Archive for September 2010

Clachan Duich and the Clan MacRae   5 comments

Eilean Donan is a much loved Scottish icon, but without the passion, commitment  and vision of Lt. Col John MacRae Gilstrap and his wife Isabella, todays castle just simply wouldn’t exist. Over the years, quite literally millions of people have enjoyed exploring its walls and ramparts. Additionally, hundreds of local people have been reliant on the vital employment it has offered through the decades.

I often wonder whether John could ever have anticipated how in years to come Eilean Donan would win a place in so many peoples hearts, or the important role it would now play in the local community.

From time to time I visit his graveside at Clachan Duich, just to pay my respects. I took a wander down yesterday, amidst the rain and the melancholy drizzle and was reminded how beautiful little places can often be over-looked.

Nestling in the shadows of the Five Sisters of Kintail, at the point where the River Crow meets Loch Duich, sits the ancient resting place of the Clan MacRae; Clachan Duich . This beautifully situated burial ground is absolutely steeped in history and folklore dating back to around the 8th Century, and it is here that John and Isabella lie.

If you’re at all interested in Clan MacRae or John and Isabella, it is well worth a small diversion off the main road to Eilean Donan just before you reach Inverinate.

Although the entire place is of great interest; located in the centre of the cemetry you will find a small area enclosed by a stout hedge, and this is where you discover the final resting place of John and Isabella. As is befitting, they lie beside each other, with other family members, including their only son Duncan close by.


The old church itself was destroyed by the same warships that were responsible for the destruction of Eilean Donan back in 1719, but contains fascinating memorial plaques detailing important moments and events in the Clan’s history. It was originally dedicated to St Duthac in 1050 AD, though the site was in use some centuries earlier.

Surrounded on all sides by the majestic hills of Kintail, the peace and tranquility of the place makes it easy to understand why it was chosen for its purpose. The sweet scent of the wild bog myrtle just adds to the calm atmosphere, and I can think of no better place for John and Isabella to rest.

To learn more about Clan MacRae please click on the following link –  CLAN MACRAE

Posted September 18, 2010 by eileandonan in Historical

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An insiders track…….   8 comments

Okay, so lets imagine that you’ve finally made the decision to come and visit Eilean Donan, and you’re starting to do the research as to what else to see and do in the area while you’re here. It’s always easy to find the necessary information on the main tourist attractions, but every individual area and region has its’ own little hidden gems which are not always quite so easy to find, unless of course someone tells you about them!

So I’m going to give you a little flavour of some of my own favourite spots, a Top 10 if you like, except in no particular or specific order. These are places that many visitors to Skye & Lochalsh will often miss, or overlook due to time constraints or lack of knowledge. They are breathtaking places I have enjoyed with my own family, and have re-visited many times. If anything, my biggest problem with this blog entry was deciding how to choose just 10 locations, and I have to confess to keeping one or two little secrets to myself! Sorry!

One of the most frequently asked questions we receive in the castle’s Visitor Centre is, “What else is there to see?” or the other classic “We want to spend the day on Skye, what should we do?”

Well the Isle of Skye itself has over 900 miles of coast line so trying to condense what people shouldn’t miss is not very straightforward. Far too many people believe that they can see it all in a day, but realistically, to even scratch the surface and do the place true justice you’ve got to allocate some decent amount of time.

So here’s my Top 10. Seek them out, linger a while, and enjoy……..

  • THE QUIRAING – The majesty of the Quiraing never ceases to amaze me no matter how often I visit it. To enjoy it at its best, drive up to the carpark and go do the well trodden walk, you won’t be disappointed.

  • TALISKER BAY – On the western side of the peninsula from the distillery of the same name, this little gem is well worth seeking out! Watch out for the peacocks too!

  • THE SANDAIG ISLES – This is where Gavin Maxwell lived while he wrote “Ring of Bright Water”, and where he nurtured his beloved otters. We like to access it by boat, but there’s a glorious walk down through the forrest which is well worth doing too.

  • THE BEALACH NA BA – Quite simply, my favourite road in all of Scotland! Not only does it lead to one of my favourite spots for lunch, The Applecross Inn, but the road itself is mindblowing! Make sure to stop at the car park at the top to take in the views of the outer isles.

  • FAIRY GLEN, nr UIG- A short but truly magical walk just east of Uig. Be sure to climb Ewans Castle. We had a picnic on the top and the views are mesmirising.

