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| Amazing Spaces that Inspire and Delight
Castles and Locals and
A tiny village named Lochbuie
Page III of my latest adventure, with a final destination being Fionnphort and the
Findhorn Community on the Isle of Erraid.
|Moy Castle stands on a low rock platform at the head of Loch Buie and was built in the fourteenth century by a founder of the MacLaines of Lochbuie who made this place their home. The entrance door to the castle is locked now because of the risk of crumbling masonry. Renovations to stabilize the interior and external stonework were begun in September 2006 and are ongoing. Even though access to the castle is not permitted for safety reasons, the castle is still worth a visit, as it has a commanding view over Loch Buie. Since I was being met at the Castle by one of the MacLaines, I was able to view the first floor. There’s an impressive barrel vaulted chamber that was probably used as the main hall when the castle was first built. At the far end of the hall is a raised dais with two mural chambers in diagonal corners. Mural chambers are vaulted chambers within the thickness of a wall.
| A tiny village named Lochbuie
Next, I visited St. Kilda’s Church, which is in the Diocese of Argyll and the Isles. A MacLaine of Lochbuie built the church in 1876. I asked where the name came from and was told that no one knows for sure. Some of the locals regard St. Kilda as a mythical being, and others feel that St. Kilda may have been a Nordic saint, perhaps a hermit. The name is found on the island of St. Kilda and in its ancient well, known as Tobar Childer-Well of Kilda. It seems that Tobar Childer (tobar a'chleirich) means clerks’ well; and although the well is covered over twice a day by the sea, it never becomes brackish. I find the history of these villages and clans to be quite fascinating, interwoven as it is into a vibrant tapestry of love, wars, religion and mysticism.
The yellow sandstone Celtic cross that’s built into the south wall of the porch at St. Kilda’s was unearthed when the foundation of the church was being excavated. The cross is said to be more than eight hundred years old. Since there’s no history of a chapel or place of burial on the site, this makes for another mystery. The grounds here are remarkable in their simplicity and are set in a most captivating environment. St. Kilda’s is located on the shore of Loch Buie and is entirely surrounded by shimmering beaches and abundant wildlife.
|The Lochbuie stone circle is of astronomical significance. The circle is small and well preserved and is guarded by the mountainous Ben Buie. Some of the stones indicate the position of the setting sun at the winter solstice, and others mark the declination of the sun during the winter quarter days in early November and early February. When I arrived there, the wind had abated, and I was able to stand in the center of the circle and acquaint myself with the orientation of the stones. I marveled at this ancient calendar in the middle of a damp and otherwise quiet field. The circle originally consisted of nine stones, one of which has disappeared and been replaced by a small boulder. There’s a grand total of three outliers, the nearest of which lies just to the southeast and is less than three feet in height. The largest stone is six feet tall, and all the flat faces of the stones face inward. This is truly a mystical, magical place, stark and wild, artfully created in a natural amphitheatre formed by the surrounding hills. I couldn’t help but feel that the soft gentle winds were whispering of all things ancient.
The young man, Donald, who was escorting me around these sites, was named after an early clan chieftan, Donald MacLaine. Donald was extremely accommodating, and in general, I found the hospitality of those I met on this trip to be endearing. Most noticeably, the people of these parts were generous with their time. I have consistently found a refreshing interest and courtesy while traveling through Scotland, and in fact, I’m managing to get somewhat homesick for the country just writing about my last wonderful adventures there for these pages.
|The photograph above shows the rough hatch in the floor that provided the only access to a well-constructed pit prison. These pit prisons are very small, windowless affairs with tapering sidewalls. I’ve seen them often in castles I’ve visited. The only entrance was by a ladder, which was then removed. I recall descending into one tiny prison below sea level in Northumberland and wondering how anyone could live in that pit for any length of time. The dampness and the darkness reminded me of Connecticut’s old Newgate Prison in East Granby. I vividly remember visiting the cavern cells and copper mines underneath the building at Newgate in the seventies and wondering the same thing. I recall a rickety ladder and going down into the darkness with water dripping and the stench of mold dominating. At that time Newgate Prison was illuminated with tiny lights so that visibility was limited, and a hand rope guided you through the dimly lit cavern. However, let’s get back to Moy Castle. Near the center of the main hall at Moy are the remains of a well with a stone shaft heading downward for about four feet. This was obviously a source of drinking water for the inhabitants. The well never overflows and never goes dry! It was carved into the solid rock foundation of the castle and is believed to have existed long before the castle was ever built. Where the water is coming from remains a mystery.
