It all seems wonderfully strange and grand until you learn that of the several Macdonald chiefs who make up Clan Donald—Glengarry, Sleat, and Clanranald being the most important—none owns any land and, with the exception of Kinloch Lodge, not a castle or a house between them that isn't a ruin. Godfrey's father died young and the estate, which had once included large tracts of Skye and North Uist, with mortgages and bonds going back to the 1800's, had to be sold to pay off death taxes. A familiar story in the Highlands. But in this case all was not lost.
When the estate was being broken up, some of his clansmen approached their new chief and asked if he would object to their buying back part of it for the clan. Godfrey encouraged them and the Clan Donald Lands Trust was formed in 1971. Twenty thousand acres were saved, and the Clan Donald Visitor Centre established around the ruins of Armadale Castle on the Sleat Peninsula. It now holds a museum, restaurants, rental cottages, a gift shop, garden, library, even a resident genealogist.
"People can come to study, they can pursue their family roots, they can walk on their own land. It's really quite an achievement," Godfrey says. He clearly enjoys running Kinloch Lodge, which in its own way has become another clan center. "Every year, I see hundreds of Macdonalds. Not just those who are guests. They ask to meet their chief, and I never refuse. It may be an inherited duty, but I feel the bond of our common ancestry very strongly. I consider myself fortunate to be what I am. Of course, on Skye," he adds, "you are judged for what you do, not who you are."
His own achievement, with Claire's energetic help and talent, in turning the dilapidated shooting lodge he inherited into a successful hotel has been remarkable. After 30 years, Kinloch is known all over for its heavenly food and unstuffy ambience. It has given Skye, ever a magnet to visitors thanks to its glorious Cuillin Mountains and romantic association with Bonnie Prince Charlie and Flora Macdonald, the reputation of a culinary destination. After all, it's where God chooses the wine.
Isle of Skye
Reachable via bridge from Kyleakin (www.skye.co.uk)
STAY AT Kinloch Lodge, Sleat; doubles from $534, including dinner and full breakfast; 44-1471/833-214; www.kinloch-lodge.co.uk. Ask for a view of the loch.
EAT AT Kinloch Lodge (see above)
Three Chimneys, Colbost, Dunvegan; 44-1470/511-258; three-course tasting menu for two $116; www.threechimneys.co.uk. Six guest rooms are also available.
CHECK OUT Armadale Castle Gardens and Museum of the Isles, Armadale, Sleat; 44-1471/844-305; www.highlandconnection.org/clandonaldcentre.htm. With a museum, restaurants, and rental cottages.
Dunvegan Castle, Dunvegan; 44-1470/521-206; www.dunvegancastle.com. House tours, restaurant, and cottages to rent.
Talisker Distillery, Carbost; 44-1478/640-203.
CLAN MACDONALD WEB SITE www.macdonald.com
Charles Maclean is a novelist who lives on an estate in Argyll with guesthouses to rent (see www.strachurcottages.co.uk). His latest book is The Silence (HarperCollins).