Visions of Scotland 3 – Skye

Skye 1

Kyle’s main purpose is its link with the Isle of Skye. The mainland railhead here connected by ferry with the island. This was superseded by the creation of the Skye bridge, an impressive arch just north of the town. Early morning we’re across, ready to spend the day in exploration.

Skye 2

It’s a large island and we’ve picked the northern portion, including the main town of Portree. Crossing the bridge is itself akin to flying, but without the anticlimax of landing. In Skye the heart soars with each vista, heaven reflected in its lakes and mountains, God’s breath in its firmament. From Kyleakin on, the scenery never dips, each corner anticipated to trump what’s gone before.

Portree

Portree

Portree is pleasant to potter around. Coming in from the empty hinterland, there’s plenty of life and commerce. The high town has a square and a couple of lively streets. There is, inevitably, a Bank Street. Plenty of shops, too, and a few decent pubs. There’s a drop down to a colourful dockside. The town curves around the bay, the housing arrayed attractively in terraces above. I’d reckon this is a good haven for sketching, although we don’t have time to indulge.

It’s a sunny day and we stop for attempted refreshments in the square where a coffee shop, or so it says, has outside seating. Sadly, we must endure another bout of Scottish service. Try to place the order inside and are told we’ll be attended on. But as regards waiting, we’re the ones doing it. Repeat process and finally give up. What is that all about? I bring money which presumably pays the wages of employees. Yet too often in Scotland there’s little interest in this transaction. Shades of Yugoslavia. Though at least the Scots are pleasant.

Old Man of Storr

Old Man of Storr

We head up the coast to the Old Man of Storr. This is a startling formation, not unlike a raised and weathered Giant’s Causeway. The geological formation is similar, being made of basalt, resulting from the rapid cooling of ancient submarine lava. There’s a well worn path snaking upwards. The destination is a bit further than we’d bargained so thirty minutes in we get to a good vantage point about halfway up and enjoy the view. Much debate on the exact configuration of the Old Man himself, but while we differ on details, I figure it’s pretty convincing.

Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park

There was a time when Dinosaurs strode the land about here. Staffin is Scotland’s Jurassic park. The name is Viking for Land of the Pillars, as evident in the alternatively descriptive Kilt Cliff. Where Mealt waterfall plunges over nearby cliffs into the sea there’s a graphic giving more details concerning the terrible lizards. Talking to a fellow traveller, we’re directed to a crofter’s cottage which local scientist, Dughall Ros has turned into a museum. You can buy ancient artifacts, large and small here. Dughall was bitten by the dino bug when just a kid and devotes his career to mining the benefits of the area. Even more precious, he’s willing and able to pass on his knowledge to the interested traveller. Time well spent talking to him, purchasing some interesting goods while we’re at it.

Further on, there’s a slightly more successful coffee stop. Strangely though, the proprietor greets us with “we’re closing in half an hour.” It’s only three o’clock! Oh well, who wants to eat anyway? Perhaps the hitchers who depart hungry and perplexed. We do manage to wolf down a tasty slice of cake.

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We continue on through the majestic and desolate landscape of Quirang at the top of the island. Returning to the mainland we continue past Kyle to Plockton, which a fellow guest has recommended for its drinking and dining pleasures. This was more how I imagined Hamish MacBeth’s stomping ground. Picturesquely situated around a secluded, wooded loch there are a number of attractive eateries. Plockton Hotel has a cozy bar in deeply gleaming wood and brass. I have an excellent local brew which may be called Schiehallion – try saying that after a few! The restaurant’s popular and we find out why. Good food and friendly service. Worth waiting for. If I ever get back to these parts, and I hope to, I think I’ll stay here.

Plockton

Plockton

Visions of Scotland – 2

Fort William to Kyle of Localsh

 

Glen Nevis

Glen Nevis

Before leaving Fort William, we must first set foot on Ben Nevis, mightiest mountain in the Celtic Isles. The mountains are obscured by clouds, but that’s just Scotland’s version of the dance of seven veils; the veils being various forms of mist and rain and translucent light. Glen Nevis is only yards from the town, but plunges immediately into giddy wilderness. We could be singing ‘I saw the rain-dirty valley, you saw Brigadoon’, indeed we probably did.

Climbing Ben Nevis

Climbing Ben Nevis

We make an assault from base camp, knowing that we lack the time to summit. Estimates of four hours up and a little less down are probably a tad conservative. Our calculations put us half way there in ninety minutes, reaching two thousand feet where a wooden bridge spans spectacular falls. And we were dawdling. Another time we’ll make it to the top. It’s a pleasant, well worn path with plenty of friendly banter from fellow travellers. The zig-zag climb is moderate, the views, slowly revealed in the waxing day, uplifting, heartstopping.

Big Ben himself

Big Ben himself

At last we hit the road, travelling up the rift valley parallel to the Caledonian Canal. At Invergarry we turn into the Highlands proper. Habitation recedes into heathland and scattered forest. We find a roadhouse at Cluanie. As we pull in, a convoy of trucks passes us uphill, each bearing a windmill propellor. What an odd juxtaposition out here! The roadhouse is sufficient for coffee and chowder, the service sporadic and homely.

Eiiean Donan

Eilean Donan

Evening approaches as we descend Glen Shiel. The castle at Oilean Donan stands proud at a craggy confluence of lochs. It’s crowded but worth the visit. The castle is well preserved and fitted, still functioning as a residence. Displays include lifesize tableaus from history creating an illusion of all time seeping through these walls. Real life folk are dotted around too, willing to converse on all aspects of the castle’s past and present. A whiskey fragrant guide in full highland garb leans casually on a waxen laird as he imparts words of wisdom. Good luck to him, he’s jovial and true. Scotland’s history is beginning to seep into me too. Half familiar but in a way that’s more storied, and sung, than factually held. So close to us also, it’s surprising it’s not more familiar back home. Only a visit can put that right. Places themselves are the living book.

Nightlife in Kyle

Nightlife in Kyle

Our destination, Kyle of Lochalsh is a couple of miles further on. I’d picked it without reference to Google Earth. I’d remembered the series, Hamish MacBeth which I thought was set here. Memory deceives, I’m afraid. Kyle’s a bit of a dump, a main road bisecting a scattered settlement, a rail terminal and a functional dockside. The Main Street is mundane, dominated by two banks with our hotel the most pleasant point at its summit. Something of a stereotype to report that while Irish main streets are lined with pubs, Scottish main streets are lined with banks. Perhaps here, men are really born to pray and save.

Still, the hotel is fine and we wave a decent meal of fish and chips in the bar. Our room is cosy old style, with a view down Main Street to the water. Raindrops mottle the window pane as the streetlights come on. Tomorrow, it’s on to Skye which is visible just across the water. We will discover too that nearby Plockton was the village I had imagined, a picture book perfect collage of mountain, woodland and water with atmospheric eateries and hotels. Look forward to telling you more.

Plockton

Plockton