From the Beauly Firth to Bratislava: The Travels of James Fraser, 1657-60

by David Worthington

Image provided by Professor David Worthington

Treated with caution, it shows how a Gaelic speaker - a young Highlander... could contribute positively to, and engage openly with, European culture, in an age before Culloden.

While the rest of Scotland was learning how to live under the rule of Oliver Cromwell, a young Highland scholar from Kirkhill near Beauly, James Fraser, left home, in 1657, for an unforgettable three year adventure around Europe. On his return, he recorded his experiences in a memoir, the 'Triennial Travels’, which today lies in Aberdeen University Library.

Looking down onto the village of Kirkhill near Inverness

Image provided by Professor David Worthington

Looking down onto the village of Kirkhill near Inverness - the home town of James Fraser

A brawl with a 'bastardly fellow’ in Alnwick; a rough sea crossing from Sardinia to Genoa discussing classical texts with a vomiting skipper; a friend’s romantic disasters in Regensburg, and the astonishing sight of an elephant in a Vienna street: these are just some of the scenes recorded in James Fraser’s 'Triennial Travels’. It was a journey which took him, on foot, horseback or by boat, across southern, central and western Europe. This introduced him to London, carried him across the English Channel to Dieppe then to cities like Rouen and Marseilles. Diverted by pirates to north-east Spain, he ventured east via Minorca, Corsica and then Genoa, choosing to extend his stay in Italy after that by spending a lengthy period serving the Papacy in Rome, before taking in Florence, Modena, Ferrara and Venice. From there, Fraser would traverse the Alps, and head eastwards through Bavaria, Austria, Hungary before changing tack towards Bohemia (today the Czech Republic), commencing there a homeward route that would take him, finally, home to Scotland.

Wardlaw Mausoleum, Kirkhill, with gravestones in the foreground

Image provided by Professor David Worthington

Wardlaw Mausoleum, Kirkhill outside which Rev. James Fraser was buried following his death in 1709.

Throughout the text of the 'Triennial Travels’, Fraser conveys a fascination with the world beyond the Highlands, and with every language and culture he encountered. In a spirited manner, he seeks to ensure that what he recorded from abroad might widen the perspective of, and entertain, potential readers at home.

The 'Triennial Travels’ encompasses the 'spirit of the Highlands' for me. Treated with caution, it shows how a Gaelic speaker - a young Highlander with a spoken and reading knowledge of several other languages already from childhood - could contribute positively to, and engage openly with, European culture, in an age before Culloden.

Memorial to Rev. James Fraser which reads "In memory of the Rev. James Fraser A.M. ("Master James Fraser of Phopachy, Pastor Montis Mariae") Born 1634. Died 1709. Buried in the churchyard. Minister of this parish from 1662 till 1709. Author of "The Wardlaw Manuscript" and other works. Theologian, scholar, linguist, traveller, writer. "Fear a bha thall 's e chunnaic. is thainig a nall 's a dh'Innis."

Image provided by Professor David Worthington

Memorial to Rev. James Fraser in Wardlaw Mausoleum, Kirkhill.


We Want to Hear From You!

Share stories of figures from history which you feel represent the Spirit of the Highlands and Islands

Stories are at the heart of what we do as a project and we are always looking to learn more about what the Highlands and Islands means to people who live, work, and visit here. Is there a figure from the history that you feel represents the Spirit of the Highlands and Islands? Tell us more below, we would love to hear from you!

Click here to share your story through our online story portal