Had it not been for this magnificent sculpture of a white unicorn, I’ve probably would not have noticed, upon leaving the beautiful town of Cromarty, where we delightfully visited the native house of one of Scotland’s premier palaeontologists, Hugh Miller, this very ancient building, circa 1775, named The Stables.
The Stables, an imposing Georgian building was converted in 1995 to accommodate a Gallery, ground floor artists’ studios, smaller workshop rooms, a darkroom, and a glass studio workshop.
It also contains a one-bedroomed flat (sleeps 2), which is generally made available to artists in residence and lie in a tranquil setting above the town of Cromarty, half a mile up the hill towards the top of the South Sutor located in the Highlands of Scotland.
Richard Kindersley, the celebrated master stone letter carver, completed this project a few years ago with a group of apprentices; the new stonework has added to the character of this Grade A listed Building.
As you know by now, I’m fascinated by unicorns and I’m curious about the underlying impulse that triggered the author of this sculpture ( unknown to me as I write these lines) to create such a superb piece of art on the ground of The Stables building.
The Stables path has inscriptions from the writings of Sir Thomas Urquhart, a scottish writer and translator, most famous for his translation of Rabelais and explains why the unicorn adorns a steel plaque with the name of the author.
Well, well , well..I shall put my Sherlock Holmes’s hat and go find more information on this beautiful piece of art.
Until next, take care and all the very best!
PS: If by any chance you have some information, please feel free to share in the comments section below. It will be greatly appreciated.
It was our last day in Islay and we had planned to visit a number of places: Bowmore, Kildalton Church and Cross, Ardveg Distillery, Port Ellen… the Oa peninsula… too many places for a single day! But the weather was nice and we set off early in the morning, leaving Port Charlotte and passing once more in front of Bruichladdich distillery… so close and not visited !
We regret to have spent so little time in Port Charlotte though we always finished the day lingering on its lovely beach, listening to the murmur of the waves, enjoying the view of the Paps of Jura in the background and, closer to us, watching a duck and her ducklings waddling about, oyster catchers fishing or a solitary heron meditating on a nearby rock. When night fell, we were happy to go back to our Youth Hostel to read and play games, to discuss with Karl and Lorna, our host and hostess, and with the other guests who came from all over the world, especially from Quebec…
At the end of Main Street, dominating the village of Bowmore, stands the picturesque whitewashed parish church of Kilarrow, best known as the Round Church. Though it looks new it is more than two centuries old. The Round Church was built between 1767 and 1769 to replace two ancient churches situated near Bridgend. Kilarrow church after which the parish was named was one of them. Dating back to the medieval ages this church is totally in ruins today but it is interesting to know that it was associated with Malrueva, a cousin of Saint Columba of Iona.
The new church was built by Daniel Campbell of Shawfield, the then Laird of Islay, at the heart of the new planned village of Bowmore meant to house the people evicted from their lands to expand his own estate. Why a round church, we may ask. A popular belief suggests that is is to make sure that the devil can’t find no corners to hide 😉 It has also been said that the Laird had been influenced in his choice of the design by a church he had seen in Rome (St Peter’s ?). Anyway, it seems that the idea had come from an Adam plan to build a round church in Inveraray for Daniel Campbell’s cousin, the Duke of Argyll.
The interior of the church and the roof shape are due to Thomas Spalding, a builder who was very well known locally. The massive oak pillar which supports the roof is supposed to be the mast of a ship wrecked in the area. I’ve read a funny story which took place in the Round Church during an office. A lady who had fallen asleep during the minister’s sermon woke up with a start when she heard the minister’s voice abruptly asking: “Who had build the Tower of Babel? ” and the confused lady at once replied: “Tom Spalding built it!”
The royal residence of the Lords of the Isles, chiefs of Clan Donald, was situated at Finlaggan, on the north east of Islay, but Dunyvaig Castle served as a strategic naval base where they used to shelter their longships. Much of what we can see today dates from the 16th century though there are vestiges of a 15th century keep and a 13th courtyard.
Can you see the seals bathing in the sun? They were enjoying a particularly nice day when we went there but it’s not always the case as you can see in the video below. The place can be dangerous and indeed there have been a number of wrecks in the area…
Being, I fear, a hopeless romantic, the mere sight of old ruins kindles my imagination but one needs more than imagination to understand the history of a ruined fortress like Dunyvaig Castle.
We didn’t approach the ruins but on You Tube I’ve found a good guide to tell us the story of this old fortress 😉
We stopped at Ardberg distillery to visit it and also for our lunch break. People were queuing to get tickets for the visit and the restaurant was crowded but we finally found a place to settle down and had plenty of time to enjoy a delicious meal…
Our next stop was to visit the old ruined chapel of Kidalton and its old churchyard which contains a very beautiful cross. I would not have missed it for anything!
Carved about 1,300 years ago, this is one of the finest and most complete early Christian crosses in Scotland. I have learned that the famous St John’s Cross in Iona may have been carved by the same school of sculptors. Indeed, the fashion for ring-headed crosses may have originated there.
Though in a much better condition than Kilnave cross (western shore of Loch Gruinard), Kildalton Cross is quite weatherbeaten. So, once again, many thanks to Historic Scotland for offering the visitor very well illustrated information panels about these ‘Inspired carvings’.
Outside the wall of the churchyard stands a simple late-medieval cross possibly erected by some dignitary (while still alive) as a place for private prayer and for his own salvation. However, because this cross stands in non-consecrated ground, the story has evolved that it is the grave of a criminal and it has been nicknamed ‘The Thief’s Cross’.
To take our pictures we climbed up the several stone steps which lead to the top a grassy knoll dominating the harbour and where a war memorial stands with the moving statue of a kilted highland soldier, represented with his head bowed and his hand resting on the butt of his rifle.
Still more moving the panels where you can read the names of the soldiers killed during the Great War 1914-1918 : I counted 78 names! Another panel is dedicated to those who fell during WWII : 13 names and on a more recent panel the name of RAF officier killed in Egypt in 1953 and another one in Northern Ireland in 1971…
It’s very frustrating but we won’t have time to visit the Oa peninsula… a last stop to visit this old churchyard and ruined chapel. From here we can get a magnificent view of Kilnaughton Bay, with Carraig Fhad Lighthouse in the background…
Now it’s time to go back to Port Charlotte for our last night in the Youth Hostel. The night will be short because we have to get up early in the morning to be sure not to miss our ferry at Port Ellen.
Islay is a wonderful island and, as we had only three days to spend there, including our trip to Jura, we were very happy to discover it under blue skies in the season when days are longer. Anyway, we promised to go back there for it is quite frustrating to have so little time to visit such a lovely island. Whether you go there to enjoy wildlife and landscape, to be immersed into local life, to learn more about Scottish history and mysteries or to follow the whisky trail you won’t be disappointed. Our first experience of Islay has proved to be unforgettable and our departure, the morning after from Port Ellen ferry terminus, very melancholy. So we’ll come back! That has become our motto at the end of each of our Scottish travels 😉
On our second day in Islay we had planned to take the little blue ferry at Port Askaig to go to Jura, a wild island which lies only 800m off Islay. After visiting the Isle of Jura distillery, we intended to follow the single track A 846 up to the end of the road […]
Well worth its nickname of ‘Queen of the Hebrides’, Islay, the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides, lies in Argyll just south west of Jura at a distance of only 800 m and about 40 kilometres north of the Irish Coast. This lovely island is famous for its landscapes and wildlife, its ancient […]