Seeing & Looking
We took a wrong turn, got lost, and drove around Highland roads in search of the Ballachulish House Bothy. Luckly, the weather was clearing. We found the driveway off the main road, and a rainbow burst out overhead as the brisk wind rocked the trees along the driveway that looked like it led to our Scottish guesthouse.
We parked the rental car, the owner greeted us, and when I asked, told us the village was pronounced BAL-ə-HOO-lish. He invited us to move our gear into the warmly furnished guest house ̶ a white, rectangular, 19th century, slate roof, stone-built abode, described as a self-catering bed-and-breakfast. On the mantle above its fireplace, hardbound between red leather covers, was a complete set of Robert Louis Stevenson's novels (First American Editions, Scribner's sons). Along its length, this series of novels measured three feet. Stevenson's novel Kidnapped was in the middle of the stack, about halfway in-between The Hair Trunk and Saint Ives. As the wind howled around Ballachulish house that night, the pages turned in my mind, and I realized that the author Robert Louis Stevenson was part of the same family as the Stevenson clan who built almost 100 Scottish lighthouses.
Built in 1640, this guesthouse is infamously connected to the Appin Murder, known in Scotland for a howling miscarriage of justice. Colin Campbell of Glenure, the Red Fox, was shot in the back in the Wood of Lettermore near Appin, Scotland. He was a government employee and managed three estates under the government control of King George II, the 5th Great Grandfather of Elizabeth II. The Kings men took land from Jacobite clans and Jacobite men sought revenge. Thus, the shooting.
This particular shooting of Campbell outraged the British establishment, even more so as it came on the heels of the Battle of Culloden, in which Bonnie Prince Charlie's Jacobites were defeated in battle by the British army. James Stewart, a Jacobite known as “James of the Glen”, was hanged for the Appin murder despite his solid alibi. The psalm that James of the Glen spoke before he was led to the noose, the 35th psalm, is known in the highlands at the Psalm of James of the Glen: Plead my cause, O Lord, with them that strive with me: fight against them that fight against me; Let their way be dark and slippery. The murder and injust hanging inspired fictional events in Robert Louis Stevenson's aforementioned novel Kidnapped.
The next day, in the windy, chilly, moist air of the coast, we hiked the coast to see the Neist Point Lighthouse on the Isle of Skye. Perched on a promontory, the 1909 lighthouse overlooks the turbulent waters between the Outer and Inner Hebrides. Its purpose is to warm ships away from the Gneiss rocks at Neist Point. Striding over the wet heather and muddy grass along the cliffs, with a steady 35-knot wind cutting through our bones, we could see gannets gliding over the water at the base of the cliffs. We took care to avoid the drizzle-awakened slippery rocks near the deathly drop offs, lest a wind gust propel us over the cliff.
To photograph the lighthouse, we took the cliff trail instead of the steep, single track downward. Looking out over the promontory, made of Giant's Causeway gneiss rock, it was clear how Neist Point came into its name (pronounced Neiss). Given the scale of this remote rock promontory, it seemed improbable that anyone would build there, yet the builder, engineer David Alan Stevenson, a member of the Stevenson family of lighthouse builders in Scotland, had conquered this terrain as well. David Stevenson designed and built 26 lighthouses with his brother and uncle, including the Neist project. The three unique features of Neist are first, its setting on the most westerly point of Skye, projecting into the Minch. Also, a garage was converted into a tea and coffee shop, a blessing to wind-chilled slow photographers. Finally, there is an aerial cableway for getting supplies down and out to the lighthouse building.
After downloading the days scenes from our cameras back inside the guesthouse, its cozy touches-fireplace, hot tea, the pages of Stevenson's book, shelter from the wind-came together to make for a blissful Isle of Skye evening.
Photos and Writings by Jim Austin Jimages