Sunday, May 14, 2017

Exploring the Towns, Brochs and Castles of the Isle of Skye

Continued from...
Part 1 -
Part 2 -
Part 3 -
Part 4 -
Part 5 -
Part 6 -
Part 7 -
Part 8 -

That first morning on the Isle if Skye, I was unable to enjoy the view from Hillview B&B because I awoke to rain, drizzle and fog.  It looked like the sun was trying to come out but the rain won and I never did see the sun that day.  Once again, breakfast was fit for royalty.  Eggs, sausages, fresh veggies and fruit, cereal, porridge, toast.  I certainly don't eat this well during breakfast at home!

With the group together again on the bus, it was decided that since the weather wasn't so great, we would take a scenic drive around the island and stop at a few attractions along the way.  I was pleased with this decision as it has always been my dream to tour the Isle of Skye because it's so renowned for it's rugged beauty and because I have ancestral ties to the island.  From what I gathered from other family members who had done research into the family background, I had connections to the Isle of Skye and to the Clan MacDonald.  When I mentioned this to Andrew (who, like everyone else I met in Scotland, never heard of the name MacEachern) he asked "which clan MacDonald?" because apparently there are quite a few.

As we drove further into more remote areas of the countryside, the road started to narrow until it was down to one lane with passing places every few hundred yards.  Eventually, we turned onto an even narrower road marked with a sign that read "buses not recommended" and all I could think at that point was "now this is my kind of tour!".  It's when you go off-the-beaten track that you see the things that aren't in the guidebooks.  As we drove along that narrow road, traffic became lighter until it is was nearly non-existent and neighborhoods turned into vast fields of sheep and lonely old farmhouses and steep valleys with deep blue-grey streams and rivers running through them.  Soon, the sea and other islands of the Inner Hebrides became visible.  There were some steep embankments along the narrow highway that made the drive a little nerve-wracking but the incredible scenery eventually drew my attention away from the road and to the far-reaching vistas before me.  It's safe to say that sheep outnumber people in those parts.  On that day, I saw a few other tour buses and the odd car but for the most part, those far-reaching remote areas of the Isle of Skye were pretty desolate.

When I was doing research for this trip, the Isle of Skye wasn't a part of my original itinerary until I started coming across information about it.  The pictures I viewed online were what did it for me and I made extra time and put aside extra money to make sure it was a part of my trip.  If you've never been to the Isle of Skye than be forewarned that if you look at the pictures online and expect to see the same thing in person, you will be disappointed; those pictures are very misleading.  The Isle of Skye is far more beautiful in person than any picture you will see anywhere.  And the island has more than looks going for it.  The history is intriguing, brutal and colorful and the people as hearty as they are friendly.  And one would have to be quite hearty to thrive in that wild (and, I'd imagine during the winter months, unforgiving!) landscape.

As we drove along, Andrew told us stories about that history and some of the notable people who were a part of it and I also learned about some random, but nonetheless, interesting facts about Scotland.  I learned about an extraordinary man named Callum MacLeod who, after becoming fed up with the state of traveling on his island of Rassay (a small island which can be seen from the Isle of Skye), single-handedly built a road.  I learned that the United Kindom, including Scotland, uses a mix of the Imperial and Metric systems.  I learned that one of the reasons there are so may sheep in Scotland is because they have no predators there.  I learned about the Highland Midge, a fly that is similar to what I know as mosquitoes here in Canada but much worse.  I learned that a popular travel company filmed a very comical commercial on the Isle of Skye and they cast some of the local sheep.  I had the opportunity to meet some of those sheep.  Well sort of.  

Our first stop (where we actually got out of the bus and ventured into the rain and wind) was at a 2500-year old tower (or Broch as it is commonly known in Scotland).  It was a bit of hike uphill to get to Dun Beag Broch and by that time the winds were hurricane-force mixed with monsoon rain.  Some of the people on my bus were reluctant to even go outside in that weather until Andrew reminding them that they may never get another chance to see it again.  I walked off the bus like it was just another day as I deal with similar weather frequently back home in Atlantic Canada. On the way up the hill, some tourists chased some sheep that were grazing near the trail.  It was quite funny.  I'm not sure the sheep thought so as it darted off into the field to join some other recently-spooked sheep.
Dun Beag Broch
Some Spooked Sheep

We continued driving into some more remote areas of the island, passing by notable landmarks including The Old Man of Stor and Kilt Rock with it's waterfall cascading 60 metres into the ocean. We visited the ruins of Duntulm Castle which has ties to the clan MacDonald of the area.  As I roamed those ruins, I wondered if I had ties to this castle somewhere down the line through my supposed connections to a Clan MacDonald on the Isle of Skye.
The ruins of Duntulm Castle
Kilt Rock with it's waterfall cascading 60 metres into the ocean

Our first big stop of the day was for lunch in the seaside capital of Portree.  I set out to explore the town on my own at first but met up with some of the others in the group who were going for lunch at a little cafe by the waterfront.  Cafe Arriba is a tiny, funky little place with a young and hip clientele.  We sat at the table at the back corner near a window overlooking the scenic waterfront and ordered some coffee and sweets.  This is when I got to know some of my fellow travelers a little more.  A retired couple from Calgary, a woman from Pennsylvania who recently retired in Florida, a widowed man originally from Italy who had been married to a Scottish woman.  This is the part about traveling I really enjoy.  Those dinners, lunches and drinks in far flung places with complete strangers from all over the world...who are like people you've known all your life after only a couple of hours and food and drinks.  With a about an hour to kill after we finished our lunch, we wandered the little streets of Portree in search of souvenirs.  I found a book about Callum MacLeod and his handmade road, a beautiful picture of the city of Edinburgh to hang on the wall of my new apartment and some scarfs for my sisters.
A sign on the wall of Cafe Arriba in the town of Portree.
A good read for the road.

The weather was starting to clear a little bit when we got back on the road to continue our circumnavigation of the Isle of Skye.  The next time we stopped, it was at a museum to visit some restored traditional black houses that were once widely used in the Highlands of Scotland.  There was a very nice gift shop there.  Unfortunately, due to the remoteness of the shop, there was no ATM or internet connection in the area and I had forgotten to get some cash so I was unable to purchase the items I'd been eyeing.
A traditional Black House

The rain was much heavier when we returned to the bus to settle in for the last leg of the day's journey.  We drove along some more remote country roads and despite the weather, the scenery was still among the most beautiful I'd ever seen.  Andrew purchased a CD at the gift shop and the beautiful sound of traditional Gaelic music lulled me in and out of a semi-sleeping state. 

Back in Broadford it was still raining so I had Andrew drop me off at the bottom of the hill so I could grab some takeout again.  I didn't feel like walking down the hill and back up again so at least this way, I would only have to do it once.  Macaroni pie and chips became somewhat of a staple for me in Scotland.  That evening, I stayed cozy and warm in my room at Hillview while the rain continued to fall and the wind howled through the night.  My last thought before slipping into a deep sleep was a wish for nicer weather the following day. 

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