Friday, 19 November 2010

Icons and ice

The night which followed our evening paddle was very cold, clear and still.  I launched the following morning at Dornie where the sea lochs of  Alsh, Duich and Long meet.

Dornie is the site of Eilean Donan castle, an iconic image of Scotland and probably one of the most photographed castles in Britain.  This photograph shows the seaward side of the castle.  Named after a monk, St Donan, who established a monastic cell on the island in 580 AD, there has been a fortification here since the early 13th century.  At a time when sea lochs were the natural highways the position was perfect both for defence from Viking raiders and later as a power base for the Lordship of the Isles - then a quite separate entity from Scotland.

The castle went through many changes and grew gradually in size until the 18th century when it had a place in the Jacobite rising of 1719.  It was garrisoned by 46 Spanish troops (Spain was sympathetic to the Jacobite movement) who had landed gunpowder and were awaiting cannon and shot from Spain.  The English government learned of the occupation of the castle and sent three frigates, HMS Flamborough, Worcester and Enterprise to deal with the situation.  The warships bombarded the castle for three days, making limited impact since the walls were in places over 3 metres thick.  Finally, sailors from HMS Enterprise were landed, overwhelmed the garrison and blew up the castle with the store of powder.

The castle remained a ruin until 1911 when it was purchased by Colonel John Macrae-Gilstrap who employed a Clerk of Works, Farquar Macrae and together they spent 20 years restoring Eilean Donan according to original plans.  It was completed in 1932, opened to the public in 1955 and handed to a trust in 1983.  Today it's a hugely successful tourist attraction and has been used in several films.

At the head of Loch Duich is another iconic view, the Five Sisters of Kintail, one of the classic ridge walks in Scotland.  Owned by the National Trust for Scotland, there are three Munros and two other summits on the ridge.  A subsidiary eastern summit is named Sgurr nan Spainteach (peak of the Spaniards) originating from a battle, again in 1719, when a small Spansh force was defeated at the base of the hill by Hanoverian troops.

Further up the loch I came upon ice.  Unusual for Scotland, and especially early in the year.  The ice was around a centimetre thick and probably formed near the head of Loch Duich were the water is less salty.

The ice covered the loch for several square kilometres and was really difficult and unnerving to paddle.  I was having to crash the paddle through, which felt unstable, and turning the boat was very hard.  Fortunately it was moving out on the ebb tide and I was able to get free.

Despite the wintry appearance of the ice, there are still pockets of autumn colour on this sheltered coast.  This stand of Larches and Pines were reflecting beautifully in the still water.


  1. Great post. Nice different perspective of Eilean Donan. Been a few years since I climbed the 5 sisters. Brings back fond memories. Looking especially spectacular with the frosting on the summits.

  2. Beautiful! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Thanks Gareth & Maria,

    It's a stunning area in good conditions!

    Kind regards