Graves with a view: exploring the Isle of Mull’s picturesque burial grounds

The beautiful landscape of the Isle of Mull is dotted with tiny burial grounds, each of them with their own stories to tell.  We’ve already visited Pennygown, with its ruined chapel and graves ranging from the medieval period to the present day.  Some of these cemeteries are close to settlements, others seemingly in the middle of nowhere.  They are all in stunningly beautiful locations.  The words and symbols preserved on the gravestones offer us a glimpse into the history of the island, and of the lives of the people who have lived and died there over the centuries.

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Duart Castle: the turbulent history of the ancestral home of Clan MacLean

It’s impossible to miss Duart Castle.  It stands proudly on a spur of land reaching out into the Sound of Mull, and it’s a familiar sight to people who travel through those waters.  The powerful MacLean clan have controlled Duart Castle for much of its history, using the castle’s prominent location as a symbol of the clan’s power and prestige.  In common with other Scottish castles, Duart has a fascinating, turbulent and sometimes bloody history, from medieval clan wars to the Jacobite uprisings of the 18th Century.  Today, the Chief of Clan MacLean welcomes visitors from all over the world to his family seat, so that they can learn about the history of the castle and the clan that made it their home.

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The mysterious and majestic stone circle at Lochbuie

When visiting the Isle of Mull, off the coast of western Scotland, you quickly get used to single-track roads, to landscapes where there are more buzzards than humans, and to strange old places popping up wherever you visit – graveyards, chapels, long-abandoned villages, and even the occasional prehistoric monument.  The subject of today’s post falls into that last category.  It’s the oldest place yet featured on Flickering Lamps, and probably the most mysterious – a beautiful stone circle in a remote part of Mull.

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Pennygown: the ruined chapel and medieval effigies of a Hebridean burial ground

I first came across the ruined chapel whilst on a wildlife trek – we had stopped near the little town of Salen to watch harbour porpoises in the Sound of Mull.  Intrigued as I was by the ruined chapel and its surrounding burial ground, there wasn’t time to stop and explore and I had to return a few days later to get a good look around the site.  My stay on the beautiful Scottish island of Mull had been blessed with warm sunshine, but on the final day of my trip – when I finally had time to visit the chapel and the burial ground surrounding it – the clouds had arrived.

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This is Pennygown burial ground, and it is still used by the people of the Mull today.

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Rèilig Odhrain, the ancient cemetery on the edge of the world

Today, the tiny Scottish island of Iona is not the easiest of places to get to.  It’s a long drive across the Isle of Mull to Fionnphort from the main ferry link with the Scottish mainland at Craignure.  However, in the past Iona was the centre of Christianity in the region, as well as being a site of political significance.  Travelling by boat, it was easier to reach than its geographical isolation suggests.

I visited the island on a mild September day, after a long drive from the eastern coast of Mull.  The sea was clear and calm and made for a smooth passage on the short ferry trip from Fionnphort; later on a pod of dolphins could be seen in the Sound of Iona.  It is a peaceful place, with beaches of white sand and outcrops of pink granite.  Since the 7th Century it has been a place of pilgrimage, and it continues to welcome thousands of visitors every year.

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