Chapelle Saint-Michele: What Lies Beneath

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Ossuary/crypt underneath Chapelle Saint-Michele

What you need to know is this; I was screaming inside my head while I took the above photo. That being said, if you can see beyond the thick spider webs across the glass inside the crypt there is a metal grate holding in piles and piles of something.

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I moved closer to the door, still screaming, to get a closer shot and this is the pic. More screaming. It appears someone with coral-ish pants and white shoes is standing inside the crypt, and even inside the cage. I look down, oh wait, that’s my reflection (although my shoes aren’t white). Screaming ceases, for the moment. But, still can’t quite make out what all that stuff is behind the metal cage.

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I try the other door, locked, but look what’s at the opposite end of the crypt. A beautiful stained glass window and what must have been an altar area. Hmm.

At this point, I decide to walk outside the village wall to try to get a better view from the other windows. It’s a lovely day and a very short walk, so join me won’t you?

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We’re now on the outer wall, looking through the windows. If you look closely you can see the walls are painted, murals, trim, all faint images.

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Look. There’s a lovely tree motif on the base of the ribbed vault. And there’s a sign. In Alsatian, which is similar to German. It says something about it being right to be near the master with a date of 1463. If you look closer you can see that these are BONES. Lots and lots of skulls, what appear to be arm and leg bones. I’m officially creeped out.

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Let me distract you for a moment with another pic of the lovely murals on the ceiling and archways. Okay, it’s time for a bit of research to find out why all these skeletal remains were put here in 1463. Maybe there’s something about it inside the chapel above us. Let’s check it out. We’ll have to walk back around through the gate that leads into the village. Follow me.

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For a little bit of perspective, the ancient and WWI and WWII cemetery is just to our left. The chapel is straight ahead, and the ossuary where we were standing earlier with all the cobwebbed glass is just to the right.

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After climbing the old steps inside the cemetery, I discover this upper door is locked. I was hoping to discover some secret passageway inside with more adventures. But I guess they will remain a secret, and we will have to use the main entrance. The chapel is quite lovely inside, and I would post more photos but they have a glass wall, with a locked door keeping us from touching anything inside or getting a decent pic.

I researched this chapel and ossuary online and in books and discovered it was rebuilt in 1463. I have yet to find a specific date earlier than this, but it was sometime in the 1200s. The painting inside the ossuary is dated 1514. These resources say the bones are from the village cemetery that had been placed outside the wall of the village in 1511. However, when I asked people who live in Kaysersberg today, they tell me these are the bones of the people who died in the plague that struck the city in the 1400s. There were so many they piled them up inside the ossuary.  I like their story much better! So, this is my tale. There was a terrible plague (the Plague Cross, dated 1511, can still be scene in the ancient cemetery next to the chapel), and the bodies were all buried outside the village. At a later point, it was decided to retrieve these poor bones and give them a final resting place near their Master underneath the chapel, a sacred burial place. I wonder what this crypt is like on October 31.

What do you think?

 

Kidnapped by Characters: Caught Up in the Story

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There are times when I find myself surrounded by the beauty of this village, the smell of French pastry, the sounds of their beautiful language, the church bells and the lone accordion player on the street. I love being in the moment. Especially this kind of moment. But then, there are those moments, hours, days, that I am swept up by the characters in my story, and I disappear into Medieval Alsace.

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(A wonderful book for a historical perspective.)

My latest research has been about alchemy. So, it is only fitting that Ursula Forestier, the village apothecary/herbalist should lure me into her shop, guiding me carefully to her back room where she has her laboratory. Her shop/home sits at the end of Rue des Forgerones, by the northern gate to the village. Her husband, Kubler, is the royal forester, so their location is perfect. Just beyond the gate lies the forest and the treacherous path leading up the mountain to the castle.

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(Her place is last building on the right just at the gate.)

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(View of north gate from outside village walls. Castle keep beyond wall.)

 

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This is the entrance to her lane. Her shop and home is just beyond the curve on the right. In the curve on the left, you can find Amélie Daragon at home with her family, her father and older brothers busy working in their forgery. Just before her home is the village miller, Loy Munier. Across the lane is Ansel Chevrier, the local goat herder. His wife, Yoland, runs the shop where the most wonderful cheese may be bought, as well as, wool for the weavers. The final shop along the river on the left belongs to Leon Fleuriot. He, too, is a blacksmith, like Amélie’s father, though he forges common implements for the village and not weaponry. He is the lone survivor of his family after the plague overtook the village some fifty years earlier. But enough about that. Let’s talk about Ursula our village apothecary.

