When someone mentions 1297 and Scotland in the same sentence we immediately think of the Battle of Stirling Bridge and overlook the stories of the common folk who lived then. Recently I caught up with Dr. Catriona MacGregor at the Woolpack Inn (pictured). Catriona was born in 1285 and now works out at Yorkhill Children’s Hospital in Glasgow. For the first twelve years of her life she lived at Tillicoultry, known as Westertoun then. A petite, quietly spoken redhead with a welcoming smile and well-developed sense of humour, she seems the antithesis of the vampire, something she claims is quite deliberate.
You’re a doctor and a vampire, should I be surprised?
Catriona: (laughs) Considering some of the nonsense I’ve read and seen probably not. There have been vamps who worked in the medical profession who did take blood from patients, usually when they were cleaning up after a procedure and a couple I know actually took from the vein. I was always of the view that as a physician my duty of care came before my need for blood. I was fortunate in that the Greys have always preferred the blood of animals to humans.
I imagine it could be quite hard to work in that kind of environment, given the fact you need blood to maintain your strength.
Catriona: It can be if you don’t follow the rules and there have been moments when I thought, oh just a little sip, but thankfully they’ve been far and few in between. I stick to my regular intake and if it’s in short supply I have ways of dealing with the weakness. Iced water hydrates and keeps your temperature down.
So how long have you been a vampire?
Catriona: Since 1314. I was born in the spring of 1285 and turned on midsummer’s night, 1314 in a cave on the Northumberland coast.
That’s a fair age, if you don’t mind me saying.
Catriona: (chuckles) Aye, I’m just an old bag, minus the wrinkles and grey hair of course. I admit it’s kind of mind blowing to think I’m that old, it gives you a whole new perspective on life, the universe and everything.
When I first arrived at this pub you said that this was where you lived as a mortal. What was it like back then?
Catriona: (smiles) Very different. For a start the Woolpack Inn didn’t exist and neither did the village of Tillicoultry. The quarry wasn’t there and the hillside came down to the Big House where Sir Richard lived with his wife and three children. There was a ruined Pictish fort at the western end of the quarry, which was all that remained of a much larger structure. The burn was pretty much in the same place and drained into the River Devon but about here it was considerably wider and prone to flooding onto what is now the golf course. The road from Stirling to here was much higher up because the entire valley was a floodplain. The bridge at the top of Upper Mill Street roughly follows the path of the old road to Stirling.
A great swamp extended from the Devon right across where the road is now and at this point came more than halfway across the golf course. The old road to Stirling is still visible in some places like here, it was much higher up of course. The pub was built here because it was well above the waterline. The Big House and the cottages around about were known as Westertoun to distinguish it from Eastertoun, which is located about where the primary school now sits. Both villages spread out over the centuries until they became one village.
So the Big House, was it a castle?
Catriona: Goodness no. It did have a wall around the garden but it would never have stood up against a siege, it was merely to keep wolves and foxes out. The Big House was just a big house to be honest. It had a hall, bedrooms for Sir Richard and his family and a few rooms downstairs for the servants, the kitchen was also down the stairs. The interior was really quite shabby, there was straw on the ground floor and even upstairs on the wooden floor. There were no glass windows but they did have wooden shutters to keep out the drafts. If you want a visual image then perhaps see if Morganna has something in her collection of paintings. Other than that you can always watch Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood. There are scenes shot inside the Locksley house that are strongly familiar to me.
So where was your cottage?
Catriona: (purses her lips) Right next door as a matter of fact. This wall was about where the front door would would have been, we were the furthest from the Big House. There were other cottages closer to the burn and up the hill a bit. I seem to recall that the burn was about the same distance from our house as it is to the pub.
So who else lived here apart from Sir Richard and his family and you?
Catriona: There were six cottages but two were on the other side, they belonged to Sir Richard’s squire, Cameron and his armourer, Andrew. On this side of the burn we had the chief tenant, Hamish, his wife Isobel and his three sons, Donald, Iain and Allan. In total there were twenty six people here not counting Sir Richard’s family and us. Westertoun was slightly larger than Eastertoun by about six people. Once the Grey Ravens set up their roundhouse up the hill however there were between an extra thirty to forty people here at any one time.
