The first thing which strikes one on heading “over the sea to Skye”, now that the Skye Bridge is open, is that “The Isle Of Skye” is no longer an Island! This was a distinct feeling by all of our party who had visited the Island when it was indeed an Island prior to the Bridge being opened. It was most odd, as the isolation had suddenly gone. The bridge is of course most magnificent and with the cost of passage being £4.70 each way it is not cheap. However for the visitor, it is most convenient and provides easy access from the mainland. There are still two ferries running to and from the mainland to Skye one from Mallaig to Armadale and the other over the sound of Kylerhea to Glenelg (which area was the home of Gavin Maxwell famous for the book and subsequent film about the otters,“Ring of Bright Water”). The Kylerhea Ferry cost £4.60 each way, 10p cheaper than the Skye Bridge!! Since our visit, of course, the bridge tolls have been abolished!, Our party had Leased a cottage for the week and with the first class instructions giving its isolated location, we arrived mid afternoon in cloudy but dry weather. The cottage adjoined the main house at the end of a private road with hill and sheep as neighbours and a nice but rough footpath down to the shore of Loch Snizart, a typical sea loch. The adjoining main house was in course of modernisation and was empty since the owner was on a skiing holiday to France as we found out when he gave us a call shortly after our arrival to find out if we were happy and settled in. A very nice touch I thought. We were indeed settled in to this lovely abode which comprised three bedrooms, two bathrooms (one en-suite with the main bedroom), a well equipped kitchen, dining area and lounge area with, in addition to the oil fired central heating system, a log burning open fire (and the logs and coal were included in the let). The location of the cottage was idyllic. Our rental was £300 for the week and comfortably accommodated the five of us.
Our first outing on the Sunday was to the lighthouse at Neise Point. Access is by a footpath down the side of a steep cliff then a lengthy footpath. Part of the track has an aerial roapway for the delivery of goods. The lighthouse is now an Hotel but oh dear what an access!! Guests had to leave their car about a mile from the Hotel and walk but there was a small concrete jetty that I think was in use by the guests.
In the afternoon we visited the islands adjoining Dunvegan Castle to see the Atlantic Grey Seals. They were numerous. Thereafter, we did the two-mile walk to the Coral Beach. There were indeed coral fragments on the beach, but those were too small to be gathered. The two-mile return journey to the car was in pelting rain so we eventually arrive back at the cottage with the wet weather gear soaking. The central heating was on, the open fire was quickly lit and the meal preparations commenced and eventually completed with the aid of some fine red wine. The next day, Monday, saw us head north of Portree. Although dry, there was an 8/10-gale force wind blowing. We didn’t venture far from the car, but managed a visit to Flora McDonald’s grave and stopped for lunch at Uig. The “old man of Storr”, a pinnacle of rock standing above Portree, was also seen. We had an earlier finish to the day than usual and returned to the cottage, without the usual daily walk, to got the fire going and arrange the earlier preparation of the evening meal and a further leisurely evening of pleasure and delight.
It was while en-route to Elgol that we had one of the biggest thrills of our lives when it was noticed that the bow wave of an otter was heading towards the shoreline. The sea otter is one of the most difficult creatures to behold. We were lucky! They do not associate with people and can smell and hear changes of unusual circumstances at great distances. This particular otter had caught a fish and was heading to the shoreline to devour its prey. A lay-by was just above the location of the otter and a quick stop and exit from the car by the whole party went unnoticed by the otter. Cameras were to hand and not only did we see out first sea otter in the wild but managed to video the scene.
Wednesday was a much better day with bright blue skies and azure blue seas as we headed south again to visit the Otter viewing area at Kylerhea. This is a wonderful area with great views over the fast flowing and ebbing of the tide through Kylerhea Sound. To get to the hide requires a two-kilometre walk and once you approach the hide quietness is essential so as not to upset the wee creatures. Again we were most fortunate to see another sea otter below us but alas, were unable to get a picture. So two Sea Otters seen in two days after over 50 years of trying! We were thrilled! It was whilst returning from here that we came across two Red Deer and managed a picture this time of one of them.
Thursday was a similar sunny and bright day as we headed to the West of the Island and Talisker Distillery. This is the only distillery on Skye. Being early in the season, entrance fees were half price but whilst there was no distilling taking place due to the three-month cleansing period an excellent guide provided a very interesting and comprehensive presentation detailing the whole process. The usual sampling of the product followed this. But the taste of “the water of life” didn’t just cover the bottom of the glass; it was at least two fingers worth! The admission ticket also entitled £3 off a bottle of 70 cl Talisker Malt, that at £22 for such a bottle at 45.8% alcohol content by volume, was a great buy. So a bottle was duly purchased to drink during those dark winter nights in Dumfries and Galloway. After the distillery visit we went south to Armadale and the ancestral home and gardens of the Clan Donald via the Hotel and Cook School owned by Lord and Lady Macdonald of Macdonald. Lady Clair Macdonald has written a number of cookbooks of which “Seasonal Cooking” is our favourite. Clair is a well-known exponent of Scottish cooking and travels widely, lecturing and demonstrating recipes. The Arrmadale Gardens and the Clan Donald Centre are a sight to behold at this time of year. The spring flowers and shrubs were in full bloom. The new modern and well designed Clan Donald Centre within the grounds of the gardens, is now complete and is well worth a visit. Lunch was taken in the “Stables” restaurant. It was cheap and was of a very high standard. Alas Friday, our last day, had arrived. We decided on a shoreline walk from the Cuillin Hills Hotel in Portree. The day again was bright and sunny but with a colder east wind blowing. However as we progressed on the walk the wind died down and the day became very pleasant indeed. We passed the large salmon fish farm with men busily feeding and tending the jumping stock. The legs of the older generation were starting to get tired and a steep climb up a very narrow path to the cliff top nearly made us turn back from whence we came but we all continued to the end of the walk where else but to the Cuillin Hills Hotel when a late lunch with wine was partaken.It was early the next morning that we set off back over the Skye Bridge paying another £4.70 to reach the road for Fort William and the South passing the Commando Statue on the way. We got home to Bonnie Gallowa’ at 1730 hours exhausted, exhilarated, elated and wishing that we had another week in that lovely part of the world. Aw well, maybe next year!!