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Re: Ambush at Altimarlach

I picked up the following description of the Battle of Altimarlach at the
Dunbeath Heritage Centre in Dunbeath.  No author or source is noted.

"The Battle of Altimarlach
Gaelic: Uilt na Muirleach--the Burn of the Thieves
(so called because of the plunder taken from the bodies of the dead)

The battle of Altimarlach was fought on 13th July 1680 between Sir John
Campbell of Glenorchy and George Sinclair of Keiss over ownership of the
Girnigoe Estates.  A dispute arose over money alleged to have been borrowed
by the 6th Earl of Caithness from Sir John who consequently laid claim to
the estate and in 1677 was granted the title of Earl of Caithness, Lord
Sinclair of Berriedale and Glenorchy.  George Sinclair of Keiss, a close
relative of the 6th Earl contested his claim and a series of disputes
resulted in Glenorchy obtaining royal permission to invade Caithness to
uphold his claim.  He was also provided with several companies of the
king's troops.

This army marched from Perth and arrived in Caithness on 18th May and set
up camp at Braemore, near Morven, which at that time was on the Berriedale
estate which Glenorchy claimed as Earl of Caithness.  On 12th July he
marched his army to the Hill of Yarrows, and the site was long known as
Torran nan Gael, the Highlanders Hill.  From there he had a commanding view
of the area and decided to approach Wick under cover of a sudden mist.  The
mist lifted as he was coming down the Haster Burn and the alarm was raised
by Sinclair's forces who were deployed in and around Wick.  

Reports are confused but it seems that Glenorchy headed for Stirkoke and
Altimarlach where he divided his force.  Half were deployed on the haugh
west of the burn and the others were concealed in the gully.  When the
Sinclairs came up Wick River to meet them, they were attacked by the group
on the haugh, just where the burn met the river, and at the same time the
ambush was sprung by the force in the gully.  The Sinclairs were trapped
against the river which is quite deep at this point and many men were
drowned, or killed by the reserves if they managed to struggle to the
opposite bank, on the Moss of Bronsie.

There is no accurate record of the number of men involved, but Glenorchy
would have had about 800, and the Sinclairs a similar amount.  Sinclair
casualties were high with possibly 300 men killed.  Many of the dead on the
Campbell side were buried where the commemorative cross now stands.  Peace
was made between the sides the following day and was signed in the old Wick
Town Hall which stood on the east side of the present Market Square.

The battle is notable for being the last major clan battle in Scotland and
for the fact that two famous pipe tunes were composed by Glenorchy's piper
Finlay Ban MacIvor, while the army was marching to Caithness.  One was
'Breadalbane Gathering' and the other 'The Campbells are coming.'  Until
comparatively recently it was a gross insult to play these tunes in Wick."

Note that, in this account, there is no mention of the Sinclairs being drunk.

Richard Huseth
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