Green (Mtsvane) Day!

Nope, not the band…..the actual day! Sorry to disappoint you!!

So, it was a super early start, went to bed at 3am after a trip to the Elvis Cafe for a late-ish midnight snack, (caesar salad and milkshake….they do lovely milkshake, but the salad was nothing to write home about). And had to get up, ready to leave at 4am with the TLG mini bus, for the long drive ahead, from Tbilisi to Kutaisi, and then on to Vardzia, a place I have wanted to go since before I arrived in Georgia, and which I failed to visit whilst living close to it, but finally managed to see. It was well worth the wait!

Going to bed late, and getting up early, seems to be the norm since I have been living in Georgia, and early mornings were also usual for me working in accident and emergency at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading, and when I worked in the film industry, so it was not such a big deal, and I pretty much slept for the whole journey there and back. I blame my parents for that, since I would never sleep as a baby, and the only way to get me to go to sleep was to put me in the car and drive around all night. Its like a Pavlovian response now, put me in a moving car, and I am fast asleep, head bobbing all over the shop!

About 9am or 10am, we met the Kutaisi volunteers, some old friends, and lots of new folk I had never met before, so that was great, and one of my many recent trips to Kutaisi. They have a very nice Mcdonalds there, the only one outside of Tbilisi (which has four McDonalds, more than Latvia or Lithuania, or France!). Although, I always feel that the Kutaisi Mcdonalds should have another floor to it, because it looks a bit weird as a single story building, seated between some taller buildings! The staff are always really friendly there too, and have far better manners and English than the Tbilisi bunch, but they are still not bad. For example, seeing that my hands were already full, the lovely young man at the counter, offered to put the milk and sugar in my coffe for me, stir it, and even put the lid on properly. You would never get that kind of service in the UK that is for sure! So, a big shout out to Kutaisi Mcdonalds for their top service!! They are also always very clean, and have especially clean toilets, if you are ever caught short…..

Georgia was looking especially lovely today, and there is always something fresh and magical about travelling early in the morning, with the dew, and smell of the air, and sun coming up. A lovely peaceful stillness, that you don’t get at any other time of the day. It was lovely to hear the birds, and Georgia has a phenomenally vast array of birds, from swallows, to larger birds of prey. Its definitely a twitchers paradise, and I would love to spend hours with my camera watching the birds, maybe over summer this will be possible? But, it wasn’t just the birds that made the country so pleasant to view. At the moment, Georgia is really lush and green after all the rains, which are apparently unusual for this time of year. It looks very different to how it did when I arrived in Autumn or Winter.

The fields would make a photographer very happy right now, but unfortunately I didn’t have chance to stop and take any piccies because we were on a mission. But they were full of bright red poppies, and purple flowers. Quite a striking contrast, and probably similar to how Britain used to look before we started farming more intensely and using pesticides. Here, there were so many fields of wild flowers, and this probably explains why there are so many birds, because there are plenty of insects and seeds for them to eat.

I actually felt pretty old today, especially meeting the other TLG volunteers or teachers who were probably in their early twenties. It was a little daunting to realise that I was probably ALMOST old enough to be their mum!!! And I certainly didn’t feel as agile or athletic as they were climbing over rocks and going up and down the ancient steps of Vardzia. It certainly puts my Northern Pole of Inaccessibility Dream into perspective, and I am really starting to feel the pressure to achieve everything I want in life whilst I still can. I have had so much knee surgery and so many joint problems already, that I am starting to feel the pressure of time now. It definitely makes me not want to be tied down to a husband or children, as there are just too many things I want to do in life first. This was never an issue in Britain, but in Georgia it really annoys me, as all people are interested in is my marrying a good Georgian boy and reproducing. The thought of it, just makes me so angry, and is so opposite to what I want from my life. I certainly don’t want to be tied down or to give up the freedom that I have right now, and I certainly don’t want the responsibility for looking after another human being. For some people, its the right thing, but for me it just isn’t, and I hate having to justify myself to complete strangers…..but anyway, that’s just one of the joys of living in Georgia!!

