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Dunvegan Castle

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

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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, 23½ miles W by N of Portree, and 11 NNW 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; suc. 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 a 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 Demonology. 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 7½ miles in length, and 2½ 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 300 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. 1., pp. 333-335, of the Memoir of Norman Macleod, DD (1876).

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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