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Loch Ness (North), Scotland

This morning, we departed our excellent guest House in Inverness, Scottish Highlands and drove south, down the Great Glen with first stop at Castle Urquhart which sits on a promontory jutting into the centre of Loch Ness.

Information on Castle Urquhart

Castle Urquhart from top of the Grant Tower

Castle Urquhart and Loch Ness

There has been a fortification on the site for about 1500 years, dating back to Pictish times. Like the vast majority of surviving stone castles in the British Isles, Urquhart has its genesis in the 13th century. Initially under control of Alan Durward the castle was extended by the powerful Comyns after 1275. Subsequent milestones:

  • Oscillated between English and Scottish control during the 14th century Wars of Independence.
  • Post 1390, the threat came from the MacDonalds, Lords of the Isles in the West of Scotland.
  • Captured by the MacDonalds in 1452 but regained by the Scottish Crown four years later.
  • Plundered by MacDonald clansmen in 1544-5
  • Partly blown up by defenders at time of Jacobite uprising in 1689 to prevent opponents gaining advantage.
  • Subsequently a deteriorating and romantic ruin.

The facilities of this once great castle were extensive and included:

  • Ditch and drawbridge.
  • Gatehouse
  • Guard Room
  • Constable’s Lodging
  • Water Gate
  • Outer Close
  • Chapel
  • Great Hall
  • Inner Close
  • Grant Tower, as shown below. This is the most prominent feature and named after the Grant family who held the castle in the early 16th century.

After visiting all aspects of the castle and benefiting from excellent weather conditions. we moved on South initially tracking Loch Ness and then diverting West towards the Isle of Skye.

Next stop was Eilean Donan Castle on Loch Duich. Here we had lunch with guests availing of opportunity to visit the castle interior.

Information on Eilean Donan Castle

Eilean Donan Castle

The site (in medieval times) was ideal for controlling the waterways at junction of lochs Long, Alsh and Duich which provide access to the sea.

A summary history of the castle is provided below.

  • There is a record of a castle on the site from the 13th century. Prior to that there is evidence of fortifications dating back to the Iron-Age, about two thousand years ago.
  • The island and castle take their name from a seventh century AD Christian missionary named Donan who was martyred on the Isle of Eigg in AD 618.
  • Ownership granted to Colin Mackenzie by King Alexander III in mid-13th century.
  • Reached peak size in 13th-14th centuries with two towers.
  • Reduced in size during 15th century.
  • During 16th-17th centuries a modest enlargement occurred, principally to include a hornwork or firing platform for the new technology of cannons.
  • Blown up by Government forces during the Jacobite uprising of 1719 from whereon the castle lay in ruins until early 20th century.
  • Between 1913 and 1932 the castle was rebuilt to a design similar to the original. This  project inspired and managed by Lt. Col, John MacRae-Gilstrap and Farquhar MacRae.
  • The principal aspects of the castle today are: Courtyard, Billeting Room, Banqueting Hall, Bedrooms and Kitchen Range. The interior is of the 1930s period.

Today the Clan MacRae Society  is based at Eilean Donan Castle. At the castle there is a memorial to all those of Clan MacRae who died in the First World War.

The castle has featured as a location in the following films and T.V. productions:

  • Bonnie Prince Charlie starring David Niven (1948)
  • The Master of Ballantrae starring Errol Flynn (1953)
  • The New Avengers (1976)
  • Highlander (1986)
  • Loch Ness (1996)
  • James Bond – The World is Not Enough (1999).

Next, we drove N.W. across the region of Wester Ross pass Loch Carron and then along a single track mountain road through rugged scenery to the coastal village of Applecross where we had a brief stop for refreshments before returning the same way with final destination of Plockton, also on the coast.

Video clips of single-track mountain road to Applecross.

Loch Carron

Wester Ross Scenery

View from Applecross

Applecross Inn

At Plockton we checked into our harbourside hotel.

Information on Plockton

Plockton gives the appearance of prosperity, with shops, schools and many hospitality establishments which cater for the tourist industry. In a commanding position above the harbour sits imposing Duncraig Castle which dates from the 1860s The mild climate is influenced by the warm current known as the Gulf Stream. Palm trees grow here, on roughly the same latitude as Moscow.

Kayakers at Plockton

Tomorrow, we tour Isle of Skye.

Pagoda Roof at Dalwhinnie Distillery

This morning we departed our lodgings in Pitlochry, central Scotland and embarked on a trip to Inverness in the North taking in the following:

First to Dalwhinnie Distillery where we joined the eleven o’clock tour followed by samples. This experience lasted over one hour and was led by a very skilled guide.

