Autumn is a great time of year for walking. The leaves are colourful, the weather is fair and the outdoor spaces are an ever-changing treasure trove of wonders, just waiting to be explored. How about trying Skeabost's favourite short walk – St Columba's Isle adventure.
Saint Columba's Island – This is an Ancient Burial Ground and Site of the Cathedral Church of the Bishops of the Isles from 1079 to 1498. Similarly Ancient is the Mortuary Chapel Nicolson's Aisle, Where According to Tradition, Twenty Eight Chiefs of that Clan are Buried.
10 minutes walk from the hotel towards the bridge where the road between Portree and Dunvegan crosses the River Snizort, there is a well-hidden and fascinating bit of Skye's history - St. Columba's Isle. Here you will find ancient ruins and graves, stretching back over many centuries. From the old bridge there is a clear path down the right hand side bank of the river. This leads to a footbridge - constructed in 1990 by the Officers Training Corps of Edinburgh and Herriot-Watt Universities - that crosses to the island.
St. Columba is much better known for his association with the island of Iona, but this was the site on which he founded the cathedral and the bishops of the Isles. This was the centre of Christianity in the Hebrides from 1079 to 1498. According to tradition, the cathedral was founded near a site where Columba had preached from a rock, which later became known as St. Columba's rock. The site may of originally have been a pagan Pictish centre, but by the time of Columba's arrival it may have converted to a Pictish Christian establishment. Over the early centuries of the 2nd millennium it gained importance as the Kilmuir monastery, this declined and by the 14th Century was referred to as the Metropolitan Church of the Isles, being the principal seat for the Bishops of the Isles until power was transferred to Iona Abbey. It was extant until at least 1501, but destroyed during the Scottish reformation, although its remains are still visible.
There are clear ruins of two small buildings, and the outlines of others can be traced. The island is peppered with graves, ranging in age from the 11th century to the 1960s. Many of them have legible inscriptions, and a few others have plaques showing transcriptions.
Today, St. Columba's island is a sacred burial ground containing not only residents of Skye, but also the burial place of the Bishops who served the Cathedral up until the Reformation in the late 1400s. Within the mortuary chapel on the island is the burial place of 28 MacNeacail chiefs. This small chapel is known as Aite Adhlaic Mhic Neacail, rendered loosely in English as MacNicol or Nicolson's Aisle. Within the chapel lies a 16th-century effigy of a warrior wearing a high conical helmet and holding a sword, point down, in front of his legs. It would appear to represent a contemporary MacNeacail chief, perhaps the one who entertained King James V in 1540.
Until 1992, the chapel was in a ruined state, the effigy displaced in a jumble of fallen masonry. During the clearing up which followed the stabilization of the walls in the following year, the ground surface was found to be strewn with broken wine glasses and bottle fragments indicating that the chiefs interred there had been an accorded, liberal and liquid farewell. If the tradition of burial at Snizort is accurate, the connection between the Clann MhicNeacail or Nicolson and Skye must be as old as the name itself.
This 16th century grave stone lies in the graveyard on St Columba's (or Skeabost) Island on the River Snizort, Isle of Skye. The stone represents a knight wearing a quilted coat and holding a large sword. It is presumed to have been carved by the same person who produced the carving of John Macleod of Minginish, 10th Chief of the MacLeods of Harris, which lies in St Clement's Church, Rodel, on Harris. Another similar stone is located within the walls of the Chapel.
A burial ground, no matter how scenic, is a place for respect and reflection it is not really a place for you to enjoy your picnic lunch. On the way back to the old road you can find any number of rocks to perch on to eat your sandwiches, and enjoy a great view of this fine salmon river rushing through its gorge. You may even choose to sit on the very boulder that St. Columba used as his platform.
Jakub Bors - Front of House Manager - Skeabost Hotel 10/10/2016
References - theskyeguide.com, clanmacnicol.org, wikipedia.org, www.ambaile.org.uk
All images © 2016-2017 Jakub Bors – www.borsphotos.com © Sonas Hospitality Ltd and the website www.skeabosthotel.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sonas Hospitality Ltd and our website www.skeabosthotel.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.