Highland way: a walk on Scotland’s Ardnish peninsula

This rugged, now uninhabited landscape of remote lochs and ancient woodland has an austere beauty and reminders of Bonnie Prince Charlie, crofters and Vikings

Arnol Blackhouse

Excerpt from the book Travels through History : Northern Ireland and Scotland  Belfast and the Causeway Coast has been rated best region in the world to visit in 2018 by Lonely Planet. In September 2017, Scotland was voted the most beautiful country in the world by a respected travel company, Rough Guides

The small village of Arnol lies on the north-western coast side of the main A858 on the island of Lewis and Harris. At the far end of the village is the Blackhouse Museum, an unmissable visit for anyone interested in how some people used to live in this part of world up until 50 years ago and, as such, it’s more a time capsule than a museum.

Built in 1885, this traditional blackhouse – a combined byre, barn and home – was inhabited until 1964 and has not been changed since the last inhabitant moved out. The museum staff rekindle the central peat fire every morning so visitors can experience the distinctive peat smell in the interior, which I first became aware of about three steps before entering the building. There’s no chimney, and the smoke finds its own way out through the turf roof, windows, door and attached to the outer garments of any visitors.

All homes built in Arnol up to 1900 were blackhouses. These double-walled dwellings were simply called taighean (‘houses’). But new health regulations introduced around this time, required the complete separation of byre and dwelling by a wall, with no internal communication, which was not the case with the blackhouses such as those at Arnol. Therefore, a new type of house appeared, built with single-thickness walls cemented with lime mortar. It presented such a contrast that people coined the term taigh-geal ‘white house’. The term taigh-dubh ‘black house’ was then applied to the old houses retrospectively.

Callanish Stones

Excerpt from the book Travels through History : Northern Ireland and Scotland  Belfast and the Causeway Coast has been rated best region in the world to visit in 2018 by Lonely Planet. In September 2017, Scotland was voted the most beautiful country in the world by a respected travel company, Rough Guides

After I visit places such as Callanish I am always bewildered, as I am sure that I can’t satisfactorily answer any of the obvious questions – why was it built, how was it built, who built it, what was the reason for building it here rather than on any other hillock in the area? Even the question as to when the site was constructed is open to discussion.

Callanish comprises several different elements – a stone circle containing a central monolith and a chambered tomb, three rows of stones intersecting with the circle, and an avenue of stones heading roughly northwards away from the circle. All the stones are Lewisian gneiss and were quarried locally.

The stone circle consists of thirteen stones, with an average height of 3 metres. The circle is not quite perfect as the east side is slightly squashed. The circle covers an area of 124 square metres with a diameter of 11.4 metres. The circle was built between 2,900 BC and 2,600 BC making it slightly older than Stonehenge.

The 6.4-metre-long chambered tomb, in the central part of the circle, was almost certainly added after the circle was set up and was used for many centuries, as not only local pottery was found, but also Beaker vessels dating from 2000BC.

The central monolith stands 0.8 metres west of the true centre of the stone circle. The monolith is 4.8 metres high and 1.5 metres wide. This stone is on an almost perfect north to south axis, making me wonder how people 5,000 years ago could align a 7-tonne stone so accurately.

Rosslyn Chapel

Excerpt from the book Travels through History : Northern Ireland and Scotland  Belfast and the Causeway Coast has been rated best region in the world to visit in 2018 by Lonely Planet. In September 2017, Scotland was voted the most beautiful country in the world by a respected travel company, Rough Guides.

Before the book, the Da Vinci Code, was first published in 2003, Rosslyn Chapel received between 5,000 and 5,500 visitors per year. After the release of the film of the same name in 2006, 176,000 visitors arrived in the next six months. This figure is now the average number of tourists the chapel receives each year, meaning there will be quite a crowd of people there whenever you arrive.

Rosslyn Chapel was founded in 1446 by Sir William St Clair, 3rd Prince of Orkney, as the Collegiate Church of St Matthew and was completed 40 years later. Sir William died in 1484 and never saw the completed masterpiece he’d initiated the building of.  Excavations in the 1800s indicated there had been plans for the chapel to be 30 metres longer. The village of Roslin probably began as a worker’s village for the chapel with the masons, blacksmiths, and quarrymen all needing somewhere to stay whilst they crafted the chapel.

