday evening found the Camerons donning their kilts and assembling for a reception and cocktail party at the Milton Hotel in Fort William. A packed house was on hand as Donald Angus Cameron and David Cameron both welcomed the attending Camerons to the Gathering, with North American Commissioner Donald J. Cameron and Australian Chieftain Dr. Ian H. Cameron also greeting the audience. Many of the clansfolk has the opportunity to meet and greet Lochiel for the first time - he and Lady Margaret were in attendance and were both warm and accommodating to the clan. Lochiel sported Cameron Hunting tartan trews, along with a black dress jacket and walked the entire room personally welcoming his kith and kin. Many congratulations were in order for the chief on the occasion of his 50th anniversary of leading the Clan Cameron. The evening was a fitting occasion to rekindle past acquaintances and also begin forging new ones within the worldwide Cameron family. The reception hall at the Milton holds 250 individuals and was at capacity on Friday evening - this was just a prelude to the deluge of Camerons that would descend upon Achnacarry the following day.
Saturday morning, August 4th greeted Camerons throughout Lochaber with on and off rain showers, though promising weather was forecast as being ordered by Lochiel! The day's events began with Donald Andrew Cameron's "Ecotour" of the Lochiel Estate, which highlighted the red oak (Quercus Rubra) tree that would soon be presented to Lochiel on his fiftieth anniversary. As Noon arrived events began in earnest, with both Lochiel and his family being piped from their home onto the field at Achnacarry by Scotland Branch Piper, Astie Cameron. They were led to a specially protected enclosure for the presentation of the oak to the Chief of Clan Cameron. Lord Cameron of Loch Broom was called upon to address Lochiel on this occasion:
"Sir Donald, loyal Camerons, friends far and wide. We are gathered here neath Nevis' lofty peak once more to celebrate our bonds of kinship, ancient heritage and historied name. But before all, heartily, aye gladly, to pledge allegiance to our chief, 50 years our chief, Donald Dubh, as unstinting as his illustrious forebears in his dedication and devotion to us, his proud and thankful clansmen. Under his stalwart leadership the Camerons, wherever in this world's four corners they may be, have prospered: their name revered, their heritage honoured and their history renown. Lochiel, the clan salutes you. May this oak tree stand as a symbol for future generations of the Cameron's sturdy tradition, strength of fellowship, hopes for the future and enduring roots in the heart of Lochaber."
In addition to Lochiel numerous worldwide officers of the Clan Cameron Association took turns shoveling dirt into the tree's base, commemorating the planting. At this time Astie Cameron presented Lochiel with and consequently performed a special composed pipe tune, "Sir Donald Cameron of Lochiel: 50 Years Our Chief."
Soon afterwards a special cairn was dedicated, on the small hillside near the entrance of the Clan Cameron Museum. Over 125 stones were brought by Camerons to Achnacarry for inclusion in this cairn and were intermingled with native Achnacarry stone to build a magnificent and hopefully long-lasting marker. The contributors of all stones were noted by museum staff and a listing is planned to be produced in the near future. In addition to the regular stones approximately one dozen were engraved prior to being brought to Achnacarry, representing the various worldwide branches of the Clan Cameron Association. In the middle of the cairn a sealed aluminum time capsule was placed, which contained among other items various pins brought from the homes of clansfolk, 2001 coins from six different countries and both CD-R and diskette versions of the Clan Cameron Association's Millennium Newsletter, which was originally produced in late 1999. No one can say with certainty exactly when the capsule might once again see the light of day, but based on the quality construction of this cairn by local stone mason, Paul, it may be quite some time.
