In the opinion of the writer, the
reason does not reach such a fine point. In the dwellings described, it
may be safely assumed that the raindrops from the eaves, would not be
likely to give occasion to such inconvenience as would lead the hardy
Highlander to evolve a peculiar type of architecture.
In a rubble wall of dry material,
particularly stones of more or less round form, considerable thickness was
required to ensure stability and to resist the pressure of wind. On the
grounds of economy, therefore, the builder, whose resources were but
scanty as regards quantity of timber, would naturally construct a roof
which required the minimum amount of constructive material, and the
resulting form is no doubt but the natural outcome of the exigencies of
The house usually had but one door,
and often no windows. Directly over the fire an aperture was formed in the
roof through which part of the smoke escaped, the remainder filling the
house and finding its way out by the door.
More primitive types of dwellings
were also to be found, the walls consisting of wattles and clay, and it
was the custom in many places to remove the thatch every spring for use as
manure for the crops. Buchanan, who wrote in the latter part of the
eighteenth century, remarks that in the Hebrides each tenant must provide
his own roof timbers, the walls belonging to the tacksman or laird, and on
removing he conveyed the timbers to his new abode and mounted them on the
top of four rude walls.
On the mainland the houses were
often built with walls of less thickness than those of the islands, the
reason being that greater facilities were available for obtaining rubble
stone of more regular form. In these houses the end walls were usually
carried up as gables. In order to relieve the walls of the thrust of the
roof, the couples often sprung from the ground, their upper ends crossing
each other to form an apex cradle for the longitudinal ridge pole or
"roof-tree." This construction is still to be seen in many old houses and
barns in the Central Highlands. It is an interesting fact in this
connection that many of our modern wide-span roofs of steel construction
are designed on exactly the same principle, where the ribs are of
semi-circular form supported from floor girders or from the foundations.
As simplicity of construction is the
motif of cottage design, so does this element characterise the
architecture of the castles of the Highlands; yet, notwithstanding the
almost entire absence of decoration and embellishment, these structures
impelling force and dignity of which all true architecture is an
The building of the first examples
of the castles of the Highlands synchronised with certain events related
to the history of the thirteenth century. At that time royal authority was
exercised upon the island chiefs and mormaers of the North, with the
object of inducing law and order into those more remote parts of the
king’s domains. - As a result of the royal policy, castles were erected
for defensive purposes and as operative bases, and guardians appointed to
command them. Thus, for example, the castles of Inverlochy and Urquhart in
Inverness were founded, and placed under the command of the Comyns and the
Durwards respectively; while Dunstaffnage, entrusted to the care of
Macdougal of Lorn, constituted a controlling base for Argyll.
As this movement penetrated within
the Highland frontier, the art of building in stone and lime became
thoroughly established, and the island chiefs continued castle building
more or less upon the pattern of those set up on the frontier line.
lit is generally accepted that the
greater number of those buildings were erected shortly after Alexander
III. had brought his influence to bear upon the affairs of the Western
Isles, and probably not earlier than 1266; and in the more remote parts of
the highlands, less strongly influenced by the changes of time and
conditions, there remain at the present (lay many examples of those
buildings which represent the first period of our national castellated
The earliest castles were more or
less quadrangular in plan, with massive walls of rubble masonry, forming
"enceinte" or fortified enclosures. In several examples the walls roughly
conform to the shape of the rock or elevation upon which they stand, and
accordingly sometimes assumed a polygonal character. Mingary and Kismul,
for example, follow the outline of their rocky sites. The walls were
crowned with a crenellated parapet, and often had towers at the angles. It
is difficult to say precisely what the internal arrangements may have
been, but probably the angle towers were used for garrison and subsidiary
buildings set against the fortress wall. In Castles Sween, Skipness, and
Duart, there is a plain enclosure wall, with gateway and portcullis, and
surmounted with an upper chamber armed for defensive operations. Castle
Sween possesses buttresses of the broad Norman type, with little
projection, but this feature was not characteristic of the castles
The windows were long and narrow,
with pointed arches, and loops of cruciform design were common.
There is every reason to believe
that the keeps with which the Castles of Duart, Kismul, Tirim and others
were provided have been later additions to the primitive plan. Examples of
the castles of this period are found in Dunstaffnage, Mingary, Duart,
Sween, Skipness, Duntroon, Ardehonnel, Tarbert, Achandrum-all in
Argyllshire; while in Inverness-shire there are Inverlochy, Dunvegan,
Urquhart, Tirim, Roy, Dunskaich, and Kismul. Ellandonan in Ross is also a
castle of this period.
