Our introduction to the Scotish Highlands included a large number of Lochs and a few castles.
We left Oban with its grey/brown granite buildings and headed northeast to Fort William. This took us past the snow covered peak of Ben Nevis and through the towns of Appin and Ballachullish.
Just north of Appin is one of the most photographed sites in Scotland – Castle Stalker. Built around 1540 by Duncan Stewart of Appin, this castle was gifted by him to James IV for use as a hunting lodge. In fact, its Gaelic name Caisteal Stalcair translates literally as ‘Castle of the Hunter’. It sits at the mouth of Loch Laich (by Loch Linnhe) on a rocky islet known as the Rock of the Cormorants which is also the battle cry of the Stewarts of Appin. The castle, like so many in Scotland, has had a turbulent history. One 17th century Stewart gambled it away to a Campbell for an eight-oared galley. During the 1745 Jacobite Rising it was used as a garrison for troops. Abandoned around 1780, it lost its roof shortly before 1831 and was restored from its ruinous state in the late 1960s by the late Lt. Col. Stewart Allward whose family still owns the castle.
Our road then followed Loch Linnhe to Fort William where we had to do two circuits of the town before we could find a car park in which to stop for lunch. Later, on a hill overlooking Spean Bridge, we found a memorial to the commandos – a force first instituted by Winston Churchill and which trained in this area. We continued to follow the road around Loch Lochy , Loch Garry and then Loch Lyne and Loch Cluanie. All the time, the mountains around us were becoming more rugged and more spectacular.
On the shore of Loch Dulch, we came across Castle Eilean Donan. Although first inhabited around the 6th century, the first fortified castle was built here in the mid 13th century and stood guard over the lands of Kintail. Since then, at least four different versions of the castle have been built and re-built as the feudal history of Scotland unfolded through the centuries. Partially destroyed in a Jacobite uprising in 1719, Eilean Donan lay in ruins for the best part of 200 years until it was restored in 1932. It was the scene for the James Bond movie, ‘The World is not Enough’.
Further on, at the town of Kyle of Lochalsh, we crossed the relatively new bridge over to the Isle Skye. This is the largest and most northerly island in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. The island’s peninsulas radiate out from a mountainous centre dominated by the Cuillin hills.
The island has been occupied since the mesolithic period and has a colourful history including a time of Norse rule and a long period of domination by Clan MacLeod and Clan Donald. The famine and highland clearances of the 19th century had a devastating impact on the human population, which declined from over 20,000 to around 9,200 today. The largest town is Portree, where we are spending the next two nights.