Stobie, a surveyor from the Borders was commissioned by Sir James Macdonald, the chief of Clan Macdonald, to survey the extent of his estate – he produced five area maps. They depict the boundaries between townships, buildings and cultivated land and the original road from Broadford to Sleat. The names on the maps are often spelt differently than today because the mapmakers were not Gaelic speakers and transcribed the names phonetically. Stobie’s method for producing the maps was to stick large pieces of paper to linen to provide a large area on which to draw and paint the maps.
I asked what other areas the maps in their holding depict and, after a search, my colleagues at the Museum produced a map featuring the road from Broadford to Torrin and in particular Loch Cill Chriosd and its neighbouring church.
The map is in much better condition than the Sleat map, with the colours much deeper and intense. I am thrilled that I had a piece of history depicting such an important part of my photographic practice – Loch Cill Chriosd.
In addition, my archive friends also found an Ordnance Survey map from 1903 (2nd Edition) featuring the loch and church at Kilchrist.
The Museum also houses a Library with a section of old books about Skye. Archivists directed me to a book by M E M Donaldson, Wanderings in The Western Highlands and Islands (1923). Donaldson styled herself as M E M because she was in fact a woman, Mary Ethel Muir and presumably wished to withhold her identity. The book appears to have been written significantly earlier than its publication, in 1876. I am delighted again to find reference to Loch Cill Chriosd:
“About a mile up, there is a track, not easily discoverable, on the right, leading to the site of the old house as you take the road through Strath over to Elgol, the “place of the stranger”. Beside this track there is a sithean (fairy hill) where the little people dance in the moonlight to fairy pipes and tend the fairy breed of cattle . . .” (op cit p116-17)
“A mile or so further along the road, in a beautiful situation by the shores of Loch Cill Chriosd, where the curlew ceaselessly calls, are the ivy-covered walls and gable ends of the ruin of Kilchrist, in the burying ground of the Mackinnons of Strath.” (op cit p117).
“It is at Kilchrist that the road first begins to yield a promise of splendour, with the sight of Blaven and Clach Ghlas rising before the lovely, reed-fringed shores of Loch Cill Chriosd, which in the spring shews an abundance of beautiful bog bean in blossom.” (Op cit p118).
And finally, we review the photograph and postcard collection. Whilst clearly focused on Sleat, and much of the work being portraits of Island life, interesting though they are, I am keen to have a look, at this stage, for early landscape photographs of South Skye. I think it is important to focus when undertaking this type of work, and particularly as this research will ultimately contribute to a small section of my PhD thesis. Of course, I always have the option to return to review the archives again. At this stage, I picked out the following photographs and postcards. Unfortunately, many of them do not have dates, the name of the photographer or the location.
This image of the Broadford New Pier constructed in the 1900s. Although planning for the pier was started in the 1880s, it was the creation of the Skye Marble company that provided the impetus to complete the project.
I am hugely grateful to my friends at the Museum of the Isles – Library and Archive at Armadale Castle. They were welcoming, informed and engaged in my research, keen to understand and offer suggestions of what in the archive I might find helpful. Many thanks to you all and I look forward to returning soon.
All images are reproduced with the kind permission of the Museum of the Isles – Library and Archive at Armadale Castle.
Donaldson, M. E. M. (1923). Wanderings in the Western Highlands and Islands: Recounting Highland & Clan History, Traditions, Ecclesiology, Archaeology, Romance, Literature, Humour, Folk-Lore, Etc. Paisley, A Gardner.