So where was this roundhouse exactly?
Catriona: Ah, that is easy to point out. Up the top of the hill where the park is now. The ground is quite flat up there and it’s close to the burn. The boundary wall of the park almost follows the original course of the uprights. It was a magnificent house and every time I see a reconstructed roundhouse I’m transported back to the old days of smoky fires, honey mead and fireside tales that could last half the night.
So no broadband.
Catriona: (laughs out loud) I think we would have run in terror from the Internet. Seriously, a thing that can track your every movement? It would have been thought a thing of evil although I’ve no doubt the church would have found a use for it.
So what did you do for entertainment?
Catriona: Apart from shagging sheep? To be honest leisure was not something we were familiar with, we worked from sunrise to sunset and then we ate the evening meal and most nights went to bed shortly afterwards. We told stories around the fire, sang songs or slept. The night was a time to attend to chores indoor, making and mending clothes, housework and other duties. Once we moved into the roundhouse with the Grey Ravens though there was a lot more entertainment due to the fact there were a lot more people. Our village doubled in size overnight when they arrived. They brought musical instruments, books, and weaving materials. Now I think about it, we did experience some degree of leisure once they came here due to the fact they brought valuable skills and no small amount of wealth with them.
Considering the oppressive religious environment of the day, how did vampires live so openly alongside mortals?
Catriona: To answer that I suppose you’d have to talk about the basic tenets of the Grey Raven Protocols. We do not take blood from humans without their consent, although enemies are a different matter. We also work alongside mortals and try to better their lives. Our vampirism is always kept secret and away from prying eyes. To put it simply, we’re not out to drain mortals dry, it’s not the best idea if you want to survive. The concept of a vampire apocalypse where vampires turn mortals into a ready made food source flies in the face of common sense. There were gangs back then who did terrorise entire districts but they learned to their cost that such regimes were unsustainable. We fought these rogue gangs over the years and the Central Council tacitly ignored our actions because we were in effect taking out the garbage for them. On the outside they criticised us for turning on our own kind but privately they were more than happy to be rid of a gang of rogue vamps who would only endanger the entire race.
So rogue vampires did exist?
Catriona: That almost goes without saying but so do rogue mortals. In the vampire world a rogue vamp is treated the same way as a murderer in the mortal world. There are consequences to your actions. A first offence for a newborn will almost always result in exile and a forced servitude to a senior mentor. A second offence will always incur a death sentence. That can’t be stated plainly enough, especially with the fixation on the popular mainstream view of vampires. We can’t afford to allow murderers to exist amongst us. The only time it’s considered all right to take a life is in defence of your life or the lives of your friends and family. The war between the vampires and the Fraternity of Light is one notable exception but that’s because it is a war in every sense of the word.
Getting back to the thirteenth century. What was a typical day for you like?
Catriona: We started with breakfast, usually bannock cakes on a pan and then we were outside in the fields. We planted crops, kept the birds away, pulled the weeds and harvested the crops. Other than that we saw to the cattle whenever they were brought in close enough. You could be checking for lame cattle, attending to minor afflictions and if the animal wasn’t going to make it you killed it. Farming is not for the faint-hearted, the saying kill the fatted calf has real world implications on a farm. When I was a kid we did have time to play but it was always something we did along with our regular chores. We turned everything into a game when I was young and our games were very physical and often involved violence. We fought pitched battles with the children from Eastertoun and probably came out even all things considered. My mother was also the local healer so part of my duties involved helping gather herbs and mixing potions. Let’s just say there were very few times I could actually say I was bored. Some things like weeding could be tedious, but I suppose the communal nature of life back than made even those mundane tasks something of an adventure.
Moving on from that. How did life change under English rule?
