There are up to 40 million people around the world who claim some degree of Scottish ancestry. Each year, thousands of these grandchildren of Scotland return to her shores, seeking to learn more about their forebears or just to see and touch a place where their ancestors lived. This is the first in a series of clan-specific guide posts, which I hope will be a starting point for members of Clan Hunter across the world to plan their Scotland trip.
A Quick History
The Hunters first came to Britain with William the Conqueror’s wife Matilda after the Battle of Hastings. It is widely believed that one of Matilda’s ladies in waiting was a Hunter, and that she played a significant role in creating the Bayeaux Tapestry, a famous record of the battle and invasion, and one of the greatest surviving documents of this time period. The Hunters supported William Wallace and Robert the Bruce in their campaigns. Robert II, the Bruce’s grandson and king of Scotland, deeded land to William Hunter in 1374, but the main tower of Hunterston Castle, the seat of the clan, was built some time before that. Hunters served prominently in military campaigns throughout their history, and a Hunter commanded the 8th Army in World War I’s western front.
The current Laird of the Hunters is Madam Pauline Hunter, 30th to hold the title.
In 2001, the Hunters made official their longstanding friendship with the Clan Muirhead, and Muirhead gatherings now take place at Hunterston, often alongside those of the Hunters.
The Hunters were never one of the bigger clans in terms of land, so a tour of Hunter lands is manageable on even a short trip to Scotland. Outside of the clan holdings, there are some other spots important to its history as well:
Creative Commons photo by Dreamer84.
The clan seat, this is the one really must-see castle on any Hunter ancestry trip to Scotland. The main tower dates to the 13th century, but there have been additions fairly regularly since.
Creative Commons photo by Jonathan Oldenbuck.
There was a castle at Blairquhan as early as 1346, but the current one was built in the 1800s. It was the historic home of the Hunter-Blairs, local baronets. These days, it’s a hotel and wedding venue, and one of the best opportunities to sleep in one of your clan’s ancestral homes.
Creative Commons photo by John North.
Glenapp Castle is another fairly recent castle-turned-hotel. The castle was completed in 1870 for James Hunter. Only hotel or restaurant guests are allowed on the grounds, so unless you want a luxury castle hotel for the night, you may have to make dinner reservations.
The Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, Glasgow
Creative Commons photo by Paul Stainthorp.
The oldest museum in Scotland, the Hunterian is located on the campus of the University of Glasgow. William Hunter was a famous expert on anatomy and personal physician to Queen Charlotte in the mid 18th century. His collections, ranging from dinosaur bones to strange anatomical oddities, was the foundation of this museum, which he also paid to build. One of the more interesting museums in Scotland, for its variety of subjects as well as its age.
The Battle of Largs Monument
Creative Commons photo by John McIntyre.
Clan Hunter was an important part of the Scottish defense against an invasion by Norway in 1263. The Battle of Largs, though not a decisive victory for either side, contributed to the failure of the Norse invasion. Today, the monument known locally as “the pencil” rises over the village of Largs to commemorate the battle and its dead.
The Pinkie Cleugh Battlefield Trail
Creative Commons photo.
In Musselburgh, just east of Edinburgh, in 1547, Scotland and England fought one of their biggest and bloodiest battles, the battle of Pinkie Cleugh. Known in Scotland as “Black Saturday”, it was a huge loss for the Scots, and among the many Scottish nobles and commoners killed was the son of the 15th Hunter Laird. Recently, an historic trail has been established between the major monuments and sits of the battle.
Special Recommendations for Visiting Hunters
- If possible, fly into Glasgow rather than Edinburgh or one of the more northern airports. Most of the important clan sites are in and close to Glasgow.
- Hunterston Castle is not open to the public, but does admit clan members only by appointment. Clan membership can be obtained over the web from clan associations in the United States and Canada, or in the UK by contacting Madam Hunter at ClanChief [at] clanhunter [dot] com.