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This is her home. The garden is just to the right, where all the herbs are grown. And just out of the picture before we come to the garden is the shop.

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If we look closely through the window we just might see her pouring an elixir into a tincture or grinding herbs in a bowl. When we first enter, the tiny bell on the carved wooden door announces our arrival. There is a magnificent Tree of Life fashioned into the wood. If you trace the trunk of the tree with your finger and whisper, “Life to one and all who enter this place,” you will be blessed with good fortune. This is what I’ve been told.

Just inside and along the left wall, glass enclosed cabinets of various shapes and sizes hold all manner of curious things. Oh look, this beautiful white object has a small note that reads, “Unicorn Horn.” And there is a brilliant feather labeled “Bird of Paradise: West Indies.” I could spend hours just gazing at all the treasures in these cabinets. Along the left wall are shelves filled with jars of liquid and baskets of herbs. The marble topped counter sits just in front of these shelves.  A scale sits on the left corner and a mortar and pestle to the right.  But the real marvel is through the closed door straight ahead. The laboratory. I would let you join us inside, but this is my first trip, and Ursula will not allow anyone else to join us. Secrets lie within. I promise to give you a glimpse in the very near future.

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I spoke of the plague earlier. Through this web covered window you can see into the crypt under the Chapelle St Michel. It is locked tight, but oh what lies inside will cause your skin to crawl like the creatures that inhabit it. If you’re brave enough follow me inside. I think it best we visit the crypt in August and not the end of October when its inhabitants might be up and about, as it were.  But it will have to wait till next time.

 

Picking Grapes: No Stomping Allowed

Bucket of Grapes Oct

Hello friends! This is the goal, just so you know. Fill your bucket with grapes, again, and again, and again, until the boss says it’s time to go home.

Once again, telling people you’re doing research for a novel you’re writing opens a plethora of doors. When we met Pierre Thomann last spring, and he gave us the private tour of his chapel, I was elated. Then, I discovered a Pinot Gris Grand Cru among his cadre of wines that tasted like the nectar of the gods. He began explaining about growing grapes and the whole wine making process once I told him I needed to know for my story. I decided to be brave and ask if it would be possible, when we returned in the fall, to pick grapes in his vineyards. HE SAID YES!

Me & Girls Oct

(My grape-harvesting buddies.)

So here we are picking grapes the last week of harvest. This was the day to pick Gewurztraminier Grand Cru grapes. (Say that 5 times really fast.) Jim and I met Pierre and his wife, Titia, at their home/shop in Kaysersberg and drove up into the vineyards. We were paired up with someone to pick along side. I scored and got Titia. Maybe she thought I would need more help. After a very quick lesson in what was good enough to pick and what was not, we began.

Me picking grapes Oct

(Me in my new French headband.)

This is not a job for the faint of back. It was a beautiful sunny day. There we were in a vineyard, with a French vineyard owner, and his family, and his workers picking grapes. And they were all speaking French and laughing, and it was like we were in a movie. A very lovely movie. Someone came along fairly often checking our bucket and replacing it when it was full.  The buckets were then taken to a large bin on a trailer. The owner and his son would take each grape one by one, inspect them, and drop only the perfect ones into the bin. This, among many other things, makes a grape good enough to be a Grand Cru.

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Jim and I picked enough grapes between us in one afternoon to make 200+ bottles of wine. Not bad for a couple of newbies. We did all take a break mid-pick. At which point all the smart phones came out of pockets and lots of photos were taken with the crazy American writer and her husband, who volunteered to pick grapes for free for the purpose of research. So what I thought was romantic and such an adventure, was for them life as they know it. And this is why I write fiction. Taking people who believe they are living ordinary lives and making them appear fantastic, romantic, legendary.

Me & Pierre at his shop

(Me and Pierre in his wine shop.)

After picking grapes, we went to visit Pierre again and bought some of my favorite wine. He then took us on a tour of the inner courtyard, where the chapel sits. He explained that his family has been in the wine business since 1525. They started as wine barrel makers and obtained vineyards by 1600. This business has passed from father to son since 1525! His great grandparents married and joined vineyards. His great grandmother was a Saltzman (good French name), thus the business name Saltzman-Thomann. Pierre’s grandmother was niece of the Abbess of the Abbey of Alspach, here in Alsace. (How about that for a lovely alliteration.)  Because of said grandmother, their family inherited this property in the 1700s, with the chapel and the building that was the original Abbey, built in the 1300s.

