Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Dinner in Portree – Isle of Skye

Following our hotel issues or challenges and having settled in at our overnight destinations, it was time to meet for dinner.  Laurie and I drove down to Portree to meet Bonnie and Bill.


Their hotel, the Isles Inn, was right on Somerled Square, the center of Portree.  Parking was a challenge, even for mid-September, and we ended up on a side street about 4 blocks from the Square.  That handsome building at the right is the Bank of Scotland, in Gaelic “Banca Na H-alba”.


This is the former home of the Lodge of St. Kilda #881.  It was built in 1912. 

Freemasons have been a part of the Isle of Skye and Portree since 1784 when the first lodge opened.  The history of the current lodge began with a meeting of Master Masons in the Portree Hotel in 1898.  They petitioned the Grand Lodge for authorization to build this lodge and to name it the Lodge of St. Kilda.

Note:

·         St. Kilda (Hirot) is an isolated cluster of islands in the Atlantic Ocean about 40 miles west of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides.  St. Kilda is a World Heritage Site, unusual because it is so designated for both cultural and natural reasons.  Ruins from previous settlement, many sea birds and 2 rare types of sheep, one from Neolithic times and the other from the Iron Age…all add to St. Kilda’s attraction to tourists.  To learn more about the history of St. Kilda and to see some great photos, go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Kilda,_Scotland.  To learn about one of the several ways to visit this World Heritage Site, go to https://www.kildacruises.co.uk/


 The Granary Restaurant on the Square was our first choice for dinner…but it was totally booked for the evening.  So was our second choice and this was a Tuesday night!  It turns out that this restaurant is operated by the same folks who run our eventual dining spot for the evening...

With a population of about 2,500, Portree is the largest town on the Isle of Skye.  Almost 40% of the residents speak Scottish Gaelic.  Portree has been around for a long time… Before the 16th century, the settlement’s name was Kiltaraglen (the church of St. Talarican) from Gaelic Cill Targhlain.  I noted with interest that Portree had the last manual telephone exchange in the United Kingdom.  It wasn’t closed down until 1976!


The Portree Hotel’s restaurant on Somerled Square was our 3rd choice for dinner.  We were told that they needed us to be done with dinner within an hour and a half or so…before they needed our table for a reservation. 

Somerled Square was formerly known as Jail Square.  The jail has been demolished and it’s been replaced with a new police station.  Somerled was a mid-12th century warlord who, through marital alliance and conquest, seized control of the Kingdom of the Isles.  Clan MacDougall, Clan Donald (MacDonald), Clan MacRory and Clan MacAlister can all be traced to Somerled’s descendants.

To learn more about Somerled…one tough and blood thirsty character, go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Somerled. 





The first two photos are of the dining area in the Antlers Bar and Grill...and the third is a look into the West Highland Bar at the Portree Hotel. 

The Portree hotel was originally built back in 1875.  It had recently been extensively refurbished and, in addition to the restaurant and bar, it offers 24 redesigned en-suite guest rooms. 


Bonnie and Bill were ready for dinner after our ‘hotel’ adventures!


Bonnie took this photo of Laurie and yours truly… What do you think about my new tam? 

FYI…a tam o’ shanter is a name given to the traditional Scottish bonnet worn by men.  The name comes from Tam o’ Shanter, the hero of the 1790 poem by Robert Burns.


Onto the food!  This was a nice bowl of pea soup…the soup of the day. (4.00 PS/$5.20 US)


Two of us ordered these nice bowls of Haddock Chowder. (6.95 PS/$9.00 US each) It was quality comfort food!


This was the Antlers Restaurant’s version of Caesar Salad. (11.95 PS/$15.50 US) Although it wasn’t exactly a traditional Caesar salad, it was still very nice…


This was the Seared Scallops entrée. (18.95 PS/24.60 US) It came with slow cooked pork belly, sautéed potatoes, peas, lemon and butter sauce…and it was very good too!


Yes…once again one of us ordered mussels!  Bonnie ordered the Steamed West Coast Mussels with white wine, cream and garlic as her entrée. ($9.95 PS/$12.90 US) She was very happy with her choice, especially with that nice bread to mop up the sauce.