A view from the first floor of Moy Castle, overlooking the Loch Buie is on the right. One of the clan legends relates that Hector MacLaine was granted a charter to lands on the Isle of Mull by the Lord of the Isles in the fourteenth century. He was given permission to build a castle at Loch Buie "as big as the skin of an ox". Hector cleverly cut the skin into a continuous thin sliver and laid it end-to-end to establish the size of his castle.
| The Red Shawl
I think it was when Passion and I drove through Pennyghael that I realized the road was getting narrower and narrower, more like the old drove roads I had read about from the days of yore. However, not to worry, as there are areas provided for pulling over to allow impatient drivers to get around you or to get out of the way of oncoming vehicles. The scenery was beautiful with houses situated miles apart, quiet lochs set into valleys, ranges of barren mountains, and animals of which there were many. I could tell from the types of shrubberies, grasses and wildflowers that this would indeed be a difficult land for any profitable agricultural pursuits. I stopped many times to snap photographs and to simply appreciate the quiet, desolate grandeur of it all.
Highland cattle are an old breed and have grazed the rugged Scottish landscape since the sixth century. They’re large, impressive looking beasts, red haired and very shaggy with long horns and a reputation for being docile. I’ve read that their inquisitive nature and steady disposition make them a delight to handle. They’re magnificent to behold with their wavy pelts and seem almost to blend into the terrain. There can be no doubt that Highland cattle played a significant part in the development and civilization of the Highlands of Scotland. After all, for generations these cattle have been a source of meat and milk for the crofters, small farmers of the high country where I was heading. The crofters lived principally on fishing and subsistence agriculture and even used the hair of the cattle in the process of spinning yarn. The calves were bought and sold at the annual trysts, or cattle sales. The most famous of the trysts took place in Stirling, Scotland. Cattle from the islands were swum ashore and herded along ancient drove roads to Stirling. Often, after the sale they were driven south on the drove roads to England for resale.
The road I was driving on passed by the mountainous range of Cruachan. A tiny cottage was nestled on the shore of Assapol Loch with many old weather beaten outbuildings. I understand that the loch teems with wild, hard-fighting brown trout and that there are sea trout and the occasional salmon to be had throughout the season. Loch Assapol is situated near the village of Bunessan in the southwest area of the Isle of Mull. The Bunessan River, little more than a burn in places, runs just over a mile and links the loch to the sea loch, Loch na Lathaich, and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. When spring tides and heavy rains combine to cause a sudden flood, or spate, it’s a short and relatively easy sprint for the sea trout and salmon.
I was admiring the serenity of the view when I was pulled from my reverie by the shouts of two people running toward the road. I slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting a huge Highland that was contentedly munching on a piece of turf in the middle of the roadway and looked at him or her, hard to tell with all that hair. It looked right back at me. Meantime, the farmers were coming up the hill with a halter in hand. The Highland knew exactly what that meant and started to walk over to Passion, as if for some kind of protection. I opened the door and got out. The beast nuzzled me while I carefully avoided those huge horns and slowly reached into the back seat area for something to halter it with. I wished I had some grain to give a tempting treat to the creature as a bribe for it to do my bidding. Do you remember my mentioning in last week’s column that the red shawl I bought would come in handy? Well, now I didn’t dare to turn my back on that hairy beast, so I slowly twisted the shawl into a long cord of red wool behind my back. (I learned with the rams I had while raising sheep, to never turn my back on such a large animal.)
I walked slowly over to the animal’s side, gently crooned, rubbed its ears and tied the red shawl around its neck. We then turned around, and all was going well until the farmer barked at me, “What do you think you are doing, Miss?” I replied that I was attempting to walk his beast over to him so one of us could put the halter on, but now it was too late, as the beast heard his tone of voice and saw the halter. It broke away from me and tore across the field, red shawl waving in the breeze. I explained that I was trying to be helpful and get the beast out of the way so I could continue on my journey. I felt certain he was either thinking, “those damned Americans” or “a damned tourist”, but apologies were accepted and I assured him that I would stop by in a week to pick up my shawl. When I was pulling away, I noticed the two farmers running after the red hairy beast with the red shawl flying off its shoulders. I think I saw a smirk on the beast’s face. It was obviously enjoying the run.
Continued on the Next Page
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