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Meet John

I am a Blue Badge guide and I offer guided tours of Scotland for small groups

A Brief History

My full name is John Robert Mackay Harbour and I'm wearing the Mackay tartan. I am a Blue Badge guide and I offer guided tours of Scotland for small groups. My professional life was at sea and as a Commander in the Royal Navy, I’ve seen the world. From Rio to Australia and from the USA to Japan, I’ve made great friends along the way. I’ve witnessed history in the making, seeing South Africa during and after apartheid, and Berlin before and after the fall of the Wall. I’ve even welcomed HRH Prince Charles aboard my ships, HMS CHARYBDIS and LEWISTON, and served for a time with HRH Prince Andrew onboard HMS BRAZEN. More recently I worked in Brussels for the new European Union Military Staff, bringing my French to fluency and making great friends from all over Europe. Later I served as spokesperson for the European Union Naval Forces off Somalia, commenting on anti-piracy issues and visiting Djibouti and Kenya to get close to the action. My last appointment was serving as the Royal Navy's Media and Communications Fleet specialist Influence adviser. I am also a member of the Institute of Directors (IoD) and a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute (FCMI)

The Navy may have been my life, but I’ve found time to get to know Scotland too with tours to every part of this wonderful country.
I welcomed visitors to my guest house (The Old School House, Gartocharn) on Loch Lomond for seven years, touring Scotland when time allowed and gathering a wealth of knowledge about the history, natural environment, sport and culture of every corner of our country.

I love meeting people and making friends. I believe that’s the key to the success of Exclusive Scottish Visits - I run a highly professional business (and I’m honing my skills as a member of the Scottish Tour Guides Association that provides Blue Badge Guides around Scotland) with a personal, friendly and enthusiastic approach.
I would be delighted to be your private tour guide so get in touch by simply completing our contact form and we can start planning your private guided tour of Scotland.

Logo - Background

Osprey Logo

I’ve used the osprey in my logo as I feel it represents my company so well. This magnificent bird travels thousands of miles during the summer months on its own private tours of Scotland from wintering grounds as far away as West Africa. Once it’s here, it nests and rears its young in the most beautiful parts of the Scottish countryside. There’s a very good chance of seeing ospreys if you’re here at the right time of year - although I can’t guarantee the appearance of wild animals or birds on a specific day, as they don’t always read my itineraries! One thing’s for sure; I do know the most picturesque places to look for them on our tour.

Mackay History

The Mackays, like many other Highland communities suffered the worst of the highland clearances:
Beginning in the late 1700s, waves of evictions swept through the Highlands of Scotland, as the landlords discovered their land was worth more when used for deer hunting or to raise livestock than was when used for crops. To exploit this new opportunity for capital revenue hundreds of thousands of Scots were expelled from the land. Written records of the clearances were forbidden and thus it is impossible to know exactly how many people were butchered or forced to leave the country. However, based on agricultural production and tax records, among other sources, it is estimated that some 75,000 Scot's suffered the fate of the clearances.

The Mackays that did find work in foreign lands were well known for their determination, excellent workmanship and loyalty. It is said (one of many explanations) this is where the term “the real McCoy” comes from in that if you wanted a job done well i.e. the real thing, then employ a Mackay.

SKERRAY (Sgeireadh in Gaelic – rock in the sea)
Skerray is a small crofting community on the north coast of Sutherland. It lies at the heart of the ‘Land of Clan Mackay’ and occupies a rocky promontory between Tongue in the west and Bettyhill to the east. The name ‘Skerray’ means, literally, “between the rocks and the sea”.
There are 11 townships scattered across the windswept moors and cliffs: Torrisdale, Achtoty, Lotts, Clashaidy, Clashlevan, Achnabat, Clashbuie, Modsary, Lamigo, Stathanbeg, Strathan, and the deserted village of Slettel. There are two important offshore islands, Island Neave The Priest’s Island close to Skerray Harbour, and, one mile from the harbour, Island Roan, inhabited until December 1938..

Clan Mackay History

By far the largest clan the Mackays are a hardy race, mountain bred and extremely influential not only in their homeland but in the wider Scotland and the world beyond.

From the North West Highlands of Scotland, the Mackays descend from Old Maormors or rulers of Caithness. The first Clan chief on record is Angus Dow (Dubh) Black Angus and from the beginning of the 15th century later chiefs can be traced. The territory, now known as Sutherland, is widely known as Mackay country and the reason for the Sutherland tag is explained later. The first Lord of Reay the most powerful man in the district was a Mackay and his relations owned vast tracts of land. The earliest sect of the Mackay clan was known as the Abrachs originally from Achness. State documents recognise the chief as proprietor of the entire province of Strathnaver that extended from the western seaboard between Assynt and Cape Wrath to the Caithness frontier in the east. He was described as the leader of four thousand fighting men.

Towards the end of the 16th century, the Mackay chieftains became prominent in the religious struggle then prevailing and especially Donald Mackay of Farr, afterwards the First Lord of Reay. Donald Mackay was born in 1590 and succeeded his father Huistean Dhu as chief of the Mackays in 1614. It is not quite clear whether Huistean was the first of the Mackays to become Protestant and that his heir followed his father's example or whether young Donald took the initiative. In 1616, the honour of Knighthood was conferred upon the young Highland Chief in the presence of the Prince of Wales later Charles I. After the Reformation they were ardent supporters of the Protestant cause and the chief Sir Donald Mackay raised a clan regiment which he took to the continent to fight in the thirty years war. For this service he was raised to the Scottish peerage and took the title of Lord Reay. It was at this point the Mackays suffered the first of a series of financial disasters that led to their downfall. The first Lord Reay had used up most of his resources in the Protestant cause in the service of Charles I. With no compensation he was forced to sell part of his lands to the Earl of Sutherland. This was the first of uncounted sales, the end came in 1829 when the Seventh Lord Reay sold the last of his estates, thus the Sutherland realised an ambition, which they had failed to achieve in warfare and the county is today named Sutherland.

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