Isle Hopping in the Western Hebrides – Part 2; Isle of Skye

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In the morning, we awoke to a beautiful calm Sunday in the village of Tobermory. There were some light clouds, and the forecast called for some scattered showers throughout the day. Lindsay commented that it didn’t look like a lovely day, but I retorted, “No, actually, it is an extremely nice day because I woke up to find I am still in Scotland! Therefore, it’s an absolutely wonderful day!”

After fixing a hearty breakfast in the hostel, Lindsay and I decided to go for a stroll along the edge of the harbor and check out the architecture and shop fronts in this quaint and colorful seaside village.

We happened across a couple of signs in the shop windows that I thought were amusing…

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mapOur plans for the day were to catch the ferry at the end of the street. This ferry would take us back to the mainland at Kilchoan. From there, we could drive a short distance to visit a lighthouse and then double-back, following the shoreline of Loch Sunart as we made our way back to the ferry at Carron. We would spend most of the day driving about 160 miles through beautiful countryside, eventually arriving at Portree on the Isle of Skye.

The first ferry of the day was on time as usual, and we were soon well on our way, crossing the 5 miles to Kilchoan on the other side.

Once we disembarked from the ferry, it was another 6 miles or so out to the Ardnamurchan Lighthouse at the tip of the peninsula.

The view of the coastline was beautiful from the lighthouse at this remote location.

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As we made our way back toward Kilchoan, we passed some adorable animals. At first glance, because of the markings, we thought these three critters were goats, but when we got closer, we realized they were wooly and were actually sheep.

We later found out they are called Jacob sheep. Interesting! I’ve never seen that type of sheep before. Usually, they are just all white, or all brown, or black, but not all mixed together like this breed.

In addition to the sheep, these two ponies were quite pretty and turned out to be quite the hams when we stopped to take photos of them. I swear they must have been practicing their poses for the tourists!

We drove east, hugging the shores of Loch Sunart on a mostly one track, narrow, winding road back to the Corran ferry where we could cross Loch Linnhe again and reconnect with the A82 highway heading north toward Fort William.

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We traveled north on the A82 until we reached Invergarry, where we could head west once again to the Isle of Skye. It took us most of the day, but we thoroughly enjoyed driving along with the Gaelic speaking radio station playing music. We can’t understand a word they are saying, but we sure enjoy the selection of traditional Gaelic tunes they offer their listeners.  There was one tune, in particular, that was quite catchy with a word like “mucky shan” repeated over and over again. We later learned it is the Gaelic word for “moccasin!” Interesting how the Native Americans created a word for footwear that is so similar to the Gaelic name for the same item.

As the afternoon faded, we made our way covering the last few miles driving through the misty and magical mountains on the Isle of Skye to our final destination at Portree.

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IMG_4860By the time we arrived at the hostel, we were more than ready to settle in, fix ourselves some dinner in the self-catering kitchen and just relax the rest of the evening with all of the other guests who were also travelers like us.

The next morning, we awoke to a beautiful view of  Loch Portree and the mountain called “Sgùrr nan Gillean” about 12 miles beyond in the distance.

view from Portree Hostel in the morning

mapWe enjoyed an excellent hot breakfast and packed ourselves a picnic lunch to take with us as we headed out for another day of exploration.

The itinerary included a side trip to the west to visit a castle and then a big loop around the northern tip of the isle to visit a unique museum and some stunning geological formations created by volcanoes many moons ago.

We got an early start and arrived at  Dunvegan Castle just as they were opening their gates, so we had the place pretty much to ourselves along with a handful of other ‘early birds.’ Just the way we like it.

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Dunvegan is the oldest continuously-inhabited castle in Scotland and has been the ancestral home of the Chiefs of Clan MacLeod for 800 years. They offer self-guided tours, and you can also take pictures of the exquisite furnishings inside.

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key to the castle

We thoroughly enjoyed our tour of the premises and the beautiful and unique treasures it holds.

Here are a few shots of the numerous rooms we toured and a few select items that I thought particularly interesting.

