Seeing & Looking
Setting out over the roads of the Isle of Skye, we went in search of the Neist lighthouse. Built in 1909, for over a century it has withstood the forceful winds of the Minch, a strait in northwest Scotland.
The day before, we'd taken a wrong turn. It took us awhile to find our bed and breakfast, the Ballachulish House Bothy, but this delay worked in our favor. When we finally found the correct driveway off the main road, the rain tapered off, and a rainbow burst out overhead as we drove uphill past a roaring stream. Winds rocked the trees.
We parked. The owner greeted us. We moved our dry luggage into the Ballachulish guest house, a slate roof, rectangular, 19th-century 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). This lot of books measured three feet from end to end. Stevenson's novel Kidnapped was in the middle of the stack, about halfway in-between The Hair Trunk and Saint Ives. While the wind howled around the walls that night, mental 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.
Our guesthouse, built in 1640, was famous for its connection to the Appin Murder, known in Scotland for its 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. He managed three estates under the government control of King George II, the 5th Great Grandfather of Elizabeth II. King George's 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 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 atop the cliff to the Neist Lighthouse. The 1909 lighthouse is perched on a promontory overlooking the turbulent, ever-changing waters between the Outer and Inner Hebrides. Its purpose is to warn ships away from the 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 cliff. We took care to avoid the drizzle-awakened slippery rocks near the deathly drop offs, lest a wind gust propel us over the side.
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 got its name (pronounced Neiss). Given the scale of this remote rock promontory, it seemed improbable that anyone would build there, yet the engineer David Alan Stevenson― a member of the Stevenson family of lighthouse builders in Scotland― had planned well. David Stevenson designed and built 26 lighthouses with his brother and uncle, including the Neist project. Neist has three unique features. First, its memorable setting on the most westerly point of Skye, projecting into the Minch. And, there is an aerial cableway for getting supplies down and out to the lighthouse building. Finally, a garage was converted into a tea and coffee shop, a feature appreciated by wind-chilled slow photographers.
After downloading pictures 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.
www.Jimages.com Kidnapped in Scotland
Photos and Writings by Jim Austin Jimages