Your 5 must do's during the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology
Author: Robin McKelvie
Every year the Scottish Government, together with Visit Scotland, get together and dream up a theme year. There has been the Year of Food and Drink, the Year of Active and, of course, the massive Year of Homecoming 2014. I'm really excited about this year's theme, the wide ranging, attraction packed Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology 2017.
The idea behind these theme years is simple. They are designed to get you thinking about different places across the country and then motivate you to visit to them, whether you have lived in Scotland all your life or have never been lucky enough to visit yet.
There will be a flurry of themed events throughout the year - both special one offs and annual events that are being tweaked to take on a history, heritage and archaeology hue - so look out for these. You can find more information here. I've thought a lot about my favourite sights for you to visit across the CalMac network in this Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology and here are my top five. Enjoy!
1. Mount Stuart, Bute - This grand Victorian Revival country house is surely the most dramatic building on the banks of the entire Clyde and boasts a fascinating heritage. This epic creation was the brainchild of Scotland's richest man in the 19th century, the Marquess of Bute. Mount Stuart sports more marble than any other building in the British Isles and made history in other ways too - it is said to have been the first house in the world to boast its own heated pool and the first in Scotland to be lit by electricity and have a central heating system. Mount Stuart is also home to a Shakespeare First Folio that had lain unheralded for years in the library until it was 'discovered' last year!
2. Finlaggan, Islay - The most remarkable historic attraction on the Inner Hebridean island of Islay is undoubtedly Finlaggan. This gorgeous, windswept retreat was once the ancient seat of power of the once omnipotent Lords of the Isles. They held sway over much of the isles off Scotland's west coast for centuries. Don't expect a sturdy fortress or rugged ramparts. The strength of their power is demonstrated by the lack of defences bar the natural ones that the surrounding lochan offers in this sunken landscape. You can still view stone carvings of old knights and warriors, feeling the centuries peel back at every turn. On a good day I reckon that Finlaggan has an unbeatable backdrop - a view out across the Sound of Islay to the Paps of Jura!
3. Tale of Two Castles, Skye - I cannot decide which is my favourite castle on Skye and am just glad the island boasts a brace of historic gems. You will be too if you catch a ferry over. Armadale Castle, seat of the Clan Donald, lies in a 20,000 acre estate in the south of Skye. I like that they boast the Museum of the Isles, which tells the story of the clan through the ages, as well as offering extensive genealogy resources. The Clan Macleod meanwhile hold the land further north on Skye at Dunvegan Castle and Gardens. This dreamily dramatic castle on Loch Dunvegan is reputed to be the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland, the graceful ancestral home of the chiefs of Clan MacLeod for over 800 years. You can check out the famous Fairy Flag. Clan legend proclaims that this banner is blessed with magical powers and when taken into battle guarantees victory.
4. Purvai, Lewis - This is one of the most exciting of all the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology events. Held at one of my favourite cultural venues in Scotland - An Lanntair Arts Centre in Stornoway - the name refers to a 'warm wind from the east'. It is a creative and dynamic warm wind that sees Scottish culture interacting and fusing with that of South Asia. One of the highlights will be Stornoway born Colonel Colin Mackenzie's spectacular collection of South Asian arts and antiquities. This interactive festival very much hopes to see cultural interactions between Scotland and South Asia and it is a great reason I reckon to head up across the Minch this August. Look out for everything from live music and art workshops, through to artists' talks and a full programme of activities for schoolchildren.
5. Kisimul Castle, Barra - Sail on a CalMac ferry into Castlebay on Barra and you are greeted with an unmistakable sight. It's Kisimul Castle, the ancient seat of power of the MacNeils for centuries. Kisimul is a real shortbread tin beauty that dominates the approaches to the island capital. I think it's impressive that the castle has been leased by the chief of Clan MacNeil to Historic Scotland for 1,000 years for the annual sum of £1 and a bottle of whisky! You will love the impossible romance of catching a wee boat out to this majestic island fortress, just one of the great sights to visit in this very special Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology 2017.
For CalMac blogs on some of my other favourite islands see: