We took a basic Rabbie's tour of Highland lakes and castles out of Glasgow, just to see the sights, and we did indeed see lakes and castles. First stop: Tarbet Pier on the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, in Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. Loch Laomainn means 'Lake of Elms', but it is occasionally known as the Lake of Light, and here we sit it living up to its nickname.
Loch Lomond is the largest lake in Scotland by surface area and, after Loch Ness, the second largest by water volume. It sits right on the geographical boundary between the Highlands and the Lowlands, with the hard Highland schist forcing it to be a typical deep and narrow Highland lake in the north and the soft Lowland sandstone allowing it to be a broad and shallow Lowland lake in the south.
'Tarbet' comes from 'Tairbeart' in Gaelic, which means 'isthmus'; it is on a narrow strip of land between Loch Lomond and Loch Long, with Arrochar as its sister village on the Loch Long side. For many, many centuries, it was a standard transition point for moving between inland water ways (Loch Lomond) to sea-linked water ways (Loch Long, which connects to the Firth of Clyde); they'd dock at Tarbet and carry everything a short way over the land to Arrochar, and vice versa.
From Tarbet we headed mostly westward to Glen Croe, which has a famous viewpoint, Rest and Be Thankful. Due to the Jacobite rebellions, the English realized that they needed a better road system to move troops around on, so they sent General Wade to start laying down military roads, and quite a few Scottish roads today had their first beginnings with Wade's roads. But Highland geography can be a bit challenging, so exhausted soldiers were glad to have a place to stop, and that, it is said is the origin of the name. It overlooks the Drover's Road laid down by Wade's men:
After it was all done a commemorative marker for the feat was put up, and soldiers who had been involved had 'Rest and Be Thankful' inscribed on it. The original stone is gone, but a later commemoration marks the same site:
From there we went to Inveraray (meaning 'the mouth of the Aray'), where Inveraray Castle, the seat of the Duke of Argyll and thus Clan Campbell, overlooks Loch Fyne. It's not quite a fairy-tale-pretty castle, given its dull color and blockishness, but it has a neat and tidy appearance, and the conical roofs on the turrets adds exactly the right touch.
The Gothic Revival castle, built in the eighteenth century, is probably best known today for having appeared in a Downton Abbey Christmas special. Up above the castle there is a watchtower on the peak of Dun na Cuaiche:
It seems to have had no particular use except decoration, and, later, a place where Dukes could get away from the castle, whether for their hobbies or their mistresses.
I liked the dining room in the castle:
Some of the other rooms are also lovely, and it has a good collection of war memorabilia, but the true star of the castle rooms is the weapons collection.
The castle is also famous for its large gardens, which provide the best vantage point for viewing the castle.
After Inveraray, we stopped briefly near the tip of Loch Awe to see the ruins of Kilchurn Castle, one of the first castles built in the Campbell's first push in the fifteenth century to establish their preeminence in the Highlands. It was built on an island, but whether it is on an island today depends greatly on the water levels. It has a fairy mound nearby, but for some reason I failed to get a picture of it.
From Kilchurn Castle we went to Oban, the Gateway to the Islands; An t-Òban in Gaelic means 'The Little Bay', and that's precisely what it is, a town on a little bay in the Firth of Lorn. The bay is immediately protected by the Isle of Kerrara; in the background behind Kerrara, you can just see the Isle of Mull. This is the closest we got to the Western Isles, but if you were going to Iona, you would head from here to Mull, Iona being just on the other side of Mull.
The next place we saw, briefly, was Castle Stalker on Loch Laich. Stalcaire in Gaelic means 'hunter'; it was a hunting lodge. It is generally thought to be one of the best preserved, perhaps the best, of all medieval towerhouses, and dates from the fifteenth century. It is, however, most famous today for being the castle that shows up in the final scenes of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. (It is remarkable how much of the tourism industry in Scotland is tied to movies and television shows; Harry Potter and Outlander are the big tie-ins that tour companies try to use, of course, but it's everywhere.)
From there we went to Glen Coe.
Glen Coe is, of course, famous for being the location of the Massacre of Glencoe on February 13, 1692. The Union government had out down the First Jacobite Rebellion, and demanded a pledge of loyalty to William and Mary from all of the Highland chiefs by a certain deadline, the first of January. They all signed. But the chief of Clan MacDonald of Glencoe got the demand late, for reasons unknown. He immediately went to Fort William to take the oath, but the local governor there didn't have the authorization to accept the oath, and so sent the chief down to Inveraray to take it before the Duke of Argyll; he was given a letter explicitly noting that he had arrived to take the oath before the deadline and that they just needed someone to administer it. He got to Inveraray as quickly as he could, and took the oath on January 6th. One hundred twenty men under Campbell leadership were sent to Glencoe with orders for free quarter: the Glencoe MacDonalds legally had to quarter the troops, which they did. They gave full hospitality for a couple of weeks. And then on February 12, the troops received orders that the Glencoe MacDonalds, having refused to take the pledge of loyalty, were to be executed as traitors. And they were. Somewhere between twenty-five to thirty-eight men were shot; women and children fled to the mountains of Glen Coe, where, in February cold, an unknown number of at least a couple dozen died of exposure.
There have been many worse massacres -- indeed, arguably worse massacres perpetrated on just the MacDonalds alone, who had often been on the worse end of a clan feud -- but it was a very modern massacre, with its complete disregard for ancient and medieval norms of hospitality and its cause being a failure to meet a paperwork deadline. To forestall criticisms that King William himself might be complicit, the Parliament took a modern approach to handling it: it held an inquiry, and as government inquiries do, it blamed some people to block blaming of more important people, gave the people blamed a slap on the wrist, and tied the whole thing up as if it were finished, with Glencoe MacDonald requests for compensation being studiously ignored. But the Massacre was never forgotten by the Highlanders, and it helped to set up the later Jacobite rebellions. Certainly the Glencoe MacDonalds had no hesitation about participating in them, and the association of the massacre with the Campbells guaranteed that they would later be referred to as 'the perfidious Campbells' because of it.
From Glen Coe, we headed to Loch Tulla, near the Black Mount mountain range.
At the Loch Tulla Viewpoint, there is a monument to Sir Hugh Munro, one of the great Scottish mountaineers of the nineteenth century. Munro put together a list of Scottish mountains over 3,000 feet tall and set out to reach the top of all of them. As there turned out to be over 300 of them, putting together the list was not a small task, and climbing them all was not a minor ambition. He came very close; by the time he died, he had just the one he had been saving for last and two or three his list had overlooked. Because of his feat, all mountains in Scotland over 3,000 feet are known as Munros, and it has become a popular mountaineering project to climb all the Munros of Scotland. The monument is a cairn of stones with one stone from every Munro that Sir Hugh Munro is known to have climbed, and is dedicated to all those who have died while mountain-climbing.
And we returned to Loch Lomond. The weather had been decent, but the rainclouds were forming, so Loch Lomond apparently did not feel very much like being a lake of light on the return trip.
And that was a day.
to be continued