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(The staff of the Abbess of Alspach from 1700s. It is displayed on the wall in the chapel.)

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(The former Abbey, later it was a hospital, now a residence.)

The Abbey had an extensive wine cellar and vineyards. It was built around 1440. Across from the Abbey in the courtyard is a doorway that used to lead to the bakery for the Abbey. There is a date of 1580 and the symbol for bakery above the door. Attached to the chapel is the butcher. The sign above its doorway has a date of 1739. As you can see, the Abbey was self-contained. Of course, many people in the valley worked the Abbey lands and paid with their harvests. Tithes were high.

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(Door to ancient bakery. 1580)

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(Door to butcher. 1739)

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(Date and symbol above doorway of butcher shop.)

Finally, Pierre took us into the cellar of the ancient abbey. The original wooden wine barrels are still there. They no longer use these as of several years ago when they changed to stainless steel tanks. When it was time to clean the interior of these barrels. Someone, (Pierre was the one to do this most often.) had to climb inside through an opening 10″ high by 15-18″ wide. He told us he had to raise his hands over his head and put them together like he was diving and go into the barrel, twisting his body as he went. WHAT? I was claustrophobic just listening to him tell about it! Anyway, now they are taking apart the barrels and labeling them piece by piece so they can put them back together somewhere outside the cellar. Pierre also said that during WWII many of the neighbors would come into this cellar along with his family to hide during air raids. We stood in the cellar for a few moments quietly, and I tried to imagine the fear they must have felt. The parents trying to console their children as the sound of war raged outside. Thankfully, only a few houses where destroyed in this small village during the war. The village down the road was not so fortunate. It was leveled. Not a house left standing. Tragic.

Me & Pierre in wine cellar

 

(Pierre and me in front of a wine barrel.)

So there you have it. Just a few snippets from our wine picking adventure last fall. I hope you enjoyed your time with us and will take a moment to feel the stickiness of the grape juice on your fingers. Now breathe in deeply as you raise your hands to your face. Ahh. The sweet smell of the nectar of the gods.

I will end our day’s journey with a few pictures of the vineyards once the harvest has ended. It’s late October and soon the leaves will fall from the vines, and they will sleep through the long winter ahead. Until next time. Bonjour.

Chateau late Oct

Oct

Late Oct

 

Beautiful Landscapes: A Vine for All Seasons

Sept

I have come to love vineyards. Not growing up around them, I had no idea how beautiful they truly are. The Alsatian landscape in France is breathtaking. You cross the Rhine River from Germany, et voilà! You find yourself in the Plain of Alsace. As you travel west you come to the Valley of Kaysersberg. It is the gateway to the Vosges Mountains. Vineyards and orchards cover the hillsides and the valleys. Medieval villages are nestled at the base of the mountains. Everywhere you look is lovely.

Let’s take a visual tour of the seasons of a vineyard.

Nov

 

The vines can be found sleeping during November and the winter months. Not the vineyard owners, there is still tending to be done. I will admit the landscape takes on a harsher look this time of year. But then, don’t we all.

April

It’s early April, and not much has changed. But the wild flowers are coming up in the grass between the rows. Color is coming to the vineyard.

May

What a difference a month makes. It’s late May, and the storks have returned to Alsace, all the way from Africa, and are enjoying a stroll through the vineyard. Everyone in the valley hopes they’ve brought good luck with them. So the legend goes.

June

It is mid-June and the vines have finished blooming, three weeks early this year, and the grapes are beginning to form. Now is the time to start watching for the wild boar that room the woods. And hey, it’s not their fault. They’ve just been in the forest digging for truffles all day and stuffing themselves. Now there’re thirsty.  So, of course, they need to wander down the hillside into the vineyards for a drink. And what a drink! These aren’t just any grapes. These are the famous Grand Cru variety. Not what you think of as pig food. But then again, these are French pigs.

Chateau vineyard Oct

It’s fall, and harvest is upon us! The vines are full and the grapes are ready. There are normally three weeks of harvest. The final week will be the Verdange Tardive, late harvest grapes . . . sweeeeeeet. Mmm.