Information on Dalwhinnie Distillery

Lizzie’s Dram for sale at Dalwhinnie

The average annual temperature in Dalwhinnie, Scotland is cool at 6.2 degrees Celsius (43.2 degrees Fahrenheit).

The name Dalwhinnie translates as ‘Champion’s Field’.

Dalwhinnie Distillery is relatively young by the standards of Scotland’s whisky distilleries, having been established 1898 with location influenced by the nearby rail line and clear spring water 2000 ft up in the Drumochter Hills.

Almost immediately on opening, Dalwhinnie was a casualty of the crash which ended the speculative whisky boom. The distillery subsequently changed hands a number of times before being acquired by Distillers Co in 1926 and ultimately Diageo now.

Aided by the current strength of the whisky market,Dalwhinnie is now producing about 2.2m litres per year which is stored in about 5000 casks.

In market terms, Dalwhinnie is well positioned and ranks within the top 15 single malts sold worldwide.

Tour Group at Dalwhinnie.

Next,. further North to Culloden Battlefield where we arrived about 1.20 pm. After lunch some of the guests toured the battlefield.

Information on the Battle of Culloden

Jacobite Lines at Culloden

The two protagonists, Bonnie Prince Charlie (leader of the Jacobite forces) and the Duke of Cumberland (head of the Hanoverian, Government forces) were actually cousins. Their respective forces assembled at mid-morning on April 16th 1746.The two armies faced each other some 400 meters apart but the two lines were not parallel. Charles had some 6000 men while Cumberland commanded some 8000. However, Charles took comfort from the famous Highland Charge to redress the imbalance.

The ground in front of the Jacobites (on the left) was boggy. They were joined by handfuls of French and Irish troops-which were held in reserve.The Jacobites front line comprised Clansmen clustered around their respective chiefs, e.g. MacDonalds.

Unfortunately, the Jacobites were not battle ready being tired, hungry and in poor spirits. Food had not arrived from Inverness and some men had left the field to scavenge for food. However, they still retained the memory of the successful charge at Prestonpans.

The Government redcoats comprised 7 infantry regiments from England and Scotland. There were 500 men in each regiment standing 3 ranks deep. Each regiment was named after its respective Colonel, e.g. Barrel.

The Redcoats stood in well-ordered ranks, each man issued with 24 rounds of ammunition and a warming tot of brandy.

Battle Commences

At 1.00pm Charles orders his cannons to launch the battle. In response Government guns commence repetitive firing. the Jacobites stand whilst cannonballs tear into the ranks. No order is given to advance. Finally, Jacobites on the centre and right broke ranks and charged. At this stage Government gunners switch from cannon to more lethal grapeshot which produces small pieces of metal hitting directly the advancing Highlanders.The effect is devastating. The Charge degenerates into a shambles. A bunching occurred because Highlanders on the right flank had less distance to travel over dry ground whereas those in the centre drifted to the right to benefit from the firm ground and were hemmed in by a stone wall which separated the two opposing lines.Both groups charged towards the south end of the Government line which resulted in chaos. On the left flank the Highlanders moved more slowly; they had further to travel and became stuck in the boggy ground. The MacDonalds struggled to make any headway.

Barrel’s regiment took the full force of the Highland assault but stood fast. the Highlanders were packed into an unstoppable mob taking punishment from grapeshot and musket fire. The Highlanders crashed into Barrel’s regiment and now had the advantage; they could use their broadswords and dirks to awesome effect. Barrel’s soldiers were hacked down and the line smashed open. Then the Highlanders attacked Munro’s regiment alongside that of Barrel.

Turning Point

The momentum of the charge had been dissipated. However, despite the Highlanders initial success the Redcoats did not turn and run. Cumberland moved up forces from the second line to reinforce the struggling front line. This was the pivotal point of the battle.The Jacobite command had no control over its troops. Highlanders pitched into the gap in the redcoat ranks and straight into the musket fire from the soldiers of the second line. The Highlanders became surrounded by Redcoats who were in a horseshoe shape and the resulting slaughter is estimated to have killed/wounded about 700 in just 2 or 3 minutes.

The Highlanders retreated the way the had come-straight into a hail of musket fire from Government forces which had moved up behind the wall on the left.

