Wednesday 10th of February

Fort William Travel Blog

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The day began with an early breakfast and an air of surprise. Kae had been planning the trip for a while now and I was anticipating what lay ahead. We were up early and well fed only in the knowledge that the trip would last Wednesday through Sunday We set off on our journey and headed in the car towards the Trossachs. By this point I had guessed some sort of West Highland jaunt which proved somewhat accurate. First stop just outside of Stirling was Doune Castle site for some the Holy Grail movie.

Doune is remarkable among Scottish castles, as it is the product of a single building period, and has survived relatively unchanged and complete. It was begun in the late 14th century by Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany (c.1340–1420), the son of King Robert II of Scotland, and Regent of Scotland from 1388 until his death. The castle passed to the crown in 1425, when Albany's son was executed, and was used as a royal hunting lodge and dower house. In the later 16th century, Doune became the property of the Earls of Moray. The castle saw military action during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms and Glencairn's rising in the mid-17th century, and during the Jacobite Risings of the late 17th and 18th centuries. By 1800 the castle was ruined, but restoration works were carried out in the 1880s, prior to its passing into state care in the 20th century. It is now maintained by Historic Scotland. During our time at the Castle we both seemed to lose one another or more accurately Kae climbed stairs to the top that I must have missed when exploring at this point I was searching everywhere thinking she had gone missing or something similar. 45 mins later I received a call of ‘where are you, I’m at the lookout point’ this confused me as I was sure I had searched everywhere castle gardens included. Crisis had been averted and we had a good long giggle at the idea of Kae’s potential abduction. After this we headed on through the Trossachs to Oban.

We arrived in Oban around lunchtime and quickly had some light snacks to fuel us for a few hours more that day, good old crackers and pate!! Oban is a quiet fishing town an hour North of Glasgow looking out towards the Isle of Mull. Its skyline is dominated by McCaigs tower which overlooks the harbour from the hilltop. We started by getting a coffee to warm up and heading to the harbour. We went for a walk through the town then headed for the tower atop the hill. It was a glorious day and offered a great view! You could see all the way to the Islands where hourly ferries run from the dock. Sadly being winter most other attractions were closed. We enjoyed the views headed back to town and decided to continue on for what was a long journey to Fort William.

The strategic location just outside Oban, and the presence of such an inviting lump of rock on which to build, means that this has been a defended site for nearly 1500 years. In the 600s the Kings of Dalriada, the Kingdom of the Scots who migrated to Argyll from Ireland, built a stronghold here. It is even suggested that this was the original keeping place of the Stone of Destiny. Much of the castle you see at Dunstaffnage today was built by the MacDougall’s in the 1200s. The castle did, however, transfer to royal possession when it was captured after a siege by Robert the Bruce in 1309. Records show that in 1470, custody was passed to the first Earl of Argyll, Colin Campbell. In 1502 it was passed from the Earl to his cousin, who became known as Captain of Dunstaffnage, and in whose family ownership of the castle remains. Dunstaffnage was burned in May 1685 during an attempted uprising by the Earl of Argyll against James VII/II supported by Dutch troops. His uprising was quashed and the Earl was executed, but too late to save Dunstaffnage. During the Jacobite uprising of 1745, Dunstaffnage was garrisoned by government forces. It also became the temporary prison of Flora MacDonald in 1746 after she was arrested for assisting Bonnie Prince Charlie.

We arrived in the Fort in the early evening and all though the Campfield house B&B offered clear directions was still not easy to find tucked at the side of the A82 overlooking the stunning Loch Linnhe. We checked in and had a cup of tea to revive us. The room was impressive and our hosts courteous. We decided to head into town for a stroll and to find a place for dinner. Again due to the wintertime a lot of places were open only restricted hours. We found a quiet pub and got stuck into good old fashioned grub washed down with a beer and cider.

Thursday 11th February
We woke early to a full Scottish breakfast washed down with some coffee. When we went to the car ready for a full day we realised the cold weather had iced up the car, we stuck the heating on ten minutes whilst we waited admiring the loch before we were fired up for a big adventure.

