Visiting the Isle of Skye is a bit like Russian Roulette with five bullets instead of one – you’ve got maybe a one in six chance of a good outcome, weather-wise. Have you ever met anyone who’s had “OK” weather on Skye? No, me neither. It’s either absolutely glorious or deeply dismal. We’ve been unlucky this time.
Overview: 4 days, 138 miles
We can’t complain too much, I suppose. We visited Skye in early 2012 (on a car / B&B trip before we discovered motorhoming) and had glorious weather. I haven’t managed to take many photos over the last few days as to be honest, the weather’s been that wet and windy that I haven’t wanted to expose my camera to the elements. Any photos that you do see will be deeply unrepresentative, taken in the odd brighter / drier interludes.
We arrived on Skye on Friday morning. Crossing to Skye is easy nowadays. No need for “Speed, bonnie boat” – though we did of course hum the tune as we sped across the Skye Bridge.
Our first stop was at Broadford, a small town not too far from the bridge and a great motorhome fettling stop, with a camp site that will let you use their service point for £5 and a petrol station that sells LPG.
From Broadford, we drove down the narrow winding road to Kylerhea. There’s a wildlife hide down there from which we saw a white tailed eagle on our last trip to Skye in 2012. Mark was keen to go back and look for otters.
View from the hide:
We didn’t see any otters this time, just a seal and a heron…..
Oooh, is that a bit of brightness in the distance? I recall taking this photo through SOK’s open window to keep the camera out of the rain that was falling steadily over our location…..
Friday night was spent at Torrin overlooking Loch Slapin. A golden eagle was circling as we arrived. Surely a good omen?
Nah, it was probably waiting for a good feed of battered to death motorhomers the next morning. We were parked up in a lovely spot, but the wind didn’t half howl through the night.
Mark reckons that he got very little sleep (yes, less sleep than the night we were battered by hailstones). Our bathroom skylight has a tiny bit of movement and so rattles a bit in strong wind. Mark spent many a happy hour lying awake and thinking back to the tale we heard from another motorhomer a couple of days after Storm Ali of a rental van that’d been parked up at Duncansby Head and had its front skylight ripped clean off and carried away by the wind…..
The weather was still windy and wet on Saturday morning. As we drove back up the road from Torrin, Mark suddenly pointed and asked “what’s that? a crashed witch? it wasn’t there yesterday”.
We stopped and I took a photo out of the window.
A crashed heron, poor bugger. And we thought the weather was giving US problems…. Even the cows seemed a bit out of sorts. Well, this one did. It was certainly standing its ground, probably hoping for a lift to the nearest warm cafe……
We did the only reasonable thing given the weather and headed into Portree, the biggest town on the island. It’s a nice little place, though very touristy – so no problem if what you want is a B&B, cafe or gift shop. Mark wanted a butcher’s shop for a pie: not a chance! The town was quite busy on Saturday afternoon but the vast majority of folk seemed to be huddled behind the steamed-up windows of the numerous cafes sipping hot chocolate (or perhaps something stronger)…. Portree appears to be to Skye what Keswick is to the Lake District….
We decided to spend Saturday night at Staffin Slipway, which came highly recommended last week by Scott at OurGreatestEscape. We completely failed to see the Old Man of Storr on the way (it’s pretty hard to miss; just goes to show that visibility was not exactly great at that point!).
Initially, it did seem to be more sheltered down on the East coast. I don’t know if we were kidding ourselves or if the wind changed direction, but we were soon rocking around as usual these days…… There isn’t a lot of shelter to be had up in the north of Scotland, so we decided that we might as well stay down at Staffin but move the van and sneak in between two low stone walls for whatever shelter we could get.
By this point, we were getting pretty fed up with the weather and serious questions were asked as to what we should do next. We’d intended to head over to the Outer Hebrides, but there’d be precious little shelter there and the ten day forecast seemed to be promising nothing but strong winds and heavy rain. Yes, every day…… Funnily enough, “five year communist plan thinking” (previous post here) came up with the answer. If we don’t brave the Outer Hebrides now, how many years might it be until we get back to them? Deep breath and soldier on…..
Whe-hey! Sunday morning arrived with a scrap of blue sky!
We spent the day slowly trundling round to Uig. There was still a strong breeze and intermittent downpours, but at least now we also had some bright interludes – back to the weather we had for our first few days on Orkney. If only we’d realised at the time that a couple of weeks later, we’d be considering that particular weather pattern a result!
