Clan Matheson itinerary

Clan Matheson has a courageous history with ancestors following King Kenneth McAlpin in the 9th century, while 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.

This six-day itinerary takes you through the ancestral lands of Ross-shire where you can uncover the story and connections to Clan Matheson.

  • Armadale Castle, Skye
    Armadale Castle, Skye
  • Looking up the main driveway of Dunvegan Castle and Gardens
    Dunvegan Castle and Gardens
  • Old woman in historic dress cooks at an open hearth in the centre of a reconstruction of an old croft house
    The Highland Folk Museum, Newtonmore
  • The ruins of Urquhart Castle on Strone Point as seen across the bay at Drumnadrochit, Loch Ness
    Urquhart Castle on Strone Point, Loch Ness

Start your journey in Inverness, capital of the Highlands and visit the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery for an introduction to the area through exhibits and displays.

On the outskirts of the city visit the infamous Culloden battlefield, site of the 1746 Jacobite rebellion and the crushing defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie by government forces. The Matheson clan supported opposing sides during this turbulent period with Donald Matheson of Shinness fighting against the Jacobites in the 1715 battle while relatives from the Black Isle fought for the Jacobites at Culloden.

On your way back to Inverness take a short detour to Beauly where Dougal Mac Ruadhri Matheson was Prior of Beauly from 1498 to 1514. Beauly Priory was founded in 1230, with monks attempting to produce wine here, with the tradition continuing at the Moniack Castle Winery a few miles out on the road to Inverness. Please note the winery is closed to the public.

The areas of Kintail and Lochalsh to the west were where Clan Matheson settled in their early history.

From Inverness, head south to experience 400 years of Highland history at the Highland Folk Museum in Newtonmore where exhibits and displays chart the everyday experiences of clansmen and crofters. From here, continue on the A86 but turn north at Spean Bridge onto the A82 and then onto the A87 towards the Kyle of Lochalsh.

For an alternative and shorter route, take the road from Inverness to Drumnadrochit. This journey will take you along the shores of Loch Ness, so be sure to look out for Nessie, the resident monster! The splendid and atmospheric Urquhart Castle stands on the shore south of Drumnadrochit and includes 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 on the A87 from where you can enjoy the stunning drive in the shadow of 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 and centuries later Alexander Matheson bought Inverinate.

Start your third day with a visit to the iconic fortress of Eilean Donan Castle which lies at the meeting place of the three great sea lochs, Alsh, Duich and Long. Originally a stronghold of the Mackenzies, the Mathesons were occasionally granted the honour of being constables of the castle. It is now owned by the Macraes and is open to the public.

From here, head west to the Kyle of Lochalsh, from which point you can travel over the bridge to the Isle of Skye. In the south of the island, visit the Armadale Castle Gardens and Museum of the Isles at Clan Donald Skye, which gives a fascinating account of Highland clan history, and is where you can uncover the Matheson’s turbulent connections to Donald, Lord of the Isles.

While on Skye, head for the picturesque harbour village of Portree, where, in 1746, Flora MacDonald bade Bonnie Prince Charlie farewell. She had helped him escape to Skye following the Jacobite’s defeat at Culloden.

Visit the cultural hub of Aros Skye or head to the west of the island and visit the iconic Dunvegan Castle, home of Clan Macleod. Other local heritage attractions worth visiting include the Colbost Croft Museum where the smoke from the peat fire creates an evocative atmosphere.

Head back over the Skye bridge and travel north Plockton which is home to Duncraig Castle which was built in 1866 by the Matheson family. The castle has been transformed into luxury accommodation and is currently closed for refurbishment, but is due to reopen in spring 2014.

Continue north on the winding coastal road through Wester Ross and stop off at the coastal resort of Ullapool, before travelling inland to Lairg at the south-east end of Loch Shin.

A single track road on the north-east shore takes you to Shinness, where the Mathesons settled in the late 15th century and acted as baillies to the Earls of Sutherland. Despite its remoteness, this area would have been populated by many crofters. However, in the early 1800s, the Duke of Sutherland decided sheep grazing would be more profitable than rents gathered from crofts and so began the Highland Clearances which forced some 15,000 people from the Sutherland estates.

On your way back to Inverness, stop off at Ardgay near Bonar Bridge where Gledfield House (now private accommodation) was the seat of another branch of Mathesons, from Lochalsh.

Head south-east to the Black Isle where the Mathesons of Bennetsfield lived from 1688. If time allows, explore this beautiful peninsula which includes the last thatched cottage in Cromarty. Hugh Miller’s Cottage offers an insight into Highland life in the early 1800s and was the birthplace of the acclaimed writer, editor and geologist. You can also visit the Cromarty Courthouse Museum which gives further insight into the life in the area during the early 19th century.