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The Storied Isles page 2


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The barren soil of Islay, in shape almost like a miniature Australia, inhospitable though it seems, must at one time have housed a considerable population with a notable culture, for pillar crosses and sculptured slabs, as well as cairns and barrows from a still more ancient past, are scattered over its length and breadth. But its more recent antiquities are few. At Kildalton the remains of a church of the First Pointed period with lanciform windows, a remarkable canopied piscina and a wealth of carved symbolism repays a visit, and at Kilnaughton and Kilchoman similar ruins are visible.

Nor need the island of Jura, considerable as it is, detain us long, as, though it contains a number of prehistoric remains, it has little to commend it to the antiquary in the way of later monuments. Of the ancient church of Killeain little is left, but the site is still covered with monumental slabs sculptured with claymores and Celtic designs. In the island of Oransay are fragments of the priory church, the east end of which is still entire, and a graveyard containing some particularly fine specimens of Celtic crosses.

The sacred island of lona, la or Hy, or, as the ancient records have it, Icolmkill (Cell of Columba), crouches flat and low off the point of the Ross of Mull. If not precisely the cradle of Scottish Christianity, it may be described as its nursery, but it is equally celebrated in Caledonian annals as the burial place of the kings of those shadowy Celtic dynasties which lie on the borderland of history. It was on this waste islet that the saintly yet enterprising Irish missionary priest Columba, accompanied by twelve disciples, landed in a.d. 562, established a rude monastery, and with extraordinary courage and singleness of mind addressed himself to the task of weaning the native inhabitants from paganism, as has been so memorably recorded by Adamnan, his ninth successor in the abbacy. Upon this island pharos of the faith the ravishing Dane descended in 806, quenching its flame, until it was restored by the saintly Margaret at the end of the eleventh century. In 1144 her son David I, "the Sore Sanct," settled the Benedictine Order on the site, which was annexed to the Bishopric of the Isles in 1492.

The central and dominating structure is that known as "the Cathedral," now happily and artistically restored, a dignified and venerable pile of the early part of the thirteenth century, built chiefly in the red-grained granite of the island. S. Oran's Chapel, the most venerable structure in the island, is a plain and unadorned oblong, with a fine Romanesque doorway. There are numerous subsidiary chapels, eloquent of the former crowded ecclesiastical life of the place. Not less important are the cemeteries, the Reilig Odhrain, or burial place of the monastery, containing the graves of the Scottish kings down to Malcolm Canmore, and the Cladh Ronain. the cemetery of the nunnery church.

It is not a far cry from Iona to Staffa, which has the appearance from the northern end of the sacred island of a low projecting rock jutting out from Ulva and Gometra, with the mountains of Mornish forming a background. If Fingal's Cave, the extraordinary chamber which ocean has eaten in the rocky flank of Staffa, can scarcely be classed as an antiquity, it is at least one of the natural wonders of Europe. Had Neptune himself designed it for a hall, it could scarcely have been rendered more suitable for the purpose than it seems to-day.

The cave is approached by water from the eastern side of the island, and caution must be used both in entering and exploring it. Its interior is reached by walking, or rather scrambling, over the ends of broken basaltic columns. Peering into the gloom beyond, one can see mighty stone ribs from eighteen to thirty-six feet high, tapering away in what seems endless succession, and upholding a great arched roof. In reality the depth is 150 feet and the breadth fifteen feet, though these appear to be much greater. The columns on the east side are perpendicular, those opposite curve slightly. When the sea rises and rushes into the cave the noise is overpoweringly terrifying and majestic. Mendelssohn, who visited the cavern, enshrined memories of the hollow roaring of ocean in this its anteroom in his great Overture to Fingal's Cave.

The stormy history of the hilly and pleasant yet wind-swept isle of Mull, which rears its triangular bulk athwart our bows as we cross the narrow sound from Iona, has left behind it a hundred scattered memorials in broch, castle and cairn. If its stone circles are not so imposing as those of Callernish or Stenness, the precise significance of those at Kilmore and Sorn have led to almost equal wealth of argument and conjecture.