Bill decided to skip seafood for once and he ordered the 10 oz. Rib Eye Steak. (24.95 PS/$32.40 US) It was served with chips (French fries), grilled tomato, mushrooms, a small ‘rocket’ salad, onion crisps and a garlic-herb butter.  It was a good if not great steak…

FYI…rocket salad, aka Eruca sativa is commonly known as arugula.


Laurie’s entrée was this beautiful creation… This was her Cod Fillet Dinner. (15.95 PS/$20.70 US) The chargrilled cod filets were served with slow cooked pork belly, braised greens and mashed potatoes.  How can you miss having a great meal with really fresh fish is topped with pork belly!


Each couple split a dessert or ordered their own… This was the Sticky Toffee Pudding. ($6.95 PS/$9.00 US) It was very tasty, especially with the ice cream and candy like toppings…


Two of us ordered this Raspberry and Almond Tart. ($6.95 PS/$9.00 US) It was pretty and pretty darn good too!  Note the chocolate straw…

This was a very good dinner, way above the average fare, but a bit pricey too.  I haven’t mentioned the VAT tax have I?  While here in the USA, sales tax might run from 6% to 10% depending on locale, the VAT tax in the UK comes to 20% of the bill.  The good news for diners is that expected tipping is lower…about 10% in the United Kingdom so the VAT for meals is almost offset.  

In any case, we would recommend the Portree Hotel’s Antlers Bar and Grill to travelers visiting Portree on the Isle of Skye.  To learn more about this restaurant as well as the hotel, you can go to http://theportreehotel.com/.

That’s it for now… Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them.

Thanks for stopping by for a little history and dinner too!


Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Monday, November 20, 2017

Isle of Skye – Lose Some and Win Some!

As I mentioned at the end of my last post, we crossed the ‘new’ bridge over Loch Alsh to the Isle of Skye…while wishing that it was still a ferry crossing…


We were greeted by the stark beauty of the island…

Skye is the largest and most northern of the major islands that comprise the Inner Hebrides.  The mountainous center of the island is dominated by the Cullins…with the highest peak being ‘Sgurr Alasdair’ at 3,255 feet.


More heather in bloom…and with sunshine too!

Covering 639 square miles, Skye is a large island.  The population reached a high of over 23,000 back in 1841 but it had declined to only 7,183 residents in 1971.  The loss of population can be traced back to the “Clearances”, military losses in World War I and a poor local economy.   
  
As I previously mentioned, the “Clearances” were the removal of crofters (tenant farmers) from the land owned by hereditary aristocratic landowners so they could raise sheep on the land.  It was a brutal time.  In one instance, the settlement of Lorgill on the west coast of Skye was ‘cleared’ on August 4, 1830.  Every crofter under the age of 70 was removed and placed on board the ship Midlothian under the threat of imprisonment…with those over 70 being sent to the poorhouse.

If you look up the Midlothian on the Internet, you will find many sites all about researching family members who ‘emigrated’ from Skye and other locations in Scotland.  To learn more about the “Clearances” go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highland_Clearances.


We drove north on Skye along A87 toward Uig which is located out on the Trotternish peninsula.  I can’t pinpoint where I stopped and took this photo of the waterfall…but small streams, waterfalls and small lochs dot the landscape here. 

Moisture rules along the west coast of Scotland and its many islands.  Rainfall typically measures from 59 to 79 inches per year and in mountains like the Cullin, the totals are even higher.  By comparison, our average rainfall here in East Tennessee hovers around 49 inches…  


It was September 19th…and the Isle of Skye was much greener than East Tennessee normally is at this time of the year.  Western Scotland’s mild oceanic climate means moisture and moderate temperatures.   I noted that the all-time  record low was 20 F and a record high of 80 F for one town on Skye…


This is the view from the hotel that I’d reserved for us in the village of Uig at the far north of Skye.  That castle-like tower isn’t related to a castle.  It is called Fraser’s Folly.