We started by going to Glenfinnan and the famous monument and viaduct. On the day we made the clever decision to buy some anti-freeze at a Co-op and headed on. We had the whole place to ourselves and the view was out of this world. Our National Trust membership had paid for itself many times over!! The West Highland passes by here on towards Mallaig on what is known as the Harry Potter railway. We climbed the hills that look onto the monument and loch and took our share of photos and embraced the sheer peace that nature and open space bring. We had a quick gander round the local train station to see an old coal train and jumped back in the car before our limbs froze and headed back south towards Fort William

Next stop was West Highland museum. A fascinating look at the development of the region through various periods. The West Highland Museum holds fascinating collections of pictures, photographs, archives and artefacts. Every object has a story of its own to tell and all together they throw light on life in the West Highlands from the stone tool cultures of the Mesolithic to the technologies of modern industry. The items on display offer an intriguing insight into a unique way of life. From soldiers to crofters, princes to clergymen - all the people of the West Highlands are represented. Along with geological and archaeological exhibits they present a vivid depiction of life in the West Highlands. Then we headed south again (realising that this was not the best planning of the day) to the National Trust site of Glen Coe.

Glen Coe is both a mountain and a large wilderness area renowned for its challenging climbs and unique microclimate. The visitor centre offered explanations of the region and how it was shaped by climate change and the giant glaciers that carved the valley formations. It offers some ski facilities and vast walking opportunities. We decided on a gentle stroll along the nature trail which took us on a 30 walk through the woods and around the centre.

Glen Coe is best known for an event that took place here at 5am on the morning of 13 February 1692. For the previous two hundred years the Glen Coe MacDonalds had been regarded as cattle-thieves, especially by the Campbells, whose more fertile lands lay to the south east. As early as 1501 MacDonalds captured a Campbell castle on an island in Loch Awe. Many raids followed over the following 150 years, including one in which 30 MacDonalds were caught and hanged in Glen Lyon. In 1646 a MacDonald raid into Glen Lyon led to the deaths of 36 Campbells and Menzies after a wedding. 1685 saw the Atholl Raid, in which Glen Coe MacDonalds laid waste to large parts of Glen Lyon. And in 1689 they burned down Achallader Castle, near Bridge of Orchy, in another skirmish with the Campbells. But it was a wider conflict that eventually led to the MacDonalds' downfall. In August 1691 King William III/II offered to pardon all the Highland clans who had taken up arms against him in the 1689 Jacobite uprising. These included the Glen Coe MacDonalds. The pardon was conditional on their taking an oath of allegiance to him by 1 January 1692. Clan Chief Alastair MacDonald arrived at Inverlochy (now Fort William) on 31 December 1691, only to find he should have gone instead to Inveraray to take his oath. He eventually got there five days late. As a result, the Glen Coe MacDonalds did not appear on the list of clans who had taken the oath by the deadline. Still worse for the MacDonalds, the Secretary of State for Scotland, Sir John Dalrymple, 1st Earl of Stair, wanted to set an example by punishing one of the clans who failed to take the oath. Although some had made no effort at all to take it, the Glen Coe MacDonalds were selected to set this example because they were unpopular, they had no stronghold, and they lived in a valley whose exits could easily be blocked. Over the following month, troop numbers at Inverlochy were increased. On 1 February, two companies, perhaps 130 men, were moved south from Inverlochy and billeted with the MacDonalds in Glen Coe. There were up to 500 MacDonalds, scattered over the lower reaches of Glen Coe. The start of the massacre was signalled by a fire lit on what is now called Signal Rock at 5am. It was dark, it was snowing, and reinforcements intended to block escape routes from the glen failed to turn up. The massacre was ineptly carried out. Some 38 MacDonalds were killed by the troops, but the sound of the initial gunfire provide ample warning to most, who escaped into the winter mountains. An unknown number subsequently died from exposure. Glen Coe's infamy is not really because of the deaths involved. The number of victims was not much greater than killed by the MacDonalds in the less well known 1646 raid on Glen Lyon. What offended Highlanders most about Glen Coe was the abuse of the hospitality offered by the MacDonalds to the government troops.

The light was beginning to fade early afternoon and we had a journey to Skye to complete so we headed North whilst the sunlight held. The drive north of Fort William was a delight with loch after loch passing by in the sunset! To say this region is a natural wonder would not do it justice. We arrived at Eileen Donan castle at about 3.30 and noticed someone had left the bridge gate open. Given the castle was not open to tourists during winter it allowed us the opportunity to explore the castle grounds in private. We walked the grounds and admired the picture postcard views of the castle with the loch and mountains providing a stunning backdrop. That done we powered on to Skye and after crossing the bridge we were in Broadford within the half-hour. The town was small and quiet so we checked in dropped off our stuff and went for a quick drive to find somewhere for dinner. A lot of services here are geared for tourists and so winter season meant many services were closed till April. Our best bet was the local pubs, and so it proved as we had a hearty meal and local ale to introduce us to the Island.
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Fort William
photo by: genetravelling