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Glencoe, Scotland

A scene of eerie stillness that was once the setting for an infamous event

Rebecca Willis | March/April 2012

On former battlefields, and in other places where atrocities have occurred, there is often a tension between the calm of the present and the trauma of the past. That is certainly so in the limpid light and eerie stillness of this picture of the 1,022 metre-high Buachaille Etive Mor, which stands at the entrance to Glencoe, scene of one of the most infamous massacres in British history.

The Glencoe Massacre—or “murder” as the Gaelic word has it—took place early on a cold winter morning in 1692. The victims were members of the MacDonald clan, who had been slow to swear allegiance to the new monarchs, William and Mary. Thirty-eight men were killed, and later about 40 women and children died of exposure after their houses were burned down and they fled. The troops who carried out the massacre had been billeted on the MacDonalds for almost a fortnight before the command came to start killing their hosts; the betrayal of the Highland code of hospitality made the deed even more heinous.

Early on another cold winter morning, over 300 years later, the photographer Ian Winstanley stood waiting for the right light for this picture.  “You have to get up early and be patient,” he says; even when it’s minus nine, as it was when this was taken. He favours morning light because at dawn, and in the hour or so after it, there is a softer palette. Here he used a long exposure, of about five seconds, which gives a bit of movement in the clouds, and emphasises by contrast the monumental majesty of the mountain itself. 

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