The duns or hill-forts at Dhun Ghirgeadail, with walls eleven feet thick, Torloisk and the magnificent fort at Caisteal na Sreainga are reminders of an age unchronicled, but merely to mention its many similar coeval structures is impossible here. At the extreme north-east point of the island stands Duard Castle, now restored, the stronghold of the Macleans, one of the most powerful strengths in the West Highlands, whose square keep, dating from 1568, is obviously Celtic in design. Aros Castle, overlooking the bay of that name, is now merely a cragg}' ruin, but the castle of Moy, at the head of Loch Buy, still juts seaward in threatening majesty, as its name implies. Its first floor is hewn from the solid rock, and contains a curious stone basin always full of water, from an unknown source, which never overflows. The island contains many beehive or circular houses, which both tradition and archaeology assign to the Picts, and numerous examples of cran-nogs or lake-dwellings are to be encountered in the inland lochs, especially in Asapol and Frisa. Mull, however, is not rich in ecclesiastical remains, possibly because of its contiguity to lona, but interesting ruins of chapels are visible at Torosay, Pennygown and Laggan, and at Tobermory there are some traces of the old church of S. Maelrubha. The feuds of Clan Maclean with the Camerons and Macdonalds make the history of Mull a manuscript more often written in red than black.

The small and hilly island of Coll is heavy-laden over its twelve miles of uneven soil with duns, hill forts and islet forts of the Prehistoric age, hut circles, sand dwellings and burial sites. It has also several pre-Reformation Chapels, most of the burial grounds of which are still actually in use. The island of Tiree, of about the same magnitude, reveals many similar survivals. It can also boast of several important pre-Reformation ecclesiastical sites, now in ruins, notably Soroby, the "Campus Lunge" of Adamnan, founded by S. Columba, of which only faint traces remain. Its churchyard contains the cross of S. Michael and the Dragon, which bears a brief but venerable inscription. The rock chapel of Kirkafel, standing on the dreariest of coastlines, dates from an early period.

Skye, "the misty isle," as befits a home of ancient Caledonian culture celebrated in the Irish legends, is a mine of prehistoric remains. Traces of stone circles still exist at Uig and Kilbride, and tumuli, most of them long ago looted, are very numerous in this isle of vast and silent spaces. At the head of S. Columba's Loch, in lone Kilmuir, rears the great bulk of Cam Lialt, a huge heap of stones forty-five feet in diameter, and on the peninsula of Vatten another tumulus is famed traditionally as the sole memorial of a life and death struggle between clan Macleod and the Macdonalds although it is obviously much more venerable than the days of septal feuds. The island also abounds in remains of those curious circular structures known as "beehive" huts. But the antiquary may pardonably be dubious regarding the age of these, as many such are known to have been built and inhabited in the islands until the end of the eighteenth century. Some fine examples of earth-houses, in which the early denizens of Skye dwelt in the winter like the modern Esquimaux, occur near Dunvegan and at Colbert Glendale, and at least fifty duns or hill forts and almost as many brochs or dry-stone towers are scattered over the breadth of the island, the architectural memorials of Scot and Pict.

But Skye's most interesting and romantic antiquity is Dunvegan Castle, some portions of which date from the tenth century. Its ancient keep, still inhabited, frowns over the loch of the same name, and has been added to throughout the generations, and the picturesque architecture of the much later "Fairy Tower," built in the sixteenth century, contrasts curiously with the bare and grim outlines of the older pile, with its grinning gargoyles and crow-stepped gables.

Other castellated remains on the island include Caisteall Uisdean, on the shores of Loch Snizort,, an ancient seat of the Mackinnons of Strath, Castle Moill, near Kyleakin, Dunskath, on.the southern shore of Loch Slapin, now scarcely visible, and associated with the legend of Cuchullin, and Knock Castle in the Sound of Sleat, the rendezvous of the famous Donal Gorm in the seventeenth century. Two fine but nameless examples of old church architecture are to be found at Sleat and Duirinish, and these strongly resemble each other in their lancet windows and pointed gables. About thirty tiny chapels, many now scarcely traceable, once stood in various parts of Skye. In the graveyard of the ruined church of Kilmuir is the tomb of Flora Macdonald who, after her safe guidance of Prince Charles Edward, married and went to America, returning to her native Highlands to die in 1790.

Crossing the Minch to South Uist, we find that the prehistoric sites are very nearly all clustered around the road which runs along the western side of the island, though only at Howmore are there any architectural remains, represented by the churches of S. Mary and Columba, neither of importance.

