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Scottish Heather


During my writing session today I wrote about my heroine who stops to collect sprigs of heather. I often recall my trip to Scotland when I’m writing my Celtic historical romances. And one of the most memorable sights was the endless sea of heather that carpeted the hillsides. Heather is often referred to, and most appropriately, in the Scottish Highlands as “The Carpet of the Highlands.”
The wild plant has been around since ancient times and its uses varied widely. Heather was used in bed stuffing, floor rushes, basket making, walls, roof thatch, brooms and it was weaved into some fences. It was also used in tea and ale. Then of course there were the medicinal uses ranging from treating nerves and depression to coughs and countless more that I’m sure were lost through the ages. While I have seen only purple heather, I learned there are other colors including orange, grey-green, yellow and the rare white, which was thought to possess magical powers.
Whether myth or truth, there is a story about the fabled heather ale. It seemed that the ancient Pictish Kings and the eldest son were the only ones who possessed the secret recipe of the divine drink. When the final battle took place between the Picts and Scots, it has been told that when the Pictish King and his eldest son were the only ones left, the Scots demanded to know the secret recipe. The king, fearing his son would break under torture and reveal it, told the Scottish warrior to kill his son first and then he would tell him the recipe. After his son was dead, the Pictish King refused to breath a word about the famous heather ale and its tasty secret died with him.
Robert Louis Stevenson even wrote about it in From Heather Ale, A Galloway Legend.
From the bonny bells of heather,
They brewed a drink longsyne,
Was sweeter far than honey,
Was stronger far than wine.
I can’t write about the Scottish Highlands without mentioning the wild heather. And today when my heroine suddenly stopped in her tracks, I knew why. She couldn’t resist the heather growing on the hillside, even though she was shackled to a warrior Highlander she barely knew and the king’s soldiers were after them. She had to have a sprig or two of heather. And how did my hero react? That you”ll have to wait to find out!

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