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Armadale Castle Grounds (Isle of Skye)

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Armadale, Sleat, Isle of Skye IV45 8RS, Scotland. Tel: 01471 844305 or 01471 844227. Fax: 01471 844275. E-mail: office@clandonald.com.

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      12.06.2006 10:36
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      A beautiful day out.

      Introduction
      Having received a total soaking the day before, when we saw what the weather was like the next day (rain, rain and more rain), we decided to head for something that was indoors. I’d vaguely heard of Armadale Castle, to the southwest of the Isle of Skye, and so we headed there. It was a worthwhile trip, despite the fact that the castle is actually a ruin, and one that I can highly recommend for visitors to Skye who want a day off from the walking.

      Location
      Armadale is 16 miles southeast of Broadford and is easily reached from the bridge crossing to Skye from the mainland. It is even more easily reached via the ferry from Mallaig to Armadale, which was the usual way to reach Skye before the bridge was built. The castle is well signposted on the approach to Armadale, which is reached along a stunning road which runs along the coast. We were so impressed that we later booked into a B&B just off the main road. The south of the island is much gentler than the rest; the land is still hilly, but isn’t quite as bleak as further north, and the land is much more suited to plant growing.

      Facilities
      Car parking is free at the castle and there are toilets available whether you pay to go into the castle grounds or not. It is also possible to eat in the restaurant and browse in the shop without paying an entrance fee. The ‘restaurant’ is fairly basic, with limited hot meals and a poor selection of sandwiches. I suspect they cater mainly for coach parties, of which there was one when we arrived. The restaurant can seat eighty and is recommended as a venue for weddings. Next to the ticket office, there is also a garden shop, presumably banking on visitors to the gardens being so impressed by the plants that they want to buy some for their own.

      There are also self-catering cottages available in the castle grounds. They looked beautiful from the outside, and are graded with four stars by the Scottish Tourist Board.

      The entire grounds are now owned by the Clan Donald Lands Trust, which is supported by MacDonalds from all over the world.

      Price
      It cost us £4.50 per person, which is reasonable by London’s standards at least and includes a leaflet about the grounds. There are discounts for families of at least four and locals can enter the grounds for just 50p.

      The castle
      The castle was the home of the MacDonalds, who arrived in Skye from the Outer Hebrides in the fifteenth century and settled in Armadale from the 1650s, although the house they built was classed as a dower house and rented out to others. Flora MacDonald was married at the dower house in 1750. Lord MacDonald then returned to the site in the 1790s and ordered a new house to be built on the grounds, which eventually became a castle in the early 19th century. It was largely burnt to the ground in 1855, leaving just the central section, which makes up the ruin that can now be seen. Eventually the MacDonalds moved away completely, leaving the castle to the elements. The façade is largely in place, next to a tiny walled garden, but there is no roof or floors. I was quite surprised that they hadn’t tidied things up a bit – there were masses of plants and trees growing from the basement and the walls, which made it look unkempt. The walled garden is beautiful. There is a staircase leading up to a vantage point which looks down over Armadale Bay through a beautiful archway.

      The grounds
      The castle grounds are made up of 40 acres of land, in which are planted a variety of trees, shrubs and flowers from all over the world. They apparently thrive because the garden is sheltered from the sometimes vicious Skye climate. There is a stream running through the grounds and a pond section, very well kept. The rhododendrons and azaleas were out, creating vibrant splashes of colour. What I enjoyed most of all was the huge expanses of land that was left for the growth of wild flowers. I think we were exceptionally lucky to be there at the height of the bluebell and ransom??? season (flowers of the allium family) – there were areas covered in blue and white and looked stunning. Unfortunately, ransoms have a garlic-like scent, which can be a little over-powering – it was worth it for the visual delight though. Primroses, buttercups and celandines added some yellow to the view, and beautiful wild yellow irises were just about to come out.

      The walks
      The leaflet we were given on entry suggested a number of walks through the grounds of the castle and outside. The weather had picked up, so we decided to do one of them; this involved walking through woods smothered in wild flowers with glimpses of the sea through the tree trunks. The walk then leads you out of the grounds, across farmland, climbing steadily upwards to a vantage point on the hill which looks across over the bay and towards the mainland. The return into the grounds leads into the Museum of the Isles.

      The museum
      This was a perfect introduction to the history of the MacDonalds and the Western Isles. It could have been tedious, but the keepers were smart enough to keep the history brief and to the point. I have a very low threshold for museums and get bored very quickly, but this was the perfect amount of information for me. The artefacts were clearly marked and explained.

      There is also a research library within the museum with over 7,000 books about Scottish culture and history. It is also possible to find out more information about your family history, if it happens to be Scottish, by referring to censuses, parish records and estate archives.

      Conclusion
      We ended up spending over four hours in the grounds. I had never heard of Armadale Castle, and so didn’t have particularly high expectations. However, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute. The grounds were beautiful and so was the walk that was recommended. My only reservation is that it is not somewhere to go when the weather is bad, unless you are planning to spend a while in the research library. We were lucky that the weather was excellent, although the ground underfoot was very wet, which made our walk and wander through the grounds very enjoyable. It was even warm enough at one point to sunbathe for a while (with a jumper and jacket on!). However, if the weather was bad, it would have been pretty miserable. Having said that, anyone who has visited the Western Isles will know that the chance of spending a week without rain is pretty unlikely, and so come prepared.

      I thought this was a very worthwhile visit, particularly for the price, and was beautifully presented. I’m not sure I would recommend it for families with children though; there is little in the way of entertainment for little ones, but much for adults who have an eye for a beautiful view and plants. If you’re going to Skye

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