Scottish Clan Tours
Researching your family tree is a voyage of discovery. Full of intrigue, exotic names and fascinating histories. It is a pastime that rewards again and again. But those who simply trace their family tree from the comfort of their own home are missing out on the real story of their heritage.
For the whole exciting picture, you need to visit the places you read about. And that means a trip to Scotland. To help you plan your trip, we've compiled a number of clan-themed touring itineraries . So if you see your clan name, just follow the trail and walk in your ancestors' footsteps.
The Matheson Clan has an ancient and courageous history. It is said that the
ancestors of the clan were followers of King Kenneth McAlpin in the 9th century
and were then living on the shores of Loch Alsh. A 12th century Chief had two
sons Colin and Kenneth, who gave rise respectively to the Matheson clan and the
MacKenzie clan. The Matheson clan had become very powerful by the 15th century
but there was then a very turbulent period and their fortunes waned. In more
recent times the trading house of Jardine Matheson brought renewed prosperity
and they once again owned land and status in the north of Scotland, including
the island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.
This itinerary takes you to the ancestral lands of Ross-Shire and Sutherland in the far north Highlands and gives you a taste of island life on beautiful Skye. It will highlight just a few of the stories and places where Clan Matheson chiefs and their descendants have left their mark. You can experience the peace and tranquillity of the inspiring Scottish landscapes, the evocative splendour of ancient castles, the hospitality of local people and much more.
Arrive in Inverness, the beautiful, bustling capital of the
Highlands. A fine introduction to the area can be found at Inverness Museum. Then, for a truly atmospheric
experience, make the short journey to the battleground of Culloden where, in April 1746, 'Bonnie' Prince Charlie's Jacobite rebellion was
crushed by Government forces. Different branches of the Matheson clan
supported opposing sides during this turbulent period. Donald of Shinness
fought against the Jacobites in the 1715 rising but the cousins from the
Black Isle fought for the Jacobites here at Culloden.
We will now make our way west to Kintail and Lochalsh where Clan Matheson settled in their early history. There are two options for part of the journey. Either head south-east on the A9 and A86 to the villages of Kingussie and Newtonmore, where you'll find two fascinating Folk Museums . Here, more than 400 years of Highland history are brought to life in exhibitions which track the everyday experiences of clansman and crofter. Continue on the A86 but turn north at Spean Bridge onto the A82 and then onto the A87. Alternatively, for a shorter route travel from Inverness on the road to Drumnadrochit. Your journey takes you along the shore of Loch Ness, so look out for the monster! The splendid and atmospheric Urquhart Castle stands on the shore south of Drumnadrochit. There is a visitor centre with audio visual displays depicting the history of noble families who have held the castle. Continue along the shore of Loch Ness to Invermoriston, and west along Glen Moriston, onto the A87. Now take a stunning drive in the shadow of mountains, the Five Sisters of Kintail. By the shore of Loch Duich you will find Inverinate, part of the ancient clan lands. The Earls of Ross granted the Mathesons lands at Lochalsh, Lochcarron and Kintail in the 13th century. Centuries later Alexander Matheson bought Inverinate, having acquired great wealth from his involvement in the trading house of Jardine Matheson which was founded in 1827 to trade with China and India. In 1851 he also purchased the Barony of Lachalsh and was the Member of Parliament for Inverness. If you wish you can take an extra day to explore the countryside of Kintail and the beautiful waterfall, Falls of Glomach on foot. Start your hike at the Countryside Centre at Morvich Farm.
At the other end of the Loch is the beautiful and atmospheric Eilean Donan Castle . The present castle was actually built in the last century but there have been fortifications on the island for eight centuries. It was originally the stronghold of the MacKenzies but Matheson chiefs were sometimes given the honour of being appointed constable of the castle. On one such occasion in 1537 the constable, John Matheson, had to resist repeated attacks from the savage Donald Gorm of Sleat and although his defence was successful he was killed by a Macdonald arrow. The MacRaes now own the castle which is open to the public. A few miles to the west is Balmacara. Dugall of Balmacara was chamberlain of Lochalsh in 1631. His father Murdoch Buidhe was the clan chief and Dugall's elder brother Roderick became the chief on Murdoch's death, but then Roderick moved to the Black Isle, north-east of Inverness. Balmacara Estate and Lochalsh Woodland Garden is another area of beautiful scenery looking out to the Isle of Skye. The Matheson Clan had close links with the Donald Lord of the Isles in the early 1400s although later in the century they were set uncomfortably between the feuding Macdonalds and Mackenzies. Take this opportunity to visit the island of Skye to see what life is like in a Scottish island community. Make your way to Kyle of Lochalsh. The town here is often overlooked by passers-by but it has been here since the 1600s. The Lochalsh Hotel is a striking landmark, white against the granite hills behind and there is a busy but picturesque cargo and fishing harbour.
