Sunday, 30 September 2012


In an earlier post, I described Skye as looking like a lobster in shape; the Sleat Peninsula forms part of the lobster's tail. There are several castles on the peninsula. On the north coast of the peninsula lie the ruins of Dunsgaith Castle, where, as legend has it, the giant Cuillin chained his dog before striding across to Northern Island. Armadale Castle, in the town of the same name, is a ruined country house with a mock castle built next to it.  The beautiful gardens are open to visitors, as is the Museum of the Isles, which tells the story of the Clan Donald. A few miles to the north-east is Knock Castle, also a ruin and accessible by foot. The peninsula is known as the "garden of Skye" thanks to the richness of its landscape, with its lush gardens and forests. Wildlife enthusiasts will find plenty to look out for on a Sleat walk, including otters, dolphins, basking sharks, deer and eagles.

Armadale is an alternative point of entry to Skye from the mainland, with a ferry service linking it to Mallaig. I am happy to note that the ferry service now runs all year round. Many years ago when we visited Skye in late October we turned up at Armadale hoping to get a ferry across to the mainland, only to be informed by a local, with barely concealed relish, that the next ferry would be in April the following year! There are plenty of reasons for people arriving at Armadale to resist the temptation to go rushing away elsewhere. As well as Armadale Castle, there is Rubha Phoil which is located on a 16-acre wooded peninsula adjacent to the ferry terminal; here visitors can learn all about organic gardening and permaculture, and there is an eco-campsite for overnight stays. Whalespotting boat trips are available at Armadale Pier for fans of cetaceans, and there is a variety of other water-borne activities.

Map of the area.

Thursday, 27 September 2012


Elgol, at the end of the Strathaird peninsula, on Loch Scavaig towards the southern end of Skye, is known for its wonderful views of the Cuillin Hills. But that's not all: from here the islands of Soay, Canna, Rum and Eigg are also visible. There are routes up to the mountains from the single road running the length of the peninsula, but for those who want to get up close and personal with the mountains but do not fancy themselves as mountaineers there are boat trips available from Elgol which take passengers to Loch Coruisk, which lies at the heart of the rocky amphitheatre formed by these majestic peaks, the most notable of which is Black Cuillin, often hidden by cloud. The loch was immortalised in a striking painting by the English landscape painter Sidney Richard Percy called "Loch Coruisk, Isle Of Skye". About a mile to the south of Elgol is Prince Charles's Cave, where Bonnie Prince Charlie spent his last night on Skye before leaving for the mainland. The Prince was reputedly fortified for the journey thanks to the kindness of Lady Mackinnon of the Jacobite clan which was dominant hereabouts: she brought the famished fugitive cold meat and wine to feast on before setting out.

Webcam view.

Map of the area.

© 2004 Dave Fergusson, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 25 September 2012


The small village of Carbost on Loch Harport is a magnet for tourists in search of the true spirit of Skye. The reason is that the village is the location of the Talisker Distillery, which produces an Island Single Malt Scotch Whisky. Originally founded in 1830, the distillery is now one of the main employers in the village. The Talisker product is much prized, and won the prize for "Best Single Malt In The World" at the 2007 World Whiskies Awards. Carbost is on the east coast of the Minginish Peninsula, while on the other side of the peninsula the name Talisker crops up again in the form of a beautiful bay and a settlement which was for centuries owned by the Clan MacLeod. Boswell and Johnson pitched up here in 1773 during their Hebridean odyssey, and it is interesting to note their differing perspectives on the place. In Boswell's Life Of Johnson: Tour To The Hebrides, he described Talisker as "...a better place than one commonly finds in Sky. It is situated in a rich bottom." However, he was not impressed with the approach to the house at the Talisker farm, where they stayed, describing it as "most injudiciously paved with the round bluish-grey pebbles which are found upon the sea-shore; so that you walk as if upon cannon balls driven into the ground." Meanwhile, Dr. Johnson, who was well known for making uncharitable remarks about the "Scotch", wrote of Talisker in A Journey To The Western Islands Of Scotland: "Talisker is the place beyond all that I have seen, from which the gay and the jovial seem utterly excluded". Whichever of the two men one is inclined to believe, it is hard not to be impressed by the geology of this corner of Skye, which has led to it being designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Map of the area.

© 2007 Klaus-Martin Hansche, via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, 23 September 2012


Anyone who thinks we have it bad now should spare a thought for a group of crofters who worked the land on the Duirinish Peninsula in the 19th century. The crofters were ordered to leave their homes in 1830 and were forced to emigrate. Those who refused were threatened with jail, while the over-70s were put in the poorhouse. Later, in 1883, another group of crofters called the Glendale Land Leaguers were locked in a bitter dispute with landowers over grazing rights. After a series of clashes with the authorities, five of the crofters were made an example of, having to stand trial for assault. They were sentenced to two months in jail and became known as the Glendale Martyrs. There is a monument to them near Fasach.

