This A to Z could have been Sydney, or San Francisco, two extraordinarily beautiful places and back to which I have been drawn on more than one occasion. But because they are so iconic I’m torn between the two and instead will plump for the Isle of Skye, off the west coast of Scotland, part of the Inner Hebrides.
I first heard of Skye at primary school in lessons about Bonnie Prince Charlie and the 1745 rebellion. We were taught a glamorised story of the underdog’s derring-do against the superior English forces. The bloodshed – mostly caused by the despicable English in the eyes of our Scottish teacher – was rather cartoonish as I recall and the fact a lot of lowland Scots fought with the English underplayed. I remember her Scottish country dancing lessons (and a spell in a neck brace as a result) as well as the singing of a really rather good and uplifting folk song, the chorus of which goes
Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing,
Onward! the sailors cry;
Carry the lad that’s born to be King
Over the sea to Skye.
I wanted to go.
Roll the clock on 20 years and the Textiliste and I began our love affair with Scotland which continues to this day. We bought our first car in 1983 and holidayed in Scotland for the first time in 1984 – somewhere near Oban. We went back for every year for the next ten years, working our way up the west coast – Strontian, Glen Nevis, Plockton, the Applecross Peninsula. After a pause with the children small and long drives less than popular we started up again in 1998 and pretty much haven’t missed a year since.
I don’t remember exactly what year we first crossed to Skye. In the mid 80s that meant a ferry to Kyle of Lochalsh. Now there’s a bridge but there’s something romantic – perhaps bringing back memories of sun dappled classrooms – in driving onto a ferry (even one as battered as the Caledonian Macbrayne boat), as the sun dipped of an evening – we knew it wouldn’t set until after midnight – such a bizarre experience this all day sunshine and something I’ve never really become accustomed to.
From there we’d drive to Portree, for haggis, neeps and tatties followed by a cloutie dumpling and custard perhaps. It might not be subtle food but it packs a punch and I love it.
Topographically Skye, for me, is a curious mix. Sympathetic on the eye as you drive around, the lowland areas you are always aware that soon enough you’ll encounter the sharp-pointed Cuillin. These towering mountains, especially the Black Cuillin are both exhilarating to walk amongst, not least for the scree running, but scary as paths disappear and no compass works amongst these magnetic massifs.
One time a close friend and I walked the length of Glen Sligachan with the Red Cuillin looming above us. From our guide book, the only challenge appeared to be fording the river. The guide books said it was easy. What they didn’t explain, beyond a note on the hand drawn map that came with it, was this thing called the ‘Bad Step’.
This bad step was in fact a huge smooth Boulder at least twenty feet high that blocked the path and hung over the North Atlantic, not the most forgiving of water features. Boy did it look scary.
In fact it proved straightforward, once your taken your mind to a different place and decided you weren’t walking back the way you’d come. Overcoming it gave us both a huge boost and we finished the rest, ford and all in good time.
You forget the details, don’t you? I recommended the walk to a work colleague – ‘you’ll be fine’ I said. I didn’t realise he would take his young family. His daughter, twelve, slipped and broke her jaw. I felt guilty, of course, as did he. I stopped recommending walks after that.
We also discovered a gem of a place to eat. We came across the Three Chimneys restaurant in 1987 I think, purely by chance. it hadn’t been open long. It’s in the middle of nowhere, Colbost from memory, but worth the trek. These days you need to book
We are going back to Skye this June on our way to Harris and Lewis and our first visit to the outer Hebrides. Two nights in Portree and some sight seeing before the ferry. Maybe we will pop in again. I’m sure we will enjoy it and so, I’m sure will you.
PS if you are English and contemplating visiting, be advised of one thing. Following the Act of Union in 1707 or whenever the Scottish Enlightenment movement genetically modified their midge population – if you are not familiar with the midge they are a sort of flying piranha – so that they feed best on English blood. There’s no protection.