Scenery, lunch, ruins, and family obligations
Saturday morning was bright and clear, although our landlord said it was a bit hazy for Skye. I thought it was entirely clear enough, but he's the expert, and sure enough it did get better later. After breakfast (fine and filling, thank you) we walked into Portree to have a wander around. Interestingly, it still seems to regard itself as a village. There are signs to the village square, and our landlady mentioned "walking into the village" too. I'd have said it was a small town, but obviously it's not my decision.
We went out onto the Lump, south of the harbour, where there's a small tower and a round green that's used for throwing hammers and stuff. Public hangings, too, apparently, back when they had them. All highly pitcherskew. The rest went for a walk north round the corner to check the view, and I went to the post office to send a package to Oregon. After I'd done that and got a paper they were back and we wandered around for a few minutes. Some of them discovered a shop with lots of chocolate, which caused a slight delay. I got a very nice bunch of lillies from a local florist and we all went back to the B&B. After picking up a few things and milling around helplessly for a few minutes we hopped into cars and headed north.
Once out of town you're pretty soon into very straightforward Highland open countryside, although with a fair scattering of old forts and miscellaneous antiquities. Fairly soon there are a couple of lochs to the right, and then on the left the lay-by we'd stopped in the night before. The Trotternish ridge extends pretty much the whole length of the peninsula, and on the east side there are cliffs above the coastal plain pretty much the whole way. The Storr juts out and up from the general ridge, with various blocks and spikes fractured from the main body and standing clear of it. The most prominent, of course, is the Old Man - 160 vertical feet of basalt (and people have been known to climb it. Mad people, obviously) - but there are many others. Apparently the eastern side of the Trotternish ridge is the largest landslide known to have happened in Britain, and the Storr and the Quiraing are the best parts of it. The Storr's just over 700 metres at the peak of the cliff, which is about 2350 feet. Interestingly, if you look at the online OS map, the height's in metres on the largest two scales and feet on the others.
Our first stop was to have a look at the Kilt Rock, which in spite of Seth's comments is not a very bad music genre. It's a cliff formed by a layer of dolerite being undercut due to erosion of the softer rock beneath it by the sea. The horizontal banding of the rock is supposed to combine with the vertical banding from erosion and cooling to produce a tartan-like effect, but I couldn't see any resemblance. Maybe with different lighting it would work. It was a very nice cliff, though, rather reminiscent of the Cliffs of Despair from the Princess Bride (the cliffs of Moher, for literalists among you) except obviously not nearly as high. There was an ice-cream van, so I did the inevitable . . . and tried to tell a joke about a penguin crosssing Arizona, but nobody noticed me. So I had some ice-cream instead.
We passed though Staffin with the Quiraing on our left, looking very impressive, and headed north past the end of the ridge, taking a right down a sideroad (spotting another buzzard) to stop for lunch beside Port Gobhlaig. We lounged for a bit, Sandy took pictures, sheep grazed . . .
Actually, Sandy also apologised for having taken so many pictures during the performance in the Sanctuary the night before, and for bringing such a noisy camera. We took the piss a bit, obviously. It seemed necessary.
Leaving again, we went across to the western coast. I was surprised at being able to see Lewis and Harris so clearly, as I don't remember having seen them when I was there before. Maybe it's because it had been almost twenty years, or maybe the weather just wasn't up to much that day. They looked lovely, though. Must visit someday.
The plan was to go on to Kilmuir from there, but on the way we got waylaid by Duntulm castle, a picturesque ruin on a head facing out towards the Long Isle. There was a gaggle of other tourists,including a (French?) lad in a kilt who seemed to want to fall off the highest bit possible. I think he failed in this, but wherever he was from they aren't breeding for survivability. I went down the hill and sat by the rocks for a few minutes and had a peek in the sea. Lara and Seth came back enthusing about the forests of kelp just below the waterline.
After that we did go on south to Kilmuir, turning inland off the coast road for a few hundred yards to a small cemetery where my two of my grandparents are buried. And Flora MacDonald, too, but she's not family. Except in the trivial sense that anybody called Macdonald from that bit of the world is likely to be, of course. I left most of the lillies on Annie and Alec 's grave, and a couple on the grave behind it, which had turned out to be that of Annie's mother (my great-grandmother) Marian, who died at the age of 100 on the day before my fifth birthday. I don't think I ever met her. One of her other daughters, my auntie Janet, shares that grave. I did meet her, when I was on Skye during the eighties.I only noticed it because Lara (thank you) pointed out that somebody had reached 100. I don't think I'd thought about Marian in many years. A couple of decades or more, possibly.
I had a look at the monument to Flora MacDonald while going to fetch Sandy, who'd been taking pictures (I don't know, give a primate a Bronica and you'll never hear the end of it). Apparently the original monument was removed entirely, piece by piece, by tourists, leaving no trace. This one's a replacement.
After me thanking people for their patience, we went south again, passing Totescore, a hamlet where Janet used to live, and Annie used to visit her, and where my dad stayed at times. I visited there once. Quiet, but lovely. We turned inland on the hill above Uig (I pointed out the hair-raising hairpin that my dad went round on the bus when he was young) and went inland across the peninsula, back towards Staffin.
Give it a silly name, and they will come.
We stopped at a carpark just behind the top of the escarpment and discussed what we were going to do. I checked a signpost, which said it was about two and a half miles to Flodigarry, on the coast, via the Quiraing. Going halfway and coming back sounded manageable, so we set out along it. After a few minutes on the top it descended onto the grassy slope, and stayed roughly level across it as the cliff started rising higher. At points it shrank down to a sheep-track about eight or so inches wide, meandering up and down across a slope that varied from gentle to over 45 degrees. I was a little nervous at times, but not enough to bottle out. The view was stunning. We were probably about seven or eight hundred feet above the coastal plain, with a clear view beyong across Raasay to the mainland. Unfortunately, having skimped on the homework, we took a wrong turn around the Prison and ended up running out of time and turning back before reaching the Needle or Table. Sandy managed to worry some sheep by following them around trying to photograph them - he can expect this to come up in conversation repeatedly in future - and we sat around for a while on a rocky outcrop with the wind in our hair and the sun on our backs. There will be a next time, and I'll go up the scree slope instead. Precipitous . . . but very worthwhile. I had to keep reminding myself that dozens of people (at least) use the path every day during the summer and surprisingly few fall to agonising and prolonged deaths on the rocks below. It worked, more or less.
After we got back to the cars, we went down the hill towards Staffin, on a very steep and winding road past yet another couple of cemeteries. Dying seems to have been very popular there at some point. On reaching the B&B, we retreated to our rooms for showers and then set off into town to search for food. And thereby hangs a tale.
Portree on a Saturday night
I was looking forward to dining
Lara had previously asked at the Cafe Arriba about a reservation, and been told that they didn't do reservations - we should just turn up and it would be OK. So we did, and were told that it would be about two hours.And they were starting to cross items off their blackboard. So we tried somewhere else, and they couldn't do anything within an hour or so either. The veggie selection in most places wasn't up to much either (although there were two or three places that had a good selection and looked really nice). It got to the point that we headed for a chip shop . . . but even though it was before nine on a Saturday evening, they'd stopped serving. What's up with this place? Finally we remembered having seen a chinese restaurant in a shed down near the water, so we went there and they were very quick and had lots of room. It wasn't the best chinese meal I've had, but it was perfectly adequate (and would still have been, I think, even if we'd not been starving).
Moral: Portree isn't as long on eating out as we'd have liked. Hit the restaurants early if it's Saturday, and you may find out whether they're as good as they looked. And don't forget the Chinese place, or the Indian next to it.