In a previous blog post, I described the top end of Skye as looking like a mis-shapen hand. Looking again at the map of the island I am struck by the resemblance of Skye to a lobster. The lobster's left-hand 'pincer' is the Duirinish Peninsula. The MacLeod name rears its head again here, but this time in the form of a geographical feature known as MacLeod's Tables, a reference to the highest peaks on Duirinish. Legend has it that the Chief of the Clan MacLeod entertained a visitor on top of one of the 'tables', Healabhal Mor. Meanwhile a group of stacks just off the west coast are known as MacLeod's Maidens. Although sparsely populated, the peninsula has a number of attractions for visitors. The Colbost Croft Museum is a replica of an 18th century black house, the tradtional style of dwelling in the Scottish isles, complete with a replica of a whisky still.  The Glendale Toy Museum takes a hands-on approach to the display of its toys, offering the chance to play with some of the exhibits.

Map of the area.

© 2010 Africaspotter, via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 21 September 2012


The village of Dunvegan, on the shores of Loch Dunvegan, is one of the most visited locations in Skye, thanks to the presence of the imposing Dunvegan Castle. The castle, which dates back to the 13th century, is the ancestral home of the Chiefs of the Clan of MacLeod, and in fact is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland. The castle is stuffed with impressive works of art and a collection of relics which include the Fairy Flag. In my previous blog post I told the story of a bloody battle between the MacDonalds and the MacLeods which took place at Trumpan Church on the Waternish Peninsula. The victory of the MacLeods in this particular battle was attributed to the magical properties of the Fairy Flag, an heirloom which is kept at Dunvegan Castle, and whose tattered remains are still on view to visitors. Outside the castle, the gardens are a source of delight to visitors, with woodland glades, a waterfall and, in early summer, a colourful display of rhododendrons. The village of Dunvegan was once an important port for steamer services to the Western Isles and Oban.

Dunvegan webcam.

Map of the area.

© 2009 via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 19 September 2012


The top end of Skye consists of a series of peninsulas of varying shapes and sizes, giving it the appearance of a mis-shapen hand. To the west of Trotternish Peninsula is the smaller Waternish Peninsula, topped off with Waternish Point with its neat little white lighthouse, from where in summer there is a good chance of seeing whales and dolphins. Most of the visitor attractions, places to eat and drink and places to stay are scattered among a number of hamlets such as Lochbay, Stein and Lower Halistra. Boat trips are available from Stein. There are a number of wonderful walks on the peninsula, and as well as the marine life there are red deer and a variety of birds including Corncrakes and Great Skuas for walkers to look out for.

The beautiful and tranquil location on the west coast of the peninsula occupied by the ruined Trumpan Church, once the centre of a medieval village, belies the fact that in 1578 the church was the scene of a brutal bout of clan warfare between the MacDonalds and the MacLeods. The MacLeods were worshipping in the church on a Sunday morning when the MacDonalds, over from Uist, set fire to the building, killing all but one of its occupants. However, the raiders were caught out when the ebbing tide beached their boats, and an army of MacLeods took advantage by ambushing the stranded MacDonalds and all but annihilating them. Legend has it that the MacLeods were helped by the waving of the Fairy Flag, a piece of silk preserved as an heirloom at Dunvegan Castle which is thought to have magical properties - more on that in a later post.

Map of the area.

© 2008 John Allan, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 17 September 2012


Visitors to Skye who are fascinated by interesting geological formations should be sure to include the Trotternish Peninsula, an area of land 20 miles long and 8 miles wide to the north of Portree. The 'backbone' of the peninsula is the Trotternish Ridge, an inland cliff running through the centre of the peninsula, while other geological features include pillars and pinnacles of rock such as the Quiraing complex between Staffin and Uig and the Old Man of Storr, and a number of natural arches and waterfalls.

Towards the north of the east coast of the peninsula is Staffin, on Staffin Bay, with Staffin Island lying just offshore. It was near to here that dinosaur prints were discovered by a local resident, with more being discovered subsequently by experts in the field. At Kilmuir on the west coast, there is a monument to Flora MacDonald, "Preserver of Prince Charles Edward Stuart" in the cemetery. Also on the west coast is the peninsula's main village, Uig, set on a beautiful bay and home to the Isle of Skye Brewery. There is also a ferry service from here to the Outer Isles. Near Uig is a gorgeous little valley called the Fairy Glen, characterised by grassy, cone-shaped hills.