Catriona: Oh quite dramatically. For a start we couldn’t carry weapons and the taxes imposed by Cressingham were horrendous. That man is an odious stain on history and the effects of his brand of cruelty are still with us today. I saw men who’d been skinned alive because they either couldn’t pay his taxes or took a blade to a soldier. All the wool was requisitioned for the English army bound for Flanders and a substantial part of the harvest was also to be handed over. I suppose in his twisted little brain he had some way of working out how much food each family needed but his calculations were out by a country mile. We had to feed a lot more mouths thanks to his insatiable greed. When they skinned his body after the battle, Morganna actually took a strip to bind the head of the priest who ordered my mother killed. She said later she should have sent an assassin to cut his throat but hindsight is always picture perfect.
The day of the battle, what are your memories of it?
Catriona: Apart from the events immediately afterwards? It was the bluest sky I’d seen in months. I remember seeing an eagle hovering on the thermals and thinking everything was so peaceful. Sir Richard came across the burn to see Julia after the monk blessed him. He looked anxious but once he’d received Julia’s blessing where she invoked the power of the old Gods he was quite relaxed. He even embraced my mother, which he’d never done before and told her not to worry. Later on however we heard horns in the distance and wondered if they were English or Scots horns. We couldn’t tell because we were quite far from the battlefield. My mother kept her sword and spear close to hand and I was forbidden from leaving the village. All the children had been told to stay put and not just that day but for most of the previous year we’d been kept close. Outlaws in the hills were always after children they could sell to greedy Englishmen and I suspect some of them were even captured and killed for much darker reasons. Cannibalism wasn’t exactly rife but it happened. Later on when my mother and I went to the battlefield I was anxious but comforted by the fact my mother knew how to use a sword and spear.
What were your thoughts when you first came upon the battlefield?
Catriona: (frowns) Without being over dramatic, it was as if the world had come to an end. I’d seen men killed in front of me but not on this scale. As far as the eye could see all that was visible were bodies. English, Scots, Welsh, Irish, enemies in life but now lying together in death. I remember thinking that if hell existed then it must be right here. I saw boys no older than me lying with their heads split open, some had lost a leg or an arm. Others were still alive even though they couldn’t move. I remember one boy a few years older than me, his back must have been broken but he was still alive because he blinked as our cart rolled past and he choked out a plea for help. Mum looked at him and then flicked the reins, she said there was nothing to be done for the boy. There were a lot of dead animals, horses for the most part but some horses were still alive. I saw dogs feeding on the dead and some people tried to chase them away but the survivors were mostly dazed or too drunk to care. The priests were trying to dispense the last rites but only to the more important people and even that seemed to be somewhat random. You have to realise that the cream of English knighthood died in that battle. It was one thing to squander thousands of commoners in battle but the death of a knight or noble was a great tragedy. When Wallace ordered the army into battle before the entire army crossed over he was actually breaking with established tradition. Even the Scots nobles were aghast at his actions I heard later, but if he hadn’t then I suspect our history would have been very different.
And yet we would see his tactics as bordering on genius.
Catriona: And rightly so, it was genius. Neither Moray nor Wallace had any intention of letting an entire English army cross the river. It would be the equivalent of allowing an armoured regiment and an infantry regiment across the river. By striking when they did, the English army was cut in two. They were crossing over on the causeway and that causeway was wide enough for a wagon or two horsemen riding abreast but there was no room to manoeuvre. They used the terrain against their enemy and to be blunt about it, they were out of options. The Scots nobles had capitulated at Irvine the previous month, the Scots had their backs to a wall, or in this case the hill of the Abbey Craig. To steal a line from the movie Braveheart, ‘they were starving and outnumbered.’ They were fighting for their very lives, if the English army had assembled in force to the north of the river then the battle was lost. Attacking when they did went against medieval protocol, there was no chance to deliver the king’s terms a second time around. Dominican friars were sent I was told to deliver the terms but Wallace sent them packing and told them he’d come to fight not talk.
So did he look anything at all like the Wallace in Braveheart?