Dunvegan Castle, in Skye, was
originally of the primitive plan described; but as it stands at the
present day, this building represents in evolutionary series the
characteristic features of succeeding periods, forming a composition of
perfect architectural unity. This impressive pile has also the unique
distinction of being the habitable possession of the descendants of its
During the century following the
architecture of the castles assumed different characteristics. The great
wall of enceinte is no longer the distinctive feature. The fourteenth
century castles consisted of quadrilateral towers after the fashion of the
Norman keep. Here we find a second architectural period taking effect.
The plan was usually rectangular,
but a few have an additional wing. The tower was of several storeys. The
buildings were rude but substantial, the walls consisting of rubble
masonry of great thickness, without dressings of any kind. The windows
were few and of small dimensions, and the interior, consequently, but
dimly lighted. The ground floor was vaulted with the barrel type of vault.
This apartment was used as a store or stable, and frequently communication
to the first floor was obtained by means of a hatchway.
The entrance to the keep was usually
on the first or second floor, access being gained by means of a portable
stair or ladder. The common hall was on the first floor, while the second
floor was occupied as the private apartment of the chief and family.
Additional accommodation was obtained by surrounding the keep with a wall
enclosing subsidiary buildings. Of decoration there appears little or
none, except that which belongs to a comparatively late date. No
buttresses, hood moulds or string courses are to be found, but armorial
tablets were occasionally introduced at a much later date. As a rule, the
buildings were devoid of all those features which confer so much
architectural picturesqueness upon the baronial castles. Even as regards
defence and garrison, provision is but scanty. Except when built upon a
lake, there is no instance of a moat except at Rothesay, which is one of
the royal castles. In certain cases, such as Aros and others, strength of
position was gained in the selection of the site; but in many examples but
little regard seems to have been paid to defensive position. Castellated
architecture of the fourteenth century is represented in the Highlands by
Ardtornish, Arcs, Moy, Breacacha, and Lismore in Argyll, while Borve in
Inverness, and Kildonan in Buteshire are also examples.
The third period in the
architectural history of the castles dates from 1400-1542. In many of the
castles of this century the forms of the second period were retained; but
the more opulent adopted the courtyard plan, with increased accommodation.
This was obtained by various expedients, such as the addition of wings and
the formation of small apartments in the thickness of the walls. Some
attempt at embellishment was introduced; such, for example, as at Castle
Stalker, Appin, where traces of Celtic ornament are to be found on the
jambs of the fireplace. In the castles of this period we find also that
those features originally constructed as objects of defence became more
and more domestic in character.
Dunolly Castle is an example of the
simple keep similar to those of the previous century, while Kilchurn
Castle, Lochawe, is of the courtyard plan. The latter castle was built by
Sir Colin Campbell of Glenorchy, the founder of the Breadalbane family.
Its original date is probably about the middle of the fifteenth century;
but at the entrance doorway there is a carving bearing the date 1693,
which indicates that all except the keep may have been built as additions.
Kinlochaline, Stalker, Craignish, and Mearnaig in Argyll, Castle Maoil in
Skye, and Cumbrae Castle in Buteshire are examples of the castles of this
In the castles of the sixteenth to
the eighteenth century there is a marked transition from the military to
the domestic in the general design of the castles. The plans, moreover,
assume some considerable variety in form.
By the addition of wings, the simple
keep resolves itself into the L, Z, and T shapes of plan. Gylen Castle, on
the island of Kerrara, is an example of the L plan. It consists of two
square adjacent towers, one of which is larger than the other, forming an
architectural composition of great beauty. The building dates from about
the end of the sixteenth century, and is of considerable historical
interest. In the year 1647, when the castle was besieged by General
Leslie, the famous Brooch of Lorn, in the height of the fray, was stolen
from the building.
Castle Shuna, in Argyllshire, now a
ruinous pile, also presents some interest. It consists of a simple keep,
with a later staircase tower. The ground floor of the keep is vaulted, and
comprises a kitchen and cellar. The hall is on the first floor, and
connected to the ground floor by a wheel stair in the angle of the walls.
Elliptical arches occur in the walls, at two windows and a fireplace,
while the floor corbels are still partly in evidence.
Killundine Castle, nearly opposite
Aros on the Sound of Mull, is probably of late date, and is supposed to
have been used as a hunting lodge in connection with Aros Castle.
At Kuhn, in Perthshire, is situated
the ruined castle of Finlarig, an ancient seat of the ancestors of the
Breadalbane family. The castle was built in the seventeenth century by
Donacha Dubh, and over the entrance door is a panel bearing the date 1609,
together with the Royal arms and the initials of James VI. and his queen.
