It was a gesture of gratitude in 1222 when King Alexander II gifted lands round Loch Awe and Loch Fyne to Malcolm MacNachten. Little could the king know then that he was seeding this small clan right by the lion's den.
After breakfast at Thistle House this morning we looked across to that den. Shimmering in the morning mist across Loch Fyne was Inveraray Castle, home to the Duke of Argyll and seat of Clan Campbell, still small in 1222 but destined, by conquest and political astuteness, to become a dominant clan in Scotland and to control the MacNachten lands.
But it was reportedly neither battle nor politics that lost the MacNachtens their ancient seat of Dunderave Castle at the head of Loch Fyne. It was the demon drink. John, the last MacNaughtan laird intended to wed the younger daughter of Sir James Campbell of nearby Ardkinglas, but next day he woke up in bed with, and married to, the wrong daughter. They say Campbell pressed MacNaughtan to an overenjoyment of his Loch Fyne whisky. Anyway, John fled to Ireland with his love, the younger daughter. Dunderave passed bloodlessly to the Campbells and the MacNaughton clan chief still lives in Northern Ireland.
Dunderave is now owned by an American eye surgeon generous enough to allow my clients and me to see round his beautifully furnished castle, despite being there on holiday himself. We saw the famous 'Red Banner Room' and pictures of the castle before and after its restoration by Robert Lorimer in 1911. Afterwards there were stunning views down Loch Fyne.
It was a memorable experience for Grant and Barbara MacNaughton from New Zealand. And more was to come as we headed north to Loch Awe. Under blue Argyll skies, we took a boat out to Fraoch Eilean to investigate the oldest standing castle of the MacNaughtons, then we chugged across to Eilean Innishail, ancient burial place of the clan. Innishail is also the current burial place of the Campbell chiefs; I was interested to see the gravestone of the 12th Duke of Argyll who died in 2001... but didn't trouble to point it out.