For the next hour Camerons continued to arrive at Achnacarry - 800 would pass through the gates to the estate throughout the day. Over this "lull" in events there were opportunities for clansfolk to explore the grounds and featured attractions for the day. Underneath the large white marquee, which was erected especially for the day, there were two main areas. Upon entering, on the left-hand side Camerons were found mingling and enjoying a bite to eat, near Lochiel's personal standard, which adorned one wall. Marine Harvest provided grilled salmon and halibut, which were a smashing success, with tea, sweets and sandwiches also available nearby. Many of these Camerons sought a brief respite from the rain, which lingered on and off at this point. The other section of the marquee was home to numerous vendors, many with their own "Cameron Connection." In addition to the Clan Cameron Museum's table there was also a wonderful display by cartographer Ian Ramsden of Beauly, offering limited edition hand-painted prints of Cameron Country, approved by the Clan Cameron Association of Scotland. Besides other assorted tables featuring unique Cameron crested items there was also Dugald Cameron with his display featuring Cameron Bagpipes, produced in Lochaber with local oak wood.
Just prior to 1:30 Lochiel, dressed in his Cameron of Lochiel kilt, with tweed daywear jacket, along with his wife, the lovely Lady Margaret, their eldest son Donald Angus Cameron and other members of the Lochiel family began to take their seats on the reviewing stand. Soon after their arrival pipe music began to echo off of Beinn Bhan, as the Lochaber Schools and also the Queen's Own Highlanders Regimental Association Pipe Bands marched by the Cameron chief and the assembled clansfolk. With their departure the various worldwide clan association branches began to gather behind signs bearing their national affiliations. The Camerons marched past Lochiel and the reviewing stand, giving enthusiastic salutes as they did so.
With the conclusion of the March Past, hundreds of Camerons assembled around the reviewing stand to hear Lochiel address his clansfolk in a stirring welcome speech. Many noticed that at this time the rain, which had welcomed many to the Lochiel Estate, had gone for good - an ideal afternoon with blue skies remained for the duration of the Gathering. In addition to greeting his fellow Camerons and extending his best wishes to all whom gathered, Lochiel took a moment to reflect upon his fifty years at the head of the Clan Cameron. Being a humble gentleman, he spent little time speaking of himself, focusing much of his speech towards the various attendees.
Lochiel made specific mention of how pleased he was with the youth of the clan and the Light Exchange concept, which brought Astie Cameron from Lochaber to New Zealand last year in a plan conceived by Maisie Cameron Earle, Past-President of the Clan Cameron Association of New Zealand. This cultural and communications exchange has continued this year, with New Zealand's Shona Cameron spending a few months in Lochaber, reciprocating the exchange. Lochiel has high hopes that many such exchanges will be established in years to come, between all branches of the Association.
Continuing his focus on the youth of the clan, Lochiel then proudly introduced his very first great grandchild, Lizzie, who was all smiles as she took in the Gathering with her mother, Lochiel's granddaughter Kate Ware. In his speech he also announced the appointment of Jeanine Cameron Avigdor as Canadian Regional President of Clan Cameron North America, presenting her with a bouquet of flowers. Lochiel then proclaimed that the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the North America Association, with his signature on their Charter that very day, had become an authorized branch of the Association. Mid-Atlantic President George Cameron and his right-hand-man, Scott Cameron, offered their thanks to Lochiel at that time. With a smile upon his face, and flash bulbs blazing from the assembled clansfolk, Lochiel then took his seat amidst loud applause.