The most famous features of the chapel are the two pillars carved by the master mason and an apprentice mason. The story goes that the master mason carved his rather simple column and then went on a tour of European cathedrals, looking for inspiration for the other major pillar in the chapel. While the master was away, an apprentice had a dream and was inspired to carve his pillar. When the master returned, he was so jealous of the apprentice that he hit him over the head with a heavy implement, killing him straightaway.

Northern Ireland and Scotland

My new book is called: Travels through History – Northern Ireland and Scotland 

Belfast and the Causeway Coast has been rated best region in the world to visit in 2018 by Lonely Planet.

Lonely Planet praised its “timeless beauty and high-grade distractions – golf, whiskey and some of the world’s most famous rocks. The region may be famous for Game of Thrones but its many scenic filming locations are just the start.”

In September 2017, Scotland was voted the most beautiful country in the world by readers of the respected Rough Guides.

This book is short and provides a brief history of Northern Ireland and Scotland, ideal for dipping into during your busy life.

 

 

Royal Botanical Gardens – Edinburgh

Excerpt from the book Travels through History : Northern Ireland and Scotland  Belfast and the Causeway Coast has been rated best region in the world to visit in 2018 by Lonely Planet. In September 2017, Scotland was voted the most beautiful country in the world by a respected travel company, Rough Guides.

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The original Edinburgh Botanical Garden was founded in 1670 at a place called St Anne’s Yard near Holyroodhouse. This site soon proved too small and, in 1676, grounds belonging to Trinity Hospital were leased from the City Council: this second garden was sited just to the east of the North Bridge. The site was subsequently occupied by tracks of the North British Railway and a plaque on platform 11 of Waverley railway station marks the location.

In 1763, the collections were moved away from the city’s pollution to a larger “Physick Garden” on the west side of Leith Walk. In the early 1820s under the direction of the then Curator, William McNab, the garden moved west to its present location adjacent to Inverleith Row, where current visitors can enter via one of the two entrances, the East Gate on Inverleith Row or the West Gate entrance on Arboretum Place. The most famous features are The Glasshouses including the Temperate Palm House, the tallest in Britain, which was built in 1858.

I would recommend starting at the East Gate, simply because it’s closer to the centre of the city and because you are instantly introduced to an outstanding feature of these gardens, namely the sculptures. Even before I entered the garden, I was impressed. The gates at the eastern entrance are intertwined stainless steel representations of rhododendron flowers, designed by Benjamin Tindall and created by the blacksmith, Alan Dawson.

Dun Carloway

Excerpt from the book Travels through History : Northern Ireland and Scotland  Belfast and the Causeway Coast has been rated best region in the world to visit in 2018 by Lonely Planet. In September 2017, Scotland was voted the most beautiful country in the world by a respected travel company, Rough Guides

Dun Carloway, or Dun Charlabhaigh, is a remarkably well-preserved broch in a stunning location overlooking Loch Roag on the west coast of Lewis. Dun Carloway was probably built some time in the last century BC. It would have served as an occasionally defensible residence for an extended family complete with accommodation for animals at ground floor level. It would also have served as a visible statement of power and status in the local area.

The broch at Dun Carloway is extremely well preserved. It was built at a time when brochs were already starting to be replaced by other forms of housing less demanding on scarce resources (and wood in particular), and it is not known how long it remained in use. It seems to have been still largely complete in the 1500s when some of the Morrison clan sought refuge inside the broch after being discovered stealing the local MacAulays’ cattle. Donald Cam MacAulay climbed the outside of the wall and threw in burning heather, smoking the Morrisons out.

The broch is next mentioned in a report by the local Minister in 1797. By this time, brochs were believed to be watchtowers used as defense against, or by, Vikings. Dun Carloway featured prominently in reports on Western Isles brochs in the latter part of the 1800s, and as a result it was one of the very first ancient monuments in Scotland to be taken into state care. By this time a large a part of the wall had been removed, probably for recycling into the blackhouses built nearby: including the one whose walls still stand nearly complete below the access path.