So here is where it’s about to get fun. I’d love for you to join me as I learn to harvest grapes. Who wants to help? Just show up with a pair of gloves, rubber are better because the grapes are tender, and by the end of the day you’re hands will be soaked in grape juices. You’ll also need a pair of Wellies (a.k.a. rain boots). Not because it’s going to rain, but because we’ll be walking up and down the aisles of vines, and invariably grapes will fall, and you will step on them. THIS IS WHERE I NEED TO TELL YOU, YOU WILL BE VERY STICKY BY THE END OF THE DAY. GOOD STICKY. And finally, you will need to get you a really cute head band/ribbon to tie back your hair if it’s long. There’s a shop here in the village with a great selection.

So get yourself ready! I’ll see you tomorrow.

 

 

 

The Village: There and Back Again

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(Kaysersberg, Alsace, France. Oct. 2013)

Let me begin by apologizing for the long silence. The Spring has been full of other work. But, I am back in France, and it is time to write! It’s been eight months since we were here last. Not much has changed. Although the weather is nothing the same. We arrived five days ago. Five very long, very hot days. I’ve not gotten much done beyond sitting in front of the fan with a damp cloth draped over my neck in our third floor un-airconditioned apartment. So when I say it was 97º F for a high yesterday, believe it . . . it was HOT.

But last night the clever north wind began to blow, and today is a new day. The sun is shining brightly, but the air has a hint of coolness. And I am thankful. The brain fog has cleared, and once again I hear my characters conversing. Once again, I wander the streets and the castle ruins following their lead.

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(Beatrix. Oct. 2013)

The day we arrived, I was greeted by our friends and neighbors. Beatrix from the shop across the street, Maurice, our red-headed friend, whose family owns the castle property, the lovely woman who runs the antique book store whose name I cannot recall, and our delightful landlords, Jean Jacques and Gabrielle.

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(Maurice. Oct. 2013)

I do love this village and the delightful people who live and/or work here. My biggest regret is my lack of ability to communicate in French. This limits any deep, meaningful conversation. And though I am determined to learn this beautiful language, I fear it will be some time before these conversations can be had. So for now, we talk about everyday life and family, and legends and love. That should be sufficient for the moment.

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(Top: Jean Jacques and Gabrielle in their restaurant. Bottom: The antique book shop. Oct. 2013)

The church bells are tolling as I’m writing, and they remind me of a simpler time when people knew the hour of the day by the clanging of bells. No clocks, no phones, no computers. And people didn’t count by minutes or hours, but by blocks of time, as needed. I could do with some simplification, less micro-management of my time and life. More reflecting, more deep breathing, more observing.

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(Bell tower of Église Set Croix. Oct. 2013)

I intend to post regularly while staying in Kaysersberg. Some writing will resemble mini-village tours, some will be from our time now and some from last October, and some will be about the novel that is currently in process. So sit back, and join me won’t you for our all too brief time in Alsace.

 

 

VIRTUAL SKYE TOUR: OUR FINAL DAY

MyHebrides Ferry at Uig

It’s the final day of our Isle of Skye Tour. Of course, we could spend a month here and never see all the majestic beauty that is this Misty Isle. Leaving the Fairy Glen, we drive down into Uig. Look! It’s the Caledonian MacBrayne Ferry docking at the pier. Let’s make our way to the pier for a closer look.

Me on the Uig Pier

Have a seat with me here on the steps. This is the very same pier Kathryn and Angus rode to on his motorcycle trying to catch Duncan as he sailed away.  I checked the ferry schedule , and it seems we’d have to stay the night on the outer isles if we took the next ferry. out We’ve a ceilidh (dance) to get to in Portree, so sadly no ferry ride this trip. Our next time to Skye we will definitely plan an excursion to the outer isles!

Replica Village Kilmuir

As we drive north from Uig, we come to the Skye Museum of Island Life in Kilmuir. It’s a fascinating replica of thatched stone cottages and buildings. It was here that I drew a better vision of Mairi’s cottage from the 1700s.

Flora MacDonald Grave Kilmuir

Buried in the cemetery in Kilmuir, we find Flora MacDonald. Remember she was the young woman who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape by dressing him as a young woman. She’s quite a hero here on Skye. You should look up her story. A brave woman!

Peat

This is a familiar site in the countryside. Can you guess what it is? They’re harvesting peat to use for fuel. There’s nothing as sweet smelling as a cozy peat fire burning in the hearth.

Portree

Finally, we arrive at the beautiful port city of Portree, the King’s Port. We’ve made it just in time for the Isle of Skye Accordion and Fiddle Festival at The Royal Hotel. This hotel is famous for the number of important guests who’ve stayed here , Bonnie Prince Charlie and Flora MacDonald being among those guests.

