When: 26-29 August 2016
Who: Mark, Jerome and I
About 600 miles. That was the distance (from Cambridge) to the undisturbed peace and quiet that last year we found between the rocky mountains shrouded in the clouds, crystal clear waterfalls and hidden bays of the Isle of Skye. Without being rushed and fully embracing slow pace mode, we visited many beautiful places, enjoyed outdoor activities and admired the dramatic landscapes of the largest island belonging to the Inner Hebrides of Scotland (once ruled by the Vikings). With only 2 full days on Skye, we managed to recharge our batteries in a way we wouldn’t be able to do anywhere else. Why? Because to us, a few days filled up with fishing, hiking, kayaking or oyster foraging are more energising than two weeks in a spa.
Below is the summary of what exactly we did during our escape to the Isle of Skye:
Eilean Donan Castle
Eilean Donan Castle is not based on the Isle of Skye but, with its convenient location on route, is definitely worth stopping by (if not for a proper visit) then at least for a glimpse. After 11 hours of driving, a short break in such picturesque surroundings was a must. Sitting on a wooden bench we enjoyed our lunch and admired the 13th century castle, built on a tiny island situated at the junction of three lakes: Loch Long, Loch Duich and Loch Alsh. The castle is said to be haunted by the ghost of a Spanish soldier who may have died in a battle which took place at the castle in 1719. Spooky!
We considered ourselves very lucky to have ended up where we were. After all, it’s quite unusual to stay in a building that once upon a time used to be a school. Built in 1876, it accommodated 80 pupils in its heyday. Today the renovated schoolhouse belongs to our friend, who kindly let us spend there the weekend (thank you Joss!). The house was located about 100 m away from the sea; waking up with such a view over these few days brought the most pleasant feelings. Happiness being on top of everything! The slow and lazy breakfasts in the garden, countless ping-pong sessions, BBQs, and morning dips in the water added even more value to our perfect getaway. The school, located in the Gauscavaig bay and overlooking the remains of Dunscaith Castle, was an excellent place for our little, local adventures.
One evening we pumped up our inflatable kayaks and decided to explore the Gauscavaig bay. The weather was completely windless, with not a single ripple on water. We were floating on the crystal clear waters, hypnotized by the underwater world we could see below. Little crabs were moving sideways, carrying food or fighting with each other. Oysters were lying on the seabed, patiently waiting to be picked up. From time to time a school of fish appeared close to our kayaks to then, frightened by something, quickly disappear between the seaweed. If watching the fish in the aquarium calms you down, you must try this!
On another evening, in the search for fresh fish, we came up with an idea to leave the ‘mainland’ and kayak to a nearby island. Envisaging a deflated kayak in the middle of the bitterly cold water, which at that time was also slightly choppy, I put on my wetsuit, life jacket and skipped the idea of taking any electrical devices. When we got there, the island turned out to be a home to the local seals. Not because they were there, but because every now and then, their little grey heads were emerging from the water to check whether the intruders were still occupying their island. After hours and hours of waiting (it was actually maybe 30 min), Jerome finally caught a fish! Although we didn’t feed with it five thousand men, like biblical Jesus, the three of us had a splendid dinner.
After one and only super fast dip in the water, I quickly learned that swimming without a wetsuit in the Gauscavaig bay, even during summer, was not my cup of tea. Wrapped in the wetsuit, on the other hand, I was happy to do so. One day, dressed appropriately and equipped with snorkelling gear, we jumped into the water to forage for oysters. Did we get any? We got plenty! The freshest oysters one can dream of.
According to Irish mythology, Dunscaith Castle, also called Fortress of Shadows, is named after, and was home of, the warrior Scáthach the Shadow, legendary Scottish warrior woman and martial arts teacher. The exact date of elevation of the castle is not known but it’s estimated to be 13th century. Historically, the castle belonged to the Clan MacDonald of Sleat between 15th and 17th century. In spite of the fact that ‘a castle’ is a bold description of what can be currently found in its place, it was nice to see the ruins, switch the imagination on and picture the place in its time of glory. I must admit that it was particularly difficult as there was really not much left, but just sitting on the cliff and admiring the views was pleasant and worth the 15 min walk from the schoolhouse.
The Oyster Shed
Oyster Shed is considered to be one of the best oyster selling places on the Isle of Skye and, being surrounded by two oyster lovers, skipping it was not an option. I will remember this place primarily because this was where I tried my first oysters ever. I didn’t fall in love with them, but I also didn’t throw up, so I guess this was a good sign. The Oyster Shed was located in close proximity to Talisker distillery and we considered visiting it too, but the queues and the fact that tours needed to be booked in advance quickly scuppered our plans.
The Old Man of Storr
After hiking the Old Man of Storr I understood why some of the scenes from the science-fiction film Prometheus were filmed there. The strangely shaped rocks and pinnacles, especially seen from the top, really give an impression of an extraterrestrial landscape.
One may think that Portree, being the largest town on Skye, should have easily accessible fresh fish, ideally sold straight from the boat. Well, maybe it has, but definitely not on Sunday afternoon. In order to get the fish, we had to set our shoulders to the wheel and catch it ourselves. Hence, our adventure to the little ‘isle of seals’ that I mentioned earlier.
Wow! What a relaxing and refreshing weekend we had. No stress. No rush. Just us and the Isle of Skye.
What other places or things to do would you recommend for the Isle of Skye?