Probably one of the most famous of songs about Scottish history, it tells of the flight of Bonnie Prince Charles Edward Stuart, by boat, to the Isle of Skye off the north-west of Scotland. A great help at this time was Flora MacDonald, and the gap, (only a few hundred yards) between mainland and the island has always been symbolic and treasured by those who wanted to remember the historical significance.
We had only once before been temptingly-close, when we visited friends many years ago at Dornie. However this Easter saw us going across the wonderful short bridge from Kyle of Lochalsh to Kyleakin on the island. At one time after the bridge was built, there was a punitive toll imposed, which kept many visitors away, but following public reaction, the bridge became free to cross in 2004.
It had been damp on the four hour drive going north (only 200 miles), with a fiercely-cold wind, but the welcome at the Strathgorm B & B near the village of Broadford more than made up for it. We dined that evening at The Claymore, a coothie pub/restaurant with many languages (Polish, German, Swiss, French, Japanese, Italian, and even a few English folk!) in evidence from the packed tables. A short walk to see the lights of the harbour, and acquisition of some of the local beer and Isle of Skye whisky blend followed, before a cup of tea, home-made cake and a chat with the owner of the B & B rounded off a rather tiring day!
The wind was un-abated during the night but the view in the morning over the sea boded better, and a hearty breakfast of porridge, bacon, sausages, eggs, black pudding, mushrooms, coffee, etc set us up for our first venture. For those who don’t know, there are two main round-trip travel routes on the island. They are both leaf-shaped, and our first day was to take the road to the northern peninsula. From the flat lands at the south of the island, we drove into what are called the Cuillins… a massive range of dour dark mountains with deep valleys. But what is wonderful about them is the views they afford. Every turn in the road gives a new vista of water, deep fjords under hills vanishing into the distance, in a blue/grey haze. We were so lucky that with the ever-present wind, the appearance of clouds was followed very quickly with a watery sun, and then with bright blue skies and an un-imaginable clarity of light.
After but a few miles further on, the hills give way again to a flat area in the middle of the island, where we come upon Portree, the major town of the island. A busy little harbour has multi-coloured houses and shops, as is more commonly seen in Tobermory (or Balamory, for the young ones amongst you).
Uig is another small village on the peninsula, boasting a ferry terminal….so essential for the life of the area. Almost at the northern end of the peninsula, we visited the Museum of Island Life and the grave of the afore-mentioned Flora MacDonald. We then had a superb run down the east coast past the Old Man of Storr, part of a series of jagged peaks which require further investigation at some later visit.
We ate that night at a specialist seafood restaurant ‘The Creelers’…..not really surprising, as Skye is surrounded by such wonderful food. And we slept very well that night!
We were joined for breakfast on Easter Sunday morning by a young Japanese couple, and were surprised that many words such as bacon, sausage, mushrooms, and tomato are words which appear in Japanese usage! Off this time to the western peninsula with Dunvegan Castle as the place to visit. It has wonderful grounds, especially the water garden, and an hour’s walk in the heat was enough for tired legs.
In complete contrast, we wanted to see the small village of Stein, which lay down a steep slope to a peaceful beach. A dozen white-washed houses, a pub and the Stein Restaurant provide a place to refresh oneself in tranquil surroundings. On the way back we called-in at Staffin pier where they were filming an advert for a new Bently car.
Sadly we had to return south on Monday, but not before visiting Plockton, with its palm trees due to the heat of the Gulf Stream, walking in Balmacara Woodland Garden, seeing again the mountains called the Five Sisters of Kintail, the Great Glen to Fort William, Glencoe…and all before getting into a traffic jam in the Pass of Leny before Callander!
650 miles travelling in the most concentrated beauty imaginable. Not exactly the most restful weekend we have had, but unforgettable!….and even if Prince Charlie had never gone there, I think it would still have the charm and beauty we witnessed recently for the first time.