  • GLENELG FERRY & OTTER HIDE WALK – If you make the effort to come off the road at Shiel Bridge and turn left towards Glenelg, you’ll find a whole variety of rich rewards. Firstly, there’e the incredible view of the Five Sisters of Kintail from the car park half way up the hill of Mam Ratagan, then there’s some of  Scotland’s best preserved Iron Age Brochs at Glenelg itself, and then there’s the old ferry which takes you over the Kylerhea straights amid the bobbing heads of the seals. Once on the other side, turn immediately right and enjoy a great walk down to the otter hide. Keep quiet and you just might get lucky!

  • CORAL BEACH, Dunvegan – My kids would probably put this at the very top of their own lists. Drive past Dunvegan Castle to the very end of the road where you will find a car park. From there, it’s a mile and a half walk along a coastal path until you reach this magnificent white coral beach. Time it right and you might even have it all to yourself!


  • NEIST POINT – on the very North West tip of Skye is an absolute jewel! A walk down to the lighthouse offers the opportunity to spot lots of wildlife. Depending on the time of year you might spot whales, basking-sharks, dolphins, eagles or puffins. This cliff walk is truly worth the effort it takes to seek out.
























  • FAIRY POOLS at GLENBRITTLE – a fabulous walk with a stunning reward at the end of it. In the summer, if it’s warm, take your swimming togs as it’ll be hard to resist having a dip!


























  • LOCH CORUISK via ELGOL – probably my most favourite view of the Cuillins is from Loch Coruisk. Take one of the boat trips from Elgol over to Coruisk, with some stout walking boots and a picnic. Once you’e reached the other side, after a short walk, just sit and gaze at the glorious amphitheatre that surrounds Loch Coruisk. It’s like God’s Cathedral!

Posted September 15, 2010 by eileandonan in Miscellaneous

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Shadows on a castle wall…….   1 comment

The Trustees have always felt strongly about ensuring public access to the castle regardless whether we’re open or closed. Even after dark, you will seldom find the gates locked or access denied. The only time this happens is if we are hosting a film shoot or private event.

As such, after the front door is locked each night at 6 o’clock many people still enjoy a stroll around the walls of the castle. Indeed, in the summer months, hundreds of people will still be crossing the bridge until well after midnight.

Now as most of you will already know, the castle is illuminated at night, and this offers many, many people the ideal opportunity to have some fun. My house overlooks the castle, and guaranteed almost every fine night is a sight that always brings a smile to my face. Thousands of people love to play giant sized shadow puppets on the outer walls, and some of the things we observe are just truly priceless! I firmly believe that there exists a big kid in each of us, and the temptation for a lot of people is just too hard to resist. It certainly was for recent visitor and Eilean Donan Facebook fan Craig Doogan and his friends, whose photo I attach below.

Try it for yourself next time you visit and unleash that big kid inside!

Posted September 14, 2010 by eileandonan in Miscellaneous

So near, Yett….   1 comment

There are certain items within the castle that most visitors barely give a second glance to. One of those items, and certainly one of the oldest in the entire castle, is the castle “Yett” which now hangs in the Banqueting Hall.

A yett is a gate or grille of latticed iron bars used for defensive purposes in castles and tower houses, and are predominantly found only in Scotland. Earliest references to yetts date from around the 14th century and a royal warrant was required before one could be installed in any abode.  They were used as a cheaper alternative to the portcullis since it was simpler in concept, less cumbersome and more practical. They had the obvious advantage of being fireproof and were almost impossible to dismantle due to their “through and through” construction, and presented a formidable barrier to unwelcome guests, whilst still retaining the facility to fire arrows or muskets through the gaps at any invading party.

The sole entrance to the medieval castle of Eilean Donan was through a gap in the Great Well bastion, where the Yett would have originally hung. When James I came to the throne in 1603 one of  his first acts was to order the removal and destruction of all yetts across the land, symbolically beating them into ploughshares. Not being the easiest of things to dispose of, our yett was thrown into the well where it lay undisturbed until its discovery in 1893 when the well was dredged by Sir Kenneth Matheson. He later presented it to Lt Col John MacRae-Gilstrap who had it hung in the external entrance to the new Banqueting Hall.

Today there are only a few remaining examples of yetts across the country, and it always amuses me that so many people pass ours without so much as a 2nd glance. This wonderful piece of history is over 600 years old, and is a testament to the craftsmen and blacksmiths of the time.

Next time you visit, just have a wee look.