Another castle erected by Black Duncan of Glenorchy is that of Achallader,
on Loch Talla, north of Tyndrum.
An interesting example of the
castles of this period is that of Dunderave, Lochfyne, recently restored
by Sir Andrew Noble. The building is of considerable architectural
interest in respect of style, as it clearly demonstrates that as early as
the sixteenth century the characteristic features of the Scottish baronial
castles had penetrated from the more central parts of Scotland to the
Highlands of the west. Here are the crow-step gables, turrets, and simple
dormer windows which confer distinction upon the Scottish architecture.
The entrance door is ornamented with mouldings containing the dog tooth
enrichment, while over the doorway is a panel showing the billet, dog
tooth, and nailhead ornaments executed with considerable skill and
Barcaldine Castle, on Loch Creran,
was erected towards the end of the sixteenth century by Sir Duncan
Campbell of Glenorchy. The plan is of the L type, formed by two towers in
juxtaposition, one of the wings being set slightly in
arrangement is indicative of late date. A further sign of late
construction is shown in the large turrets of the exterior. The vaulted
basement contains the kitchen and cellars. The hail is situated on the
first floor, with a private room in the wing, with an additional storey
and attics above. The year 1690 is carved on a panel over the doorway.
Kilmartin Castle, built in the
latter part of the sixteenth century, is particularly domestic in
character. It conforms to the shape of the letter Z, the building being
rectangular, with circular towers on two of the opposite angles.
The ruins of Duntulm Castle, near
Uig in Skye, indicate this building to be one of the later castles, the
keep probably being of the early seventeenth century.
Of the more exceptional types of
plan, Carnasserie Castle, near Lochawe, is an interesting example, both
historically and architecturally. This castle formed the residence of John
Carsewell, the first rector of Kilmartin and Bishop of the Isles, between
1566 and 1572. The architectural interest of the castle chiefly consists
In its being probably designed in imitation of an early keep with
additions, the mouldings of the corbels being of quite a different form
from those of the ancient examples.
In conclusion, let it be said that
the castellated ruins of the Highlands, rude of aspect, unadorned as they
are, stand to-day as material embodiments of much that we cherish in the
history of our native Highlands; and in the possession of that attribute
which characterises all good art, the attribute of truthful expression,
these rude walls may worthily occupy a place in the category of the
Architecture of the Nations.
From authoritative sources, it is
evident that the dress of the ancient Highlander consisted of two
essential parts, viz, the Highland shirt and the plaid or mantle.
According to Lesley, Bishop of Ross, the shirt was of large size, "with
numerous folds and wide sleeves which flowed abroad loosely to their
knees. These the rich coloured with saffron, and others smeared with
grease to preserve them longer clean among the toils and exercises of a
camp, which they held it of the highest consequence to practise
"In the manufacture of these,
ornament, and a certain attention to taste were not altogether neglected,
and they joined the different parts of their shirts very neatly with silk
threads, chiefly of a green or red colour." Prom the fact of its being
dyed with saffron, the shirt was termed by the Highlanders the
The plaid or mantle was woven of
chequered or tartan material, and known as the Breacan-fheile.
Martin, describing the part of the Highlanders’ attire, says: "When they
travel on foot the plaid is tied on the breast with a bodkin of bone or
wood.. . tied round the middle with a leather belt: it is pleated from the
belt to the knee very nicely; this dress for footmen is found much easier
and lighter than breeches or trowis."
By the beginning of the seventeenth
century the leine-chroich ceased to be worn as an essential feature
of the dress; but probably developed into what Burt (1730) describes as
the waistcoat, five or six inches longer than the short coat, while the
breacan-fheile persisted probably to the extent of forming the
essential element of dress, and, in the opinion of many writers, the
garment which in its entirety comprised both the shoulder plaid and kilt
of modern times. Of this garment, Lesley writes: "All, both nobles and
common people, wore mantles of one sort (except that the nobles preferred
those of several colours). These were long and flowing, but capable of
being neatly gathered up at pleasure into folds. . . wrapped up in these
for their only covering, they would sleep comfortably." It says much for
the physical constitution of the ancient Highlander that in cold weather
he would immerse his plaid in cold water, wring it out, wrap it round his
body, and steam himself to sleep!
In this connection a certain
Highland priest, in a letter to Henry VIII., states that they went about
with feet and legs uncovered in the snow of winter, except during the
intensity of frost, when "we go a huntynge, and after that we have slayne
the redd deir, we flaye off the skyne, bey and bey, and setting of our
bare foot on the outside thereof, for neide of cunnynge shoemakers by your
Grace’s pardon, we play the sutters; compasinge and mesuringe so moche
thereof, as shall retche up to our anclers, pryckynge the upper part
thereof also with boles, that the water may repas when it entree and
stretchide up with a stronge thwange of the same, meitand above our said
ancklers so, and please your noble Grace, we make our shoois.
