One of the things I love most about living on the west coast of the Scottish Highlands is exploring all its hidden and sometimes secret nooks and crannies. It often amazes me how many Scots actually know more about Meditteranean countries than they know about the riches of their own homeland.
I’ve just returned from a few wonderful days in Sutherland, one of the most remote parts of the Highlands and Islands, and often referred to as Britains last great wilderness. I’ve not been up there for a number of years, and have to confess that I’d forgotten the sheer scale of its grandeur. Many visitors to our shores don’t manage to get up there, and do miss out on a really stunning region simply because it’s slightly off the main well-trodden tourist routes.
As well as the mountains, lochs and scenery, part of its magic is the incredible number of majestic beaches the area offers, often to be found completely deserted.
I have four kids, and we always try to make the most of the area when the sun does actually make an appearance. Over the years we’ve enjoyed wonderful family days on many of the highland’s finest beaches either on foot, or sometimes by our wee boat; so seeing as it’s officially summer, and some of you might be heading up this way, I thought I’d play Tourist Information Office and share a few of our own personal favourites. I’ve included our own Top 10, but in no particular order as they all have their own individual charms. The hardest thing was actually narrowing it down to only 10, as there are so many to choose from, and it was with some regret that I had to exclude a few.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy them, and if you’re up here in the future they’re all worth a visit!
White Sands of Morar
Big Sand Beach, Torridon
Balnakeil Beach, Durness
Coral Beach, Skye
Gruinard Bay, Wester Ross
Luskentyre Beach, Harris
Rispond Bay, Sutherland
Sandwood Bay, Sutherland
Sanna Bay, Ardnamurchan
Tolsta Bay, Lewis
It was with a true sense of amazement that I realised this morning that we have just reached something of a landmark. The Eilean Donan Blog is now exactly one year old today, so HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO US!!!
I use the words “we” and “us” in the above paragraph quite deliberately, as without the continued interest, support and feedback of you all out there in cyberspace, there would be little point in me sharing my inane ramblings of Eilean Donan with the wider community.
Looking back to when we first started, I’m not 100% certain what my initial expectations for the blog truly were, but in reviewing the WordPress statistics page this morning, I find that in the last year I’ve apparently submitted 53 entries, (across a variety of different topics); and posted quite a significant amount of assorted photos. These have been viewed an incredible 31,000 times, whilst hundreds of you have also added some great comments, contributions and observations to the content and the audience still continues to steadily grow.
It has also been fascinating to see what type of blog post appeals to you all. Over the last year the 5 most popular and most read posts have been:-
- Reconstruction Photographs discovery
- Clachan Duich & The Clan MacRae
- Great Castles of Scotland
- Modern technology, what do you think?
- The Best Laid Plans
So to each and every one of you, I offer my heartfelt thanks and sincere appreciation for all your encouragement, support and involvement! I can honestly say that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my introduction to the fascinating world of blogging, even though there have been one or two moments when the dreaded writers block has presented itself! I’ve “met” (electronically) and chatted with some fascinating individuals from all over the globe and from all walks of life, and even had the pleasure of personally welcoming many of you to the castle itself.
The one thing I do recall from the blog’s 2010 conception was thinking that I would have to commit to writing it for at least one full year, and it’s more than a little surprising just how quickly that 12 months has flown by.
So I now find myself having to make the decision as to whether or not to continue with the “blogging experiment” and have decided that given we exist in a democracy, to leave the decision entirely up to you. Would you like to continue with more of the same, something different, or has the whole thing run its course and is it time to just bow out gracefully?
Anyway let me know your thoughts if you have a minute, have a great day wherever you are in the world and once again, Thank You………
So yesterday we started the first step in the process of opening up the Great Well area. Skye Rope Access Ltd came along to start clearing the ancient ivy from the well walls in order that we can assess the level of re-pointing work that’s going to be required to safeguard and conserve this beautiful little gem.
We already knew that we were likely to be opening up a bit of a can of worms with this one, but when you’re faced with a difficult challenge, sometimes you just have to grit your teeth and get on with things. Potentially, the area will be a real asset to new visitors and repeat visitors alike, but it’s going to take a number of months of conserted effort to get the area ready for public access. As you can see from some of these pictures, it’s not a job for the faint hearted, but the boys from SRA seemed to take it all in their stride.
The next step will be to spray the interior well walls a number of times with weedkiller to stop any possibility of regrowth. Following this we’ll have to invite the company back to repoint the walls with lime mortar (not an easy task), as decades of ivy growth has done some major damage in one or two key areas. Some of the ivy roots themselves were about 8 inches thick! We even discovered a number of nests in various nooks and crannys, including one with three Swallow chicks in residence!
One of the unexpected benefits of the exercise has been the increased amount of light that appears to have been gained inside the well, and it’s really been brought back to life. Some people might think that all that ivy was quite attractive, but the damage it can do is really unbelievable. Anyway, enjoy the photos.
As many of you will already know, over the next few years, I’m keen to open up previously closed areas of the castle for visitors to explore, so I though I’d give you a wee update on one of our current projects.
The well area in the castle is one of the few areas that actually remained reasonably intact after the 1719 destruction, and was successfully incorporated into the castle’s rebuild at the beginning of the last century. We believe the well to be approximately 32feet deep, and not only is it a truly magical little area, but it offers a good opportunity to see some of the very different construction methods used in the medieval castle.
Although visitors have been able to get a glimpse of it from above on the external ballistrades outside the kitchen corridor, public access has been previously almost impossible. Currently there is a wooden platform at the well-end of the ballistrades which actually disguises the fact that there are steps leading down to an intermediate walk-round level within the well itself. (For the historians amongst you; this intermediate level was the point where the arrow that killed Donald Gorm MacDonald back in 1539 was fired from.)