So, we picked up the other TLG volunteers, and our first stop…very appropriately, was The Green Monastery! It was pretty enough, and quite quaint, but I am starting to feel that churches are a little over rated in Georgia, and there is little concept of other kinds of tourism. I understand why churches are so important to Georgians, but for foreigners its a different experience. We don’t have the same deep rooted attachment to religion, and our churches, castles, and forts are equally historic and sometimes more interesting. Mainly because they have ghosts or horror stories or massacres attached to them. We have so much history in Britain, especially as an island race, and having been invaded by so many different people, from Vikings, to Celts, to Romans, and so forth. Georgia does have some of the oldest churches in the world, but they are not quite the same some how. For example, my ancestors the McDonalds, had a fight with another clan, who stole (the equivalent of Georgian Bride knapping perhaps, except that they were in love) one of the young lasses, the McDonalds were angry, and so they decided to row their boats across to the next island and set fire to everyone in the church, only one young girl escaped! I know that is nothing to be proud of, but its why British history is so much more interesting, because all Brits, AMericans, and Australians, can trace their heritage back to Britain and such stories. In Georgia, I don’t have that same connection and there are not the same stories, and it is hard for me as a foreigner to get my head around the religious significance still.


    strong>Here is what I know of my McDonald heritage (courtesy of Wikipedia!)


The Norse-Gaelic Clan Donald traces its descent from Dòmhnall Mac Raghnuill (d. circa 1250),[1] whose father Reginald or Ranald was styled “King of the Isles” and “Lord of Argyll and Kintyre”.[2] Ranald’s father, Somerled was styled “King of the Hebrides”, and was killed campaigning against Malcolm IV of Scotland at the Battle of Renfrew in 1164. Clan Donald shares a descent from Somerled with Clan MacDougall, who trace their lineage from his elder son, Dugall mac Somhairle.[3] Their dynasties are together commonly referred to as the Clann Somhairle. Furthermore they are descended maternally from both the House of Godred Crovan and the Earls of Orkney, through Somerled’s wife Ragnhildis Ólafsdóttir, daughter of Olaf I Godredsson, King of Mann and the Isles and Ingeborg Haakonsdottir daughter of Haakon Paulsson, Earl of Orkney. It remains uncertain if the Clann Somhairle are also descendants in some manner, through one or another of the above dynasts, of the House of Ivar, but this is commonly argued.[4]

Gaelic tradition gave Somerled a Celtic descent in the male line,[2][5] as the medieval Seanachies traced his lineage through a long line of ancestors back to the High Kings of Ireland, namely Colla Uais and Conn of the Hundred Battles.[6] Thus Clan Donald claimed to be both Clann Cholla and Siol Chuinn (Children of Colla and Seed of Conn).[7] Possibly the oldest piece of poetry attributed to the MacDonalds is a brosnachadh (an incitement to battle) which was said to have been written in 1411, on the day of the Battle of Harlaw.[7] The first lines of the poem begin “A Chlanna Cuinn cuimhnichibh / Cruas an àm na h-iorghaile,” (Ye children of Conn remember hardihood in the time of battle).[7] A later poem made to John of Islay (1434–1503), last of the MacDonald Lords of the Isles, proclaims “Ceannas Ghàidheal do Chlainn Cholla, còir fhògradh,” (The Headship of the Gael to the family of Colla, it is right to proclaim it), giving MacDonald’s genealogy back to Colla Uais.[7]

However a recent DNA study has shown that Somerled may have been of Norse descent in his male line.[8] By testing the Y-DNA of males bearing the surnames MacDonald, MacDougall, MacAlister, and their variants it was found that a substantial proportion of men tested shared the same Y-DNA and a direct paternal ancestor.[9] This distinct Y-chromosome R1a1 haplotype found in Scotland has been regarded as often showing Norse descent in the British Isles.[8] According to the Clan Donald USA DNA Project about 22% of tested participants have this signature, most importantly including the chiefs,[10] but despite the sensational claims it remains unclear whether Somerled himself was of paternal Norse ancestry. A non-paternity event remains a possible cause.[11]