Posted September 9, 2010 by eileandonan in Historical

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A mythical tale….   Leave a comment

Nobody knows for certain when exactly the first Eilean Donan castle was originally built; all we do know is that the first mention of it in the anals of history was around the 13th century during the reign of Alexander II. It was built as a defence against the marauding Vikings to protect the lands and people of Kintail.

Highlanders love a good yarn, and a far more colourful story is the mythical tale of the castle’s origin arising indirectly from the conflict between a wealthy chief said to be a Matheson, and his son. As an infant, the son had received his first drink from a raven’s skull and this had given him the power to understand the language of birds. One day, his father asked him to explain what the birds were saying and was told that they were talking about how one day his father would be waiting upon his son like a servant.

This so angered his father that the son was turned out of the house to make his way in the world. Eventually he landed on the shores of France only to hear that the French King was greatly annoyed by the chirping of birds around the palace. The boy set off to offer his help in getting rid of them and soon discovered that the cause was a noisy dispute among the birds, which, together with the King, he was able to resolve.

The King was so pleased that he presented the boy with a fully manned ship which took the boy to many distant lands.

After an absence of ten years, the young man returned to Kintail and his ship anchored at Totaig. The sight of such a royal vessel caused a considerable stir in the district and all wondered who the richly dressed wealthy young man might be.

Arriving at his father’s door, no-one recognised him and he was received with much hospitality. His father set him at the table and waited upon him the young stranger himself, thereby fulfilling the prophecy of the birds. The son revealed who he was, proving his identity by a birthmark on his shoulder and his father was reconciled to the boy who he acknowledged as his heir. His son’s abilities and knowledge of the world brought him into the favour of Alexander II who commissioned him to build Eilean Donan and protect his subjects against the Norwegians.

Posted September 4, 2010 by eileandonan in Tales & Stories

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Video – Take 2!!!   3 comments

We’ve had some really fabulous weather over the last few days; probably better than anything we’ve seen the entire summer. It was such a great day and so warm here yesterday that I decided to have another experiment with the dreaded video camera!

In future, I’m going to have to use a tripod to steady the shots, but to be honest I was more interested in sorting out the technical side of how to actually get self-shot video on here, especially after my last nightmare experience! I think I’ve got it sorted now, so any future videos will focus on some of the internal aspects of the castle.

Anyway, I hope the sun is also shining wherever in the world you are today!

The accompanying music is “Smirisary” by the wonderful Blazin Fiddles.

Posted September 3, 2010 by eileandonan in Miscellaneous

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A sigh of relief…….   Leave a comment

Well we survived another August, but just by the skin of our teeth! My lack of blog posts this month is purely down to the fact that we’ve had the busiest month in our entire history, with over 100,000 people visiting the site in the last 31 days.

It always amazes me that my team are able to show such resilience when faced with these type of numbers. It’s a great testament to them all that they still strive to give our visitors the best possible experience regardless of how many people they face. Anyone reading this who has to deal with large numbers of the public in their working life, will truly appreciate and empathise with how much of a toll this can take on you. The “youngsters” in our team have done particularly well this season. When you’re 16, 17 or 18, and just out of school, the whole Eilean Donan work experience in August can be quite a shock to the system!

Things have started to quieten down over the last few days, and a collective breather is being taken by us all as we return to a more peaceful normality. The autumn weather is just glorious; far better than anything we had in August, and the pace of life has slowed to it’s more gentile way. September is a fabulous month to visit Eilean Donan; the weather is invariably good, the autumn colours of the surrounding hills are stunning, the kids school holidays are all finished and generally there’s a lot less traffic on the roads.

There’s not a cloud in the sky this morning which has been just perfect for a photography shoot that started here at 6.30am. VisitBritain are shooting at a number of iconic locations all over the country for some promotional material for next year. Eilean Donan was selected as one of those sites, and they just could not have had a more perfect morning for it. They’ve enlisted the support of a couple of pipers, and I sneaked a quick shot to share with you seeing as they were in full regalia!

As an interesting footnote, the piper on the right of this photo is “Spud The Piper”,  who is famous all over the world for being the piper at Madonna’s wedding to Guy Ritchie.

Later on in the month we’ll be re-starting our Archaelogy project with a five week dig starting around the 27th of September. The results of the last few years have been fascinating, and we’re really looking forward to whatever gets unearthed this year.

Anyway, it’s time for a Cappuccino and a bun! Have a great day folks.

Posted September 2, 2010 by eileandonan in Miscellaneous

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