We happened across the Skye Museum of Island Life, which is closed on Sundays. Mark wasn’t overly concerned. “It’ll be the Skye Museum of Grim Life”, he announced. When Donald were a lad, his croft was only big enough to grow two potatoes a year, he had to work 25 hours a day on the fishing boats etc…. Of course, it might not be like that, but as they were closed, we were unable to pay our entrance fee and find out.
A sign pointed from the museum car park up a short path to Kilmuir cemetery where there’s a memorial to Flora MacDonald (1722 – 1790). The memorial is in the shape of a large cross and was erected in 1880, having been funded by public subscription. Flora is, of course, the local lass who supposedly helped Bonnie Prince Charlie to travel from Benbecula to Skye in 1746 as part of his escape from government forces.
I don’t quite know what to make of Flora. Apparently she wasn’t catholic and had no Jacobite sympathies, but just felt sorry for the poor chap’s predicament so thought she’d help him out. As you do. Bonnie Prince Charlie was the Number One on the government wanted list of his day, so this would’ve been the 18th century equivalent of spotting Osama bin Laden on a park bench and taking it upon yourself to go up to him and ask if he wanted a lift somewhere……
Walking back to SOK past the more modern part of the cemetery, we noticed that one headstone was much bigger than all the others:
A quick check online confirmed that yes, this is indeed the fashion designer Alexander McQueen, whose father was from Skye.
A bit further up the road, we came to a late Iron Age souterrain. These are found right along the Atlantic seaboard, including Scotland, Ireland, Cornwall and Brittany. 500 have been found in Scotland alone, though there may be many more: people only seem to find them when they suddenly collapse! We’d tried to go and look at one on Orkney but hadn’t found it and had decided that as the promised signposts from the road didn’t seem to be there, it probably wasn’t open to visitors any more. That one is in a farmyard and was only found in 1926 when a threshing machine was there one minute but gone the next……
The current best guess is that souterrains were used for storing dairy produce. This one has a 17 metre long winding narrow passage underground to the chambers at the end:
Nearby are the remains of a roundhouse (all you can see is a depression in the ground); the souterrain was discovered when a lintel holding it up gave way. Mark was fully intending to crawl in and explore. Unfortunately, it turned out that the passage was three inches deep in water, so he gave it a miss.
The thing I still don’t get is why you needed a passage 17 metres long to store your butter at the end of?
There was a bit of a result at the ferry terminal in Uig. We went into the Calmac (Caledonian MacBrayne, the company that runs the ferries up here) to buy our ticket. Having checked it out online and noted, sadly, that the instructions in terms of vehicle length are very clear on the subject of bike racks, we expected to have to pay the “motorhomes < 8m” price. But no – when the chap in the office asked our length, I truthfully told him that the van is just under 6m but we have a bike rack, so about 6.5m in total – and he sold us a “motorhomes < 6m” ticket, saving us just over £15. His reasoning was that “things may change in the future, but at the moment we don’t bother too much about bike racks up here”.
We decided to blow some of our Calmac savings and book onto the campsite at Uig on Sunday night so as to arrive on the Outer Hebrides with SOK “fully fettled”. The campsite was functional but has little to particularly recommend it other than proximity to the ferry port. Perhaps my judgement has been dimmed by too many days of rain and also the fact that their tumble drier doesn’t work properly so we ended up with washing hung all round SOK and an electric fan heater running to try to get things dry? As we’d paid £4 for a night’s electricity (plus £15 to park up for the night) and I’d put £10 in said dryer just to get our clothes to what I’d describe as “warm and damp” stage, we didn’t feel guilty about the hot air escaping out of our roof vent……
Sunday night was very strange…. The wind had dropped away so we had to try to sleep in…. Silence…… It was very strange at first; it’s funny to think that these are “normal” sleeping conditions.
We’ve had a quiet morning pootling round the van and getting ready to head across to the Hebrides. You wouldn’t guess from the weather at the moment (horizontal drizzle) but the 10 day forecast for Stornoway has been gradually improving over the last couple of days. It’s now not even supposed to rain every day! Luxury! You can tell that things are looking brighter as Mark’s started dancing up and down SOK to Radio 2 again….
Our ferry has just arrived and has unloaded very quickly, so hopefully we’ll be on our way soon……