The supremacy of the plaid is
referred to by Gough in the following: "The dress of the men is the
brechan or plaid, twelve or thirteen yards of narrow stuff wrapped round
the middle and reaching to the knees, often girt round the waist, and in
cold weather covering the whole body, even on the open hills all night and
fastened on the shoulders with a brooch."
According to Browne, the belted
plaid constituted the original and chief part of the garb of the
Highlander. It is obvious that this writer considers the original plaid or
mantle to comprise both kilt and shoulder plaid in one garment. "The
plaid," be says, "consisted of a plain piece of tartan from four to six
yards in length, and two yards broad. It was adjusted with great nicety,
and made to surround the waist in great plaits or folds, and was firmly
bound round the loins with a leathern belt in such a manner that the lower
side fell down to the middle of the knee joint, and then, while there were
foldings behind, the cloth was double before. The upper part was then
fastened on the left shoulder with a large brooch or pin, so as to display
to the most advantage the tastefulness of the arrangement, the two ends
being sometimes suffered to hang down, but that on the right side, which
was necessarily the longest, was more usually tucked under the belt." The
place of pockets was taken by the sporan or purse, which was hung
or fastened to the front of the lower or kilt portion of the garment.
The sporan was made of the
skin of the goat or badger, and occasionally of leather. It was often
divided into compartments and ornamented with a mouthpiece of silver or of
brass, and hung with cords of leather neatly interwoven.
While it is to be recognised that
the modern kilt is a derivative of part of the original Highland dress,
represented initially in the Highland shirt, and later in the belted
plaid, yet it is sufficiently well established that as a detached garment
the kilt is a comparatively late invention of convenience.
The use of the jacket is referred to
by early writers, and from them we learn that the clansmen wore a jacket
of deerskin with open sleeves, while the gentry wore what Skene refers to
as the short Highland coat.
The foot coverings were originally
pieces of untanned hide, cut to the shape of the foot, and drawn with
thongs of leather, but bare feet were much in evidence. Stockings, when
used, were cut out of the web of tartan and bound with garters, which were
often simply bands of hay or straw, but sometimes of knitted material of
rich colouring and close texture.
The bonnet, "made of thrum, without a brim," described
by Taylor as "a blue, flat cap," was not essential to the dress of the
clansman, who often went with bare head, allowing the hair to grow long.
The use of the triubhas,
trews, as a form of Highland dress is of interest. According to Skene,
this variety of dress was probably introduced to the Highlanders from
Ireland, where it was used by the wealthy from earliest times. The use of
the garment in the Highlands is not recorded prior to the sixteenth
century. Martin, in 1716, says: "Many of the people wear trowis; some have
them very fine woven like stockings of those made of cloth; some are
coloured and others striped; the latter are as well shaped as the former,
lying close to the body from the middle downwards, and tied with a belt
above the haunches." Burt, in 1730, writes: "Few besides gentlemen wear
the trowze : —that is the breeches and stockings all of one piece and
drawn on together; over this habit they wear a plaid which is usually
three yards long and two breadths wide, and the whole garb is made of
chequered tartan or plaiding; this, with the sword and pistol, is called a
full dress, and, to a well-proportioned man, with any tolerable air, it
makes an agreeable figure."
In the manufacture of tartans the
Highlander displayed a. high degree of skill both in the composition of
the various patterns and in general workmanship. Martin writes: "Every
isle differs from each other in their fancy of making plaid as to the
stripes or breadth or colours. This humour is so different through the
mainland of the Highlands in so far that they who have seen those places
are able at the first view of a man’s plaid to guess the place of his
residence." And again: "There is a great deal of ingenuity required in
sorting the colours so as to be agreeable to the nicest fancy. For this
reason the women are at much pains, first to give an exact pattern of the
plaid upon a small rod, having the number of every thread of the stripe on
it." The dyeing material was obtained from native plants—alder, willow,
lichen, and certain roots.
As with the men, the plaid was a
conspicuous part of the dress of the women. It reached from the neck to
the feet, plaited and tied round the waist by a belt of leather, sometimes
studded with silver. The plaid was often of white material, with a few
stripes of red, blue, or black. A general rule was, that no head dress be
worn by the women before marriage or until attaining a certain age. The
hair was tied with bands, often with some slight ornamentation. After
marriage, the women donned the currachd (mutch), a head dress of
linen tied under the chin.