LAST week, while on holiday, I stood on a rocky promontory by Old Castle Lachlan and looked out over Loch Fyne. It’s a sea loch, which for thousands of years would have been a major route for travellers, settlers and raiders. The castle stands guard at a strategic point on its eastern shore and was once the residence of the chiefs of Clan Maclachlan: one of Scotland’s oldest clans with ancient Irish roots.

The place was introduced to me by friend and fellow storyteller Chris Yule. As I stood, listening to the chatter of our kids playing by the rocks, I reflected that there was a connection between this place and my home town Prestonpans. We have friends who stay in McLachlan Gardens in the Pans, a name chosen to mark the clan’s involvement at the battle in 1745.

The Maclachlans had been part of the Jacobite charge which routed the Redcoats. Although they were not in the frontline, they would have been amidst its bloody endings. Their ancient invisible footprints on the soil of my home town represented an incredibly brief moment in the history of a community with a thousand years of history. Yet, even so, the connection was there, and I felt it.

So my imagination took me back to April 1746. I saw in my mind’s eye a bedraggled and exhausted group of Maclachlan clansmen as they reached the shore of Loch Fyne, just beyond the castle. They were the remnant of the clan contingent who had marched with their chief, Lachlan Maclachlan, seven months earlier, to join the Jacobite rising.

Lachlan was the 17th chief of the clan and a staunch supporter of the Stuart cause. Despite his clan being surrounded by Hanoverian-supporting Campbells, he had brought his men out in support of his prince.

The need to bypass hostile Campbell territory meant a delay in joining the Jacobite army, but they arrived in time to take part in the Battle of Prestonpans and were present during the major events of the rising, including the tragic finale at Culloden.

There, the Maclachlans charged into the deadly fury of Redcoat cannon and musket fire. Many of them fell, as did their chief Lachlan, whose body was found after the battle, mutilated by a cannonball. The horror and brutality of that battle was made notorious by Redcoat atrocities committed afterwards on the dead and dying. Those who escaped knew they would be hunted.

How the surviving Maclachlan clansmen managed to weave their way home without detection by vengeful Redcoat patrols I cannot say; their tales of this treacherous journey through the glens and moors may still be held in ancestral memory. But I imagined their condition, both physical and emotional, as they arrived home to give their devastating news to anxiously waiting families.

The clan’s sons, brothers and fathers lay buried in heaps on Culloden field, their mass grave a monument to a cause their chief believed was worth dying for, although as in all war, the glorification of clashing steel is followed by the unheralded tears of children who have lost their father, mothers who have lost their sons.

READ MORE: Tim's Book, Road of Legends, Chapter 25

But it was not the clansmen who brought the news of defeat to the anxiously waiting families; it was Lachlan’s horse. The poor creature, bewildered after the slaughter, had been led by the survivors as they made their way back to Strathlachlan. When they arrived at the edge of Loch Fyne, the faithful animal saw the castle and broke free, galloping into the sea and swimming desperately to its home, hoping its master would be there.

The sudden sight of their chief’s horse, riderless and in such a distraught condition, sank the hearts of the waiting families, for they knew what this meant.

The events that followed were repeated throughout the Highlands during that brutal, cold spring of 1746. Tales of a Royal Navy gunboat bombarding the castle are told and Redcoats wreaking vengeance. The clansfolk had to seek refuge and tried to take their chief’s horse with them. But it would not leave. It whinnied and reared onto its hind legs, pulled on the rope and refused to go.

And so the horse was left in the stables of the now-abandoned castle. It stayed there until its death, I suspect hoping Lachlan its master would return. It was said it could be heard at night whinnying.

But perhaps the horse wasn’t alone. For there is another story about this castle which tells us that in the cellar lived a brounie, a magical creature of the otherworld. We even have a name for him: Master Harry. The stories about him show he was often up to mischief, but he was a loyal guardian of the clan and devoted to his chief.

According to these stories, it was the brounie who first told Lachlan of the arrival of “a stranger in the north” who would lead Lachlan to his death. He understood immediately that this meant Charles Stuart had landed and made preparations to join his cause. Harry’s prophecy of his death did not seem to deter Lachlan, much to the distress of the brounie, who could see the dire consequences for the entire clan he loved.

As I meandered by the ruins of the old castle, a story emerged in my mind of the brounie taking care of the distressed horse, for these magical creatures are known to be animal lovers. In fact, perhaps they took care of each other, the horse likewise not wanting to leave Harry alone in the abandoned castle, which was once full of life and for them both was home; just two victims of a civil war who had lost all they loved, yet found solace in each other’s company.

The horse stayed in the ruins till the end of its days and, years later, at the end of the century, the lonely brounie found a home in the ‘new castle’ built nearby by the 19th chief, as the family had retained their lands, ironically thanks to Campbell intervention.

The two castles stand within sight of each other, architectural symbols of a time the Highland way of life changed. In the bracken lie the ruins of countless simple homes, unvisited and barely noticed, but once also full of life; where stories were told round the peat fire by the people who loved their landscape, which still bears the Gaelic descriptions.

One of their stories is of the ghost of a horse; that on a still night you may hear it whinnying amidst the ruins. If the moon is bright, you may see its ghostly form, emerging from the old castle and swimming in the loch.

It’s the ghost of Lachlan’s horse, of course, still searching for its master.