Saturday, April 25, 2009

Dunvegan Castle

Ordnance gazetteer of Scotland: a survey of Scottish topography, staistical ...‎ - Page 450
edited by Francis Hindes Groome - History - 1882

Dunvegan Castle

Dunvegan, a village, a castle, a sea-loch, and a headland in Duirinish parish, Isle of Skye, Inverness-shire. The village lies near the head of the sea-loch, 23 1/2 miles W by N of Portee, and 11NNW of Struan;is a place of call for steamers from Glasgow to Skye and the Outer Hebrides ; and has a post office, with money order, savings' bank, and telegraph departments, under Portree, a good hotel, Duirinish Free church, and a new public school, erected in 1875-76 at a cost of £915.

Dunvegan Castle stands, near the village, on a rocky headland, washed on three sides by the sea, and on the fourth approached by a bridge over a narrow ravine. Forming three sides of a quadrangle, it presents ' an amorphous mass of masonry of every conceivable style of architecture, in which the nineteenth jostles the ninth century ;' and has, from time immemorial, been the seat of the chiefs of the Macleods, proprietors once of Lewis, Uist, and the greater part of Skye. And still, as says Alexander Smith, ' Macleod retains his old eyrie at Dunvegan, with its drawbridge and dungeons. At night he can hear the sea beating on the base of his rock. His "Maidens"are wet with the sea-foam; his mountain " Tables" are shrouded with the mists of the Atlantic. The rocks and mountains around him wear his name, ever as of old did his clansmen. "Macleod's country," the people yet call all the northern portion of the island. ' The present chief, Norman Macleod of Macleod (b. 1812 ; sue. 1835), holds 141,679 acres in Inverness-shire, valued at £8464 per annum. The oldest portion of Dunvegan, on the seaward side, is described by the Lexicographer as ' the skeleton of a castle of unknown antiquity, supposed to have been a Norwegian fortress, when the Danes were masters of the island. It is so nearly entire, that it might easily have been made habitable, were there not an ominous tradition in the family that the owner shall not outlive the reparation. The grandfather of the present laird, in defiance of prediction, began the work, but desisted in & little time, and applied his money to worse uses.' A lofty tower was added by Alastair Crotach ('Crookback Alexander'), who, dying at a great age in Queen Mary's reign, was buried at Rowardill in Harris. A third part, a long low edifice, was built by Rory More, who was knighted by James VI. ; the rest consists of modern reconstructions and additions ; and the whole forms one of the most interesting castles in the Highlands. Its history is marked, more even than that of most old Highland places, with legends of weird superstition ; and furnished Sir Walter Scott with the subject of the last of his Letters on Demanology. Sir Walter spent a night in its Fairy Room in the summer of 1814, and wrote a description of it more picturesque than true. And forty years earlier, in the autumn of 1773, Dr Samuel Johnson 'tasted lotus here, and was in danger of forgetting that he was ever to depart, till Mr Boswell sagely reproached him with sluggishness and softness.'

Two singular relics are preserved at Dunvegan Castle. One is the 'fairy flag, ' alleged to have been captured at the Crusades by one of the Macleods from a Saracen chief, and consisting of a square piece of very rich silk, enwrought with crosses of gold thread and with elf-spots. The father of Dr Norman Macleod records how strangely a Gaelic prophecy fulfilled itself in 1799, when, as a boy, he was present at the opening of the iron chest in which this flag was stored. The other relic is a curiously-decorated drinking-horn, holding perhaps two quarts, which the heir of Macleod was expected to drain at one draught, as a test of manhood, before he was suffered to bear arms, or could claim a seat among grown-up men. This—' Rory More's horn '—is mentioned in a bacchanalian song of Burns, and was placed in the South Kensington Museum during the International Exhibition of 1862. Dunvegan Loch, known also as Loch Follart, separates the peninsula of Vaternish on the NE from that of Duirinish on the SW ; measures 7 1/2 miles in length, and 2 1/2 miles in mean width ; and affords safe anchorage, in any wind, for vessels of the heaviest burden. Dunvegan Head flanks the SW side of the sea-loch's entrance, or terminates the peninsula of Duirinish. It presents a singularly bold and precipitous appearance, rising to a height of more than 800 feet ; and commands a fine view of the loch, the Minch, and the glens and mountains of Harris. See Samuel Johnson's Tour to the Western Islands (1775); chap. x. of Alexander Smith's Summer in Skye (1865) ; and vol. i., pp. 333-335, of the Memoir of Norman Macieod, D.D. (1876).

Dunvegan Castle is a castle at Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye, situated off the west coast of Scotland. It is the seat of the Macleod of MacLeod, chief of the Clan MacLeod. Dunvegan Castle is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland and has been the stronghold of the Chiefs of MacLeod for nearly 800 years. Originally designed to keep people out, it was first opened to visitors in 1933. Since then, Dunvegan has consistently ranked as one of Scotland's premier visitor attractions and underpins the local economy of North West Skye.

The castle houses a number of important clan relics; chief among them is the Fairie Flag of Dunvegan and the Dunvegan Cup. Legends, however fantastic or far-fetched they may appear to be, are rarely without some trace of historical fact. When a relic survives to tell its own story, that at least is one fact it is impossible to ignore. The precious Fairy Flag of Dunvegan, the most treasured possession of the Clan, is just such a relic. The traditional tales about its origin, some of them very old indeed, have two themes - Fairies and Crusaders. Fairy stories are difficult to relate to fact; they often occur as a substitute for forgotten truth. The connection with the Crusades can, however, be linked to the only definite information available as to the origin of the Fairy Flag - the fabric, thought once to have been dyed yellow, is silk from the Middle East (Syria or Rhodes); experts have dated it between the 4th and 7th centuries A.D., in other words, at least 400 years before the First Crusade. So was it the robe of an early christian saint? Or the war banner of Harold Hardrada, King of Norway, killed in 1066, or did it emerge mysteriously from some grassy knoll in Skye?

Currently visitors can enjoy tours of the castle and highland estate, take boat trips on Loch Dunvegan to see the seal colony or fish, stay in one of its estate cottages and browse in one of its four shops. Activities in the area range from walking, fishing and sightseeing to fine local cuisine, retail therapy and camping at the foot of the estate’s Cuillin mountain range.

Over the years, Dunvegan Castle has been visited by Sir Walter Scott, Dr Johnson, Queen Elizabeth II and the Japanese Emperor Akihito.

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