Heading back home

This entry is part 7 of 7 in the series Skye

The sun rising over Loch Linnhe

Daily total: 322 miles

We woke this morning to clear blue skies, the first fully cloudless day of the trip and typically the day in which we leave for home. However the hotel staff tried to soften the blow by sticking us in the conservatory for breakfast so we could watch the sun rise above the mountains of Glencoe and over the loch. Eventually we were ready for setting off – was very surprised to have to scrape ice off the car’s windscreen though. Winter nights come early to these mountains! The journey south down the A82 through Glencoe and skirting Glen Etive was little short of spectacular. Despite our early start many of the car parks were already busy with walkers and ‘Munro baggers’ keen to make the most of the sunny day. I couldn’t resist stopping the car near Buachaille Etive Mór, the gateway mountain to Glen Etive, for a quick snap. If you’re a landscape photographer you’ll already have seen pictures of this by every other photographer out there, so I had to grab one myself. Mine was a bit rushed so I didn’t get the ideal viewpoint (plus the weather probably needs to be a bit more gnarly) but driving a little further on I am sure I did spot the place where all the other photographers stop. Next time…

Buachaille Etive Mor – a quick snap of the photographer’s favourite hill

We hammered on down past Loch Lomond and like we did in June, we stopped for refreshments after a couple of hours at Balloch. It’s very touristy, but the parking is free, they make a good latte and it’s the right distance from the hotel for a break.

Kayak polo at Loch Lomond.

Crossing Glasgow is always an experience after you’ve spent any time in the Isles. At any point on the M8 I can see more cars than I have passed in the previous 4 days. I can understand how people who spend longer away can suffer culture shock. From there it was a straight if long run to our late lunch stop at Tebay services on the M6. Again it’s familiar, but it’s the right distance from our tea break and of course just a couple hours from home.

The duck pond from our table at Tebay Services.

Leaving the lovely Isle of Skye

This entry is part 6 of 7 in the series Skye

Departing Armadale on Skye for Maillaig.

Daily total: 120 miles

Up early again today to pack the car with what seems like just as much stuff as we brought with us. I had expected that we’d eat out way through a deal of the baggage we brought, but nope, we seem to have replaced a lot of it. But eventually it was done and we said goodbye to Croft Cottage and Lower Milovaig for the last time. The 9 miles of single track to Dunvegan didn’t seem to go any quicker even though we’re used to it by now, so the two-lane blacktop was greeted with a cheer. Speed could now be made retracing the route we followed yesterday, but I was compelled to screech to a halt as we rounded Loch Harport just below Struan. The weather was so clear and the water so still that the reflections across the loch were nearly perfect. I had to grab a picture.

Reflections in Loch Harport

On the road again we made a slighter earlier (for us) stop for a coffee at the Sligachan Hotel under the brooding peak of Glamaig in the Red Cullin. The car park was packed with the cars of walkers, all out on the hills, but there were a number of photographers manipulating tripods round the Sligachan River and trying to catch the fleeting sunlight on the hills. I counted five of them at one point (not including me with my little Panasonic). I took some tripod-less snaps as the sun disappeared and went into the hotel for a coffee.

The Red Cuillin as seen from outside the Sligachan Hotel
A small whisky selection available in the Sligachan Hotel

From the Sligachan Hotel it was a non-stop hour’s run to the ferry terminal at Armadale. We arrived a full hour before our sailing just as the previous ferry was leaving. The CalMac man-who-does-everything/harbourmaster smiled sorrowfully at us – he must have thought we’d missed our sailing – but he presumably ditched that idea when I went and collected my pre-booked tickets for the next ferry from him. With an hour to kill we sampled the delights of Armadale (which are not extensive) and had an ice-cream. It wasn’t long before the waiting park was full of other vehicles with a couple of coach loads of passengers ambling about. The ferry duly arrived, and for once my position in the front of the queue translated into a position at the very front of the boat.

Waiting for the Mallaig ferry at Armadale. Front of the queue for once.

The 40 minute crossing of the Sound of Sleat was totally uneventful on a flat calm water, though the views were lovely. Driving into Mallaig on the other side was a culture shock, being a busy place, both as a ferry port and the terminus of the West Highland Line (but more on that anon). We grabbed a parking place and a decent cafe for a spot of dinner.

