Sunday, September 9, 2012

Dunvegan Castle, Isle of Skye

We ventured to Dunvegan Castle today to learn about the unique history of the home that, despite feast and famine, warring between clans and considerable social and economic change, has remained home to the Chiefs of MacLeod for nearly eight centuries.

Despite being added to a number of times and the initial building being from circa 1340-60, the castle design seems unified. It also has one of the most interesting dungeons I have seen. How could anyone survive in such a cold and solitary place with little food and water? Interestingly a slit cut into the wall meant that cooking smells of the meals being served in the hall above would waft into the dungeon. What torment!

Dunvegan Castle's grounds and gardens are a delight to wander through. The walled garden pictured here was created in the first part of the  nineteenth century. However famine meant that such pursuits were not to continue. It was not until 1974 that the 29th Chief decided to restore the gardens.  

With such a long family history, there are many stories about the MacCleod Clan. A number relate to the Fairy Flag on display in the castle. A sacred banner from a crusade or a gift from a fairy? There are many versions of the story of the flag. I like one version of the story - the Fairy Bridge version in Jonathan MacDonald's superb handbook Discovering Skye that has tales of the history and legends of the isle. It goes something like this:

Like all fairy stories, it starts with:"Once Upon a Time......

The fourth Macleod Chief married a fairy wife. They had a baby, but on the day he reached the age of one year, his fairy mother was summoned back to her fairy homeland and nothing on this earth would keep her from going.   

Th Chief was attached to the young boy and did not want to let him go and he decided to walk along with her to find out where she intended to go. He took the baby in his arms and as they walked hand in hand out of the village and over the moor he pleaded with her not to leave himself or the child. 

She was however determined to go back to her own folk and as they reached the little humpbacked bridge know as Beul-Ath nan Tri Allt, the fairy mother rose above her son and distressed husband on colourful wings. As she did so, she dropped a piece of the finest silk which landed at their feet. "Keep this flag" she said "and unfurl it whenever a crisis hits you. It will save you and yours twice but woe on you all if you unfurl it the third time."

The story goes on that the flag has been unfurled twice - once when a serious disease struck the cattle and another when the MacDonalds sought revenge on the MacLeods. 

Now a tall tale or true? Well who knows. But it makes for a ripping yarn. 

The Fairy Bridge that features in this tale is pictured below.


  1. Now that's a view! ... and gardens too! As to the dungeon, I doubt survivability was high on the agenda when they built it!!

    Lovely post.

  2. Oh wow. That first landscape is inspiring. You look like you have a terrific adventure. Thank you for sharing some of it with us.