Sailing on, we pass Benbecula, and anchor in one of the many small natural harbours of the dreary and loch-indented island of North Uist. Here again we find an extraordinary affluence of antiquities, sufficient indeed to make a conscientious archaeologist pitch a permanent tent on one of these remote beaches and devote his remaining days to the teeming antiquarian problems of the place. And he would have to endure its winds and rains for many years before he reduced to anything like respectable order and sequence even a serviceable catalogue of its brochs and earth houses. But we are birds of passage, and must on to other waters, and we know that what is true of Uist is true of Britain's girdle of islands as a whole.

There are ancient strongholds of the crannog or insular type, situated in the midst of fresh-water lochs and connected with the shore by an artificial causeway, sometimes slightly below water-level, so that a fugitive fleeing towards the isle of refuge seemed to his pursuers as if treading the waves.

No part of Scotland, perhaps, has been so difficult of access as Uist, with the consequence that antiquated systems of defence persisted here long after they were obsolete elsewhere. Several of these crannogs, indeed, seem to have been occupied so late as the seventeenth century. A good example of this class is Dun an Sticir, or "the Fort of the Skulker," built on an island on Loch an Sticir. It is circular in shape, and its walls, sixty feet in diameter, still rise to the height of from seven to twelve feet, surrounding a ruined court. This prehistoric fortalice was actually occupied by a branch of the Macdonalds of Sleat as late as the middle of the sixteenth century.

Over the length arid breadth of this antiquarian's paradise are scattered strange chambered cairns known locally as "barps," associated with burials of the bronze and iron ages, and numerous standing stones of the menhir type, "fairy knolls," and similar vestiges of a remote Celtic antiquity.

The ecclesiastical remains of pre-Reformation date number about a score. The most intriguing of these, perhaps, is Teampull na Trianaide, or Church of the Trinity, situated in the peninsula of Carinish, standing cheek by jowl with the church or chapel of the Clan Mac Vicar.

Landing in Harris, that wild moory expanse thickly dotted with fresh-water lochs, now rough and hilly, now a smooth and sandy meadow, in summer sprinkled with embroidery of wild flowers, we encounter, tucked away in its south-east corner, the still nearly perfect church of S. Clement, flanked on either side by its two chapels, and remarkable for its square tower of two stages, into which have been built some curious Celtic sculptures. Its date is problematical, but its general appearance seems to refer it to the thirteenth century, although it has certainly had later additions.

Lewis, the spear-head of the "Long Island," as the Outer Hebrides are sometimes called, is a region of wild, rocky coasts intersected by creeks and sea-lochs, and as to its interior, hilly, moory and bleak. Its thin, flower-strewn pastures are traversed by bogs and mosses which have for generations proved the despair not only of the small-holder but also of the larger agriculturist

Its most important monument ranks among the famous antiquities of Britain. The great stone circle at Callernish is indeed second in importance to Stonehenge alone as a memorial of what early British engineering skill could achieve.

Numerous brochs, or Pictish dry-stone towers, an architectural type probably of Mediterranean origin and related to the early architecture of Mycenae. Sicily and Sardinia, are found in the island of Lewis, and, indeed, in all parts of the Scottish islands. The most important and picturesque is that of Carloway, which is situated some six miles north of Callernish, and was, tradition asserts, built by a giant in the fourth century.

The remains of the ancient church of S. Columba, situated on the dreary peninsula of Ey, a few miles east of Stornoway, are in a much better state of preservation than those of any pre-Reformation church in the island, and although it is partly roofless and derelict, its Norman origin is still apparent in Romanesque windows and other details. It was regarded by the Macleods as their especial shrine and burying ground, and contains, among other interesting memorials, a fine effigy of Roderick Macleod VII, dating from the end of the fifteenth century, depicting the chieftain arrayed in a quilted tunic.