Major William Fraser became the owner of the Kilmuir Estate ca. 1855 and the tower was constructed around 1860 as a place where the local tenants had to go to pay their rents to Fraser’s Factor (aka Agent).  Fraser is notorious for his involvement in the Highland Clearances.  His ‘folly’ is still associated with the Clearances by the locals.


This is a postcard view of the Uig Hotel from somewhere across Uig Bay.  Lovely isn’t it!

Speaking of a ‘folly’!  Remember the “Lose Some, Win Some” portion of the title for this posting?  This is the “Lose Some” portion of the story.  It turned out that I…master trip planner that I am…totally messed up this reservation.  I’d entered the wrong day when I reserved our stay (and Bill and Bonnie’s too) at the Uig Hotel.  That meant that we arrived the day after we were scheduled and the reservation was pre-paid.  At roughly $180.00 per room, one of our most expensive reservations, this was a $360.00 mistake.  I spent the next couple of days buying meals and drinks for Bonnie and Bill to pay them back for my mistake…

They were completely booked but the good news was that the staff at Uig Hotel scrambled to find accommodations for us for the evening.  They called several places to find us somewhere to stay.  We were lucky that they were successful as most bed and breakfast and inns were completely booked!

To learn more about the Uig Hotel’s accommodations and the promising upscale menu for its restaurant, go to https://www.uig-hotel-skye.com/.


What the heck!  Well, we now knew that we had a place to stay on Skye for the night…not in Uig though…so we decided to look around while I licked my wounds.  This is a view of Uig Harbor from the hill near where the Uig Hotel is situated.  As you can see, the village of Uig is small.  It has a population of about 300… What a scenic setting!



This is a relatively new point of interest in Uig.  It’s the Isle of Sky Brewery.  Back in 1992, there were only 6 small independent breweries in all of Scotland.  Beginning with a bunch of friends in a pub complaining about a lack of good beer on Skye, this operation offered its first ale, Skye Red, in 1995.  Today the brewery offers 11 different varieties of beer…and it’s a popular tourist destination as well.

To learn more about the Isle of Skye Brewery, go to https://skyeale.com/.
Scottish brewing reached a peak of 280 breweries in 1840.  After mergers and acquisitions, the number of breweries had dropped to just 11!  With the rise of craft breweries, the CAMRA Good Beer Guide listed 80 breweries in operation in Scotland...



These photos show part of the harbor at Uig with the hills in the background.  From this sheltered harbor, travelers can take Caledonian MacBrayne’s ferryboat, the MV Hebrides, across the “Little Minch” (strait) to the Outer Hebrides.  The ferry serves Tarbert on the Isle of Harris and Lochmaddy on North Uist.  We would of loved to of had the time to travel to both of these islands!

To learn more about Uig and its local attractions, you can go to https://www.visitscotland.com/info/towns-villages/uig-p244011.




As I mentioned, thanks to the Uig Hotel’s staff, they found both Laurie and me as well as Bonnie and Bill places to stay for the night.  Note that I said places.  There were so few vacancies on Skye that we ended up staying in separate locations.  We took the second choice because we felt guilty…and we got lucky!
This is the Tor View Bed and Breakfast and it’s located just a bit outside of Portree, the largest town on the Isle of Skye. 




As you can see, the basic facilities at the Tor View Bed and Breakfast were up to snuff…clean and orderly with a calming décor in the bedroom. 


This was the only bed and breakfast where our breakfast was actually delivered to our room.  We started our day with a nice continental breakfast of toast, bagels, orange juice, ham, cheese, muffins and fresh fruit. 


This was the one quirky item we noted in our room… Note that I was standing upright when I took this photo…and the bathroom mirror is at ‘belly level’.  I’m glad that I didn’t have to shave in the morning and of course, since all of Laurie’s electric beauty aids have to be used in the bedroom due to both electrical code and the power outlets, it wasn’t a problem for us.  But, it was a source of amusement in an otherwise very nice and pleasant bed and breakfast…


Location, location, location!  The views from our room and from the Tor View Bed and Breakfast were stunning!