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As an example of one of the unique items, here is “Rory Mor’s Horn.” Evidently, it is essential for the clan’s survival that a Chief should prove his fitness to lead by filling up the horn with claret to the brim (nearly a half-gallon) and it all must be drunk by the Chief in one drink without ‘setting the horn down’ or falling down himself!

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74th Highlanders 1870

Down in the lower levels of the castle, we toured rooms that were the servants quarters as a finale.

Once we had toured the castle, we headed back outside to also explore the various sections of gardens Dunvegan also offers.  There is a delightful network of pathways that take you downhill from the castle and across the river, complete with stunning waterfalls. Beyond that is the pleasurable round garden and the walled garden further on where they used to grow their fruits and vegetables. Although we did not partake, you can also book a boat ride to go out and visit the seals and other wildlife resting on the rocks out in the deep waters of Loch Dunvegan.

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Although it was getting late in the season, there was still quite a bit of color left in the flower beds and foliage to enjoy throughout the various sections of the gardens.

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As expected, about the time we were done touring the castle and its grounds, we headed back to the car park to find several buses had just arrived filled with tourists eager to visit the castle. We were quite content to climb back in our car, avoiding that crowd and continue further on down the road. We headed back to the main road and then started making the loop around the northern tip of the isle.

At the town of Uig, we decided to take a break, stretch our legs, and get a latte ‘to go’ down in the harbor. Many times when I order a coffee ‘to go’ they look at me funny like they don’t know what I mean. That’s when I need to correct myself, speak their lingo, and rephrase it to say a coffee to ‘take-away.’

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We continued on until we came to the small village of Kilmuir on the northern coastline. There is a fascinating and unique museum in this remote location. It’s called the Skye Museum of Island Life.  It consists of about seven or eight crofts. ‘Crofts’ are the stone houses with thatched roofs that the farmers of old used to live and work in. Each of these thatched houses represents an aspect of the crofter’s lives and contains original tools, implements, and items used by these people daily.

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For instance, the first one you come to depicts what a typical home looked like and what the furnishings were like inside. Quite a contrast to the castle dwellings we just visited!

This croft house had three rooms and was the home of John & Annie Graham and their 10 children. There weren’t many trees on Skye, so the homes were built out of what was available. Just about everything they had was hand-made; the cloth to make their clothes, they also raised sheep and spun their own wool, grew their own food, etc., etc. Talk about some stalwart and a resourceful bunch of people!

Next, came the barn where they kept the precious cow warm during the winter to provide milk, cheese, and butter to the family year-round.

The next one was the Ceilidh House (pronounced “Kay-lee”), where they would play music and dance and get together with others in their tight-knit community. There isn’t any dancing going on inside any longer; however, it’s filled to the brim with interpretive panels that are filled with stories and pictures about crofting and some local legends to read about.

Here are some of the pictures of the people who lived in these houses and how they worked the land and managed to survive despite the hardships they endured.

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After the party house, the next building held all sorts of tools: nets, traps, & floats for fishing, threshing machines for separating grain from the sheaf, and tack for the horses.

Of course, you would have to have a loom at the Weaver’s house and a few spinning wheels…

…as well as some seaworthy boats…

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…and some were lucky enough to have another building that held both a grocer’s shop and a blacksmith shop next door as well!

I think it is absolutely fantastic that they have created this museum of island life and preserved the many artifacts of what life was like for these stout and hard-working people to serve as a testament to the life they led on this isle.

We got back in the car and continued driving around the tip of the peninsula, enjoying the views and the magnificent examples of geological features in the terrain.

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People come from all over the world to see these fine specimens of rock called the Quiraing and the rocket-shaped outcropping of basalt called “The Old Man of Storr.”

Skye is nicknamed the “misty isle” because often, these formations are shrouded in a misty cloud, and they are obscured. However, today we were fortunate. It was kind of cloudy, but at least they were high clouds, and the formations could easily be viewed.  What a treat! There is a car park at the side of the road where you can find the trailhead that leads up to the formations offering fantastic views of the surrounding terrain. We did not, however, hike this trail!

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We also stopped to view a beautiful waterfall flowing under the main road and a magnificent view of the ocean and small picturesque beach below at the river’s mouth.