From the Butt of Lewis to Orkney is far sailing, and at the best of times is a business fitter for vikings than for the city-bred. Out of the grey seas rises the dark mainland of Orcadia, which, it is strange to think, actually became a part of Scotland only twenty-one years before the discovery of America. It was, and still to a great extent is, in its psychology and ethnography, much more Scandinavian than Scottish, and this applies equally to its antiquities, which curiously blend the Norse with the Caledonian. By far the most important and imposing of the monuments of the Orcadian group is the magnificent cathedral of S. Magnus at Kirkwall, one of the few shrines of its class in Scotland to suffer little or no damage from the furious zeal of the Reformers. Begun under Norse auspices in 1137, the building of this simple but stately fane proceeded at long intervals until its completion in 1500. The great apparent height of the building is rather belied by its actual dimensions. It is 217 feet in length and seventy-one feet high to the vaulting, and consists of a main arcade, gallery and clerestory, yet it seems vastly more spacious. Its arches are semicircular, and a fine rose window occupies the east end. The cathedral was nearly destroyed by fire in January 1671, but was subsequently restored, and still further and indeed almost radical measures for its restoration were undertaken just after the War. It is the pride of the Orcades, and its grey outlines are embedded faithfully in the mind's eye of every true Orcadian.

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Pictures for The Storied Isles page 2

CASTLE MOIL, KYLEAKIN, ON THE STORIED ISLE OF SKYE
CASTLE MOIL, KYLEAKIN, ON THE STORIED ISLE OF SKYE >>>>
STORNOWAY PEAT
STORNOWAY PEAT >>>>
ON THE ISLE OF WIGHT: BEACON TOWERS, S. CATHERINE'S POINT AND QUARR ABBEY
ON THE ISLE OF WIGHT: BEACON TOWERS, S. CATHERINE'S POINT AND QUARR ABBEY >>>>
OLD STRONGHOLDS OF THE STORMY SCILLY ISLES
OLD STRONGHOLDS OF THE STORMY SCILLY ISLES >>>>
ON LUNDY: THE DEVIL'S PUNCHBOWL AND THE LANDING PLACE
ON LUNDY: THE DEVIL'S PUNCHBOWL AND THE LANDING PLACE >>>>
SLOPING STRATA AT PORT SODERICK, ISLE OF MAN: CASTLE ROCK, ANGLESEY
SLOPING STRATA AT PORT SODERICK, ISLE OF MAN: CASTLE ROCK, ANGLESEY >>>>
RUINS OF THE CATHEDRAL ON lONA'S HALLOWED ISLE
RUINS OF THE CATHEDRAL ON lONA'S HALLOWED ISLE >>>>
THE KING'S CAVES AND TALL GOAT FELL ON ARRAN
THE KING'S CAVES AND TALL GOAT FELL ON ARRAN >>>>
DUNVEGAN CASTLE, ON THE MISTY MOUNTAIN ISLAND OF SKYE
DUNVEGAN CASTLE, ON THE MISTY MOUNTAIN ISLAND OF SKYE >>>>
THE WONDER OF FINGAL'S CAVE ON THE ISLET OF STAFFA
THE WONDER OF FINGAL'S CAVE ON THE ISLET OF STAFFA >>>>
THE LITTLE PORT OF TARBERT AT THE HEAD OF A SEA LOCH OF HARRIS
THE LITTLE PORT OF TARBERT AT THE HEAD OF A SEA LOCH OF HARRIS >>>>
LEWIS:
LEWIS: "STANDING STONES" OF CALLERNISH, STORNOWAY >>>>
LEWIS: A WHALEBONE ARCH, STORNOWAY
LEWIS: A WHALEBONE ARCH, STORNOWAY >>>>
FRETTED CLIFFS OF ORKNEY'S WEST COAST AND THE BISHOP'S PALACE, KIRKWALL
FRETTED CLIFFS OF ORKNEY'S WEST COAST AND THE BISHOP'S PALACE, KIRKWALL >>>>
SUMBURGH HEAD, SHETLAND'S MOST SOUTHERLY POINT
SUMBURGH HEAD, SHETLAND'S MOST SOUTHERLY POINT >>>>
BASS ROCK AND ITS LIGHTHOUSE IN THE FIRTH OF FORTH
BASS ROCK AND ITS LIGHTHOUSE IN THE FIRTH OF FORTH >>>>
RUINED ABBEY OF S. COLUMBA ON THE ISLE OF INCHCOLM
RUINED ABBEY OF S. COLUMBA ON THE ISLE OF INCHCOLM >>>>
S. CUTHBERT'S CHAPEL IN THE FARNE ISLANDS
S. CUTHBERT'S CHAPEL IN THE FARNE ISLANDS >>>>
HOLY ISLAND: THE CRADLE OF CHRISTIANITY IN ENGLAND
HOLY ISLAND: THE CRADLE OF CHRISTIANITY IN ENGLAND >>>>

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