Heading back towards Fort William I was determined to make a stop at Genfinnan, both to see the ‘Harry Potter’ viaduct and the monument. When it turned out that it was Scottish National Trust-owned so we could park and get in for free, my Yorkshire-ness was fully tickled. A whole group of people were stood at the foot of the car park overlooking a rather insipid view of the viaduct, waiting it seemed for a train to come along. I got fed up of that so donned my boots for a muddy climb to the better viewpoint. About 3/4 of the way up the steep climb I heard a train’s whistle, so for the first (and hopefully last) time in my life I turned into a fell runner and sprinted the last few vertical yards. I was rewarded with a fine view of the viaduct, across which the “Hogwarts Express” (sorry, “Jacobite”), obligingly puffed. Magical.

‘Hogwarts Express’ crosses the Glenfinnan Viaduct
View of the Jacobite monument in front of Loch Sheil

Back down at the bottom we had a walk over to the monument at the head of Loch Sheil. I rather foolishly decided the climb the damn thing. It wasn’t much different from a castle tower going up until the last bit where you had to wriggle through a loft-hatch-sized opening onto the top of the monument. Not the smartest thing I have ever done as I clung to the top and grabbed a few pics without looking down.

Bonny Prince Charlie on top of the Jacobite monument.

Back on the ground (thank God) there was a piper playing for a coach party, so we latched on to that and got a few very biscuit tin pics of the girl (for it was a girl piper) in front of the Loch.

Biscuit tin moment next to Loch Sheil

On from there and through a busy Fort William to our overnight stop at the Isles of Glencoe hotel at Ballachulish. This hotel has a truly special location at the side of Loch Linnhe and is built is a style slightly reminiscent of an Alpine lodge. Our room had two massive Velux windows overlooking the Loch, but I was quickly out of the room again trying to capture the last light on Sgorr na Cìche (the Pap of Glencoe) before the sun set behind me.

Sunset over Loch Linnhe from the garden of the Isles of Glencoe Hotel

The far south of Skye

This entry is part 5 of 7 in the series Skye

The Cuillin from the A87

Broadford, Armadale and Clan Donald
Daily total: 140 miles

Having pretty much travelled a great deal of northern Skye, the plan today was to see a bit more of the south. Since we arrived on Monday we hadn’t been further south that Portree, so today was the plan to right some of that. Early plans to hit the road to Glen Brittle or perhaps Elgol were scuppered by the weather. The Cullin was under a great deal of cloud, so we felt there was no point in going to look at what you cannot see. Instead we headed for Broadford. Well, we didn’t set off that early but we had barely got 1/4 of a mile down the road when we were flagged down by an elegantly dressed couple stood besides their hire car, sat on the grassy verge. They were French (or possibly Belgian) and it emerged that she had swerved to avoid an oncoming car and now their car was stuck fast. It didn’t look very stuck, so we all endeavoured to push it out. Turned out it was really stuck, with one wheel hanging over a ditch and spinning uselessly. I was really annoyed – here I am with a Land Rover and no blasted tow rope so I couldn’t pull ’em out. We offered a lift to the garage at Dunvegan (9 miles), but she managed to call out someone to give them a tow off the bank, so we left them waiting at that point. I wonder what tales they will tell when they get home.

Back on the road and somehow managing to resist the temptations of the short ferry ride to the island of Raasay from Sconser, our first stop was Broadford, which despite being located under the majestic bulk of Beinn na Caillich (the Red Hills) seemed rather an uninspiring strip mall of a place. There was no tempting anyone to visit Skye Serpentarium and Reptile World (not even with a coffee shop) so we had a drink in the imaginatively-titled Beinn na Callaich Cafe, a quick look round the town and then moved on. All too soon we hit the end of the road at Armadale – lunchtime saw us overlooking the harbour and eating our butties. Retracing our steps slightly we decided to visit the house and gardens of the Clan MacDonald.

Raven – symbol of the Clan MacDonald.