We were surrounded by cows from a local farm and they seemed much bigger to us than the cows in East Tennessee!  Maybe it’s all that lush green grass and the mild oceanic climate resulting from the Gulf Stream that makes them so big and healthy looking…

I love the classic photo of a highland cow… Laurie took this picture from Tor View’s driveway.


…just another look at the view from our bed and breakfast!

Given the rugged terrain and Skye’s northerly position on the globe, (roughly the same latitude as Sitka Alaska or Gothenburg Sweden), we asked the owner of Tor View about the winter weather.  He told us that snow will stay in the mountains for months sometimes but that it rarely lasts in the valleys.  I remarked on the winds and he told us they can reach 80 mph in the winter, but that the homes are generally built to handle it without any problems.



In the morning, Laurie captured these photos of two highland cows.  It’s a particularly sweet picture as on the previous day, they had been separated from their calves and it appeared that they were commiserating with each other over their misfortune. 

The cost of our room with that nice continental breakfast was 80 pounds sterling or about $104.00 US.  To learn more about the Tor View Bed and Breakfast, you can go to http://www.tor-view.com/


Laurie’s sister Bonnie and her husband Bill got the first accommodation that the clerk at the Uig Hotel could find.  The Isles Hotel with its restaurant and bar, is located right on the main square in the scenic town of Portree.  The bad news for them was that they had to carry their luggage through the bar and up to the 3rd floor and their room was a tad smallish.  The positive was that they reported that their breakfast was excellent and the bill for room and board was significantly less than ours!  All’s well that ends well…

To learn more about The Isles Inn with its pub and restaurant, you can go to http://www.accommodationskye.co.uk/index.html.

That’s all for now… Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them.

Thanks for stopping by to check out our Scottish adventures!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Destination – Isle of Skye

We moved a bit south in Western Scotland with our final destination for the day being the Isle of Skye, the biggest island in this near shore chain of islands.


This placid sheep posed nicely for Laurie…perhaps even with a little bit of a smile…


This is the old burial ground at the village of Lochcarron with the ruins of the former parish church in the background.  It was known as ‘the great church of Lochcarron and it dates back to 1751.   It was abandoned in 1845 when the ‘new’ church was built.  These ruins are believed to occupy the site of a much earlier building…the medieval church of St. Maolrubha’s. 


The Strathcarron Railway Station is a remote station on the Kyle of Lochalsh Line.  It serves the small hamlet of Strathcarron and the nearby village of Lochcarron.  That lattice girder footbridge across the tracks was built in 1900.


The depot itself was built by the Dingwall and Skye Railroad and it opened to passengers back in 1870.  The terrain in this area is problematic, with the section of the rail line along Loch Carron being prone to landslides that close the line from time to time.  


One of the Kyle rail line’s 3 segments of passing track/sidings is located at this station.  Four trains per day each way serve the Strathcarron depot Monday through Saturday with reduced service on Sundays.  In the 2015 – 2016 fiscal year, 8,162 passengers utilized this station. 


This is a view of Loch Carron, which is a sea loch, as taken from along A890 along the south shore.  We’d looped around the end of the loch and this is actually a view of the village of Lochcarron…where we’d photographed the burial ground and church ruins.


This is another overview of Loch Carron from our first trip to Scotland.  We took it from a viewpoint above the loch 31 years before our latest visit.


Whoa!  …back to this year's trip!  We had to stop so Laurie could take a photo of these 2 handsome but rugged looking horses along the road…


This isn’t a great photo but I’ve included it just to show what one of the challenging Scottish roads looked like.  You didn’t want to meet another car or truck coming the other way!


Yes, it is another railroad station!  This one was just outside the village of Plockton and, like the one at Strathcarron, it serves the Kyle of Lochalsh line.  In recent years, the depot had been occupied by a restaurant called ‘Off the Rails’ but now it’s been converted into a privately owned self-catering holiday cottage. 


This station was built by the Highland Railroad and it was first opened for service in 1897.  To learn more about the Highland Railway, you can go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highland_Railway.


I just missed seeing the train stop here where it picked up 3 or 4 passengers!   Bummer!  In the 2015 – 2016 fiscal year, the Plockton Station handled 11,574 passengers. 