At this time the worldwide branches of the Association began their speeches, thanking Lochiel for once again opening the doors of his estate. North American Commissioner Donald J. Cameron spoke on behalf of his membership, with his wife Beverly presenting Lady Margaret a beautiful bouquet of flowers on behalf of all the worldwide branches. Scotland Branch President David R. Cameron, England Branch President Raymond M. Cameron and Australia Chieftain Dr. Ian H. Cameron also took this occasion to thank Lochiel and his family for a wonderful Gathering at Achnacarry. With their greetings spoken, the reviewing stand was opened to clansfolk, mostly representing various worldwide branches of the Association, who presented an array of gifts to their chief. From framed photos of their memberships, to scrap books of photographs, items of food with regional significance, to even a specially composed Scottish country dance, a dozen or so well-wishers took their turn at the reviewing stand. One gift which was not "physical" in nature was presented to Lochiel by Thomas A. Cameron, Northern U.S. President of the Association - Lochiel's very own personal website. Based on the overwhelming desire of clansfolk to learn more about Lochiel, he is now the first Scottish clan chief to have his own home on the Internet, located at www.lochiel.net
With the conclusion of speeches, the Gathering continued in full force. The Historic Saltire Society enthusiastically demonstrated their re-enactment portrayal, with an authentic craft and swordsmanship display. Nearby both children and adults tried their hand at archery and the periodic concussion of clay pigeon shooting for adults could also be heard. On a dance platform Highland dancing was artfully displayed by children of varied ages. Overhead a helicopter soared through the sky, offering trips to those clansfolk who desired to catch that elusive birds eye view of the castle with the River Arkaig winding around its perimeter. Speaking of birds, there was also an impressive display of birds of sport and an associated demonstration of falconry by Perthshire Falconry. Many of the wee ones took special interest in the large owls, which they associated with the popular Harry Potter series of novels, the screen play of which recently filmed in Lochaber. The animals took a large part in the Gathering, with sheep shearing by hand and also sheep dog demonstrations by Ian MacRae.
At 5 PM, with the Gathering winding down to its end, a test of strength and technique remained to be held. The traditional tug of war contest pitted Camerons against estate and Lochaber residents. Sadly for the Camerons, despite their best efforts, they lost this best of three contest, but gained memorable rope burns that would linger. The children then stepped to the rope, and a grand time was had by both sides. Camerons took on Camerons, and the conclusion found...Camerons winning!
At about 5:30 PM the assembled clansfolk began their reluctant departure from the Lochiel Estate. While the Gathering weekend was by no means at an end, many Camerons could only attend the "main event" on Saturday and had departure plans soon afterwards. Many sons of the hound were seen casting a farewell glance over their shoulders as they headed towards the parking area, with others taking advantage of the museum's extended hours to remain on the estate for a few additional minutes. The Achnacarry Post Office remained open late as well, giving attendees the opportunity to purchase 2001 Gathering envelopes and have them post marked "Achnacarry - 4 Aug 2001." As the cars departed the estate Lochiel was seen in a rare moment of solitude (he had posed for what surely must have topped one hundred photos throughout the day) just before walking up the steps to Achnacarry to end the afternoon. It was the largest Gathering ever held at Achnacarry and thanks to the efforts of he, his son Donald Angus, their entire family and estate employees, it was an afternoon not easily forgotten.
After clansfolk had an opportunity to return to their rooms throughout the area to freshen up (and in many instances change into more casual apparel) they returned to the Milton Hotel once again, this time for the Cameron Ceilidh, which began at 7:30PM. The lively Master of ceremonies sang to the assembled crowd, being accompanied by both fiddle and accordion. Of the evening's entertainment each and every performer deserves special note, but four acts warranted specific mention. The first was a young lass who sang a handful of songs in Gaelic - the combination of her outstanding vocal talents and the hauntingly beautiful words in the Camerons's ancestral native tongue were brilliant. The next act of note consisted of the majority of the Clan Cameron Australia contingent, assembled on stage performing a variety of tunes, with great zeal, led by Dr. Ian. There was also the poetry of the Scotland Branch's North Region President, Sonia Cameron-Jacks, which touched many a heart at the Milton. The final act of note would be Lochiel's grandson, Donald Andrew, who impressed the clansfolk with his melodic voice and guitar aptitude. The evening ran late, well past 11:30PM, and the day's largest raffle item, a large scottie dog adorned in Cameron tartan, was won by New Zealand's Shona Cameron.