Well, we had done MacLeod place yesterday and it seemed unreasonable to take sides in the battle. Also it was the preferred choice over the Talisker Whisky Distillery tour (sigh). But despite this it turned out to be very interesting. Whilst the MacLeods had a full-sized castle to play with and the MacDonalds had only a ruined mansion house, the MacD’s made up for it with their museum and visitor centre.

Standing stones recreated inside the MacDonald museum.

Modern and well laid-out, it was crammed with stuff including a full-sized stone circle and an ancient Skye racing skiff. I am glad we went and spent the afternoon there looking round the museum and gardens.

Skye racing skiff

However I do think the MacDonalds have missed a trick – visiting the restaurant for afternoon tea I was disappointed that the menu included a ‘100% Beef Burger’. I mean come on, your clan name is MacDonald, your family has been cooking meat on that spot for at least a millennium, what would YOU be tempted to call that burger?

Armadale Castle – ruined seat of Clan MacDonald
Ruins of the laundry for Armadale Castle (NB bigger than the average house!)

Arriving back at Lower Milovaig after a long day, I was glad to see that our stranded tourists had gone. All that was left was a long grove in the verge where the underside of the car had been extricated. At least they got away, and there didn’t seem to be any signs of mechanical mayhem.

A lazy, local day

This entry is part 4 of 7 in the series Skye


Looking out from the ‘back garden’ of Croft Cottage

Dunvegan and the Waternish
Daily total: 55 miles

After a lot of driving on the previous two days we decided that staying a bit more local might be the ticket today. First stop was Neist Point, the most westerly point on Skye and the location of a much admired lighthouse. The car park is at the very top of the cliffs and you have a choice of a vertignous descent down the cliffside path to the light itself or a steep climb up the nearby hills for a panoramic view. I chose the latter this morning and indeed the views are spectacular, looking out over the light across the Little Minch to the Outer Hebrides beyond.

Neist Point

From there we headed to Dunvegan and the chance to fill up with diesel at the most laid-back garage-cum-meeting-for-a-chat place ever. On to the end of the road and a look round Dunvegan Castle and gardens. This has been the seat of the MacLeod family for at least 800 years and like all semi-aristocratic families they don’t seem to have ever thrown anything away. The castle ( the upper floors are still very much occupied by the family) is rammed with all manner of stuff from throughout the ages.

The gardens were also impressive; well laid-out with nearly all the plants labeled clearly. Just to show, there were two separate waterfalls alone, as well as a formal garden and a walled garden. We got caught by a shower, but luckily were able to retreat to a potting shed that doubled as the garden museum to wait it out.

MacLeod’s Tables

Leaving the castle and from the town’s car park we happily ate our sandwiches looking out over the harbour towards the twin flat-topped mountains known as MacLeod’s Tables.

Leaving Dunvegan we headed back out on the Portree road, but soon turned off onto the a minor road leading to the peninsula called the Waternish. Almost immediately we stopped at the Fairy Bridge, which is just a little bridge carrying the old road with the new road running alongside.

Under the Fairy Bridge, Isle of Skye

The legend is, if you first enter the Waternish by the Fairy Bridge, then you will forever belong to the Waternish. I think they miss a trick by bypassing it with the new road though! Carrying on up there, with lovely views overlooking Loch Bay and Dunvegan Head, it’s not long before we reach the ruins of Trumpan Church. I am not entirely sure who did what anymore, but this was the site of a massacre of the MacLeods by the MacDonalds. Or maybe it was the other way round? Anyway, in retaliation for some other massacre where one lot trapped another in a cave and smoked them to death, on this occasion the second lot burnt down the church with the first lot inside.

The graveyard at Trumpan Church

The astonishing thing to my mind is that they remember those days fondly, whist we, the Sassanach (literally, [Anglo]-Saxon speakers), are still reviled for what seems a lot less violence over a much shorter period. Anyway, despite all the feuding it is a beautiful place and well worth a visit on a lovely day like today.

Grave with a view – another view from the graveyard of Trumpan Church.

On the way back we were tempted in to a place called Skye Skins. Basically a business where they prepare sheepskins for sale, either as rugs or for further processing into there goods. The USP, as it where, was they offered you a tour of the workshops before showing you the shop. That was actually very interesting though the prices in the shop were even more so! Sad really, as I wouldn’t have minded a few hints, but £800 for a patchwork sheepskin rug is a wee too rich for my blood.

