- The original village of Ballachulish was much smaller than it is currently is today, and gets its name from the narrow crossing where Loch Leven meets Loch Linnhe. This was a natural crossing point from one side of the valley to the other, and the obvious place for first settlers to the region.
- The mountains behind this crossing were feared and famous in the region for the family of dragon’s that perched up on their misty peak. As the winter storms rolled in and came down the valley from the hill, the dragon’s too would descend down the river, tails crashing in the water and knocking down trees and boulders, to terrorise the villagers and feed on any newborns. Story of how the dragons were defeated.
- After the dragons were defeated, the villagers built a monument to the pagan goddess of wind & fire to protect the settlement from any future demons. Since building the monument villagers lived happily on the fertile land where you are now, mainly living a humble life fishing, rearing cattle and foresting.
- Rumour had it that this monument was burnt by viking raiders, who often used loch Leven’s sheltered bays for protection during storms, but in 1880 two local farmers were building a new home on the banks of the loch, and discovered what has now become known as the “Ballachulish Goddess”. Carbon dating has traced this back to 660BC, making it over 2500 years old and confirming a story that was for many years thought only to be legend.
- Other local stories also talk about the Vikings. A distinctive rock just offshore from where the Ballachulish Goddess was found was said to once be submerged when the sea level was higher. Legend has it that it was on this rock a Viking settler stood while trying to rescue his son from drowning. To this day the rock is called “Clach Phadruig”, or “Peter’s Rock”. Look closely and you can see circular “holes” going deep into the rock. Apparently these come from the base of the Viking’s staff, which he hit against the rock in despair after losing his son.
- The historic evidence suggests that this land was once a place of great community, with ancient artifacts, coins, burial chambers and marriage trees all being found on the estate. The land would have seen many funerals, wars, marriages, celebrations and even human sacrifices!
- Can we tie in more about Scottish legends and folklore? Kelpies? Selkies, Changelings etc. Build the ancient area as one of mystery and magic. Loch Ness monster used to swim through underground chambers to here in the winter to shelter from the cold.
- Eilean Munde islands (burial islands). Chapel built by st. Fintan Mundos of Iona in 7th Century. Each of the 3 clans (MacDonald, Stewarts and who?) had their graves on the islands, and accessed their “part” by 3 differnt ports. These islands were also a big part of resolving any disputes between the 3 clans. If there was ever an argument, the two parties would be rowed out to “the island of discussion” and be left there until they came to an agreement.
- We get the first written records of Ballachulish when the Estate House was built in 1640. A symbol of elite power and dominance, this house was destroyed in the Jacobite uprisings and rebuilt soon after into the house we see today. From this house the lands were farmed and managed, with a formal ferry established in 1733 and then a beautiful Baronial hotel built to service the ferry in 1830. It was this hotel that stands to this day that Queen Victoria wrote about in her diary when traveling through the Highlands (quote!).
- Story of James of the Glen and The Red Fox. Murder weapon found behind Ballachulish House, and James was hanged in 1752 and his body left hanging for 4 years as a symbol of English dominance.
- Glencoe Massacre. Ballachulish House was where the Campbell commander was stationed when he received the orders for the murder. Genocide.
- An area of mystery and superstition – the Headless Horseman seen traveling around the wall of Ballachulish House, and mention stories of room 112 & 204 of Ballachulish Hotel.
- The area was transformed in 1692 when slate was discovered in the mountains adjacent to Loch Leven two years after Jacobite uprising. A village formed and grew quickly to mine and service the mining industry, and the name “Ballachulish” (village at the narrows) was given to this village even although it was quite a distance from where the name originated.
- Story of Dr Grant who served as community’s doctor – symbolic of Highlander’s sense of honesty and fairness.
- At the time, most travel was undertaken by sea and the landscape was difficult to traverse. This all changed when a Railway was built connecting Ballachulish to Oban. This railway stopped at the Ballachulish hotel, where people would often stay the night before crossing the ferry and traveling North to Fort William, Skye and Inverness. As the motor car became more prominent and engineering improved, roads were built connecting these rural communities and eventually the railway closed in 1966 soon after the closure of the slate quarries in 1955.
- Worth tying in the hydro schemes & aluminium smelting in Kinlochleven & Fort William? Prisoner of war camp.