Scottish-Norwegian War
The MacDonalds had always supported Norway. However, this alliance broke when the Norwegians were defeated at the Battle of Largs in 1263 by Scottish forces. Norway’s King Haakon was defeated and his fleet was wrecked by the skilled manoeuvres of King Alexander III of Scotland and the Clan MacDougall. Three years later, the Norwegians submitted their last islands to the Scottish crown. Aonghas Mòr, the son of Dòmhnall, then made peace with King Alexander III of Scotland. The clan takes its name ‘Donald’ from Donald who was the grandson of King Somerled of the Isles who lived until 1269.

Wars of Scottish Independence
The MacDonalds fought for Robert the Bruce at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. It was Donald’s great grandson, Angus Og of Islay who sheltered King Robert the Bruce. Angus led a small band of Islesmen at the Battle of Bannockburn. In recognition of Clan Donalds support King Robert the Bruce proclaimed that Clan Donald would always occupy the honored position on the right wing of the Scottish army. Donald’s son was the original ‘Mac’ which means ‘son of’.

15th century
Earldom of Ross
The title and territory of the Earl of Ross had originally been held by the Chief of Clan Ross. However Angas Og’s grandson, Dòmhnall of Islay, Lord of the Isles married the first female heiress of the Earl of Ross. He later successfully claimed the position of Earl of Ross through marriage. This was secured by the Battle of Harlaw on 24 July 1411 where most of the highland clans supported Donald in preventing the Duke of Albany and his army of Scottish Lowlanders from claiming the position for himself. However by 1415 the Earldom of Ross was lost as Murdoch Stewart, Duke of Albany had seized Dingwall Castle and Easter Ross. Dòmhnall prepared for war and proclaimed himself “Lord of Ross”. Although Albany appointed his own son John Stewart, 2nd Earl of Buchan as the new Earl of Ross. However, later the MacDonald chiefs would again become the Earls of Ross, firstly Alexander of Islay, Earl of Ross and then his son John of Islay, Earl of Ross who surrendered the earldom in 1476 to James Stewart, Duke of Ross. Prior to the Battle of Harlaw in 14111 the Battle of Dingwall took place where the powerful Clan Mackay were defeated by Clan Donald. They later joined forces and fought at the Battle of Harlaw.[12]

In 1429 the Battle of Lochaber took place. This conflict was between forces led by Alexander MacDonald of Islay, Earl of Ross, 3rd Lord of the Isles and the Royalist army of King James I of Scotland.[13] Two years later the Battle of Inverlochy (1431) took place. While chief Alexander MacDonald of Islay, Earl of Ross was imprisoned by King James I, the Clan MacDonald were led by Donald Balloch, the nephew of Alexander. The MacDonalds were victorious in defeating the Earl of Mar’s army.

The Battle of Blar Na Pairce took place in 1477, it was fought between the Clan MacDonald and Clan MacKenzie.[14]

The Battle of Bloody Bay took place in 1480, it was fought between John MacDonald of Islay, Earl of Ross, Lord of the Isles and chief of Clan Donald (Eoin Mac Dòmhnuill) against his son Angus Og Macdonald (Aonghas Òg ). John MacDonald of Islay, chief of Clan Donald was supported by men from the Clan MacLean, Clan MacLeod, and Clan MacNeil. He was opposed by his son, Angus Og Macdonald, who was supported Allan Macruari, chief of the Clan MacDonald of Clan Ranald.[15] and Dòmhnall Mac Aonghais (Donald Mac Angus) chief of the Clan MacDonald of Keppoch[16][17]

The Battle of Skibo and Strathfleet, 1480, John MacDonald of Islay, Earl of Ross invaded Sutherland and fought against men of the Clan Sutherland and Clan Murray.[18] The Battle of Drumchatt was fought in 1497 where the Clan Munro and Clan Mackenzie together defeated the MacDonald of Lochalsh branch of Clan Donald.

