Uig Tower / Captain Fraser's Folly

Written by Chris Thornton | 30th of December 2022
Uig Tower / Captain Fraser's Folly

In the 1860s, Uig Tower (also known as Captain Fraser's Folly) on the Isle of Skye was built as a place for tenants to pay their rent for the Kilmuir Estate.

The destruction of Uig Lodge

Uig Lodge, the home of Major William Fraser and owner of the estate, was washed away in the great flood of 1877 and could be the primary reason he decided to raise the rents for his estate tenants in 1884.

Kilmuir Estate rent strike

This led to a rent strike in which the tenants refused to pay or fulfil their obligations to the landlord. Fraser attempted to evict a family from their croft at Garafad, Staffin, as part of the Highland clearances, but the family resisted, and the rent strike grew.

Government intervention

Fraser called on the government for help, claiming that the tenants were rebelling. The government sent a flotilla of three ships carrying 400 marines and police officers to Uig Bay. However, the local hoteliers refused to provide lodgings for the police, and the ferrymen quit in protest, causing the marines to march on Staffin to deal harshly with any resistance.

When they arrived, they were met with warmth, Union flags, and mocking white flags, but no crofters. Instead, they were followed by young girls who made suggestive comments in Gaelic, which the English soldiers did not understand but interpreted as inappropriate.

The excessive show of force was reported in The Times. The Home Secretary - Sir William Harcourt - quickly ordered the military to stand down, stating that "there was to be no question of using troops for political purposes" and that "there was no question of the British army assisting island landlords to evict island tenants." Most of the marines left by the end of 1884, with the last few remaining until the summer of 1885.

A victory for the islanders

As a result of the unrest, the Highland Land League successfully ran candidates for Parliament in 1885, and their efforts led to the passing of the Crofter's Holding Act in 1886. Under this act, the government took over Major Fraser's estate, and 85 new crofts were created for families while 268 other crofts were improved.

The tower was later used as a family home but has been abandoned since the 1950s. It would make an ideal museum for the highland clearances and the islander's brave standoff against Major Fraser.

The design of Uig Tower

Uig Tower is a grand nineteenth-century folly, a two-storey structure that boasts a Romanesque design and narrow lancet windows arranged in a cross shape. Despite its appearance as a typical Norman round tower, it served no military purpose and was purely built for decorative purposes, showcasing the wealth and status of Major Fraser.

It is now a category B-listed building and owned by a local landowner.

How to get to Uig Tower

  1. Make your way to the Isle of Skye via road (crossing the Skye Bridge near Kyle of Lochalsh), or fly from the main Scottish cities, Inverness, Glasgow or Edinburgh. There are no trains on Skye.

  2. Once you have arrived on the Isle of Skye, locate the town of Uig northwest of Portree by following the A87.

  3. In Uig, you can find the tower directly opposite the Uig Hotel. There is space for around seven cars in the car park, just off the A87 on the left if travelling from the south.

  4. Uig tower stands in a field on the southern headland opposite Rubha Idrigil; see the photos to see what it looks like.

  5. If you wish to enter the tower, be aware that it is currently abandoned and may not be safe. If you decide to go inside, be cautious and respect the property.

  6. It's possible to get a better photograph further south from the hotel near the bus stop.

A nineteenth-century folly located in Uig, Skye.
Uig Tower with the bay in the background.

Conclusion

Uig Tower is an interesting place to visit on your tour around Skye. The moral story of the brave islanders uniting to stand up to a wealthy landowner is worthy of retelling to all that will listen.

Location map of Uig Tower. Norman style

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