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St Finan's Church in Kinlochmoidart is all too easy to overlook. If you are heading towards Acharacle, then the single track A861 passes along the north shore of Loch Moidart and the layby at the cairn marking the Seven Men of Moidart before turning to cross the River Moidart. A sign at the point the road turns south directs you up a short track to a parking area, intended primarily for those following the Prince's Walk.
This is a walk named in memory of the week spent at Kinlochmoidart House by Bonnie Prince Charlie between first his landing on the Scottish mainland at Loch nan Uamh and the raising of his standard at Glenfinnan on 19 August 1745, marking the beginning of the 1745 Jacobite uprising. Kinlochmoidart House was burned to the ground by government troops in the aftermath of the failed uprising during their brutal suppression of the Highlands and Islands, but a new house was built by the Glasgow distiller Robert Stewart in 1885. This still stands today, about half a mile to the east of the parking area.
But it's not Kinlochmoidart House we've come to see. Follow (on foot) what appears to be a forestry track heading north and uphill from the parking area, and after a short distance you catch your first glimpse of St Finan's Church.
St Finan's was built in 1858 by the then owner of the Moidart Estate, Robertson MacDonald. St Finan's is part of the Scottish Episcopal Church, a member of the world-wide Anglican Communion which traces its history back to St Columba and the early days of Christianity in Scotland. Like its sister-church south of the border, the Church of England, the Scottish Episcopal Church is governed by Bishops. This is one of the things that distinguishes it from the much larger Church of Scotland, a Presbyterian Church governed by representatives of the congregation.
This may not initially sound like a major difference, but it was King Charles I's efforts to impose government by Bishops on the Presbyterian Church of Scotland which led to a riot in St Giles' Cathedral in Edinburgh on Sunday 23 July 1637. This in turn led directly to the Bishops' Wars; the Wars of the Covenant; the English Civil War; the execution of Charles I; and Cromwell's occupation of Scotland: 23 years of wide-ranging conflict that did not really end until the restoration of Charles II in 1660. Those days are, thankfully, long gone, but it helps to know that differences of opinion about church governance were once, quite literally, a matter of life and death.
The Episcopal Church is, and always has been, a minority church in Scotland. But in the the mid 1800s it was estimated that three quarters of the "landed proprietors of Scotland" were Episcopalians, a by-product of so many sons being educated at English public schools. One result was a significant number of often small and usually very attractive churches being built across Scotland. St Finan's was one of them.
The site selected is on a shelf offering views over Loch Moidart. Having seen the church from the track below, you approach it from a junction to its east, beneath a superb avenue of majestic trees. The church was designed by the architect Alexander Ross and is Early English in style, albeit with distinctly Scottish crowstepped gables. It comprises a nave and a chancel, separated from one another by a pointed chancel arch. The interior of the steeply ridged roof is open and the overall effect is warm and welcoming. One slight oddity we've not seen explained is why the interior of the north wall of the nave has a natural stone finish, while the interior of the south wall has a white painted plaster finish.
There is some very attractive stained glass on show in the church, including the triple window in the east gable above the altar. Especially striking are the two windows by the artist Jemima Blackburn, including one depicting the crucifixion installed in memory of Captain W.J. Robertson who died on 26 June 1869.
The estate passed to the Stewart family in the 1880s. By the mid 1900s the church had fallen into disuse, but it was restored in 1965 to serve as a venue for the wedding of the daughter of the then owner of the estate, Major General Stewart. It reopened for normal services the following year, and in 1972 joined with St Mary's, Strontian. Services continue in both churches.
After crossing the River Moidart the road climbs Drynie Hill. Like most roads in the area this has always been single track. It was therefore a surprise to find on our visit in Summer 2012 that Highland Council had just finished completely upgrading it. It's unusual to find any road, anywhere, in quite such pristine condition!