16th century

MacDonald of the Isles (MakDonnald of ye Ylis) tartan, as published in the Vestiarium Scoticum in 1842.

The position of Lord of the Isles which the MacDonald chief had held since the 13th century had been revoked in 1495. However the MacDonalds remained a powerful clan and retained much of their lands until much violence broke out in the middle of the 16th century.

The Battle of Flodden Field took place in 1513, during the Anglo-Scottish Wars the son of Alexander MacDonald of Lochalsh led the Clan MacDonald of Lochalsh against the English army. On his return he attempted to take control of the government-held Urquhart Castle.
The Battle of the Shirts, 1544, The Clan Macdonald of Clanranald fought against the Clan Fraser on the shores of Loch Lochy. Legend has it that only five Frasers and eight MacDonalds survived.

The Battle of the Spoiling Dyke, 1578 MacDonalds of Uist fought against the Clan MacLeod.[19] The Battle of the Western Isles, 1586, Fought on the Isle of Jura, between the Clan MacDonald of Sleat and the Clan Maclean.[18] The Battle of Traigh Ghruinneart, 1598, Fought between the Clan Donald and Clan Maclean on the Isle of Islay.[18]

17th Century and the Civil War
The Battle of Coire Na Creiche, 1601, Clan MacDonald of Sleat defeated the Clan MacLeod on the slopes of the Cuillin hills.[20] The Battle of Morar was fought in 1602 between the Clan MacDonell of Glengarry and the Clan Mackenzie.[18]

In 1642 on Rathlin Island, during the Irish Rebellion, Covenanter Campbell soldiers of the Argyll’s Foot were encouraged by their commanding officer Sir Duncan Campbell of Auchinbreck to kill the local Catholic MacDonalds, near relatives of the Scottish Highlands Clan MacDonald, this they did with ruthless efficiency throwing scores of MacDonald women over cliffs to their deaths on rocks below.[21][22] The number of victims of this massacre has been put as low as 100 and as high as 3,000.

The Wars of the Three Kingdoms of 1644-47 was in large part a clan war between the MacDonalds and Clan Campbell. the MacDonalds sided with the Royalists in the English Civil War and the Irish Confederate Catholics in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. The Campbells sided with the Scottish Covenanters. A MacDonald clansman, Alasdair Mac Colla raised an Irish force in 1644 and landed in Scotland, with the aim of linking up with the Scottish Royalists and taking back the lands that Clan Donald had lost to the Campbells. After a year of campaigning around Scotland, in which Mac Colla’s men ravaged the Campbell lands, the two sides met at the Battle of Inverlochy (1645). This battle was between the Scottish Argyll government forces of Clan Campbell led by Archibald Campbell, 1st Marquess of Argyll and the Royalist forces of the Marquess of Montrose mainly made up of Irish O’Kanes, O’Neills, Ulster Irish Clan MacDonald, Clan MacLean and other MacDonalds. Through cunning tactics the Royalist force of 1500 MacDonalds, Irish and MacLeans defeated the Argyll Campbell force of 3000. In 1645 during the Civil War, Kinlochaline Castle of the Clan MacInnes was attacked and burned by MacDonalds serving under James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose.

The Battle of Mulroy took place in 1668, The Clan MacDonald of Keppoch and Clan Cameron defeat the Clan Mackintosh and Clan Mackenzie

The Massacre of Glencoe took place in 1692, 38 unarmed MacDonalds from the Clan MacDonald of Glencoe were murdered in the Massacre of Glencoe when an initiative to suppress Jacobitism was entangled in the long running feud between Clan MacDonald and Clan Campbell. The slaughter of the host MacDonalds at the hands of their Campbell guests was a major affront to Scottish Law and Highland tradition.