As if the preceding evening's limited seating at the ceilidh wasn't a "hot ticket," Sunday morning's church service at Achnacarry was even more limited in terms of seating. St. Ciaran's Church is just past the entrance to Achnacarry, driving towards the Dark Mile and Loch Arkaig, 300 meters uphill from the main road, set amidst the trees. It is a beautiful small church, constructed in 1908, or as Lochiel reminded clansfolk "only two years before I was born." With a seating capacity of just about 100 individuals those who arrived early were seated, with the large overflow crowd enjoying Reverend David M. Anderson's sermon from the entryway. Donald Andrew Cameron read from John, Chapter 15, verses 1-17 and was followed by the Mallaig Sprinkling Song, sung to the tune Leaving of Lismore. This in turn was followed by Reverend Anderson's reading from I Corinthians, Chapter 13, in the Lorimer translation in Scots, which was a wonderful experience for the assembled clansfolk. His sermon was based on John, Chapter 15, verse 4 and the theme, appropriately enough was the Clan Cameron motto, Aonaibh Ri Chile. Reverend Anderson touched on the worldwide bonds that unite all Camerons and interwove the clan motto beautifully into the scripture reading. It was a touching and insightful sermon for all.
With the Gathering weekend winding to its conclusion clansfolk took the opportunity to catch a quick lunch on their own before heading over to the Fort William Shinty Pitch, where Clan Cameron's team took on those representing Clan Fraser. For those unfamiliar with the game of shinty, it is a 90-minute game resembling a combination of hockey, soccer (football in the UK) and perhaps - in a few instances golf. The teams were assembled in the fashion of a "pick up game," being members of other teams who came together for this special game. The competition was heated and the Cameron and Fraser fans were spirited in their enthusiasm (no fights took place, but rival tartan was flashed on numerous occasions). Within six minutes the Cameron team found themselves down two goals, despite the valiant efforts of Martin Cameron in the goal. Fraser goalie Gary Wells denied numerous stinging shots on goal from Cameron warriors Mike, Deek and Steven Cameron before Deek scored on a short, powerful shot. Deek would score once again, as would Mike Cameron, putting the Camerons ahead 3-2 at half time. As the second half progressed the Clan Cameron team was faced with a one-goal deficit, with regulation time coming to an end. However, the Camerons are known to be "fiercer than fierceness itself," and rallied with late goals by Deek Cameron (accomplishing the hat trick) to tie the game and John MacKenzie of Oban with the go-ahead against the Frasers. As fate would have it, in the "dying seconds" of the match a referee (a Cameron nonetheless) awarded the Frasers a penalty shot, which was converted into a goal. As regulation time expired the match concluded in a 6 to 6 tie. With an estimated five hundred attendees drowning the stands in applause, team captains Deek Cameron and Iain Fraser hoisted the victory cup, presented by Donald Angus Cameron and all team members enjoyed a wee nip from its "spirited" contents. James Cameron of Lochaber and Donald Fraser of Strathglass were the recipients of the beautiful tartan-clad Tanera Caman presentation sticks for best players.
The Camerons soon made their way across the shinty field to the clubhouse, where a wonderful "Survivor's BBQ" was held, featuring venison hamburgers and sausages, as well as other appetizing side dishes. The venison was from the Lochiel Estate and by all indications the local red deer must have provided hearty meals for the early residents of the area, for compliments were numerous in regard to its taste.
With the inevitable departure of Lochiel and Donald Angus shortly after the barbecue the assembled Camerons began leaving the shinty pitch slowly but surely. Those who lingered were treated to a bagpipe jam session with Astie Cameron once again doing the honors and Gary Innes of the Fraser team accompanying him on the accordion. As the afternoon became evening the Gathering officially came to its end, with the sun still glowing late into the evening in Lochaber.
To this magical district of the West Highlands the Camerons had come, returning to the homelands of their ancestors. Following in the footsteps of those ancestors, walking the same lands and honoring Lochiel as their hereditary chief, the Camerons of the present have a unique and personal connection to the past. While acknowledging those days gone by and recognizing how their forefathers spread to those four corners of the globe, the Camerons of today also have their eyes fixed firmly on the road ahead and the future. Without a doubt their future will bring them back to Achnacarry once again to unite with their clansfolk.