Today we headed to the southeast of the Isle to the Sleat peninsula. Our main outing of the day was to be the ruins of Clan Donald’s 19th century Armadale Castle and the accompanying Museum of the Isles.
Honestly, if all you go there to see is the castle ruins, it’s not really worth the cost of the visit. The building, while pretty was just built in 1790 and there wasn’t much atmosphere to the ruins. The Museum, however, is quite well done. While it focuses on Clan Donald and brings the MacDonalds into all historical points, I left feeling once again like I had an even better understanding of Scotland and the development and fall of the clan system. The section detailing the ways in which the clan chiefs fell into economic hardships – becoming landlords rather than protectors of their people, and leading the change from the runrig system of communal farming to the crofting system and the Clearances – was a part of the history of the Highlands that hadn’t really been covered in any of the museums we’ve gone to thus far, and was really well done. It was particularly striking to realize that many of the people displaced during the Clearances headed to Edinburgh and likely ended up in the South Bridge Vaults that we visited earlier in the trip. Highly recommended for those interested in the history of the Scotland rather than just looking at castles.
The most interesting part of the visit was actually pure happenstance, though. As mentioned in yesterday’s post, Steve is related to Clan Donald via his maternal line back in the 1600s. We went into the library to see if we could get some additional details to supplement the information his mother had provided. The librarian said it was very unusual for us to have information back to 17th century, and seemed rather impressed that we did. He wasn’t able to help us with specific materials or details since the parochial records they usually reference started being kept in the early 1800s. However, he was very helpful in directing us to possible other sources of interest and helping to explain why another part of Steve’s family tree changed very suddenly from MacGregor to Mackgayhe in the early 1600s; the name MacGregor was outlawed in 1603 because the MacGregors themselves were seen as outlaws.
While we were reviewing some material, the librarian helped another group of people, but once they left, I decided, much to Steve’s initial dismay, to ask about the Flora MacDonald collection over at Clan MacLeod’s castle. While the librarian didn’t know if the MacDonalds had ever asked for the materials to be returned, he did seem to see it as an intriguing idea. He explained to us that, although Flora MacDonald was a MacDonald, sometimes a clansperson may have had a greater tie to another chief. In particular, he said that the MacDonald chief had not been particularly popular at the time Flora’s daughter entrusted the items to Clan MacLeod, so she may have felt more aligned with the MacLeods at that point in time.
He did continue to speculate on how interesting that question was, though, and mentioned that he was planning an exhibit on Flora MacDonald, whereupon I wondered aloud if perhaps a loan could be arranged. In the coming days there may either be an enhanced exhibit at Armadale, or a renewed tension between Clan Donald and Clan MacLeod.
This librarian was Next Gen, a hip, curly-haired lad of 26. I know his age because, after my ice-breaking question about Flora MacDonald which he seemed to take in the spirit I’d intended, the three of us had a lovely and lengthy conversation that covered Scottish heritage, his fascination with the mix of cultures in America, American politics, the importance of and need for individual acts of community public service, and the recent Scottish vote on the question of independence. He politely asked who we were inclined to support in the upcoming American election, and we politely asked how he had voted on the question of independence. We were all comfortable answering the questions.
I was slightly embarrassed by how well-versed he was on the political personalities currently running for the U.S. presidency, while I was woefully unfamiliar with the names he was mentioning in the Scottish parliament, but he kindly gave us a very quick overview of the changes he saw in officeholders in the aftermath of the independence vote, enough that we now have at least a slightly better sense of how things may proceed in the future.
Afterward, he gave us some suggestions for sites to see tomorrow when we head up to the Trotternish Peninsula on the northwest part of the Isle. Some of the sites were already on our agenda (hooray for me!), but he also directed us to some lesser known sites, and the ruins of a MacDonald castle from the 15th century that is sure to be more atmospheric than Armadale. We shall try to find it on the morrow. Stay tuned.
We spent quite a bit more time at the library than we had intended, thus requiring some re-prioritization on what to do with the remaining daylight, but Steve and I both agreed this conversation was incredibly worthwhile and a highlight of the day.
Onwards, we decided to make the drive from Broadford out to the coast in Elgol. Already on our list of possibilities, this drive had also been suggested by the skipper of our Moray Firth boat ride as a must-do. The 15-mile, 45-minute drive along a single lane, sheep-strewn road included a great deal of beautiful scenery, including views of both the Black and Red Cuillin.
Unfortunately, it was not a clear day and we were unable to see the promised “superb view of the entire Cuillin range from the pier”. It was lovely, but a long drive. I’d suggest holding out and only making it on a clear day. Although, there is certainly something to be said to the moody skies.
We finished the day with dinner at Seumas’ Bar, another establishment that’s part of the Sligachan Hotel. And again we had a really good dinner, well-prepared and different from the menus found at so many other places in the area. We are used to finding really crappy food when there is only one hotel/restaurant with a monopoly in an area, so it has been a wonderful surprise to find such nice restaurants at the Sligachan Hotel. Well done.