Skye Day Six festival video.

Above is a short video of the festival contestants!

Town Hall Portree

Are you all ready for a long evening of dancing! Let’s step inside City Hall and see what we find.

Band at Cedihl

Oh good. The band is already playing! Grab a partner, and let’s join in the fun! Everyone here is so friendly. If you don’t know the dance someone will be happy to show you.

Skye Day Six dance video.

Wow! I don’t know about you, but I need a little fresh air. Let’s step outside.

Me at railing overlooking Portree

If you’ve read THE STONE MANOR, you’ll recognize this as the very railing where Duncan told Kathryn his BIG secret. Shhh! Don’t say it out loud. It’s possible someone here hasn’t read the book yet. We don’t want to give it away now, do we.

Old Man of Storr

What a night! It’s morning and people are just now leaving the dance! As we drive away toward our B & B look back and you’ll see the famous Old Man of Storr. He appears to be sleeping. Something we all are in much need of.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this very brief six day tour of my favorite island in the world! Isle of Skye is a land of otherworldly landscapes, historical marvels, and some of the loveliest people you’ll ever meet. Until next time!

 

Virtual Skye Book Tour: Day Five in the Fairy Glen

Wide view of me in Fairy Glen

I’m beyond excited for our tour today! We’ve traveled north from Sleat through the middle of Skye. We’ve seen the Black Cullins, such beautiful mountains. A lovely lone lighthouse sits near Dùn Beag, an Iron Age fort. Continuing north, we came to Dunvegan Castle, home to Clan MacLeod. Being MacDonalds, we made a quick stop there being as it’s a lovely castle, still occupied, and it houses the famous fairy flag. Always been a bit jealous of the fact that they had their own fairy flag.

After Dunvegan, we cut across the northwestern part of the island and up toward Uig. We took a right on the road to Sheader. It’s a single-track dead-end road. As it should be, since it leads to the magical Fairy Glen.

Me standing on knoll in Fairy Glen

Here’s a small area to park the Land Rover. Follow me to the knoll overlooking the wee loch and hillsides. We’re the only humans here at the moment. So enjoy the peace and quiet of the glen. Watch your step and try not to disturb anything.

Me standing beside loch in Fairy Glen

Look. Sheep on the hillside and a fairy inviting us to walk the path along the loch and up the hillside. Remember, don’t pick up anything from the glen as a keepsake. If you take anything with you, the locals say it will bring you very, very bad luck. Just wanted to warn you.

Path leading to Portal and Castle in Fairy Glen

This is the path leading to the Portal to the Otherworld on the right and Castle Ewan on the left. The portal is where Kathryn left her Box of Terrors (buttons) in THE STONE MANOR.

Portal to Otherworld in Fairy Glen

Here’s a closer view of the Portal. Feel free to leave a gift or something of yourself in the entrance. Just don’t lean in too far or you might be snatched away into the deep fairy mound. If you leave a knife blade stuck in the ground of the opening, you can enter the portal and return at will. Otherwise we might not see you again.

Castle and Portal View

Castle Ewan is the site where Beth and the boys climbed. There’s a great view of Glenconnan from the top.

Mossy knoll in Fairy Glen

If you glance to the right on the moss covered ground you might see a fairy. But don’t let them know you’re looking for them. They like to surprise you.

Path on top of Fairy Glen

Walking past the portal and the castle, we’ll take this rocky pathway to the stone spiral. There are many stone altars up here with various gifts left for . . . well someone.

Stone circle on hillside in Fairy Glen

On the far right side up ahead you can see the stone spiral. This is where Mairi returned the Snowdrop her grandmother, Margaret, had taken from the Fairy Glen. It’s also where, Kathryn, Beth, Ian, and Sean made their wishes.

Close up of stone circle in Fairy Glen

Go ahead. Walk through the spiral to the center, turn three times, and make a wish. Be careful though. Don’t disturb any of the rocks. There are several missing. This could not have gone well for the person who removed them. We don’t want to suffer their same fate. I know it couldn’t have been good.

Enclosure ruins in Fairy Glen

Let’s walk down the road to the end. There’s something I’d like you to see. First, we’ll pass these stone ruins. Such a lovely peaceful place.

Rowan tree with sheep

Oh look! It’s the rowan tree where Mairi practiced her shooting skills with her bow. And her sheep are resting under the tree. Just around the bend we’ll come to a farm and a view worth seeing.