Battle Lost

At this stage Charles is persuaded to leave the field and Cumberland commences his retribution for which he was awarded the nickname “butcher”. No mercy was shown. Any injured clansmen on the field were shot, clubbed or bayoneted to death. About 200 Clansmen were buried where they fell. So ended the last battle on British soil.

Burial pits of Jacobite casualties.

Battlefield landscape.

Next to the Clava Cairns Prehistoric Site, about ten minutes from Culloden.

Information on Clava Cairns

Clava Cairns Site

Clava is a prehistoric cemetery which dates from around 2000 BC albeit on a site previously used by prehistoric peoples for domestic purposes. The cemetery site experienced two stages of use:

  1. Around 2000 BC a row of up to five burial cairns were erected of which three remain.
  2. Around 1000 BC the site was re-used and the small Kerb Cairn built.

North-Eastern Cairn

A passage grave intended for  a single body, presumably of a high status person. The passage is aligned to the mid-winter solstice. Originally completely closed.The Cairn is surrounded by a graded stone circle, which is actually an ellipse.

North-Eastern Cairn, Clava

Cup marked stone embedded in foundations of N.E. tomb

Central Cairn

This is a Ring Cairn, not a passage grave, which was positioned so as not to obstruct the view between the N.E. and S.W. cairns. It was never roofed whilst the now empty interior was originally filled with rubble.

Ring Cairn, Clava, Scotland

South-Western Cairn

Also aligned to mid-winter sun. When first constructed was substantially higher and completely roofed.

S.W. Cairn

Kerb-Circle

Situated 50 feet to east of Ring-Cairn. Maximum 12 feet in internal diameter.

Kerb-Circle.

Finally, we drove into nearby Inverness, (capital of the Scottish Highlands) arriving about 4.30 pm following which guests visited the town centre and then checked into our lodgings for the night.

Inverness Castle. (Court and city admin centre.)

Inverness and River Ness.

Swilken Bridge at Old Course, St Andrews

Tour Guests at Swilken Bridge

This morning, September 22nd.,we departed Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital and embarked on a trip as follows:

First, across the new Queensferry Crossing Bridge (opened  Aug 30th 2017) over the Firth of Forth and then east along the Fife Coast visiting the following specific sites:

Bridges over the Firth of Forth

  • Lower Largo: The story of Robinson Crusoe was based on the true adventures one Alexander Selkirk who came from this village (born 1676) and to whom a memorial has been erected at his birthplace.

Statue of Alexander Selkirk at Lower Largo

  • St. Monans and its historic church:A quaint coastal village best known for its parish church which dates from the 13th century. Models of boats inside the church reflect the close association of the community with the sea and fishing.

Historic Church at St Monans.

St Monans Church, Fife

Local architecture at St Monans

  • Pittenweem: Another quaint fishing village with busy harbour  and jumble of houses with mixed architecture. Pittenweem is popular with artists and each year the village hosts a festival for arts, crafts and drama.

Pittenweem Harbour

  • Anstruther: This coastal village (pronounced ‘Anster’ by locals) has a long history and once ranked as one of the busiest fishing (herring) ports in Scotland. Here are many small shops and an extensive marina.

Anstruther

  • Crail: A stunningly picturesque harbour  which attracts artists and photographers. Key attraction is the Low Countries influenced architecture and pantile roofs. There is also an art gallery, pottery, antique shop and tea room. Fresh lobsters can be purchased from fishermen in the harbour.

Crail Harbour

Crail Harbour, Fife.

St.Andrews:  A historic and famous town with a wide range of visitor attractions including the famous Old Course  (golf), Golf Museum, Botanic Garden, Cathedral, Castle and West Beach used in the Chariots of Fire film. We focused on the ancient Cathedral and Old Course and then had lunch at the Club House.

St Andrews Cathedral

St Andrews Castle

St Andrews Old Course

Royal & Ancient, St Andrews

  • Finally, we moved on to central Scotland, skirting Perth and then Dunkeld and Pitlochry. At the former we focused on the ancient Cathedral whilst at the latter we spent about 30 mins exploring the shops before  checking into our hotel for the night.

The Cross, Dunkeld

Interior of Dunkeld Cathedral

Telford Bridge over River Tay at Dunkeld

Main Street, Pitlochry

Rainbow over Pitlochry

Weather today was pleasant for the time of year, being dry and sunny with light wind and temperature around 10-15 degrees centigrade.

NB: Due to ‘sub optimal’ wifi tonight, all images herein are from library. I hope to update with actual images tomorrow. Sept 23rd: Post now updated with images from 22nd.