Excepted from my book, Gimme the Song O' the Pipes!
Crazy American Lady Tours Historical Scotland
7 October: Up and dressed in clean clothes, I leave Fooh by the window and walk up the small road as far as it goes, saying hi to cattle and a man who waves from his precious croft house. Then Fooh and I are off to send photos—this takes a long time from the
I get chatted up by a grungy guy who is staying at the hostel...precisely why I
don’t stay at hostels—they smell like dirty hair. Fooh grins his Cheshire cat
smile and says, 'A chat-up is better than no chat-up, any way you look at it.'
Now it’s time for a fun trip. We head over the Skye bridge, through Lochalsh, east on A87, along Loch Duich, turn right at
on the little road to Glenelg. The old road takes us up over the 1100-foot Shiel Bridge , dropping down the
other side to Glen More and Glenelg. Mam Ratagan
Here are the Bernerra Barracks, completed by the Hanoverian government in 1723, after the 1715 Jacobite uprising. They are still quite intact but fenced off. What a shame, as they would provide an impressive exploration op and historical insight.
We cruise through the settlement of Glenelg and continue on a tiny road to Gleann Beag, home to three somewhat preserved brochs. The first we explore is Dun Trodden.
30. Dun Trodden.
It is a beautiful spot, with amazing views up the Glenn. Then a stop at Dun Telve, the larger and more complete one, which stands under a canopy of oak and sycamore trees.
These squat and round or somewhat elliptical brochs are thought to be built by Iron Age farmers between the fourth century BCE and first century CE, though the many interpretations of origin include Pictish towers and Danish forts.
The double walls take up as much space as the living areas and have stairs built between them, which lead to galleries.
31. Stairs in Dun Trodden.
They are reminiscent of castle keeps, which also have these thick walls with stairs, but brochs are so much smaller. It appears they had central hearths and probably roofs made of timber—or something lightweight. Fooh wonders if researchers have simply sat in the center of them to try to divine how people lived here, since there are so many opinions. The floors are uneven and lead some to believe the inhabitants did not live on the ground floor, but kept their livestock here. There is evidence of spaces for floor support beams in the walls.
It’s time for tea, so we back-track to Glenelg. The ferry here still carries a few cars at a time across to Kylerhea, on Skye, during summer. Before the 1819 completion of the road to Lochalsh, this was an age-old watery passage to the Misty Isle. There is a camping ground on the shingle beach or you can stay at ye olde Glenelg Inn. I make the mistake of thinking this is the inn which lives on in Boswell and Johnson’s literary history, as an unforgettable lodging. Not so. In 1773, the only lodging inn was the Ferry Inn. It is now a self-catering house here, set above the narrows of Kyle Rhea. James Boswell writes in his 1773 Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides:
As we passed the barracks at Bernea, I looked at them wishfully, as soldiers have always every thing in the best order: but there was only a serjeant and a few men there. We came on to the inn at Glenelg. There was no provender for our horses: so they were sent to grass, with a man to watch them. A maid shewed us up stairs into a room damp and dirty, with bare walls, a variety of bad smells, a coarse black greasy fir table, and forms of the same kind; and out of a wretched bed started a fellow from his sleep, like Edgar in King Lear, ‘Poor Tom’s a-cold’. [Footnote: It is amusing to observe the different images which this being presented to Dr Johnson and me. The Doctor, in his Journey, compares him to a Cyclops.]
If you like this area of the world and want a bit of historical insight for appreciation, check out Boswell (and also Samuel Johnson’s version of their tour, Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland) for your enjoyment.
We are in the Glenelg Inn pub on this late and (what’s new?) chilly afternoon. The building looks Elizabethan to me, but I am always wishful of these things. I find out it existed way back in 1875, at least, but burned to the ground in 1947. The east part of this inn is on the earlier stable block.
I have never seen a pub so comfy—it takes me by surprise. A rock fireplace provides warmth, and fresh flowers in vases add beauty. Lots of books fill the reading corner. There are big candles and a slightly worn, warm red tartan rug, and Fooh entices the friendly cat over here to finish the cozy ambience. The only downside is the loud rock music the pretty bartender turns up...why doesn’t anyone around here listen to pipes or fiddle? ~