Falls view across glen at Fairy Glen

Breathtaking, isn’t it? I’ve been told the falls are normally much bigger. This spring was unusually dry. They’re still amazing. Glenconnon is massive. Looking back toward the bay and Uig you can see some houses. These belong to the Graham clan. Billy Graham’s family came from here.

Wizard Hat conical in Fairy Glen

Alright, everyone back to the Fairy Glen and the Rover. Say your goodbyes to this magical place and those who live here. I thought the final view of the Wizard’s Hat conical would be fitting. Now, on to Uig to see the standing stone and the pier where Duncan and Kathryn had an up-close encounter.

So tell me, who was fortunate enough to have a fairy sighting?

Virtual Skye Book Tour: Day Four

Ruins of Cill Chriosd

Today our tour will take us north of Sleat to Broadford. Here we will turn left and drive through the expansive valley of Strath Suardal. Skye Marble was quarried here for several centuries before the onset of WWI. Now the valley is very quiet, guarded by the ruins of Cill Chriosd, “Christ’s Church.”

Interior of Cill Chriosd

This location dates back to the 600s, when St. Maelrubha preached from atop a nearby rocky knoll, still known as Cnoc na-Aifhreann, “Hill of the Mass.” The first stone church was built in medieval times. The church whose ruins stand today likely replaced an earlier church, much grander, some time in the 1500s.

Ancient tomb in Cill Chriosd cemetery

The cemetery is the final resting place for many of Clan MacKinnon. Two ancient stone markings, one of a clan chief complete with hieroglyphics and one pre-Christian stone, mysteriously disappeared sometime after 1913.

Phonebooth

Let’s continue our drive further west, past Torrin toward the Cullins. Anyone need to make a call? It is still in working order.

The Old Post Office

Or maybe you’d like to mail those postcards you bought at Armandale Castle yesterday? The sign says “The Old Post Office.” I’m not sure it is still functioning. Maybe we should hold onto our mail.

The Cullins on road to Dun Ringill

The vastness of the glen and the mountains dwarfs the many sheep along our drive today. The Cullins are magnificent.

Rock wall across hillside

There are few walls on Skye, but here is a beautiful stone example snaking its way across the hillside toward the sea.

Our second stop today is Dun Ringill. I’ll park by the Kilmarie House situated on the Strathaird Penninsula. This house once belonged to Ian Anderson, lead singer for Jethro Tull! How fun it that? It’s still a private residence so no peaking in the windows. Follow me through this gate.

Gate to bridge and path to Dun Ringill

After crossing the bridge spanning Abhainne Cille Mahaire, we’ll pass one of the largest examples of an intact cairn on the island, Kilmarie Chambered Cairn. Not sure who is buried here, so let’s be sure to keep to the path. Wouldn’t want to disturb them now, would we?

Bridge to Dun Ringill

Cairne near Dun Ringill

The woods are full of fern and bluebells. I believe they could be enchanted.

Bluebells and Ferns in Dun Ringill forest

Blue bells in woods

Let’s continue on the narrow path to the sea just ahead. Then, it’ll be a short walk across the moor to the Iron Age fort, Dun Ringill. Ringill means “point of the raven.” Nice, huh? Here it is. What do you think? It’s not much to look at now, but it was the seat of the Clan MacKinnon long before the 16th century.

Dun Ringill

It overlooks Loch Slapin. If you listen closely you can hear voices on the wind and the sound of steel in the air.

Me at entrance to Dun Ringill

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I know it’s hard to leave this amazing spot. The view is spectacular and the shoreline begs to be explored, but alas, we’ve a boat ride to catch to an enchanted loch. Keep your eyes open as we walk back through the forest and you just might see a wood elf or a fairy.

Path to Dun Ringill

Virtual Book Tour of Skye: Day Three

 

Celtic Cross

(Celtic Cross in the cemetery at Kilmore Church.)

It’s another lovely day on the Isle of Skye. Thank you to Jane for our delicious breakfast. Shall we go?

Sheep

Time for our final day of touring Sleat, the southern region of Skye. It’s also referred to as “the garden of the Isle.” In times past, this area was covered in woods. Now it’s covered in sheep. Being as we’ve time traveled to spring, it’s covered in lambs. Aren’t they cute? I do realize they’re being raised to eat. I personally cannot bear to eat any young animal. My husband doesn’t share this burden. I know. I hear you. The meat is so tender. That would be because it’s a baby! Just sayin’. But let’s not argue about that. We’ve wonderful things to see. More magic tales to tell.

