Sunday, 15 July 2012


On the Sunday morning we drove the short distance between Arisaig and Mallaig where we caught the half past ten ferry to Armadale on Skye. This particularly lush woodland by the shore was our first view of the island.

I liked these trees clinging to a rock. We saw quite a lot of trees clinging to rocks on our tour. It seems quite amazing how little a tree needs sometimes to live on.

We spotted the Ornsay lighthouse through the trees and took a wee detour to get this photograph.

We paid a visit to Dunvegan castle, which would appear to have some sort of rough cast surface - not awfully becoming. After our visit to Traquair a few weeks ago, which is the oldest continually occupied house in Scotland, Dunvegan is the oldest continually occupied castle, being the home of the Chiefs of the Macleods for 800 years.

The castle has a fine collection of Portraits, two of which stood out for me but neither can I find on the internet to show you. Well not quite. A black and white version of one can be seen here, but it comes so far from doing the portrait justice - the background especially and any trace of the painting style in it being quite invisible.It is one of a pair of paintings commissioned at the end of the 18th century by Norman (there were a lot of Normans I can tell you) 23rd Chief of the Macleods of himself and his wife Sarah Stackhouse. It is by Henry Raeburn who was the foremost Scottish portrait painter of his time - he could just be the foremost Scottish portrait painter regardless of time.

A generation earlier Allan Ramsey was the top man to call on when you wanted the family album updated and in 1747 Norman (told you!) the 22nd chief (he was actually the grandfather of the 23rd) commissioned this painting of himself. At the same time he commissioned a painting of his 2nd wife, Ann, to go with this which I would have really liked to have shown you as it is the better of the two. Norman earned the nickname, "the wicked Man"  during his lifetime. He managing to blow £60000 in his youth - quite a feet in the 1700s leaving the estate £50000 in debt. He is also reputed to have had his 1st wife bumped off and some of his behaviour in the Jacobite uprising is also rather questionable. The family tried to change his nickname to the "Red Man", in reference to this painting, but it certainly doesn't seem to have filtered through to Wikipedia.

This rather tattered piece of silk cloth in a frame is the item I remember best from my trip here on a family camping holiday as a child. It is the Fairy Flag and has more legends attached to it than you could shake a stick at. It has been linked to the crusades and other legends say that it was given to the clan in the dim and distant past by fairies. It is supposed to have give the clan help in fighting battles and during the wars many Macleods carried photos of the flag with them when they were away. The facts of the matter are that it is very ancient - experts have dated it to between the 4th and 7th centuries, a good 400 years before the first crusade. You could write a book on this but if you're interested there's a pile of stuff over at Wikipedia on it here.

 I have to admit to having a little moment in the castle concerning the over romanticising of Scottish history, especially the Bonnie Prince Charlie bit and the Scottish clan system. I suppose shortbread tins wouldn't look nearly as good with a photo of a lump of shortbread on them and the word Yum printed on it in big letters. Anyway, I am now calm again and outside.

We wandered round the back of the castle where it looks at it's best. The yellow stuff in the bottom of the picture is seaweed - the castle must look even better when the tide comes in.

It is surrounded by extensive grounds including a lovely walled garden.

One path through the grounds takes you past this waterfall.

This gate at the castle entrance is modern but great - an excellent reflection of Pictish and Celtic designs.

A short drive from Dunvegan a broch is marked on the map - we didn't see it and some miles later, after we had driven through the herd of cows on the road, when we were sure we had missed it, we were about to turn back when we spotted a car park. Nothing to do with brochs, the car park was for a beach. I like a walk along the beach, so off we went. A little over a mile later, we found it, known locally as Traig a chorail or coral beach. The beach has very rough sand with the basalt rocks of the local geology sticking through it. A pleasant walk for an evening.

There seem to be a number of hills on Skye this shape. To me it's some sort of volcanic chimney with the surrounding rock eroded away to leave the harder volcanic rock sticking up a bit (mind you, I'm a chemist not a geologist).

A view of the sea loch, Loch Dunvegan, on the way back from Coral Beach with the castle in view in the left of the picture.

We did find another broch the next day and, I read, the best preserved on the island. This one is Dun Beag. Brochs are a type of Iron age round house found mainly in the North and West of Scotland (though there is the odd stray one). There are about 500 known brochs which date from the late centuries BC to early AD.  Many like this one have lost most of their walls over the years and would have stood much higher than this. They are far from primitive when you look at them. They are double walled with stairs, cupboards and occasionally rooms within the walls. It seems there is some debate as to whether they were roofed or not - I can't see that people that could put second and third floors into a house couldn't, or wouldn't think to, put a roof on their house (they are dealing with Scottish weather after all). There is also some debate as to whether they were defencive or a status thing or a combination of the two.

Stairs within the walls.

A wee room.

Inside the broch.

A cutaway drawing of how might have looked back in the day - quite cosy really.

Driving through the island we saw this waterfall.

Skye is quite mountainous in the interior and distinctly bleak in places.

I see the local Bank of Scotland has it's signpost in Gaelic.

The campsite in Skye was spacious with some nice spots that were sheltered from the wind. Perfect places for a wee tune while you wait for the kettle to boil.


The Glebe Blog said...

More excellent pictures Sandy. On my two day visit I only got to see Portree and that northern peninsula. Not that that was boring of course.

Scottish history over romanticized ? Well maybe so but it brings in the tourists. Sir Walter Scott has a lot to answer for hasn't he.
Coincidentally I came across an online non romanticized history of Scotland by an Islander who goes under the name of Skyelander. A very good site for research.

Sandy's witterings said...

I've been to Portree a couple of times - not this trip though. The northern peninsula (that where Uig is?)has yet to receive my attention.

I shall look out Skyelander later on.

Dominic Rivron said...

A guitar, a tent... Skye... Can't be bad. Last time I went there was to climb the Inn Pin - a long time ago. Your blog continues to lead me by the nose on an exceedingly pleasant trip down memory lane...

My previous visits to Skye were definitely Munro-centric. You've reminde me, too, that there's so much else to see and do there!

Shundo said...

Love the broch, and the landscapes - it looks almost as grey as San Francisco does at the moment.

Sandy's witterings said...

Dominic, I have a couple of Munroes under my belt, Ben Nevis and Ben Cruachan, both from a very long time ago. These days I'm much happier to look up at them and admire, and as you say, there's so much more at lower altitudes.

Shundo, In my experience, a grey day on Skye is a good weather day. I would imagine that in San Francisco the expectations of blue skies are higher.

Shundo said...

True enough, Sandy. We somehow seem to think the fog is unfair in the summer...