100 Great Geosites / Advent calendar / History

Door 12 – Trotternish and the Macdonald Clan

Door twelve

The spectacular Trotternish peninsula on the Isle of Skye is home to the famous geological sites of the Quirang and the 719m summit of the Storr. They are formed from a set of post-glacial, large-scale landslides which give the impression of the landscape sliding away in front of you. These unusual landforms combined with the stark beauty of the west coast of Scotland is what makes this area so photogenic.

Trotternish c Anna Saich (2)

In Isle of Skye.

Duntulm Castle on the Isle of Skye.

Not far from this site, just a few miles around the headland is the ruins of Duntulm castle which can still be seen perching on the cliff edge. The castle has had an interesting history of occupants! It was first an iron age broch (an Iron Age drystone hollow-walled structure of a type found only in Scotland). Then it became a Viking stronghold during their time in Skye between 700 and 1263 AD until Skye came under the rule of the King of the Scots and Duntulm became the home of the Clan Macdonald of Sleat, a branch of the Clan Donald. This was a time of Clan feuds and bloody fighting. Duntulm is said to have a few resident ghosts, one of which is thought to be Hugh MacDonald who was imprisoned in the dungeon in 1601 with nothing but a plate of salted beef and an empty water jug. They say he was driven mad with thirst.

Flora MacDonald

Flora MacDonald

One famous member of the Clan Donald was Flora MacDonald who is considered a Jacobite heroine. After her father died, her mother was abducted and married by Hugh MacDonald of Skye, a commander of the local militia. Flora was brought up under the care of the chief of her clan, the MacDonalds of Clanranald, another branch of the Clan Donald. During the Jacobite risings in 1746 she was living on the island of Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides. After the second Jacobite rebellion of 1745, and the Battle of Culloden in 1746, Bonnie Prince Charlie (Prince Charles Edward Stuart) became a a fugitive from the British Crown and spent several months evading capture moving around the Highlands and Western isles and was never captured despite the price of £30,000 on his head. At one stage he was helped in his flight from danger by Flora MacDonald, who famously sailed with him from Benbecula to Skye, disguised as her woman-servant ‘Betty Burke’. At this time the MacDonalds had moved away from Duntulm Castle to Monkstadt House a little further south (it is thought this is due an accident at Duntulm Castle where a baby fell from the castle window onto the rocks below). It was here that Flora arrived from Benbecula. After hiding overnight , they made their way to Portree where the Prince was able to get a boat away from Skye.

Finally Charles left Scotland on a French ship leaving from Arisaig, still promising to return to Scotland. He never did return and was eventually forced out of France with the rest of the Stuart family in 1748. Flora’s actions were not secret for long and she was arrested and imprisoned at Dunstaffanage Castle in Oban and then briefly in the Tower of London until she was released in 1747 and allowed to return to Scotland.

After spending some time in America during the American War of Independence, she returned to Scotland and died on the Isle of Skye in 1790 at the age of 68. A monument to Flora can be found in the nearby cemetery at Kilmuir. It is inscribed with the following epitaph from the celebrated poet and critic Samuel Johnson: ‘A name that will be mentioned in history, and if courage and fidelity be virtues, mentioned with honour.’

  • All the images featured in our advent posts are entries to the recent 100 Great Geosites photography competition. The 100 Geosites calendar, featuring the winning entries, is on sale now – and today is the last day for online orders to overseas destinations! For UK orders, the deadline is December 14th.

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One thought on “Door 12 – Trotternish and the Macdonald Clan

  1. Pingback: Door 24: Christmas greetings from the geoadvent blog team! | Geological Society of London blog

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