Sabhal

Our first stop is Sabhal Mór Ostaig, Scotland’s Gaelic College. It was established in 1973. Courses are taught in Gaelic. (Kathryn took Gaelic for Beginners and a course on the history of the region here in THE STONE MANOR.) If you’re interested, the college offers summer courses, in addition to year around classes.

Chruch ruins

Just down the road is Kilmore Parish Church and cemetery. It is believed that this was originally a site of pagan worship. In 585 AD, St. Columba is said to have arrived here and preached to the local inhabitants. There is a reef just below the church grounds known as Sgeir Chaluim Cille, St. Columba’s Rock.

Tombstone

The original church was built in the early 1100s and lasted till the 1600s, when it burned to the ground during a battle between the MacLeods and the MacIntyres, a sept of Clan Donald. When the MacIntyres took sanctuary in the church, the MacLeods barricaded the doorways and set fire to the thatch roof, burning it to the ground along with all inside. Such a violent tale.

2nd Kilmore Church

The second church was built around 1681 by Sir Donald MacDonald of Sleat. It was this church Dr. Johnson and James Boswell visited on their tour of the Hebrides almost a century later. It was used until 1874 when it fell into ruin.

3rd Kilmore Church

A third and final church was built in 1876. It is still standing and in use to this day. It is part of the Church of Scotland. A Gaelic service is held the third Sunday of each month.

Knock Castle

Leaving the church grounds, let’s travel a wee bit further to Knock Castle, also known as Caisteal Chamuis. It was originally the site of an Iron Age fort, Dun Thoravaig. The first castle was built here in the 1300s by the MacLeods. As was the way of most castles on Sleat, in the early 1400s it came under the control of the MacDonalds. James I seized it in 1431 to impose his authority on the Lord of the Isles, but it was recaptured by the MacDonalds and remodeled in 1596. By 1689, it was abandoned and became a quarry for other building projects in the area, a common practice. The current occupants are said to be two ghosts, the Green Lady, associated with the fortunes of the former residents of the castle, and a ghost that cares for cattle. Since the castle is in ruins, and most cattle were replaced by sheep, it appears these ghosts have very little to do these days.

Sheep video

Turning off the main road, let’s cut across the island and head north on a single track road. Look more sheep. It’s cool and windy! But, no complaints on our part because the sun has decided to shine. Rare, indeed.

Ord

After stopping several times for sheep crossing, we’ve finally made it to the village of Ord on Loch Eishort. You can see the Cullins across the Loch. Let’s stop for a walk on the sandy beach, one of the few on Skye. It’s low tide so we might find treasures along the shore. Keep your eyes open.

Druid Wood

Back in the Rover, and we’ll head south along Srón Daraich, the Durid Wood, named for the oak that grow among the hazel and birch. These were considered sacred woods in ancient times. They covered much of Skye. However, there were terrors in the woods. Wolves. Lots and lots of wolves. Many of the trees were cut down for firewood, boat-building, and as a way to remove the home of the wolf.

Dunscaith Castle

Look, our final castle ruin for today. We’ll park and walk to the point. Take care. Castle of Dunscaith is more correctly known as “Dun Sgathaich,” the Dun of the Shadow. Legend states this Dun was built in one night and was home to Sgathach, the mythical Amazon queen who instructed Cuchullin, a young Fingalian hero, in the martial arts. It was said to be protected by a pit full of snakes and beaked toads. Between the powerful goddess, the snakes, toads, and wolves, this was quite a fearsome spot. As I said before, take care and watch your step.

Loch Donald

Alright, are we all accounted for? Good. Let’s load up and head back across the island  on yet another single track road toward our B&B. This time we’ll be driving through much of the Donald Land Trust. The loch to your left is full of all manner of fish. It’s possible to get permission to fish here, but I’ve been told there is a Waterhorse that lives in the loch. A Waterhorse is a mythical creature. And, this one isn’t friendly. I’d be inclined to take my fish from another loch.

Lamb

Look. We’re returned safe and sound. No encounters with wolves, since the last wolf in Scotland was said to be killed in 1680. And, we escaped the Waterhorse. Hungry anyone? I say we find some local fish. No lamb, please.