- St Brides & St John’s church. The chalice that was used to give mass to Bonnie Prince Charlie in the battle of Culloden is in church.
The Modern Era
- The Estate was eventually disbanded (when?) and the lands sold to local farming family, who raised cattle and sheep on the land.
- In 1975, a bridge was built to connect the two shores and the ferry was disbanded. This dramatically changed life in the area and connected the communities. There’s a story about a witch casting a curse on the bridge, and the bridge therefore never being fully completed (there’s one bolt missing), but we need to dig around this.
- Ballachulish was regenerated and transformed, making it a tourism destination rather than a deprived and dirty ex-mining town.
- In 2002 the farm looked to diversify, and developed a 9-hole golf course.
- In 2016 we took the golf course into the family when brothers James & Callum took over management, guided by their parents and grandparents who were seasoned hoteliers. We can tie this into the “welcome” card already developed. Developed the estate with unique cafe, activities and accommodation.
Ballachulish house – Formerly the seat of the Stewarts of Ballachulish. The marriage lintel (now incorporated into the bothy) was probably originally set in E range of the main block; the intials represent John Stewart, 5th of Ballachulish, and his wife Margaret, daughter of William Wilson of Murrayshall. The original house is said to have been built in 1640 and was also said to be the location from which the decision on the date for the Massacre of Glencoe was made in 1692. The original house was later burnt down by Hanoverian soldiers in 1746. Now open as Ballachulish House Hotel (2002). The home former home farm, located to the south, has been significantly altered in the late 20th century. The fountain and the sundial do not appear on the OS maps of 1875 and 1900.
In the dark ages Ballachulish was incorporated into a number of early tribal societies before finally becoming part of Dalriata in the 5th century. It was the kings of Dalriata who would eventually go on to unite Scotland into one kingdom. Some believe an early fort of the Dalriata kings may have been on the site of Castle Stalker, a couple of miles south of Ballachulish on a little islet on Loch Laich, near Port Appin. As part of the administrative district of Appin, Ballachulish was to be governed from here, directly or indirectly, for centuries. While today’s castle is nowhere near as old, built after 1446 by John Stewart Lord of Lorn, it is not too difficult to imagine that earlier peoples might have recognised the advantage of using the natural defences afforded by the beautifully set island. Certainly there was an earlier fort here, built by the Macdougalls around 1320. In 1468 the Battle of Stalc was fought here, in which the army of Dugald, Lord of Lorn, virtually annihilated an army of MacFarlanes led by Alan MacCoul. The castle was also used as a garrison by government troops during the Jacobite rebellions.
Possibly the most significant historical site in Ballachulish itself is Ballachulish House. Now a hotel, it was built in 1640 as a country estate, although as the building was destroyed during the Jacobite rebellions the current house dates from around 1745. In 1692 it was occupied by Sir Robert Campbell of Glenlyon when he received orders signed by the king to put all of the MacDonalds of Glencoe under seventy years of age ‘to the sword’. This order prompted one of the most notorious massacres in Scottish History (See article, Glencoe).
In the aftermath of the murder the authorities carried out a witch hunt in the area. Needing someone to take the rap they dragged the unwitting James Stewart to Inveraray where he was tried by a Campbell judge and jury. Predictably they found him guilty as charged. On the 8th of November, about six months after the murder, James Stewart was taken to Ballachulish where he was hung on a small knoll just at the southern end of today’s bridge, near Ballachulish House. A commemorative plaque marks the spot. His body was left to rot for several months, as a means of discouraging the locals, so that it was little more than a skeleton that the authorities finally allowed to be buried. The Appin Murder formed the basis for Robert Louis Stephenson’s famous novel, ‘Kidnapped’.
Bronze Age burial cairns, medieval forts, Jacobean country houses and commemorative plaques are just some of the reminders of Ballachulish’s past. The marks on the land east of Ballachulish tell of hundreds of years of slate quarrying and fifty years in which nature has done much to reclaim the site. An exhibition in the village tells the fascinating story of the men who once worked there. Despite the ferry being supplanted by the bridge linking north and south Ballachulish, the old slipways still remain. Ballachulish too has a railway station house without a railway line, now used as a GP’s practice after the line was closed in 1966. All of these reminders add to the character of the village and help us better understand the men and women that have for centuries called this beautiful place home.
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