Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Highlands and Islands of Scotland...(Part 2)

We continue on our trip to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis.

We left the area of Glencoe on the last blog post and ended up at Spean Bridge for night.

On Friday we left Spean Bridge and drove toward Invergarry on our way to the ferry in the village of Uig (pronounced “oo-ig”).  The scenery changed from the more barren country of Glencoe to an area covered with pine trees and many lochs  (lakes).

We seemed to drive from one loch to another.  Everywhere we looked we wanted to take another picture.

This was the scenery in the Invergarry area as we headed to Dornie and the Castle.

We headed toward the village of Dornie and the Eilean Donan Castle  - one of the most photographed castles in Scotland.  You will find a picture of this castle on almost every Scottish Highland tourist calendar.  J   Eilean (pronounced “Ale-an”) is Gaelic for island

The Eilean Donan Castle is on a wee island.  The history of this castle site goes back at least 800 years, the present building however dates largely from the early 20th century.  The Eilean Donan, or island Donan, is named after the 6th century Irish saint, Bishop Donan, who came to Scotland about 580.  The island offered a perfect defensive position to the entrance of three salt water lochs.  

The island has a fresh water spring and the first castle was probably built in the early 13th century as a defensive measure against the Vikings. The bridge to the island was actually not built until the 1930s when the MacRae family began a major restoration project. 

We left the castle and headed for the bridge to the Isle of Skye.  The scenery change again back to the similar look near Glencoe.  We arrived at the village of Uig (pronounced “oo-ig”) and boarded the ferry from Uig to Tabert.   

This was the bay at Uig while waiting for the ferry.  About 15 minutes before we boarded the ferry it began to rain.  Fortunately the sea was not that rough and we had a pretty good ride to Tabert.

This was about 1 ½ hour ride across to the Isle of Harris.  Harris is not technically an island but is connected to the Isle of Lewis.  We drove about an hour to the village of Stornoway.  The scenery was very rocky and barren. 

 This was one of many lochs on the drive to Stornoway

Stornoway is a small town on the east coast of the Isle of Lewis.  It is a very religious area and most things are closed on Sunday…which is really a welcome thing.  Saturday morning we arrived at the Church for the Workshop.  The senior missionary couple in Stornoway had been working hard to get people to attend and we were hoping for 3-4.  By 10:00 a.m. we had one person plus the senior couple.  We decided that this one person was a person out of work and in need of a job…so we did our workshop with him and the two other missionaries.  It turned out to be a great day and we were able to give a lot of one-on-one attention to our participant.

Sunday was Church.  We met the other people who had indicated they were coming to the workshop and heard their excuses why they weren’t there.  We had dinner with the missionary couple.

This is the Chapel in Stornoway.  It sits on the road right along the harbor so it is one of the first things one sees as the ferry comes and goes...all the other buildings are brown so this white building stands out.

The next post will be about Monday and our tour of the island before we return for home…

Monday, May 26, 2014

The highlands and islands of Scotland…(Part 1)

We had a wonderful trip visit the town of Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis to conduct a Career Workshop.  Because of all we saw I am going to do this report in multiple parts to include more pictures.  The distance from Glasgow to Stornoway is about 300 miles.  Stornoway is the largest village in the Outer Hebrides – a group of islands off the northwest coast of Scotland.  Scottish Gaelic is the predominant language on many parts of the islands but most people also speak English.

We started in Edinburgh early Thursday morning.  We left Glasgow about noon and took the A82 along the west coast of Loch Lomond, through the Glencoe Valley to Fort Williams to the village of Spean Bridge (just north of Fort William) where we stayed overnight.  One can see the distance we still need to travel to reach Stornoway on Lewis.
We left Edinburgh early Thursday for some appointments in East Kilbride (near Glasgow) and then about noon left the Glasgow area to head up to the Isle of Lewis.  As we reached the Scottish highlands we traveled through Glencoe valley which was the site of the massacre of the McDonalds by the Campbells.

A wee bit of history background as we take this journey to Stornoway and pass through Glencoe…

We reached the Highlands and would love to be able to download the "brain video" we have as we traveled through this beautiful countryside.

This is the Glencoe Valley - the sight of the "Battle of Glencoe".
The King of England and Scotland – James II, a Catholic – was deposed by William III – a Protestant.  The Jacobites in Scotland wanted to return James to the throne but were defeated by the English Government troops in the mid-1690s.  William offered the Jacobite Highland clans a pardon for their role in the uprising provided that their chiefs would swear allegiance to him by the end of 1691.  There was an oath to be taken by the end of the year with harsh repercussions from the new King to those who did not comply.  James finally accepted his fate of exile late that fall and granted that the clan chiefs should take the oath.  Word of James’ decision did not reach the highlands until mid-December. 

Alastair MacIain, the chief of the MacDonalds of Glencoe, set out on December 31, 1691, for Fort William where he intended to give his oath.  Because of “politics” he was told that he would need to go to Inveraray to see Sir Colin Campbell, the sheriff of Argyle to take the oath.  Because of the distance and previous problems between the MacDonalds and Campbells the oath was not communicated to the government in Edinburgh until sometime in January.  A plot was hatched in Edinburgh to eliminate the MacDonald’s of Glencoe.

