Scotland 1: Achnacarry

Lowland – Highland Divide. Author Jrockley Public Domain

In the last week of June this year, Nick and I headed up to the West Highlands of Scotland with our two daughters and grandson for a week at Achnacarry, a site chosen for it’s location in relation to places we wanted to visit.

Fort William within the Lochaber region of Scotland. Author Nilfanion  using Ordnance Survey data Creative Commons

The weather wasn’t particularly hot on the Saturday we drove up there – just as well, considering we had 400 miles to cover – but on our first day there everything changed and we had temperatures of over 30°C for the rest of the week. I’ve been to Scotland lots of times in summer, and never known it to be so hot – especially when weather reports told us that further south, in England, it was much cooler.

We chose to go for self-catering on this occasion and booked a sizeable apartment on the Lochiel Estate at Achnacarry (Achadh na Cairdh in Scottish Gaelic, meaning ‘field of the fish-trap/weir’). Achnacarry consists of a small hamlet, a private estate and a castle, and is located between Loch Lochy and Loch Arkaig in the Lochaber region of the Scottish Highlands (see map(s) above). The estate covers an area of 60,000 acres of beautiful and barren country with abundant wildlife including red and roe deer, foxes, badgers, Scottish wildcats pine martens and otters. Golden eagles, buzzards, peregrine falcons, merlins and sparrowhawks soar overhead and in the rivers and lochs are Atlantic salmon, trout and pike. In fact, the entire Lochaber region is stunningly beautiful, and has become known as ‘The Outdoor Capital of the U.K.

Our apartment was in the old stable block, converted into a number of differently sized apartments. We had one of the two larger ones upstairs (on the right-hand side looking at the front of the building on the first photo below).

There are also a number of holiday cottages for rental on the estate.

Achnacarry has been the ancestral home of the chiefs of the Clan Cameron since 1655. The original castle, built by Sir Ewen Cameron of Lochiel around that date, was destroyed by government forces following the Battle of Culloden, since the Camerons played a major role in the Jacobite rising of 1745. This fact is well illustrated in the little Cameron Museum on the Estate, a short walk from our apartment, which is well worth a visit. The present Chief of Clan Cameron (traditionally known as ‘Lochiel’) is Donald Cameron, who continues to live in Achnacarry.

The castle we see today was built in 1802. It is on private land and not open to the public other than organised groups, so we could only photograph it from a distance. The first of these two photos (the close-up) is from Wikepedia:

During the Second World War, the castle was used as a Commando Training Depot, not only for British Commandos but for U.S. Army Rangers and similar units from other allied nations – a total of 25, 000 men between 1942 and 1945. The extensive estate was used for some very arduous training. The Cameron family retains close ties with the Commandos and an impressive Commando Memorial can be seen at Spean Bridge, roughly 7 miles from Achnacarry. We passed it on several occasions during the week but didn’t manage to stop and take a close-up photo. This one is from Wikipedia:

The Commando Memorial, Spean Bridge near Achnacarry. Uploaded by Jmb at English Wikipedia Creative Commons

We had a brief walk around a small part of the estate on our first evening there – partly to stretch our legs but also to get a feel for the place. It was getting close to dusk by the time we got out and the light wasn’t too great for photos. But we did snap a few interesting features, in between fighting off swarms of midges! The river is the River Arkaig, which connects Loch Lochy with Loch Arkaig. The story behind the row of crooked birch trees is that  Donald Cameron (‘the Gentle Lochiel’) was planting a long row of birch trees in 1745 when news of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s landing arrived. The trees were left to their own devices and grew in odd directions:

It wasn’t until the day before we left that we took time to have a better look at this stunning estate. We had a long drive home the next day, so we decided to spend the day (another sweltering one!) enjoying the scenery and visiting the Clan Cameron Museum. The museum is only small, but interesting nonetheless, with history of the Cameron Clan, Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite uprising, the Commandos and links of the Camerons family to the royal family. The young Lady Catherine, daughter of Donald and Cecil Cameron, founders of the museum, was one of the bridesmaids at the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981. Catherine is the god-daughter of the Prince of Wales and was six at the wedding.

To finish off, here are a few general views from around the Achnacarry Estate. The second set are of the stunning Chia-aig Waterfall, which features in the 1995 film, ‘Rob Roy’, starring Liam Neeson. We spent ages at this waterfall, as did a few other people that day. It’s certainly a lovely spot in which to linger.