Sunday, December 20, 2015

Thirsty Hugh

Five kilometres south of Uig (Skye) you'll find Caisteal Uisdein (Hugh's Castle). The Hugh it was named for was Uisdein MacGhilleasbug Chleirich, the factor of North Uist in the late 1500s. Income from the factorship must have been good, for around the same time Hugh had this castle built for him on Skye. The stone for the castle was quarried on the nearby Ascribs, a cluster of four little islands (and assorted reefs) that I hope to visit someday.

Caisteal Uisdein
Caisteal Uisdein has been called the castle with no windows or doors; the only access said to be through a high entrance reached by a ladder. But there is a small slit-window at ground level; a tight squeeze, but I managed to get inside.

The only way into the castle
Looking back to the narrow entrance from inside the castle
Hugh was an ambitious man, and hatched a plan to kill his cousin, Donald Gorm Mor, the chief of the Macdonalds of Sleat and North Uist. But his plan was foiled when a letter describing the plot ended up in the hands of Donald Gorm Mor. And so Hugh skulked off to North Uist, where he hid out in Dun an Sticir (the skulker's fort); a fort that is still there today, consisting of two linked islands in Loch an Sticir. This photo of Dun an Sticir was taken from the slopes of Beinn Mhor (the island off in the fog is Pabbay).

Dun an Sticir - Skulker's Fort - North Uist
Hugh was eventually taken prisoner. His fate was to die in the dungeon of Duntulm Castle, sixteen kilometres north of Caisteal Uisdein. The story of his death is well known: given only salty meat to eat, he was denied any water and died of thirst. Otta Swire, in Skye, the Island and its Legends, says that 'his screams and curses are said to echo through the castle today'.

On a visit to Duntulm a few years ago I searched for the dungeon where Hugh ended his days, but the building was such a mess of fallen stone that I could not tell what was what. I'd like to say I heard thirsty Hugh's curses echoing across the centuries, but I didn't.

Duntulm castle

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