Skyelark’s Travel Advisory – 300 Years of Local Experience by Ian Ross Macdonnell

With tongue firmly in cheek, Ian has selected some extracts from Martin Martin’s A Description of the Western Highlands of Scotland, written circa 1695 for readers considering joining the Chiefs’ Hosted Tour of Skye and Uist in 2006.

1.  “The air here is commonly moist and cold. This disposes the inhabitants to take a larger dose of brandy or other strong liquors than in the south of Scotland, by which they fancy that they qualify the moisture of the air. This is the opinion of all strangers, as well as of the natives, since the one as well as the other drinks at least treble the quantity of brandy in Skye and the adjacent isles that they do in the more southern climate.” (and, consequently?)

2.  “A native of this isle requires treble the dose of physic that will serve one living in the south of Scotland for a purge; yet an insider is easier purged in the south than at home. Those of the best rank are easier wrought on by purging medicines, than the vulgar.

3.  “The remedies used here to extract the poison of serpents are various. The rump of a house-cock stripped of its feathers and applied to the wound, doth powerfully extract poison, if timely applied. The cock is observed after this to swell to a great bulk, far above its former size, (I know – treble!) and being thrown out into the fields, no ravenous bird of best will ever offer to taste of it.”

ExtraFor the Gathering & Tour in Antrim, Ireland in 2008.

Due to St Patrick’s lasting influence in this far Western Isle, please amend the above, as below:

1.  For brandy/strong liquor, substitute “aqua vitae”… or mead; (double the quantity should suffice!)

2.  The Purge – again, double will do – ”to be sure, to be sure”! BUT, for the vulgar, stick to treble!

3.  Stripped rump of House-cock will (thank God) not be required!


It is three hundred years since Martin Martin’s great journey around the Western Isles, Orkneys and Shetlands. The first and one of the greatest of all travellers in Scotland, Martin is also unique in being the only native Gaelic speaker amongst them. This gives his account a unique and authoritative resonance which makes it, even today, a mine of information on the history, customs traditions and life of the Hebrides.

Martin’s father Donald Martin, son of Gille-Mhàrtainn, son of Aonghas na Gaoithe, soldiered with the MacDonalds of Sleat under the Duke of Montrose. He married Mairi (Mary), the daughter of Alasdair, brother of the Chief ‘Domhnall Gorm Og’ of Sleat in Skye. Martin Martin was, therefore, a cousin to the Clan (Donald) chiefs of his day”. This Mary’s grandmother was also called Mary (or Margaret) & was a ‘Macdonnell’, being from Ireland of The (Antrim) Glens and she was also married to a Skye McDonald chief, Archibald McDonald, C1575. (not earlier Iain Mhoir, Tanister and heiress Marjory Bissett of The Glens.)

The Skye Martins were a sept of the Sleat Donald Clan. Martin Martin was a “Governor” [tutor] to Chief Dòmhnall a’ Chogaidh between 1681 and 1686. “He was borne in the Isle of Sky, was Gobernour to ye Chieffs of ye Clans in ys isles and heth yt interest and favour with them, they will doe for him what they will do for no other, yr [their] Language is his Mother Language, and he is well acquainted with yr Maners and customes and is the person here most capable to Serve the Royall Society in the accounts of what relateth to ye description of ys Isles.”