Cnoc na Bhain is a fair hill, indeed. Some say (in this case Wikipedia) it is one of the most beautiful graveyards in Scotland and this certainly seems true on a stunningly sunny and clear winter’s day. Access is difficult, you have to park the car down at Achanalt train station and walk up the hill, where the graveyard tops the curves like a crown.
It is not just a picturesque graveyard, but one that holds a few surprises: it has a Spanish connection. Entering the graveyard, one passes a large boulder with various plaque attached. The one on top dedicated to the Marquesa de Torre Hermosa. This is not a Highland name so what is the story?
The next clue on this intriguing mystery on the breathtakingly beautiful burial site is the name Bignold. Written in stone on the rather stern looking mausoleum to the side of the graveyard; an austere, almost defensive structure.
Arthur Bignold was a Member of Parliament, his daughter married a Spanish nobleman (of Irish decent) from Tenerife, Canary Islands. He was Don Alberto Colgan y Colgan Marqués de Torre Hermosa. They had fallen in love while the Bignolds were on holiday there. The Bignolds lived in Lochrosque Lodge near the graveyard and Tenerife must have felt magically different to the daughter. May Mildred Hill Bignold acquired the fanciful Spanish name and title by marrying her summer love. A love that would not last forever.
She must have been the talk of the season in the elite circles she moved in, apparently, she was an extraordinary woman. The Highland-Canarian couple had children and therefore Spanish names appear on Scottish gravestones. The Marquesa of Strathbran left a lasting impression on society in her time. After her divorce she took the comparatively normal name of Maddick with her next husband.
The Bignolds lived in Lochrosque Lodge and had a famous visitor during World War I: Winston Churchill turned up unannounced because he had spotted a search light on top of the building. This seemed suspicious to the First Lord of the Admiralty and he wanted it checked. It seemed worth a second look because there had been talk of an unidentified plane in the area. But apparently it came to nothing.
Planes however played an important role in another man’s life that left an impression on this area and was buried on graveyard on the hill: Captain Bertram Dickson. The first pilot of the United Kingdom was a Scot. He was born in Edinburgh in 1873 and he died in Lochrosque Lodge, where the Marquesas family lived. Dickson had seen the world as a soldier, he had been to Turkey, Somalia, Argentina and Chile. Captain Dickson died of the consequences of injuries he sustained in a mid-air crash near Milan in 1913 and was buried in Cnoc na Bhain.