We kicked off our morning with a short coach trip to Eilean Donan Castle, which is the most photographed castle in Scotland and has appeared in numerous films. While the castle was originally built in the 13th century, a large portion of the structure is from the 20th century when Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap devoted his life to rebuilding the site and reclaiming it for the Clan MacRae. We arrived as the castle opened and took an audio tour of the interior. Afterwards, our photo instructor offered a photo walk for scenic views of the castle to take advantage of the blue skies.
During lunch, the ship sailed for Armadale on the Isle of Skye for a visit to Armadale Castle, and the Botanical Gardens and Museum of the Isles, the spiritual home of the Clan Donald. Built in 1815, the castle was reduced to ruins after a fire in the 1850s. The ruins offer a stunning view of the water, and the photogenic gardens are filled with giant cedar trees and hydrangeas. The museum’s detailed exhibit and audio guide provided a fantastic overview of the history of Clan Donald, Western Scotland, and the Highland Clearances.
After returning to the ship, we sailed to the Knoydart Peninsula toward the community of Inverie, a locally-owned commune that's only accessible by boat or a 17-mile walk from Kinlochourn. After dinner, Inverie residents Jackie and Ian Robertson hosted a talk about their community. Then we ventured out for a short walk and a drink of whiskey.
Lord of the Glens
Fort Augustus presented a charming backdrop as we prepared to descend the flight of five locks down to the entrance to Loch Lomond. Everyone watched from the deck, fascinated as the lock-keepers operated the hydraulic gates while Captain Tony and his crew maneuvered the ship delicately from lock to lock. Once at the bottom, traffic on the public road came to a halt, the swing bridge opened, and we made our stately progress out into the open waters of the loch. At twenty-three miles long and over 1000 feet deep, Loch Lomond holds an enormous volume of water which belies its relatively narrow breadth. Halfway along, Urquhart Castle came into view; this magnificent ruined fortress is strategically placed to dominate the region. On an ancient site, the present walls date from about 1320, and were destroyed during the Jacobite uprising of 1691. The final stages of Thomas Telford’s Caledonian Canal glided peacefully by, and we arrived at the top of the Muirtown flight of locks at Inverness. Then it was on to the bus to explore the sights of the area. The ill-fated Jacobite rebellions came to their climax in April 1746 at the battle of Culloden, when the weary highlanders were overwhelmed by the superior government forces; the impressive museum at Culloden presented this story with compelling effect. In bright sunshine we strolled around the site of the battle, imagining the highland charge and the answering report of the Hanoverian guns. A group of Highland cows were on hand to pose for photographs; their function at Culloden is to conserve the landscape with their judicious grazing. Finally we visited the Clava Cairns, a remarkable set of well-preserved early Bronze Age monuments dating from about 4,000 years ago. These subtle and complex stone structures are focused on the midwinter solstice; prehistoric farming communities erected them as a ritual expression of their beliefs about ancestors, life, and death. Our evening, and indeed our entire voyage, was rounded off after dinner with a delightful performance by the young students of the Elizabeth Fraser School of Highland Dancing. It was a fitting finale to our exploration of Scotland on board Lord of the Glens.