Dunstaffnage Castle stands on a small peninsula three miles north of Oban on the south-west entrance to Loch Etive, Loch Eite, (“little ugly one” ). It is pronounced Dun-STAF- nidge, from the word dun which means “fort” in Gaidhlig, and stafr-nis from the Norse word meaning “headland of the staff”. The Dál Riata (“Raita’s portion of land”) was a kingdom covering the Pict-land area of western Scotland and part of Ireland (Ulster) in the 6th and 7th centuries. Dunstaffnage is believed to be the location of a Dál Riatan fortress in the 7th century. It has been suggested that this was the original keeping place of the Stone of Destiny before it was moved to Scone Palace in 843, although in the past few years, at least one researcher has placed the Stone of Desitny further south in Ayreshire at that time.
The castle as it stands now was built sometime around 1220, either by Duncan MacDougall, Lord of Lorne, or by his son Ewen MacDougall (who died before 1275). The castle is home to a female ghost, commonly referred to as The Green Lady.
During the Jacobite uprising of 1745, Dunstaffnage was held by government forces and was the temporary prison of Flora MacDonald (in 1746) when she was arrested for assisting the Jacobites in trying to restore “Bonnie Prince Charlie” to the Scottish throne. She was able to get the Prince to the Isle of Skye before she was arrested, and he was later able to escape to France.
We were there late in the day and we arrived just as other visitors were leaving. We were given a little extra time by the man in the Visitors’ Center while he counted his cash drawer for the day and finished his closing procedures. We walked through the stone buildings of the castle and then were able to take our time wandering the grounds, since we were told we only needed to be outside the gate by a certain time. The Castle is surrounded by woods and grassy areas sweeping down the gentle hill from the castle to the water of Dunstaffnage Bay. Liisa walked through the woods as Kyle and I were drawn to the shoreline.
It was a peaceful end to a full day. After a night’s rest in Ballachulish, Baile a’ Chaolai, (“the Village by the Narrows“), the morning had been spent at the Highland Titles-Glencoe Estates land planting the trees for my father . We drove into Oban for lunch and some shopping. We, of course, had hoped to tour the Oban Distillery, but they were short-handed and so not doing tours or tastings. We did buy some whisky fudge which did not live up to expectation, unfortunately.
Oban, An t-Òban, (“The Little Bay”) is on the east shore of the Firth of Lorn, An Linne Latharnach. The bay of the Firth forms a horseshoe shape with the island of Kerrera and the Isle of Mull on its west side, protecting Oban from the Altantic. The Distillery stands in the very heart of the town, unusual for a distillery. We had parked in a car park on the North Pier and had excellent views of the distillery and the town as soon as we got out of the car. The dark stone distillery building with its black and red chimney can be seen up against a huge rock above and behind the shops along the landward side of George Street. We perused a few shops along George Street spending quite a bit of time in a whisky shop, discovering new tastes. Lunch was at Cuan Mor (“the great ocean”) on George Street. Liisa had Bangers and Mash, Kyle had a vegetarian pasta dish, and I had the vegetarian Haggis, Neeps and Tatties in an Oban Whisky Sauce. No complaints there!
We wanted to get out to Dunstaffnage Castle, and so we did not go up to McCaig’s Tower (also called McCaig’s Folly) which sits on the top of the hill behind the distillery. A replica of the Coliseum, it was commissioned to be built in the very late 1800’s by John Stuart McCaig, a successful banker with the Bank of Scotland. His intent was two-fold: to immortalize himself (the inscription above the entrance reads: “Erected in 1900 by John Stuart McCaig, art critic and philosophical essayist and banker, Oban.”), and to give work to the local stone masons when they had no other work in the winter.
On the way back to Ballachulish from Oban, we stopped at Muckairn (“The valley or field of Edgar”) Church. The church stands on top of a small hill on the A85 in the village of Taynuilt, Taigh an Uillt (“the house by the stream”) just north of Oban. The views towards Ben Cruachan, Cruach na Beinne, and north towards Loch Awe, Loch Obha, were as beautiful as any in Scotland and were accented by incredible cloud formations. We spent some time in the churchyard, this being the third or fourth church to have been built at this location. The church that stands now was built in 1829 on the same spot where it is assumed an earlier church had been built in the early 1700’s, though no records exist. There are parts of another structure still standing a little bit away from the southeast corner of the present day church. They are the stone walls of a medieval church called Killespickerill (“the Church of Bishop Harold”) built in 1228 by the Bishop of Argyll. There are gravestones in the cemetery which date from the 1400’s.
We missed a turn on the way north and allowed ourselves to wind around through the countryside of Glen Orchy and then drive up the A82 and come in to Ballachulish from the east through Glen Coe. After a walk around Ballachulish, it was a second light meal of wonderful soup at the Laroch Bar & Bistro where we’d been the night before when we’d first arrived.