Towns / Cities Visited: 124
Countries Visited: 20
Steps Taken Today: 10,749
Steps Taken Around the World: 3,163,845
We awoke to a second day of fluffy white clouds dappling the bright blue sky, and we headed downstairs to a delicious breakfast provided by our gracious Airbnb hosts. Although we wanted nothing more than to spend another day exploring and basking in the glory of this magical island, adventure called to the east, and as such we were soon in the car and on our way. Our stay on the Isle of Skye had been brief, and our day would mainly involve a lengthy drive back to the mainland, and inward to Inverness, but to break up the hours of travel we had one planned stop along the way. As we crossed the bridge from Skye back to less isolated lands, and continued on over the bridge which spans Loch Long, we pulled into the car park on the far side. Why were we stopping in this seemingly obscure location? We were here to see the iconic building perched on the small island at this meeting place between three lochs; Eileen Donan Castle.
As we wandered closer to the stone bridge which spanned the ebbing rivulet that surrounds the island on one side, it became obvious as to why this site was one of the most visited in the highlands; the place is gorgeous, and has the slight feel of a more modest Saint Michaels Mount to it. It is believed that this island, Donan Island, was named after the Irish Saint Donan, who came to Scotland in 580 AD, and that he likely formed a small community on the island. Although there has been settlement here since the 7th century, there has only been a fortified castle on this site since the 13th century, and for most of its existence the castle was the property of the MacKenzie clan, and under the protection of the MacRae clan. Given the somewhat tumultuous history of this country, it should not surprise you to also know that it has been damaged and rebuilt on four seperate occasions. The most significant of these is its ruin during the Jacobite risings, when a small garrison of Spanish soldiers in support of the Jacobites established a magazine of gunpowder here while they awaited a delivery of weapons from Spain. Unfortunately they were overwhelmed by English defenders and defeated. After discovering the 343 barrels of gunpowder, the English men then used it to blow up what was left of the damaged castle. After this, the skeleton of the once great fortification lay untouched for almost 200 years. In 1911 however, the sites saviour would arrive in the form of Lieutenant Colonel John Macrae-Gilstrap, who purchased the island and dedicated the next twenty years of his life to rebuilding the historic beauty which stands here today.
It may not be the largest, or the tallest, but there is still a sense of safety that comes from ducking through its door and into the protection of its thick, strong walls. It may resemble a stone house more than it does a fortification, but its grandeur is none the less for it. Unfortunately, like many historical beauties, photography is not permitted within its interior, in order to preserve the ageing artefacts which lay within, from local historical artefacts and MacRae family heirlooms, cannonballs from the 1719 bombardment, and a selection of old weapons from duelling pistols to dirks. The entrance hall houses a fascinating interactive display which covers the long history of the site; the Sea Gate gives a stunning view out over the loch; the banqueting hall oozes proud Scottish heritage with massive portraits of kilted noblemen, and ageing tapestries; and the recreated kitchen display seems, for all intents and purposes, a freeze-frame of times gone by.
Out in the yard, below the towering keep, there stands a memorial for all from the MacRae clan who fought during the first world war, and I’m not going to lie, there are a frighteningly long list of them. By the time we crossed back over that bridge, it was with a warm respect for this place, and those who worked hard to bring it back to its former glory.
A quick bite to eat at the cafe, and we were feeling refreshed enough to continue our long journey. Another couple of hours of winding through spectacular scenery, found us arriving at our destination for the next couple of nights, a place famous the world over; Inverness. Although the hunt for Nessie would have to wait for the next day, we did use the small portion of the afternoon we had to get a few less than exciting things done, like sourcing me a new pair of walking shoes as mine had finally worn through. As was quickly becoming our Sunday tradition, dinnertime found us settling in at the pub for a roast dinner washed down with a pint of cider; with an extra order of Yorkshire puddings of course.
As we nestled down into bed later that night, I thought about the travel worn shoes which sat beside the bed. More than three million steps had brought me to this point, and my mind raced through all of the places they had traversed before their untimely demise. It was a strange feeling to realise that in each country, in each town, in each step; a small amount of both my soles and my soul had been left behind. An imperceivable trace of my being there remained, and in return a small piece of each destination took its rightful place within my heart. In the end, I guess its not that strange at all, for that is what travel does, doesn’t it, it takes something from us and replaces it tenfold with thing of much greater importance. It takes our prejudices, our naivety, and the things we take for granted in our lives; and replaces it with a more worldly tolerance, an unexpected education, and a deep gratitude for all we have. It may have claimed my shoes, but I would trade a thousand more pairs to continue this journey of discovery.