 

 

 

 

 

Skye Book Tour: Day Two

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Good morning! I hope your sleep was wonderful. Step outside now that it’s daylight. This was Kathryn’s view, and it’s ours as well. Veiled in the mist are the Hills of Knoydart just across the Sound of Sleat. Isn’t it lovely? A wee bit of heather here and there. By the way, someone left their sunglasses in the rover. You’ll not find a lot of need for them here.

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Here’s a magical bit of information. First one of the day. When my husband, Jim, and I first came to Skye this is where we stayed as well. I chose it from the internet solely based on the names of the proprietors being Macdonald and the fact, he was a top tour guide. When we awoke, and I saw the view my first morning here I squealed (ever so softly as not to terrify Jim or the Macdonalds). This was the view I had written into my novel for Kathryn to see when she rented her very own cottage. I know! Magic.

Enough about the view, let’s head to Armandale Castle, home of the Lord of the Isles, the MacDonalds.

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Failte! Welcome to my ancestral home! Of course, I’ve been unable to locate just exactly where my Skye MacDonald ancestors lived. But, I think this might have been a nice spot. So why not?

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Much of the castle was burned in 1855, but it is formidable. In the 15th century, the Clan Donald was established on the Isle of Skye. From the 1650s, the MacDonald chiefs began to stay at Armandale in addition to their other castles around the island. In 1925, the MacDonald family moved to a smaller house, abandoning Armandale to the elements.

25 Sound of Sleat from Armandale

The gardens surrounding the castle and the wild woods adjacent to it are wonderful. The plantings seen around the castle grounds were started around 1790. The view from the front lawn is breathtaking when the mist chooses to lift. I’ve seen pictures of lovely weddings here.

23 Armandale Forest Path

Let’s take a walk through the woods. But beware. We will have to pass the guardian of the wood. Prepare yourselves. First, we’ll pass through the Dreamcatcher. Watch your heads . . . and well, just watch it.

47 Spider Tree Armandale Forest

Here we are. The guardian of the woods. You’re welcome to take photos while I speak with her. There now. All are welcome to pass. What did I say to her? That would be between me and the guardian. Wee bit of magic and all.

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The forest path is lined with wild flowers and ferns. Can you detect the scent that hangs heavy in the air? Yes, you’re right. Wild garlic. And there are orchids and blue bells of Scotland aplenty. Giant fir, beech, and birch trees fill the woods.

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The Clan Donald estate is home to red deer and golden eagles. And if we’re lucky we might spot a sea eagle. Oh look! A Viking boat in the middle of the woods. I’d say this is a good time to leave in case there are any lurking in forest. On to the gardens.

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The gardens are filled with beautiful Rhododendrun bushes in full bloom. What a sight! In East Texas we have Azalea gardens that are beautiful, but these plants are fantastic. There are many exotic plants from around the world planted in the castle grounds, as is only right for the home to the Lord of the Isles.

A visit to the Donald Library on our way out is always a good idea. My family tree is housed in this library. My actual personal family tree with the names of my children and grandchildren included This makes me so happy.  After we take a quick look in the library, we will tour the Museum of the Isles. It’s fascinating! We’re sure to be ready for a bite of something chocolate and a cup of coffee after the museum. The former stables of the castle are now a gift shop and restaurant. All the tartans of the MacDonald Clan hang on the walls around the dinning hall. I’ll be sure to point mine out!

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I hope you enjoyed the visit to Armandale. It’s a short drive along the Sound to the end of Sleat. There’s a story to be told along the way. I promised you yesterday. Are you ready?

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Local legend says there were three young men swimming in the small bay on the southern shore of Sleat. Three seals were watching them and magically transformed into three beautiful young women. They swam over to the young men, who had no idea they were Selkies, and instantly the boys fell in love with the young women. Once they all reached shore, the young men saw the seal skins on the beach and realized who these girls were. Two of the boys told the third to take the skins and hide them while they distracted the girls. Reluctantly, he did this. They all three married the girls soon after their meeting. A year passed and one of the wives tricked her husband into showing her where the skins were hidden. She took them, and the three wives returned to the sea with their skins and became seals again. The three young husbands were heartbroken and followed them into the sea. The young men turned to stone. If you sit along the hillside to this day you might catch a glimpse of three seals sitting on the three rocks. There’s the final bit of magic for today’s tour.

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We’ve had a full day. With the sun setting, let’s stop at the Ardvasar Restaurant for dinner. It was one of Kathryn’s favorites. Who knows? Sarah might be working. If so, she’ll be happy to see us. Haggis anyone?