We sailed early this morning from Tobermory to the port at Craignure, eastward along the island of Mull. We took a scenic bus ride along a narrow and winding road to the small village of Fionnphort; there we caught the ferry to the historic and spiritual island of Iona. The weather gods were thankfully on our side, and we enjoyed beautiful sunny conditions while exploring the nunnery and famous 13th-century abbey. The island has a rich archeological landscape for photography, and our local guide informed us about Iona’s role as the birthplace of Christianity in Scotland. In the afternoon we retraced our ferry and bus journey to visit the seat of the MacLean Clan at Duart Castle; it dates to the 13th century and has been progressively renovated and restored since 1912.
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.