Catriona: (giggles) You really should read more history. The kilt didn’t come into existence for another two hundred years and Wallace was a very tall man, Mel is too short and Wallace never wore paint. The Grey Ravens did wear paint, but their leaders were old Celts and they had to disguise their faces at night when they went raiding the English. He had a full beard and long hair but the sword hanging in the Wallace Monument is definitely not his sword. I remember that sword because Morganna used it to kill the priest who’d ordered the murder of my mother. There’s apparently some thirteenth century metal in that sword but swords were melted down on a regular basis to make new swords.
In retrospect, how does the Wars of Independence impact on the debate over the referendum today?
Catriona: (frowns) Without reciting old poems or singing the old songs I would say it still has quite a big impact. Cressingham’s treatment of the Scots influenced English attitudes towards the Scots. The Highland Clearances, the ban on wearing the tartan, the cultural vandalism of the English when they suppressed the Scots way of life, our language was driven to the point of extinction. The prejudice is still carried on today, I saw echoes of Cressingham’s evil in Thatcher’s poll tax that was levied only on the Scots. Like the fat tax collector, she nursed a desire to crush the Scots for no reason than the fact they spoke a different dialect. The No campaign is based largely on fear and the casual racism that is part and parcel of the Westminster elites. These people have never had to find money for rent, food and shelter. They’ve never had to do an honest day’s work in their lives for the most part. You’ve got a coalition of bitter enemies down south who’ve entered into an unholy union to keep the Scots from having what Wallace, Moray, the Bruce and others fought and died for, a country of our own. About the only thing about Braveheart I actually liked was the concept that we fought to have a country of our own, to make our own decisions about our own country. You look at the way we’re portrayed in the tabloid press whenever a British sportsman wins accolades. If he’s English then it’s that great ‘English’ sportsman, but if he’s Scots then it’s that great ‘British’ sportsman, the Scot is excised from him to make it more palatable I suppose to the elites. It’s that casual racism that has always irked me because in this day and age there’s no call for it, quite frankly it’s illegal under European law. I hope we get our independence and I’m not an SNP voter, I’d probably vote against them in a subsequent election but what we’re voting for in September is a chance to make our own decisions.
Well that answered my next question.
Catriona: To be honest I was originally against it but the more I thought about it and remembered I found myself gravitating towards it. I’m no lover of the SNP, but I do admire the fact that someone in power has actually stood up and said we can run our own affairs if you’ll vote yes. Providing I haven’t had to change my identity and leave the country I’ll be voting yes.
In closing this interview. What would you like people to take away from this discussion?
Catriona: That we’re human. We do have to take blood on a regular basis, we do like the sun but we’re not sun lovers, and I can’t wear silver earrings or let myself be pierced by silver but I’m human. I have seen so much history, loved and lost a thousand times and I have feelings. I hurt, I bleed, I laugh, love, cry and experience all the usual emotions. Forget the vampires you’ve seen on the television set or read about in books. We are the real thing, we’re not out to milk mortals and we’re not going to give the gift of immortality to all and sundry. Let us live in peace and learn from us. We’ve seen the grand sweep of history in intimate detail and our perspective might even save humanity from stumbling into some global catastrophe. About the only thing I miss is taste, we have a potion we can take once or twice a year that restores our taste buds but it’s not a permanent cure. (raises her beer) so I’ll never know what this beer tasted like.
It tastes quite nice to be honest.
Catriona Gee thanks, slainte.
Dr. Catriona MacGregor currently lives in the West End of Glasgow and works at Yorkhill Children’s Hospital. In her spare time she enjoys playing the piano or guitar, reading, writing, travel and dining out, even though vampires can’t actually taste food.
When my stepmom’s plane went down a part of me died, Cat was my world. In her place she left us to her friends, the Grey Ravens. Over the years I slowly came to realise her death was a mere facade. When we were reunited I learned the truth about Clan Grey Raven and her remarkable history. Some people will always love. Some people never lose hope. Some people never die…Smashwords Amazon.com