Elgol, Loch Coruisk and the Strathaird Peninsula are steeped in fascinating history and geology.
Gaelic and Viking Ealaghol and Coire Uisg
Elgol, or Ealaghol in Gaelic, has been a small crofting and fishing community for centuries. Its name is said to mean “the Weeping Swan” after the name of a Viking longboat destroyed in a local battle. Other possible meanings, “The Noble Field” or “The Field of Wild Angelica” are also of Viking origin. Loch Coruisk, from the Gaelic Coire Uisg, meaning the corrie or cauldron of the waters, and from which the house takes its name, is the freshwater loch that lies within the very centre of the horseshoe formed by the surrounding Cuillin mountains. The Scavaig River which runs out into the sea at Loch Scavaig is the shortest in Britain.
Coruisk House itself was originally a thatched ‘black house’ built sometime between 300 and 500 years ago. The residents lounge window is thought to have been an entrance, probably for animals! An upper storey was added and then shortly after the First World War the extension which now forms the Dining Room was built. For many years it was the local Post Office but from around 1900 the house took in visitors and became known as a Boarding House, and then a private home, before being restored to its former role to welcome visitors to the area.
Volcanoes, fossils and rocks
The Black Cuillins themselves are the remnants of a huge volcano which erupted some 60 million years ago. So large was the volcano that the resulting lava flows can be seen around the whole of the Isle of Skye, but the Cuillins formed the very crater which results in their unique outline and their being formed of the gabbro rock so beloved of climbers for its wonderful grip. Their near neighbours, the Red Cuillin Hills, are formed of granite, which gives them their softer outlines and reddish hue. Jurassic rocks around the harbour abound with ammonites and other fossils embedded in the rock.
Neolithic and Bronze age settlements
The road from Broadford passes through the site of ancient settlements, featuring a Neolithic stone circle, several chambered cairns and High Pasture Cave (“Uamh An Ard Achadh”), a prehistoric and Bronze Age cave complex that is still the subject of archaeological work. Visit the High Pasture Cave website for details.
Bonnie Prince Charlie and the 1745 Jacobite Rising
Elgol was famously the scene of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s departure from the Scottish Islands as he escaped capture from the Hanoverian forces. During his escape after the Battle of Culloden in 1746, the ‘Prince in the Heather’ arrived in the North of Skye a few days earlier and was helped southwards disguised as Flora MacDonald’s maid “Betty Burke”. A tense night-time walk from Sligachan, and past Marsco, led him to Elgol where boatman and local resident Captain John MacKinnon hid him and took him back to the mainland ultimately to meet a ship to take him to France. The cave where he laid low can still be visited at low tide, and the liqueur recipe the Prince gave to the Captain on the shore as a token of appreciation – Drambuie – can still be drunk at Coruisk House!
Broadford to Elgol
The Elgol and the Strathaird area saw some of the very worst of the Highland clearances of the 1850’s, and even now walks from Elgol will lead you to the deserted villages of Keppoch, Suisnish and Boreraig where the roofless stone crofts still have the power to haunt.
On your journey from Broadford, you will pass the beautiful ruined churchyard of Cill Chriosd set in the elegant Strath Suardal near a site of Christian worship going back to the Dark Ages. The present Church dates from around 1500 but fell into disuse in around 1840 and its fascinating churchyard reflects the local prevalence of the MacKinnon clan. In the hills above are the remains of Skye’s Georgian and Victorian marble quarries, which provided work for many until the onset of the First World War, and the railway line that linked them to Broadford.
Gavin Maxwell and “Ring of Bright Water” On crossing the Skye Bridge, you will pass the former house of Gavin Maxwell, the author of “Ring of Bright Water”, later made into a film. The house is now a museum to him and his work with otters which gave rise to the book. Less well known is that before this, he hunted Basking Sharks from the Elgol area and he bought the small island of Soay, just off the Elgol coast in order to establish a factory to extract oil from the sharks.