18th century
During the Jacobite risings of 1715 the British Government forces, including some units drawn from Clan Campbell fought against the Jacobite rebels, made up, amongst others, of the men of Clan Donald who were under MacDonald of Keppoch and the Clan Macdonald of Clanranald whose chief was killed. However there were in fact some Campbells who took the Jacobites’ side, led by the son of Campbell of Glenlyon whose father had commanded the government troops at the Massacre of Glencoe 22 years earlier. The two young men buried the hatchet and swore to be brothers in arms, fighting side by side in the Battle of Sheriffmuir. The British forces defeated the Jacobites.

The Clan Donald fought on the side of the Jacobites during the 1745-1746 uprisings with three regiments from Clan Macdonald of Clanranald, Clan MacDonnell of Glengarry, Clan MacDonald of Keppoch and the Clan MacDonald of Glencoe fighting at the Battle of Prestonpans, Battle of Falkirk (1746) and the Battle of Culloden. A number of MacDonalds were killed at Culloden although many of them left the field after seeing the slaughter of other clans who charged the government lines before them.

The Clan MacDonald of Sleat branch did not take part in the Jacobite Uprisings therefore the Sleat possessions remained intact.

The Motto of the Clan McDonald is Per mare per terras (By sea and by land). And I know a little song about the massacre at Glencoe:

They came in a blizzard, we offered them heat.
A roof for their heads, dry shoes for their feet.
We wined ’em and dined ’em, they ate all our meat.
And they slept in the house of MacDonald.

Oh cruel is the snow that sweeps Glencoe
and covers the grave o’ Donald
and cruel is the foe that raped Glencoe
and murdered the house of MacDonald.

They came from Fort William with murder in mind,
The Campbell had orders, King William had signed,
“Put all to the sword” these words underlined,
“Leave no one alive called MacDonald”.


They came in the night, while our men were asleep.
This band of Argylls, through snow soft and deep.
Like murdering foxes among helpless sheep.
They slaughtered the house of MacDonald.


Some died in their beds, at the hands of the foe.
Some fled in the night and were lost in the snow.
Some left to accusin’, who struck the first blow.
But gone was the house of MacDonald.

    Back to the Green Monastery

So, our first stop of the day was the Green Monastery, where we had a little picnic, and then viewed the Monastery along with lots of children on their excursions from school. The monastery is about 15km from Borjomi, and is situated in the Chitakhevi gorge.

The monastery was founded by monks in about the 9th century, and it was called the Green Monastery because of its location in all the trees and greenery, and because of the colour of the stone in the rain, or so I believe.

In the 14th century, the monastery became deserted due to political problems, but later the monks returned, only to be caught in trouble again in 1578, when the region, then known as Samtskhe Atabagi lost its independence, and the region became a part of the Osmanian Empire, along with most of the Borjomi valley. In the 16th Century, a famous architect by the name of Shervinski, visited the still derelict monastery and made some sketches of it, and in 1978 restoration work was started, which used these sketches to make repairs. Since 2003, the monastery has again gone back to its original useage, and hopefully the situation will remain the same for the future!

There are two particularly interesting things at the monastery. Firstly, there is a chapel with the skulls and bones of monks, which you can see, and secondly, the river close to the church has some stones which look red. It is said that the stones became red after so many people were killed here, and that the river ran with blood during this time.

    Next Stop Vardzia

So, the moment finally arrived! Here I was at Vardzia at last, having slept for the entire journey from the Green Monastery!! The weather was looking pretty stormy, so it was no surprise when the heavens opened and the lightning started to strike, but it all added to the atmosphere and adventure. I can’t write about it, but I have found a video, which does it more justice than I can, although it was far too busy when I was there, and annoying to be pushed about by Georgians with no sense of personal space.

Lots of Georgians have told me not to go to Vardzia in the summer because there are lots of snakes, but to be honest, I can’t imagine any sane snake wanting to be anywhere near here, because it was just so full of people, and no room for a snake to stop or bathe in the sun. But, I would suggest a visit in the winter or Autumn if you don’t like crowds, perhaps not in the snow and ice, but sometime before the masses arrive.


About Sarah Rows Solo

British YouTuber and Founder of Environmental and STEM education charity Oceans Project, preparing for a solo row around the coast of Great Britain.
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