So the plan is to remove the wooden platform entirely, have a stonemason re-furbish the slightly worn steps below, fit some hand rails and get the area opento the public later on in the year. Health & Safety protocol means that we’ll have to have a blacksmith fit some cross brace bars in the three exterior openings in the well wall, as it’s currently feasible for a child to crawl through the three wide openings that lead to a 20 foot drop (not good for business!)
Before we do this, we have some rather awkward housekeeping to be doing. The interior walls of the well itself have been covered in ivy for decades, and it’s clear that the well-established roots have eaten into the very fabric of the stones pointing. To clear the walls of this incredibly invasive plant is certainly going to be no easy task. There is absolutely no possibility of reaching the problem from below because of the water within the well, and to access it from above is going to require some quite precarious rope access work above a 20 foot drop. Once the ivy itself is cleared we’ll then have to spray the entire area to stop any future regrowth, at which point we’ll also be able to assess the scale of the re-pointing job required to safeguard the area for the future.
So yesterday, we had a specialist contractor come along to have a good look at what should prove to be one of his more interesting projects! Cutting back the ivy from the end of a rope is one thing, but the prospect of repointing the internal walls with lime mortar should present quite a challenge!
A side issue to this whole project is that obviously the cut ivy that falls into the well will require recovery from the water, and the contractor in question has also offered to dredge the 32 feet of its depths to remove the years of rotting leaves and other vegitation that have accumulated over the years. Now as appealing as this idea is to me, I actually believe that the waters may very well contain historical artefacts of great archaeological interest, potentially dating back from previous centuries. A number of large objects have already been found during previous superficial explorations back in the 1890s, including our Yett which currently hangs in the Banqueting Hall. So rather than just have an indiscriminate dredging and pumping out of the wells contents, I think the appropriate thing to do will be, at some point in the future, to have this operation overseen by our team of specialist archaeologists with a view to meticulously sifting through everything that is removed and seeing what we treasures we might discover!!!
The Eilean Donan Blog has now been running for about 10 months, and in that time has received over 25,000 views which truly amazes me considering it was purely started as something of an experiment! My initial plan was to run it for just a year to see what kind of response it received, and to be completely honest, that response has far exceeded my initial expectations.
Given the numbers of you that seem to enjoy it, I’ve just decided to create a brand new page on it and invite anyone who might be interested to be a “guest writer” and add a blog entry of their own.
Content or subject matter would be entirely up to yourself, as long as it was related to Eilean Donan obviously. It could be about the story of your wedding at the castle, a humorous story from a visit here, a historical tale, or a memory associated with Eilean Donan. It doesn’t even have to be particularly long if it’s of interest! Pretty much anything goes!
If people are interested, I’ll probably add one guest blog per month onto the dedicated page, so if you’re at all interested in being the first contributor then add a comment here with a brief outline of the story or tale you’d like to tell.
Don’t worry if you don’t think anyone might be interested in what you’ve got to say either! One of the things I’ve definitely learned in the last 10 months is that you’ll often be surprised by what your audience can be interested in!
Anyway, Good Luck, dive in and don’t be shy!
At this time of year we always welcome lots of families and people enjoying the Easter holidays. We also act as something of a Tourist Information Centre for the area too, and as such, I thought I’d give anyone who’s heading this way at the end of the month, a little bit of a heads-up on something that really shouldn’t be missed.
Eilean Donan is often regarded as something of a Scottish icon, but we’re most certainly not the only one! One of my own personal boyhood favourites, and whose decks I have graced many, many times, is the world’s last ocean going paddle-steamer PS WAVERLEY.
Well after a number of years absence, I can tell you that she will once again be visiting the area and offering excursions from Kyle of Lochalsh on the 27th, 28th and 29th of April! If you’ve never had the opportunity to board her and enjoy a trip, well I just can’t recommend it highly enough. If you’ve been on her before, then I’m definitely preaching to the converted!
Built on the Clyde in 1947 to replace the original Waverley that sunk off Dunkirk in 1940, the Waverley was originally built to sail only between Craigen Dorran & Arrochar in West Scotland. She now sails right round Britain offering regular trips on the Clyde, the Thames, the South coast of England and the Bristol Channel.
Although she used to visit up here annually, the last time she graced our shores was back in 2007, and it was during that trip that I managed to get myself in just the right place at just the right time to capture this rare photograph of two of Scotland’s most famous icons together.
PS Waverley & Eilean Donan
So if you’re up this way on the dates listed above, she’s certainly well worth a visit.
For information, she’ll be doing the following trips from Kyle of Lochalsh :-
- Wed 27th April – Isle of Raasay, Skye and Mallaig
- Thursday 28th April – Isle of Raasay and Gairloch
- Friday 29th April – Isle of Raasay, Skye and Broadford
If you need any further information or to book tickets, go to the Waverley website at
HAPPY CRUISING and I might see you on there for a wee dram or two!
It’s a well known fact that we Scots possess distinctly (some might say, unnaturally) long memories, and that loyalties, and for that matter, emneties can frequently last for generations if not centuries. This is particularly true when it comes to issues surrounding our Clan system, even today.
Clan MacRae has held a number of allegiencies during its long history, including Clan MacKenzie, Clan MacLennan, and Clan Mathieson. One of the lesser known relationships is the association with Clan Fraser which goes back many many years. In actual fact, visitors to the castle may well have observed, above the front door to the castle, a stone carving, written in Gaelic, see picture below.
Now in English, this would translate as “Whilst there is a MacRae inside, there will never be a Fraser outside”
Well on Sunday, we had a wonderful visit from some Clan Fraser pipers from Canada, who are currently touring Scotland. Resplendent in their 18th century garb, the group made a wonderful sight for the tourists that were here on the day, and I managed to capture a few shots for you to have a look at.