Near the tip of the Trotternish Peninsula, just a mile and a half south-west of the ruin of Duntulm Castle and a quarter of a mile east of the Skye Museum of Island Life, is one of Scotland's most fascinating - and most beautifully located - graveyards. Kilmuir Graveyard is well visited because of the identity of one person who was laid to rest here. It deserves to be better known for other reasons as well.
One gravestone at Kilmuir literally towers above all the others. This is the tall cross marking the last resting place of Flora MacDonald, the "Preserver of Prince Charles Edward Stuart" complete with an epitaph written by the notable author Samuel Johnson (who, with James Boswell had met Flora in life during their tour of the Highlands). This reads "Her name will be mentioned in history and if courage and fidelity be virtues, mentioned with honour." Seven other members of her family are also buried here.
It is said that Flora's funeral in 1790 was attended by 3,000 mourners, who between them drank 300 gallons of whisky. She was buried in a shroud said to have been made from a bed-sheet in which Bonnie Prince Charlie had slept. The imposing cross that marks her grave today was paid for by public subscription and erected in 1880. We've heard it suggested that this replaced an original mausoleum chipped away over the years by souvenir hunters, but that story has a slight feel of modern myth about it.
Speaking of myths, what we suspect to be another surrounds the magnificent grave marker with a carved effigy of a knight in armour that lies close to the very old chapel/burial enclosure at the far end of the main graveyard. This marks the grave of Angus Martin, or Aonghas na Geoithe ("Angus of the Wind"). Angus is said to have earned his nickname by insisting on going to sea whatever the weather, and he is believed to have married a Danish princess with whom he had seven sons.
So far, so good. Where credibility starts to get strained is the point in the story at which Angus is said to have stolen the grave slab you can see over his grave from the island of Iona, where it had previously been used to mark the grave of one of the Scottish kings buried there.
Setting aside the reaction of his contemporaries if he had actually done that, the main problem with this story lies in the excellent condition of the grave slab, and the style of the effigy carved on it. Comparison with those on view at the Iona Abbey Infirmary Museum shows two things. The first is that any detail on the grave markers of the early Scottish kings on Iona has long since been weathered away to nothing.
The second is that the effigy carved on Angus's grave marker is precisely the sort of thing you would expect to find on the grave of a clan chief from the late medieval period. The problem with myths is that they are too often a distraction: here the story detracts from the fact that this is a superb grave marker, well worth the trip to Kilmuir for its own sake alone.
Also worth the trip on its own would be the fascinating grave marker of Charles MacArthur, the last hereditary piper to the MacDonalds of Duntulm Castle. The inscription reads: "Here lie the remains of Charles MacKarter whose fame as an honest man and remarkable piper will survive this generation for his manners were easy and regular as his music and the melody of his fingers will"
And there the inscription ends, leaving the bottom 40% of the grave marker blank. It is said that the stone was commissioned by Charles' son, but when the son drowned in the Minch, the mason doing the work concluded he was unlikely to be paid, so simply stopped work at the point he had reached. There is, sadly, no record of what the missing part of the inscription would have said.
Yet another burial competes for attention at Kilmuir. The better preserved of the two stone structures at the east end of the graveyard is a burial enclosure commemorating Dr John MacLean. Opposite the doorway to the enclosure is an inscription in Latin which translates as: "Sacred to the memory of Johannis MacLean who being as distinguished in medicine as he was loved for his high principle pleasant manner and sound judgement died lamented by all on 1 May 1793 aged 85."
And if all of this was not sufficient reason to want to visit Kilmuir Graveyard, it is worth mentioning other items of interest. These include a memorial to fashion designer Alexander McQueen, a severely weathered standing gravestone that looks extremely old, and the head of a very old stone cross, simply lying unremarked in the grass near the memorial to Flora MacDonald.
Flora herself, and the seven other members of her family buried near her, have been given an unsurpassed location, with views that extend across The Minch to Harris and North Uist: though the tip of the nearby Waternish peninsula stops the views reaching round to include Flora's island of birth, South Uist.