A HIGHLAND THING – PART 2 (THE ISLE OF SKYE)

Despite its incredible beauty, the Isle of Skye has a turbulent history which began 56 million years ago when volcanic vents and their big brothers raged. Eventually they agreed to cool down and left us with the stunning mountain-scape of Skye that we see today. It is now known that one of these volcanoes erupted with such force (more than the Krakatoa eruption) that it sent the global temperature up by eight degrees, changing the world’s climate in one fell swoop. We camped under a volcano.

One of the prides of Skye is the Talisker distillery (closed because of the pandemic) and its fine whisky. It is also home to the clan MacLeod, whose castle (closed due to the pandemic) is in Dunvegan where we pitched up on the north west coast. The history of the clan rivalries is no less violent than that of the volcanoes and many stories of treachery, bloodthirsty deeds and massacres are told in the folklore of the clans around here. It is a tale of tit-for-tat violence. Let’s pick it up with the massacre of almost the entire population on the Isle of Eigg (395 out of 400), the home of the MacDonalds, in 1577. They had been hiding in a cave for three days when they were discovered. The Macleods blocked the narrow entrance to their hideout with heather and other vegetation before setting the material alight, leaving them to be suffocated by smoke and then left their bodies in the cave. The Eigg MacDonalds subsequently sent a party over to Skye and dispatched the Macleods, reserving the worst fate for the first son of the chief of Macleod of Dunvegan by breaking his limbs and putting him adrift in a little boat without oars, condemning him to a slow and painful death. And then we have, at a place called Harta Corrie, near Glen Sligachan in one of the most remote parts of Skye, another fierce battle taking place between the MacDonalds and MacLeods; legend has it that they fought for the entire day until every MacLeod had been killed. The bodies of the slain were then stacked up around a huge rock which subsequently became know as the The Bloody Stone.  This is just a taster of the feud.

Dunvegan Castle – home of the MacLeods.

So what to do on Skye when so many places are closed? Well, quite a lot actually. We worked out that the island is a slow-burner. It is something to do with colours. The longer you stay there, the more it takes hold of you. Perhaps this is because you see one stunning view and then over the course of days the colours keep changing, creating entirely different landscapes. The pitch-dark, angry sky has changed from its former luminescent light blue, the mountains from tawny brown to jet-black. And then there are the perfect sunsets in pinks and orange and whatever colour you get when the two are mixed. Seaweed is not yellow, but not green, yet somehow both at the same time. In the lochs, the waters can shimmer with blinding, shimmering silver, take on a vivid turquoise or deep, rich blue hue according to their mood. The wispy fingers of low clouds sometimes slice the cones off former volcanoes, cutting them in half, their slopes cloaked in purple heather, thistles, ferns and yellow gorse flowers. All this may explain the number of artists and studios you come across when driving around in the middle of nowhere. I can think of few other places where your inspiration is so magnificent and so unique in its constantly changing character.

We took advantage of the government’s scheme to eat a fine half-price meal in a pub in Portree, of vegetarian “fish and chips” (generous slabs of beer-battered halloumi). There were many beauty spots to walk around and marvel at the scenery. Fairy pools is a chain of pools and small falls formed as the river makes its way down the mountains. At Neist Point there is the perfect vista of cliffs above the sea near the lighthouse. There were enchanting waterfalls to explore and everywhere the white houses are surrounded by large expanses of perfectly-kept lawns. There are no large supermarkets on Skye and many people grow fresh produce in poly-tunnels. The Cuillin Hills offered dark, jagged peaks silhouetted against the sky, which wore whatever colours it had chosen for the day and we visited Slighachan, noted for its ancient bridge and brewery near to the site of the massacre of the Macleods at the Bloody Stone.

I was hoping to find some of those excellent “Little Willies” that we had discovered in Fort William (see Part 1) on Skye, but the small store in Dunvegan did not sell them. On returning to the campsite on the shore of Kinloch, a man (who by happy co-incidence was also called Willie) was cutting the grass on his ride-on mower. I think I had better call him Big Willie from now on so we don’t confuse him with the sausages.

“That looks fun,” I told him.

“D’ye wanna have a go?” Big Willie asked. So I did. The people we met on Skye were so friendly and who does not love a Scottish accent? Even some of the names on the map (Rubha Hunish, Loch Snizort, Loch Slapin or Feriniquairrie) make you read them in your head with a Scottish accent. Try it!

So after a week we found ourselves completely in love with Skye and musing on what it would be like to live here. It is a gem of the Scottish landscape and deserves a visit – pandemic-induced closures or not. Slipping into Skye time and just watching the colours around you change is as close to perfect as you can get for me.

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