Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Isles of Skye & Harris

My trip to the Isle of Skye turned into a bit of a fiasco and in retrospect I probably should have stayed home having only just returned from a week in New Orleans but I couldn't resist the romance of Scotland and so I was up at batshit-crazy-o-clock last Thursday to catch the 6:02am train from Greenwich. I had foolishly packed my North Face kitbag - the one without wheels, so had to carry that thing which became a bit much after a while. Lesson learned.

Anyway, Gatwick was dreadful. I can only assume that it was so busy because of the holiday weekend but it took me 32 minutes on the queue just to drop my bag!

But enough of those trivialities. The flight was fine, with me snoring and spluttering as I slept. On arrival at Inverness I liaised with the rest of the group but they were going to tour Inverness while I had Nigel picking me up for the drive to Skye. He'd driven up, spent a night at Glencoe and then met me. We stopped off to pick up supplies then headed to Skye, stopping off at Eilean Donan on the way.

We then headed toward the bridge that crosses over to Skye and made our way to Sligachan. Sligachan basically only has accommodation for hikers and, to be fair, it's an awesome location for a number of hikes up into the Cullins. Accommodation consists of a hotel or a bunkhouse or a campsite. We were a group of 9 with 7 in the hotel, 1 in the bunkhouse, and 1 camping. Unfortunately we only discovered on arrival that the campsite was not yet open so although one could camp there was no water, no toilets, and no showers. :-(

Slight disaster but it gets worse. Stick with the story.

So, next morning we assembled after breakfast for the 10 mile hike to Carbost to visit the Talisker Distillery.

The distillery tour was interesting. Of course I already knew the principles of distillation but the actual equipment is impressive. The tour cost £7 and included a £3 coupon for buying a bottle at the end of the tour plus a natty lapel pin. At the end of the tour we all got a generous dram of the 10 YO which went down a treat plus I had to help one of the other girls to drink hers which all set me up perfectly for hitting the distillery shop. At the shop they have a wide selection of whiskies, not just Talisker. I started tasting pretty much whatever they had an open bottle of so by the time I made my selection I was well on the way to getting hammered. :-)

In the end I think I was remarkably controlled, just buying 3 bottles. For tjose interested, my selections were the Talisker 18 YO because that can be hard to get hold of, the Talisker Storm as it was just released 3 weeks ago and again is a bit rare at the moment, and then a bottle of the Talisker Distillers Edition because I'm a huge fan of a sherry cask finish. All in all, I think I was remarkable restrained but wonder if I should have picked up a bottle of the 57 degrees.

Afterwards we repaired to the The Old Inn across the street for more drinks and dinner. Dinner was decent enough, the local ales were delightful but the real winner was the view of sunset in the mountains.

Needless to say, I got back to our hotel that night and fell asleep immediately. A marvellous day but unfortunately the next morning disaster struck. While I was having breakfast I let Nigel use my shower and apparently that just wasn't on. As I mopped up the last of my egg I got a text from him telling me that the owner had caught him and that he was being thrown off the campsite and I was being thrown out of the hotel.

On a holiday weekend when there are no other hotels or B&B's nearby and what few I had spotted the day before all showed No Vacancy signs. Nigel gallantly offered me his spare tent but it was getting down in the neighbourhood of -10C at night so I refused and instead we headed to Uig to catch the ferry to the Isle of Harris.

South Harris, as it turns out, is fairly dire. And we were stuck there until the 4pm sailing the following day. So we drove along the east coast "road", a narrow one land strip twisting among the rocky coast along a narrow causeway. Very stressful driving. In the end we cut across the south tip to Leverburgh where I booked into a sweet little B&B - Sorrel Cottage where the proprietress (Paula) graciously allowed Nigel to set up his tent on her lawn.

Having established a base of operations we then drove up to the next village along the west coast - Nprthton where we walked across the common grazing area and Nigel scoped out some possible locations for photography at sunset.

We then drove down to Rhodel to take a look at St. Clement's Church.

At this point I went of to The Anchorage for a rather indifferent dinner while Nigel went off to take some pics at sunset. I was uninspired by the light and the locations so just took one or two pics of the ferry to St. Kilda.

The next morning we continued along the west coast and discovered the beaches of the Sound of Taransay and got a few good shots.

I had fun playing with different effects so sorry about the large number of pics.

Not much more to tell really. We got the 4pm sailing back to Skye, I stayed in a hostel ::shudder::  in Portree so I would be sure to get my bus back to Inverness in the morning and then had a top notch dinner at The Granary on the village square. I suspect that, should I return to Skye, I will stay ion Portree as it's got loads of nice places to stay, restaurants, bars and artists galleries.

The next morning I caught the bus to Inverness at 9:10 and along the way we picked up the rest of the team at Sligachan. WARNING: It's a 3 hour trip between Portree and Inverness so be prepared!

Many thanks to Ray from 1000 Ft. Hikers for organising. Will I return to Skye? Maybe. I feel like I've barely explored it and I would also like to spend soem time exploring the work of local artists but I think that next time I will rent a car from Inverness and I certainly will not return to the hotel at Sligachan!

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