Apparently led by Secretary of State John Dalrymple, who had a hatred of the Highlanders, the plot sought to eliminate a troublesome clan while making an example for the others to see. Working with Sir Thomas Livingstone, the military commander in Scotland, Dalrymple secured the king's blessing for taking measures against those who had not given the oath in time. In late January, two companies (120 men) of the Earl of Argyle's Regiment of Foot were sent to Glencoe and billeted with the MacDonalds.


Arriving in Glencoe, Campbell and his men were warmly greeted by MacIain and his clan. It appears that Campbell was unaware of his actual mission at this point, and he and men graciously accepted MacIain's hospitality. After peacefully coexisting for two weeks, Campbell received new orders on February 12, 1692.

Signed by Major Robert Duncanson, the orders stated, "You are hereby ordered to fall upon the rebels, the MacDonalds of Glencoe, and put all to the sword under seventy. You are to have a special care that the old fox and his sons do upon no account escape your hands. You are to secure all the avenues that no man escape." Pleased to have an opportunity to exact revenge, Campbell issued orders for his men to attack at 5:00 AM on the 13th. As dawn approached, Campbell's men fell upon the MacDonalds in their villages of Invercoe, Inverrigan, and Achacon.

Campbell's men killed 38 MacDonalds and put their villages to the torch. Those MacDonalds who survived were forced to flee the glen and an additional 40 died from exposure.

That is the background story of the battle of Glencoe…

We traveled through Glencoe, to Fort William, and on to Spean Bridge.  We were truly in the Scottish highlands at this point but too early in the season for the beauty of the heather.  Obviously we will need to make a return trip to part of this area in July or August to see the heather.  The country side is very rugged and somewhat barren.  Near Fort William is Ben Nevis…the tallest mountain in the British Isles 4409 feet.

Ben Nevis is hidden by the clouds.  This is looking back towards Fort William

In Spean Bridge we stopped at the Commando Monument.  This was built in memory of an elite group of soldiers.  In the summer of 1940 Winston Churchill ordered the raising of an elite force of soldiers to raid the enemy coastline of Europe.  This group of soldiers were called Commandos.

During the next five years this group fought in every theatre of war with such success that the word “Commando” became feared by the enemy.  In 1942 the Commando Training Centre was established at Achnacarry in the Scottish Highlands.  The soldiers now included the British Army, the Royal Marines, and the Allied Armies.  Only those who successfully completed the training had the privilege to wear the famous Green Beret.  This distinctive head-dress became a hallmark of the highest standards of military training, self-discipline, endurance, initiative, bravery and courage.  Their motto was “United we Conquer”.

We stayed the night at a B&B in Spean Bridge.  Tomorrow we continue to journey across the Isle of Skye, the ferry at Uig (pronounced "ooig"), and to Stornoway…

Friday, May 23, 2014

Where is Brigadoon?

To the surprise of many, the mystical…or I should say mythical…village of Brigadoon is not actually located in the Scottish Highlands...nor anywhere else.  My guess is that the sound of “Brigadoon” fit the artistic touch for Lerner & Lowe’s 1947 musical better than the “Brig o’ Spean”, or the Brig o’ Dornie”.  “Brigadoon” just sounds a wee bit more mystical for the stage play musical production.  Actually Brig o’ Doon means…Bridge over the River Doon. 

Recently we visited the Brig o’ Doon.  The River Doon winds its way through south Ayrshire in the lowlands of Scotland and empties into the Firth of Clyde just south of Ayr near a small village named Alloway

This is the Brig o' Doon.
The River Doon looking up river from the bridge

Looking down river

Alloway is the birth place of Robert Burns (1759 – 1796), who is widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland and is celebrated worldwide.

Burns' Cottage
The garden at Burns' Cottage

Robert Burns

We visited the Burns’ Cottage which is near the Brig o’ Doon.  The bridge is used as the setting for the final verse of Burns' poem Tam o' Shanter. In this last scene Tam is on horseback and is being chased by Nannie the witch. He is just able to escape her by crossing the bridge (over a running stream) narrowly avoiding her attack as she is only able to grab the horse's tail which comes away in her hands. - "The carlin caught her by the rump and left puir Meg wi' scarce a stump."

Where puir (poor) Meg lost her tail

On this same outing we also visited the Culzean (pronounced Cul-lane) Castle.  This castle was never a defensive castle, but rather it was built as a show piece summer home for the Kennedy family.  (Not related to JFK)  The Kennedys hired a famous Scottish architect to design a home for his estate.  It was begun in the 18th century and had revisions and additions for about 100 years. The castle was built in stages between 1777 and 1792. It incorporates a large drum tower with a circular saloon inside (which overlooks the sea), a grand oval staircase and a suite of well-appointed apartments. 

This is the clock tower as one enters the castle  grounds

A view of the Ayrshire coast and the clock tower
In 1945, the Kennedy family gave the castle and its grounds to the National Trust for Scotland (thus avoiding inheritance taxes and ongoing maintenance costs). In doing so, they stipulated that the apartment at the top of the castle be given to General of the Army - Dwight D. Eisenhower in recognition of his role as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during the Second World War. The General first visited Culzean Castle in 1946 and stayed there four times, including once while President of the United States. An Eisenhower exhibition occupies one of the rooms, with mementoes of his lifetime.  The top floor of the castle is now a hotel and the room rent is $650 per night.

A dinning room inside the Castle
The ceiling of the dinning room

Castle exterior


The spring flowers around the castle were still in bloom.  In about a month the grounds will be filled with summer flowers and so beautiful

The garden around the Castle