Friday, 9 May 2014

The 30 hour adventure - Skipness; symbols in stone

We continued south along the Kintyre coast under a now overcast sky, passing through a channel in the rocks of Skipness Point.  We landed on a sandy beach and made our way up to the rather fine ruins of.....

.......Skipness Chapel.   Built in the 13th or early 14th century and dedicated to St Brendan, it replaced a nearby (and even older) chapel dedicated to St Columba.  The chapel was built by the MacDonalds (also known as Clan Somhairle at that time) after their take-over of Kintyre following their forcing out of the naturalised Norsemen, the Mac Sweens (Sweinsons).  Later again, Kintyre came under the control of the MacDonalds bitter rivals the Campbells.

The chapel is under the care of Historic Scotland and is a fascinating place to explore.  Stopping to walk around places such as this rather than simply cranking out the kilometres really adds to a trip for us.

The interior of the chapel is quite large.  The sandstone details around the windows and entrance arches are quite unusual and probably were later additions to the original stonework.

There are two mediaeval grave-slabs protected in wooden frames; this one is inside the chapel itself...

.....while this very finely carved slab is just outside in the graveyard; the intricate decoration is really quite striking.  The dark specks at either end of the slab are the droppings of bats which seem to have roosted inside the wooden lidded frame - rather appropriate for a graveyard!

One of the 16th century gravestonesis that of an Archibald Johnston (sailor) and his wife Agnes McMilen.  Their initials are on the left hand panel, while the right hand panel bears a skull and crossbones symbol.

The nearby Skipness Castle has a 13th century curtain wall which may be one of the oldest ruins of its type in Scotland, while one corner contains the tall tower house built by the Campbell earls in the 16th century.  The original 13th century MacSween castle was one of a pair protecting Kilbrannan Sound - the other is Lochranza Castle on Arran.  Control of this important seaway would have given the half-norse Mac Sweens real power here as overlordship was contessted between Scotland and Norway - the castle a symbol of power made in stone.

Near to the chapel is an altogether newer form of symbol in stone (well, concrete anyway). It also had a warlike purpose which you can read about on Douglas' blog here.  The arrow points directly down the Kilbrannan Sound and gave us a gentle hint that our campsite for the night lay some way in this direction....

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