Over the bridge and you are now on the island of Skye. Turn south to visit the Armadale Castle Gardens and Museum of the Isles. Built in 1825 as the MacDonald clan seat, this neo-Gothic castle has been recently restored to create a museum charting the clan's reign as Lord of the Isles. In 1411 the Lord of the Isles laid claim to the Earldom of Ross for his wife and raised an army of Highlanders against a rival claimant, the Duke of Albany with his army of Lowlanders. The battle took place at Harlaw, (which is near Inverurie in Aberdeenshire). The Matheson Clan fought with Donald, Lord of the Isles and are said to have numbered over 2,000 warriors. Both sides lost many men during the battle and they each withdrew thinking they had lost. The Lord of the Isles lost so many men he never regained his previous powerful status. Drive north to Skye's largest settlement, the picturesque harbour village of Portree, where, in 1746, Bonnie Prince Charlie bade his final farewell to Flora MacDonald. It was Flora who had helped Charlie escape to Skye following his defeat at Culloden; the flight immortalised in the Skye Boat Song ('Speed bonnie boat...'). While here, visit the "Skye the Island" exhibition at Aros on the outskirts of Portree. If time permits, a trip to Dunvegan affords a wonderful opportunity to visit Dunvegan Castle and other local attractions, including the Colbost Croft Museum where the smoke from the peat fire creates an evocative atmosphere.
Leave Skye and head north around the coast. At the scenic village of Plockton is Duncraig Castle. This was built by the Jardine Matheson family in 1860 but is now privately owned. Continue round the shore of Loch Carron. Attadale lies on the east shore and it was Dugald an Oir who was the progenitor of the Mathesons of Attadale and Lochalsh, the ancestors of the wealthy Alexander Matheson. On the other side of the loch is Lochcarron and a short detour south is Strome Castle. The romantic ruins sit on a rocky promontory jutting out into the loch. It was built in 1472 by the Lord of the Isles and saw many battles, finally succumbing to a siege and being blown up in 1602. Continue north on the winding coastal road through Wester Ross, stopping off at the coastal resort of Ullapool. Now travel inland to Lairg at the south-east end of Loch Shin. Along a single track road on the north-east shore is Shinness. In the late 15th century the Mathesons settled here and were baillies to the Earls of Sutherand. Although remote, this area would have been populated by many crofters but in the early 1800s the then Duke of Sutherland decided that sheep grazing would be more profitable than the crofting rents and the Clearances began. Some 15,000 people were forced off the 1.5 million acres of the Sutherland estates.
Now head back towards Inverness. Gledfield House, Ardgay (near Bonar Bridge) was the seat of another branch of the family from Lochalsh, and to the south-east is the area of Black Isle where the Mathesons of Bennetsfield lived from 1688. John the second of Bennetsfield escaped from the Hanovarian troops at Culloden because of his cousin's support for the government troops who were unaware of his support for the Jacobites! If time allows, explore the Black Isle peninsula. North-east at the tip is Cromarty, a pretty town with a seafaring tradition. Hugh Miller's Cottage, the last thatched cottage in Cromarty, offers an insight into life in the early 1800s. Cromarty Courthouse Museum tells the history of the town using animated figures and audio-visual displays. Travel to the south-west through the RSPB bird reserve to Fortrose. You may see dolphins in the Moray Firth here. Fortrose dates back to the 1200s when the Cathedral of Ross was built. Explore the attractive streets of Victorian villas and the red stone remains of the cathedral.
On your way back to Inverness take a short detour to Beauly. Dougal Mac Ruadhri Mathesons, unlike most
other Mathesons, chose a more peaceful profession and was the Prior of
Beauly from 1498 to 1514 and sat in parliament. Beauly Priory was founded in 1230, the French monks
choosing the site for its great beauty. These monks attempted to produce
wine here and the tradition has continued at the Moniack Castle Winery a
few miles out on the road to Inverness.
Return to Inverness for another look round the beautiful city before leaving Scotland behind, but take with you memories of a place steeped in the history of your ancestors.
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