Loch Shiel History

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Loch Shiel and the surrounding areas of Moidart, Sunart, Ardgour and Ardnamurchan are steeped in history.

Many neolithic remains and coffin cairns (resting places for coffins being carried over the mountains towards St. Finan's Isle) are scattered over the surrounding hills. Numerous ruined villages, abandoned for economic reasons or more often because the inhabitants were cleared to make way for sheep, can be found by the keen walker.

Emerging from the hazy mists of time is the occupation of the area by the Picts. Between the late 8th and mid 12th centuries this indigenous race was in continual confrontation with the invading Scandinavians or "Vikings". The Norse occupation of the area is marked by the numerous Scandinavian place-names.

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The Norse invaders were ousted from the area in 1120AD by a powerful Celtic-Norse Chief called Somerled. The village of Acharacle was named after the ford in the River Shiel where the Danish Chief Torquil was defeated by Somerled.

Somerled was the grandfather of Donald whose Clan, the MacDonalds or the "sons" of Donald became the powerful race later ruled by the Lords of the Isles. John of Isla, the first Lord of the Isles married Amie MacRuari who, after their separation, built Castle Tioram at the mouth of the River Shiel. Castle Tioram became the stronghold of the MacDonalds of Clan Ranald whose lands went as far north as Knoydart and included the Inner and some of the Outer Hebridean islands.

The MacDonald Clan and its strong connections to the Stewart Kings of Scotland became ardent Jacobites and were powerful supporters of the various attempts to regain the throne of Britain for the exiled King James.

In the Jacobite rising of 1745 Prince Charles Edward Stuart drew support from several of the MacDonald Chiefs who became Captains of his army.

A few days after landing from a French frigate in Loch nan Uamh, it was from Dalilea on Loch Shiel that the Prince was rowed in Clanranald's galley to Glenaladale, where he had a council of war with some of his officers before leaving the following day for Glenfinnan, where he had pre-arranged for the Clans to gather.

After raising his Standard the army marched south, successfully overthrowing government strongholds on his way. On reaching Derby the Prince was persuaded, very possibly on wrong advice, to return to the north with the ensuing threat of a much larger government force. The two armies met at Culloden outside Inverness in April 1746 when the Jacobites were soundly defeated.

Following Culloden the Highland Clans were severely persecuted by the Redcoats under the direction of the Duke of Cumberland. Several chiefs were executed and their lands forfeited. Prince Charles escaped to France, never to return, dying in Italy a broken man.

This battle was the last to be fought on the British mainland and marked the end of the old clan system and way of life for the Highland people.

The Monument at Glenfinnan was built in 1815 by Alexander MacDonald of Glenaladale, as a tribute to the Clansmen who fought and died in the '45.

For detailed information on local history, contact the Moidart Local History Group

A brief history of boating on Loch Shiel

There is no doubt that the Loch was once a busy thoroughfare, travelling by boat being by far the easiest way to get around. The River Shiel is two miles long and flows into the sea at Loch Moidart, thus enabling passages from the sea as far inland as Glenfinnan.

The first boats would have been skin-covered, no doubt similar to the Welsh and Irish coracles and curraghs. Stronger and longer lasting craft built of wood followed. Loch Shiel has long been noted for its dense oakwoods and it is known that Gaskan was the area where the MacDonalds built their boats. These larger boats, called Birlinns, were based on the Scandinavian longboats but were smaller and more manoeuvrable. Shorter inland journeys would have been made in smaller wooden skiffs.

In 1893 David MacBrayne, the founder of the very large ferry company Caledonian MacBrayne, owned a hotel at Shiel Bridge and ran a launch called Maud, mainly for towing small fishing boats up the Loch. Once a week in summer he would travel the length of the Loch to Glenfinnan as part of an elaborate circular route from Oban. This continued until 1897.

In 1898 Lord Howard of Glossop, the owner of an estate at the south end of the Loch inaugurated the first steamer service. This launch was called Lady of the Lake and operated from Acharacle in 1898 to link up with a mail coach running from Fort William to Arisaig.

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In 1893 David MacBrayne, the founder of the very large ferry company Caledonian MacBrayne, owned a hotel at Shiel Bridge and ran a launch called Maud, mainly for towing small fishing boats up the Loch. Once a week in summer he would travel the length of the Loch to Glenfinnan as part of an elaborate circular route from Oban. This continued until 1897.

In 1898 Lord Howard of Glossop, the owner of an estate at the south end of the Loch inaugurated the first steamer service. This launch was called Lady of the Lake and operated from Acharacle in 1898 to link up with a mail coach running from Fort William to Arisaig.

The completion of the West Highland Railway Line from Glasgow to Mallaig resulted in a huge increase in passenger numbers, cargo and mail to be shipped down the Loch and larger boats were commissioned for this purpose.

The best-known vessel was Clanranald ll, which plied the Loch from 1900 until 1953 and was a lifeline for the people living on the lochside.

In 1953 David MacBrayne again took over the service and ran two smaller launches, Lochshiel and Lochailort, carrying only passengers and mail.

This weekday service ran until 1967 when the new road between Lochailort and Kinlochmoidart was completed, marking the end of a 70 years of mail sailings.

 

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In 1968 Jimmy Henderson commissioned his launch Rose Isle as a passenger boat, operating from Acharacle and skippered by his brother Duncan.

This open boat ran until 1983 when Duncan retired.

Between 1983 and 1985 Niall McKillop of Fort William ran a small open passenger launch from Glenfinnan.

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For a number of years after 1985 there were no passenger boats on the Loch, until Jim Michie launched his classic vessel Sileasin 1997.

The new seasonal service, Loch Shiel Cruises, started in April 1998 and runs from Glenfinnan, offering a variety of different cruisesand once again giving people the opportunity to experience the delights of this beautiful Loch.

Ceilidh-Cruise

FURTHER INFORMATION

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