Churches to Visit

27 January 2017

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Photo: St Monan's Auld Kirk

Scotland is blessed with some of the most impressive churches in Europe. Some are worth a visit because of their amazing architecture, others due to their fascinating history and some for the artefacts on display there. They tell stories of our pagan past, superstition and mythology as well as our Christian heritage. Many are still in use today.

A short walk from the cosiness of Taigh Eilidh, right on the stunning north tip of Lewis will take you to one of the most interesting churches you will find anywhere. St Moluag’s has a long and colourful history. It was once the location for traditional Samhain rituals where beer brewed in the church would be poured into the water at nearby Stoth Bay as an offering to Shony the sea god. Right into the 1800s it was also used as a cure for insanity with one night under its roof being enough to cure any madness. If that’s not enough curiosity then a closer look at the layout reveals a unique T shape. It is believed that this is so that pilgrims who were afflicted with communicable diseases could worship without coming into contact with the rest of the congregation.

On the south of Harris, right on the Golden Road lies another fascinating piece of history. Rodel church was built in 1520 and is the finest medieval building in the Western Isles. Amongst its stunning architecture lies an extremely rare example of a shelagh na gig. This shows the goddess of fertility giving birth and was placed here for good luck and to ward off death and evil. A companion piece, The Lewd Man of Rodel can also be found here. For obvious reasons I won’t describe it any further, instead use your imagination, or better still, go see for yourself. Rodel church is actually visible from one of the best places to stay in the area, St Clement’s View. A short walk along a scenic coastal footpath will have you there in no time. In contrast to the austerity of the church this is a 5 star traditional croft house, built for relaxing with a view.

St Monan’s Auld Kirk is one of the few remaining medieval churches in Scotland still in use. It occupies an inspiring position right on the Fife coastal path and only metres from the sea. Its origins date back to 875 when a shrine was established to venerate the memory of Saint Monan. David II, the son of Robert the Bruce, ordered the building of a church on the site in 1346 after recovering from battle wounds at the saint’s intervention. Inside, the church is decorated in a maritime theme which reflects its proximity to the water and the influence fishing and sailing had on the local community here. It’s a beautiful stroll from here to The Secret Cottage, which lies just a few km east along the Fife coastal path in the picturesque town of Anstruther.  This modern, architect designed conversion makes a brilliant base for exploring the many attractions of the East Neuk.

Croick Church is one of the most important in Scotland, not because of its location or architecture but what it represents. Not only is it a living history lesson but it is also a poignant memorial to the injustices of the Highland clearances and should be on everyone’s must-visit list. Designed by Thomas Telford and built 10 miles up the picturesque Strathcarron, this finely preserved building is famous for the role it played in highlighting the plight of villagers who were cleared off their land to make way for sheep. A Times journalist reported in 1845 of 80 homeless people sheltering in the churchyard, a story that was to scandalise the nation and eventually lead to an end to the brutal practice. The evicted villagers scratched messages into the panes of glass in the church windows which are still visible today. It is not known what became of them but the story of their suffering remains immortalised here. Services are still held regularly on Sundays. Migdale Water Mill lies just outside of the nearest village to Croick. A brilliant historic building full of character that has been renovated to the highest standard and within easy reach of beaches and mountains.