Map of the area.

© 1998 Mick Garratt, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 13 September 2012


The name of Portree, which is Skye's main town, derives from the gaelic Port-an-Righ , or "King's Port", a throwback to a visit by King James V in 1540 aimed at drumming up support from the island's clans. Royal visits have been a theme for Portree over the years. In 1746 Bonne Prince Charlie showed up, having been transported "over the sea to Skye", as the famous song goes, by Flora MacDonald. The Prince took his leave from Flora in what was then known as MacNab's Inn, which has since been transformed into the Royal Hotel. A couple of centuries later the town hosted a visit by our own Queen Elizabeth during her tour of the Western Isles in 1956. The British Pathe website has footage taken during the visit.

Portree's harbour is lined with attractive buildings and set in a picturesque bay backed by hilly scenery, including a piece of land called "The Lump" where public hangings used to take place. The harbour was built in the 18th century when Sir James MacDonald decided to develop the town as a fishing port. The following century steamers began calling here, including a weekly service from Glasgow to Stornoway. There is plenty of accommodation in the town, and diversions for visitors include a range of shops and, on the outskirts of town, Skye's main Heritage Centre, Aros, with a range of displays including a Sea Eagle Exhibition. Boat trips are available for those wanting a chance to see real sea eagles, as well as a variety of other wildlife.

Portree webcam.

Map of the area.

© 2007 Anonymous, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 11 September 2012


Such is the complexity of Scotland's island-studded west coast that even the offshore islands have offshore islands. Raasay is one of several small islands located between the east coast of Skye and the Scottish mainland, along with the privately owned Scalpay, the Island of Rona with one permanent resident, and several other tiny islands. Samuel Johnson visited the island in 1773 during his tour of the Hebrides with his good friend James Boswell. Boswell described the approach to the island as "very pleasing"..."We saw before us a beautiful bay, well defended by a rocky coast"..."a fine verdure about it, with a considerable number of trees". However, after 3 days on the island, Raasay's charms were starting to wear a bit thin for Dr. Johnson, who was evidently missing his beloved London: "There was not enough of intellectual entertainment for him, after he had satisfied his curiosity, which he did, by asking questions, till he had exhausted the island". * The attempts by Boswell and Johnson to explore their surroundings on the island were no doubt hampered by its challenging terrain, which includes a lot of rocky, high ground.

Raasay, which is just 13 miles long and 3 miles wide at its widest point, is reached by ferry from Skye. The island's origins were Norse, the name meaning "island of the roe deer". During the Jacobite Rebellion in 1745 the islanders came out on the side of the Jacobite cause, which resulted in a furious backlash from the government, which ordered their homes to be razed. The island once had an iron industry, and remains of it can be seen at East Suisinish and near Inverarish. Raasay House used to be the seat of the MacLeods of Raasay, but is now an outdoor pursuits centre. There is a 13th century chapel behind the house dedicated to the island's patron saint, Moluag. Towards the north of the island is the ruined Brochel Castle, from where a road known as Calum's Road extends for two miles beyond the castle. This was the work of Calum MacLeod, who built it almost single-handed for much of the 1960s and 1970s, in an effort to establish a link to Arnish, where he and his wife lived. The road was given a tarmac surface in 1982, six years before its creator died.

* From "Journal Of A Tour To The Hebrides" by James Boswell.

of the island.

Monday, 10 September 2012


In a recent McDonalds advertisement which was first aired during US coverage of the Olympics, there is a scene supposedly in China depicting Chinese cyclists crossing an old stone bridge with a snow-capped peak in the background. In fact, the scene was shot on Skye, near Sligachan, and the mountains were the famous Cuillins of Skye, dressed up to look oriental. The irony is that the nearest McDonalds branch is 85 miles away in Fort William! Sligachan, which is gaelic for "shelly place", is at the head of Loch Sligachan, and due to its proximity to the Cuillins it has traditionally been a point of departure for those wanting to climb them. The mountain views so prized by the McDonalds ad-makers are dominated by a view of the mighty Sgurr nan Gillean. It was in the first half of the 19th century that climbers first started coming here, and the local hotel has a small museum devoted to these early climbers. There is a campsite at the head of the loch for the more budget-conscious.

Map of the area.

