The mystery of ‘James of the Glen’ and ‘The Red Fox’

Who killed the Red Fox? The Appin Murder – is one of the blackest marks on Scottish legal history and a mystery immortalized in Robert Louis’ Stevenson’s “Kidnapped”

The story of James Stewart, “James of the Glen” (or “Seamus a’Ghlinne” in Gaelic) has been the subject of much controversy and debate since it occurred in 1752, not long after the Jacobite uprising of 1745.

James was convicted of the killing of the “Red Fox”, or Colin Campbell of Glenure, who was a factor in charge of carrying out evictions in Appin on Jacobite estates forfeited by the Government following the Battle of Culloden. It is widely believed James was innocent yet was tried in front of a mainly Campbell jury with the Duke of Argyll, the clan chief, as judge.    It was a sham of a trial, and he didn’t stand a chance.  James had been outspoken against the Campbells and their English masters, and it is thought the authorities simply used him as a scapegoat.

He was sentenced to death, then hanged at the Ballachulish Ferry and left to rot for 18 months.

Several theories exist as to the true assailant, and even after more than 260 years the notorious mystery fascinates historians the world over.

Several significant sites are located close to Stormhouse including the Glen Duror bothy thought to be the birthplace of James of the Glen.


The view from Stormhouse in the words of Dorothy Wordsworth

“….for the sight itself was too fair to be remembered”

Stormhouse occupies the same spot where Dorothy and her brother William sat for a while and took in the view during the summer of 1803 whilst traveling through the Scottish Highlands with mutual friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The 663-mile round trip was in part a literary pilgrimage to places associated with Scottish figures significant to Romanticists such as Robert Burns, William Wallace and Rob Roy.

“…. we beheld one of the most delightful prospects that, even when we dream of fairer worlds than this, it is possible for us to conceive in our hearts.”

Her depictions of the Scottish landscape were partly reflective of her own personal tastes and the then fashionable aesthetics of the picturesque and sublime, setting it apart from similar accounts of the same era by being slightly less pretentious and more down to earth.

“…. yet the sky was clear, and the sea, from the reflection of the sky, of an ethereal or sapphire blue, which was intermingled in many places, and mostly by gentle gradations, with beds of bright dazzling sunshine;”

Her journal was also unique in that it was written from a female perspective, and could be said to offer an honest, clear view of the lives of ordinary people. She must have been a hardy 31-year-old woman as the conditions on their travels would have been extremely challenging on a two-wheeled one-horse open carriage, especially over long distances, and rough terrain.

“….: green islands lay on the calm water, islands far greener, for so it seemed, than the grass of other places; and from their excessive beauty, their unearthly softness, and the great distance of many of them, they made us think of the islands of the blessed in the Vision of Mirza – a resemblance more striking from the long tract of mist which rested on the top of the steeps of Morvern”

It is said she wrote her memoir for family and friends, and her writings were not published during her lifetime. Considered her “Masterpiece”, it was only later in 1874 that her travel memoir “Recollections of a Tour made in Scotland A.D. 1803” was published.


Soaring above Stormhouse…

The white-tailed eagle, or sea eagle, is an international conservation success story. After becoming extinct from Scotland in the early 1900’s, several young eagles were brought over to the Isle of Rum from Norway as part of a reintroduction programme in the 1970’s.

There now exists around 150 breeding pairs in Scotland, and as they favour sheltered lochs or sea lochs, Appin and indeed the west coast is an ideal habitat and the perfect place to spot them. You often see them soaring high above Stormhouse and Castle Stalker. They are the UK’S largest bird of prey, with wingspans up to 240cm in length.

White-tailed eagles can live for up to 20 years and they breed for life. Their territories can extend up to 70 square kilometres, and once established will be used by successive generations for years to come.

Their existence is controversial, and the RSPB have come to loggerheads on more than one occasion with farmers who struggle to protect their livestock, lambs in particular. The conversation continues. In the meantime, keep an eye on the sky and enjoy the spectacle of these majestic birds.