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After a full day of exploring parts of the Isle of Skye, we returned to Portree, found a delightful restaurant with delectable fresh seafood entrees, and settled in for a very yummy and satisfying meal at the end of the day. That night I enjoyed seared fresh scallops on a bed of risotto!

mapOn Wednesday morning, September 18th, we checked out of the hostel at Portree and started making our way back to the mainland once again. When we got to Broadford, we took a detour over the mountain to catch a small ferry at Kylerhea to Glen Elg on the other side. A couple of years ago, I found two Bronze age Broch’s up a canyon near Glen Elg that I wanted to show Lindsay.

I also wanted him to see, and ride on, this unique turn-table ferry, the last of its kind.

IMG_4965We crossed Kyle Rhea on the ferry and made our way to the first broch called Dun Telve. These ancient dwellings date from around 2,300 – 1,900 years ago. They are quite unique, with double walls.  Only a portion of them remain intact but they are fascinating to explore just the same.

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This interpretive sign gives us a glimpse of what the dwelling must have looked like inside and how it was multi-leveled.

A little further up the road, there is a second site, called Dun Trodden, that we also explored.

We returned to the ferry at Kyle Rhea and crossed once again back to Skye to continue our tour.  While we waited, we went inside the lighthouse and found all sorts of information about the ferry, the local wildlife, and the cute little lighthouse itself. They also had many souvenirs for sale like coffee cups, t-shirts, and decals regaling the many qualities of this delightful little unique ferry. I bought a decal sticker for my car!

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IMG_5113Soon we were crossing the water once again and driving back over the mountain on the one-track road and approaching Broadford once again on the Isle of Skye.

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We turned left on the main road and then another left soon thereafter to take us to the southwestern tip of the isle to visit Armadale Castle, the seat of Clan MacDonald.

The castle was built in 1815, so it isn’t ancient. About 40 years later, a fire destroyed most of it. In less than 100 years, even after being remodeled after the horrendous fire, it had fallen into disrepair and deemed unsafe.

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You can’t walk amongst the ruins; only view them from the outside behind a small wooden fence. Still, it’s interesting to walk around it and the grounds on which it sits.

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There are numerous paths to follow on the vast estate grounds. These paths lead to herbaceous flower beds at various levels, giant rhododendron bushes you can walk underneath, and cute little bridges to cross the creek which meanders throughout the grounds eventually flowing into the picturesque pond.

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There is also a museum located on the grounds. It is filled with all manner of MacDonald finery & weaponry, as well as beautiful specimens of musical instruments and a complete, and lovingly restored regatta racing boat that has never left the Isle of Skye since it was built in 1897.

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After we finished touring Armadale, we drove the remaining short distance to the ferry landing, where we would catch one more ferry back to the mainland, landing at the town of Mallaig about five miles away.  While we waited for the boat to arrive, we decided to treat ourselves to a latte and some sweets at “The Shed” nearby to tide us over until dinner.

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The ferry was on time, and soon we were boarding. It sure was a LOT bigger than any of the ferries we had utilized while we hopped from one place to another along this trip. I felt like we were boarding an ocean liner or something!

Five miles later, we arrived in Mallaig, found our hotel, “The Steam Inn,” and relaxed the rest of the evening with a nice meal of shrimp ‘n chips in their restaurant onsite. What another fantastic day it had been exploring ancient dwellings from the Bronze Age, castles from the 19th century, and riding very unique and one-of-a-kind ferries with a delightful traveling companion who has a great attitude!  Who could ask for more?

This concludes 4 more days of our 10-day tour. In the third and final blog post of this adventure, we will be leaving the western isles. We will head inland to explore the road less traveled along the eastern shores of Loch Ness. We will experience a fun and exciting visit with some new friends we met at a Highland Game event in August,  and we will complete a circular tour around the Black Isle north of Inverness. Stay tuned for Part 3 coming soon! Until then, happy traveling!

Author: Claudia Frew

Adventuresome, independent, and fun-loving 68-year young American great-grandmother who loves to travel; often going solo!

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