© 2008 Chris Downer, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 8 September 2012


Fans of liqueurs will no doubt have heard of the Scottish liqueur called Drambuie. However, what may be less well known is the connection between Drambuie and Bonnie Prince Charlie. It is alleged that in 1746 Bonnie Prince Charlie was aided in his flight to Skye by one Captain John MacKinnon of Broadford, and in return for MacKinnon's kindness the Prince gave him the recipe for his personal liqueur. The liqueur was made by the MacKinnons on Skye for over a century before being unleashed on the public at the Broadford Inn, although it is now produced in West Lothian. The name Drambuie was registered as a trademark in 1893. Broadford is Skye's second largest settlement, lying on Broadford Bay, and overlooked by the Red Cuillen mountains. Broadford boasts an environmental centre, incorporating the International Otter Survival Fund. For fans of natural history there is another diversion in the form of the serpentarium, with snakes, lizards and insects.

Map of the area.

File:Highland - Old Pier, Broadford, Skye - 20140423135330.jpg
Old Pier, Broadford. Photo by Enric, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 5 September 2012


Those who make the short trip across the relatively recently built road bridge from Kyle of Lochalsh to Skye find themselves being deposited at the eastern end of the village of Kyleakin, which they will miss altogether if they opt to continue along the A87 towards Portree, the island's capital. This would be a shame, because it is a pretty village, much quieter now than it used to be when it was the terminus for the now-defunct ferry, and enjoying majestic views across the Kyle, up Loch Alsh to the Five Sisters of Kintail, an area of mountains on the mainland.

The King of Norway passed by here with his fleet in 1263 on his way to Largs, where he would be defeated by Alexander III's men. The Norwegian connection continues at the ruined Castle Maol, an earlier version of which is said to have been built by a Norwegian princess nicknamed "Saucy Mary", daughter of King Haakon of Norway and wife of Findanus, the 4th Chief of the MacKinnons. The story goes that she used to stretch a chain across the Kyle and charge a toll to any ship attempting to pass through. Overlooking the pier at Kyleakin is the Bright Water Visitor Centre, run by the Eilean Ban Trust, the owners of the island of Eilean Ban, or "White Island", which nestles below the road bridge. The Trust promotes and preserves the heritage and wildlife of the island and runs guided tours from April to October, including a visit to the lighthouse cottage which was home to the author and naturalist Gavin Maxwell and has been restored as a museum to the author, who is best known for his book Ring Of Bright Water about his relationship with an otter, from which the Visitor Centre gets its name.

Live streaming webcam showing the harbour and the castle.

of the area.

© 2006 Dave Fergusson, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 3 September 2012


Many moons ago we set off on a driving tour around Scotland, and while we were there we decided to spend a short time on Skye. In those days there was no choice but to make the short crossing by ferry. All that has changed now, however, since the construction of a bridge connecting Kyle Of Lochalsh to the village of Kyleakin on Skye. The bridge, completed in 1995, used to charge a toll, which was a bone of contention among its users, but this has now been scrapped. It is still possible to reach Skye by ferry from the port of Mallaig a bit further south. Kyle's past as a ferry port began in 1819 with the arrival of the road from Inverness, when Kyle became the main departure point for Skye. When the railway arrived in 1897 a ferry service to Stornoway started up, although this ended in 1973, when the service moved to Ullapool. Now that the bridge has replaced the ferries, a lot of people whizz straight through without stopping, which is a shame because it is an attractive little harbour town with wonderful views across to Skye, while among the activities on offer are glass-bottom boat trips.

Webcam view of the bridge.

Map of the area.

© 2003 JThomas, via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, 2 September 2012


The 'Plock' in Plockton derives from the Gaelic word 'ploc' which means a "lumpish promontory". The promontory in question is at the seaward end of Loch Carron, on which this picturesque village stands, looking improbably riviera-esque due to the palm trees which are allowed to thrive here thanks to the North Atlantic Drift. With its idyllic setting, looking out on a landscape of mountains, islands, heather and pine trees, the village is, not surprisingly, a magnet for artists. The Plockton Gallery, which also offers accommodation, holds art events and includes a sculpture garden along with its displays of contemporary artworks. Just across the way from the village is Duncraig Castle, which was built by the Matheson family from the proceeds of trading activities in China. The castle is currently being renovated, but when the renovations are completed next year it will offer elegant guest accommodation.

Plockton may be recognised by many as the backdrop for the beat of TV cop Hamish Macbeth. The TV series led to a surge in popularity due to the numbers of fans of the series visiting the village. However, as is so often the case, this phenomenon has led to a sharp rise in property prices in the locality. According to a report by in 2002, both well-heeled British people and Americans were offering well over market price for houses in the area, placing them beyond the reach of most locals, and a recent survey had revealed that over a third of homes here were owned by outsiders and being used as holiday homes. Coming from Cornwall, I can sympathise with the plight of the local residents.

Live streaming webcam.

Map of the area.