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 d├ęcor 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

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Moving on – Western Scotland

After a very enjoyable stay in scenic Ullapool, we moved on in the southerly direction along the west side of Scotland…


The views were stark yet beautiful…


Here and there we noticed a few little lochs or lakes that just added to the area’s beauty.


…and of course, low mountains continued to dominate the horizon. 

My plan was to turn off A835 onto A832 and then take the coastal route looping through Gruinard, Poolewe and Gairloch to A896.  From there, it would be on to Torridon and Shieldaig, eventually passing through Plockton before crossing the bridge onto the Isle of Skye.  So much for planning…as I missed my first turn following A835 all the way back to Garve, where I finally turned onto A832.  My mistake turned out OK as we had a beautiful day for driving and the scenery didn’t disappoint us!


This was our view as we approached Torridon…with Upper Loch Torridon and the mountains setting the scene and the village off in the distance.


The village of Torridon is small but it is in a beautiful location.  The Torridon region of Scotland’s Western Highlands is well known to outdoor and wildlife enthusiasts.  The mountains in the area are among the highest in the United Kingdom, rising almost vertically in places to 3,500 feet from the deep sea Lochs.
  


Basically, most of the village of Torridon consists of a long row of homes and a few commercial establishment on the road along the loch.   Due to the presence of the Northern Drift of the Gulf Stream, the climate is mild and plants flourish here that one wouldn’t expect this far north. 


The well regarded Torridon Hotel is located nearby on Upper Loch Torridon.  This hotel has 18 en-suite guestrooms, the “1887 Restaurant” and raises its own cattle, pigs and chickens as well as much of its own produce.  Tamworth pigs are the swine raised and brought to table in the restaurant. 

FYI…The Tamworth is a domestic pig that originated in the United Kingdom with input from Irish pigs.  It is among the oldest of pig breeds but it isn’t well suited to modern production methods.  It is a threatened species in the USA and with only 300 registered breeding females, it’s listed as vulnerable in the United Kingdom.

So many places and things to experience with so little time!  To learn more about the Torridon Hotel, go to https://www.thetorridon.com/.


The road from Torridon was challenging but we were rewarded by terrific views and beautiful weather!


…just another pretty picture!


Shieldaig is located on Loch Shieldaig, between Upper Loch Torridon and Loch Torridon where it becomes a sea loch.  As with most of the scenery and many of the small towns and villages in Western Scotland, the setting is very appealing. 
Shieldaig has a population of less than 100 people but it has its own school, a village hall, a pub and more…  Allegedly, the name Shieldaig comes from a Viking word which means, ‘loch of the herring’.  Herring still inhabit the loch.



This is a photo of a couple of homes just across Loch Shieldaig from the town itself.

Shieldaig was founded ca. 1800 by order of King George III for the purpose of training seamen for war with Napoleon.  However construction didn’t begin until 1810 and the threat was over by the time the village was up and running.  Subsequently, the community assumed a new role as a fishing village.


The small island in this photo is just offshore from the town.  Its tall pines were never cut down to rig warships and it is now a nature sanctuary. 

Although the village prospered early on, it was part of the 70,000 Applecross Estate which was owned by a succession of wealthy landlords including the Duke of Leeds.  Under his ownership, (with his wife’s influence), and under later owners, the area underwent a series of “Clearances” as they were called.

The Highland Clearances or the ‘eviction of the Gaels’, resulted in the displacement of many tenants from the Scottish Highlands during the 1700 and 1800s.  This was the result of a change from farming to sheep raising, largely carried out by hereditary aristocratic landowners who previously had status as Scots Gaelic clan chiefs.  The result was a huge emigration of Highlanders to the coast and the Scottish lowlands as to North America and Australasia.  The descendants of the Highland diaspora far outnumber the total population of Scotland today…  


It was time for a break from our driving…and for a snack too!  This is Nanny’s in Shieldaig.  This establishment has been in business since 2008.  Originally it operated in a small corrugated iron building.  That original building was run as a general store by Anne (Nanny) Grant since 1950.  Her father built that structure back in 1918.  This new building was the result of so much success at the previous location… 


  
The inside of Nanny’s is bright and cheerful.  Customers order at the counter and your food and/or drinks are brought to your table. 


This menu board just displays the coffee, tea, hot chocolate and cold drinks that customers can order.  More substantial options include a soup of the day, sandwiches/toasties, a hot smoked salmon plate or salad, a langoustine salad, bacon, double egg or combination rolls, porridge and beans on toast, aka as “sunshine on a plate”.



We stuck to rich and sweet snacks… There was a selection of baked goods that weren’t specifically listed on the board or written menu.  The choices were varied and appealing.  This was the cheesecake…very well received indeed!


Nothing like a cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream and marshmallows accompanied by a fresh scone and butter!

The children of the current owner and operator of Nanny’s represent the 5th generation of Camerons to live in Shieldaig.  Their great, great grandfather Keneth Cameron moved to the village in the late 1800s and became the village innkeeper.  Back in the days when being part of a crofting community meant hard work and pulling together, a typical evening meal included potatoes and salted herring…with meat being served only on Sundays…  

To learn about crofting and its meaning, just go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crofting.  Although crofting today is much different than it was before World War II, as of 2013 – 2014, about 33,000 family members, or 10% of the Highlands population still live in crofting households.


Then there was this scone…with butter and clotted cream!  This was a very pleasant and refreshing stop for us along the way to the Isle of Skye…

I had to research one item on the menu…a Loch Torridon squat lobster sandwich.  What the heck is a ‘squat’ lobster?  In some ways they resemble true lobsters but they are flatter and typically smaller.  They are part of the family ‘Galatheidae’, which makes them closer to species of small crabs than to lobsters.  In any case, they don’t ship well and they are a bycatch for local Shieldaig fishermen, one of whom is the husband of the proprietor of Nanny’s… The local catch focuses on crab and langoustines.

As for Nanny’s, sorry to report that they closed for the season on October 28th.  They will reopen in early April.  In the meantime, during November and December, they will operate ‘pop-up’ restaurants at Nanny’s every weekend… To learn more about Nanny’s and to check out their menu, go to http://www.nannysshieldaig.com/

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by to join us as we explore western Scotland!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave