Apothecary's Tower
Tower Skye Scotland

Apothecary's Tower

Tower In Skye, Scotland

A neoclassical tower that stands on top of a bluff overlooking Portree harbour.

Sitting on a rocky outcrop, overlooking the picturesque harbour of Portree on the Isle of Skye, stands a solitary tower with an intriguing history. The Apothecary's Tower, which dates back to 1835, is an octagonal structure of neoclassical style with no easily confirmable purpose.

The tower's origins can be traced back to the 1830s, a period of significant transformation for the Isle of Skye. Dr. Alexander MacLeod, a revered figure known locally as "An Dotair Ban" (the fair-haired doctor), commissioned its construction. A multifaceted individual, Dr. MacLeod wasn't merely a skilled physician; he was also a land steward, an engineer, and a philanthropist.

An article in a local paper during 1834 reported on plans to 'erect a beacon, or tower on the summit' of the rocky outcrop variously known as “Fancy Hill” or less romantically “The Lump” on land owned by Lord Macdonald and managed by MacLeod. The name “The Lump” comes from the translation of its Gaelic name “Meall na h-Acairseid” which means “Harbour Lump”.

The funding for the tower was to be collected by public conscription and its design was relatively simple, being a 20ft high octagonal structure with windows made of stained glass. In order to keep costs to a minimum, and perhaps in an early effort at sustainable architecture, the glass for the windows was made from many small diamonds of discarded broken glass.

Its intended use, however, remains clouded in mystery. The mention of a beacon doesn't seem to hold as there is no evidence of any lighting mechanism, it may possibly have been an observatory, a place of contemplation and retreat, or it may just be one our favourite things, a folly. This is perhaps borne out by comments made by MacLeod's grandson in 1899 in which he mentions his grandfather enjoyed erecting Celtic towers in locations where their presence would enhance the landscape.

The surrounds of the tower were laid out with winding walks and planting to create a pleasure grounds for locals and tourists to stroll around. Sadly a little over 10 years after MacLeod's death it was in ruins leading to a second subscription in 1875 to repair and improve the tower and surroundings. It was also decided that the location should be used for the Isle of Skye Highland Games and from around 1892 the games have indeed been held on this site, with only WWII and the recent Covid pandemic stopping it.

Later on its life the tower gained its nickname of “Apothecary's Tower” in homage to Dr. MacLeod's dedication to healthcare. His expertise in herbal remedies and unwavering commitment to the well-being of his community earned him immense respect. The tower, then, became a symbol of his legacy.

The panoramic view from its top, reached via a short climb up a steel spiral staircase, is simply magnificent. The town of Portree stretches out below, its colourful houses a delightful contrast to the deep blue water (depending on the weather on the day of your visit). Beyond the harbour, the rugged peaks of Skye dominate the horizon. On a clear day, the majestic outline of the Old Man of Storr, a natural rock pinnacle, can also be seen in the distance.

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How To Find Apothecary's Tower

Where Is Apothecary's Tower?

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57.410589, -6.191151

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Where To Park For Apothecary's Tower?

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57.412071, 57.412071

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Nearby parking is at the Green Car Park outside the tourist office.

Contributed by Andrew Gardner

I love being outdoors, in nature, and experiencing the relaxation it brings. Wandering through the northern countryside seeing unexpected buildings, historic places and occasionally surprised wildlife is one of life's great pleasures.

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Andrew Gardner

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Apothecary's Tower was listed in Tower // Scotland // Skye