This is a view of Duncraig Castle as seen from the nearby village of Plockton on the seaside reaches of Loch Carron. 

Duncraig Castle was built in 1866 by Sir Alexander Matheson.  He’d acquired a fortune as a trader in the Far East.  He was a nephew of the founder and partner of the Jardine Matheson and Company.  Sir Alexander retired at 36 years of age, served as a Member of Parliament and was created a baronet in 1882.  He was also a railroad entrepreneur.  He bought large tracts of land in the Highlands…at one point owning 122,000 acres!  The castle was built to entertain friends and acquaintances and he even arranged for the castle to have its own private railway station!

Jardine Matheson Holdings, which was founded in 1834, continues to operate today and Matheson descendants still control this 185 year old company.  Revenues in 2016 were $42,100,000,000!  To learn more about the Sir Alexander, go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sir_Alexander_Matheson,_1st_Baronet.




In the 1920’s Sir Daniel and Lady Hamilton owned the castle.  He died right at the beginning of World War II and during the war the castle was used as a naval hospital.  Then, until 1989 this beautiful building served as a ‘domestic science’ college for girls.  In the late 1990’s it was used as the set for BBC’s series, ‘Hamish Macbeth’.  It is currently undergoing renovation as a luxury hotel which will open in 2018.  To learn about this upscale facility, you can go to http://www.duncraigcastle.co.uk/.


This is the village of Plockton.  It has a population of about 400.  Laurie and I first visited Plockton back in 1986…and it was very quiet with little going on.  Today the village is a popular tourist town and it’s served as the backdrop for at least one movie and a television series.  The town has also been a popular haven for artists for many years…

Note:

·        The above photo shows a fairly typical “2-way street” in a small Scottish village.



This photo shows a local resident walking down the main street of Plockton.  We took this photo back in 1986…talk about a quiet little village!  I’d originally titled this photo “Village Streetwalker”.

Plockton is the home of “Sqoil Chiuil na Gaidhealtachd”, the National Centre for Excellence in Traditional Music at Plockton High School.  The school also hosts the “Am Bata” project which teaches pupils the art of boat building.


Plockton enjoys the mild temperate climate that is common along the west coast of Scotland and Ireland. 

Beginning in 1991, the Plockton Primary School has featured a Gaelic-medium education unit, providing instruction in the Gaelic language.  Over 24% of the area’s population are able to speak Gaelic, the highest percentage of Gaelic speaking Scots on the Scottish mainland.  Wikipedia states that there are about 60,000 native speakers of Scottish Gaelic remaining in Scotland.  We certainly heard several people speaking Gaelic while in the western part of the country…


This picture of Plockton is also from our 1986 photo album.  I’d always described that tropical looking tree as a palm tree but I’ve since learned that it’s not a true palm but rather a ‘Cordyline Australis’, commonly referred to as a cabbage tree.   

By Scottish standards, Plockton isn’t an old town.  Most of the houses date from the 19th and 20th century.  It was a planned community that was focused on fishing…with the goal of slowing the tide of emigration from the Highlands.


This isn’t the best photo…taken from the moving car…but it is the bridge from the Scottish mainland to the Isle of Skye.  The ‘Skye Bridge’ was completed in 1995.  While technically it could have been built much sooner, the low population on Skye provided an argument that the cost of construction couldn’t be justified.  Tourism and increased prosperity on Skye itself led to the bridge construction.
 

Laurie and I much preferred the ‘old way’ to cross over to the Isle of Skye.  It was almost our turn to board!  Note the snow in the mountains on Skye.  It was early October in 1986 when we visited the island.  This was one of the two 28-car ferries then in service across Loch Alsh.  As early as 1971, these 2 ferries carried more than 300,000 vehicles each year! 

While we missed the ‘romance’ of the ferry crossing and the feeling of being in a more remote place, I’m sure that the bridge has been a huge boost for the economy…especially for tourism…on the Isle of Skye.  

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for joining us on another segment of our Scottish adventure!


Take Care, Big Daddy Dave