Lichen growing on a drystone wall – they say only the cleanest air allows these to flourish.

Around the Trottenish

This entry is part 3 of 7 in the series Skye
Croft Cottage – our home for the week.

Portree and the Trottenish peninsula
Daily total: 103 miles

Today we headed for the capital Portree for a look round. After a lazy start to the morning we were there in time for a walk down to the harbour followed by elevenses.

The view over Portree harbour.

The town is very pretty, but was really busy with tourists from all over the world. We shared our cafe with Japanese kids and Australian pensioners. After a sunny morning we got hit by several showers, so spent some time looking round the Portree craft market.

Portree craft market

Eventually, tiring of that we hit the road north towards the Trottenish ridge and the world famous Old Man of Storr pinnacle. Joining all the other cars in the car park at the bottom, I girded my loins and hoisted my camera rucksack and tripod and set off up the steep track through the woods. Well that turned out to be not a lot of fun. Logging work was underway and that combined with the recent rains left the track very muddy indeed. It was like climbing a 2-mile sloppy staircase. When, after 40 minutes, I reached the clearing at the top of the woods and saw the zig-zag climb still ascending more steeply than ever, my spirit was crushed.


But it was only I was joined by two entire coach loads of Japanese youths that I felt I had had enough and turned and slithered my way back down to the car. The Storr can wait for another year when I am better prepared (and have someone else to carry the tripod).

From there we continued north towards Staffin with the plan of circumnavigating the entire Trottenish peninsula. It wasn’t long though before we were drawn off road by the sight of Kilt Rock. A series of sea cliffs, folded and pleated, reminiscent of a kilt plus a waterfall into the sea for good measure. Very nice.

Pebble Towers at the very tip of the island

Heading north through Staffin and round the tip of the peninsular, suddenly we were confronted by the sudden appearance of hundreds of pebble towers arranged by the side of the road. Some strange and collective compulsion had caused people to build these all in the same place. I had seen a dozen or so together at Waterville in County Kerry last year, but not the sheer profusion there was here. It was an amazing sight!

Interesting number plate at the Tarbet ferry port. (in case you don’t know the car is a Mazda MX-5)

From this point we wound our way back down the other side to the ferry port of Uig. This is where the ferries for Tarbet in Lewis and Lochmaddy in North Uist depart (and indeed is the shortest crossing to the Outer Hebrides – under 2 hours, unlike the 4 and 5 hour marathons we endured in the spring). Where there’s ferries there’s usually refreshments, but these looked particularly unexciting. Nevertheless we managed a cup of tea before heading back out and completing the journey home.

A Day of Rainbows

This entry is part 2 of 7 in the series Skye


Fishing boat at Plockton

Fort William to Lower Milovaig, Isle of Skye
Daily total: 137 miles

We were up early this morning to beat the coach trippers also staying in the hotel. That didn’t work too well because they were up early too. Turns out from the ‘bonjours’ and ‘merci’s that they were all French. What the poor sods made of Fort William I cannot imagine. Anyway, we headed off out – the plan had been to take the cable car up Aonach Mor in the Nevis range but the clouds were obscuring the peaks of Ben Nevis and neighbouring mountains so we swept on by – no point in paying £11.25 each for something you can’t see (you can take the man out of Yorkshire…). Turning on to the Kyle of Lochlash road just after the Spean Bridge, we stopped at a monument to the Commandoes of WW2 largely because of it’s commanding views over the Nevis range.

Margaret & Michael Mart plus Phoebe

In the car park we were joined by Micheal and Margaret Mart and their Model A Ford, “Phoebe”. They were driving from John O’Groats to Lands End and back again in their 1930 car to raise money for charity.  Seemingly with the roof down too, despite the constant heavy showers! The downpours interspaced with sunshine meant that we were constantly being surprised by rainbows all day – in fact we gave up counting at 14, they were appearing so thick and fast.

Eilean Donan Castle

From the monument our first proper stop was Eilean Donan Castle, which of course is about the most instantly recognisable castle in Scotland. We had a look round and dodged the showers in the cafe, but soon headed off towards the Kyle of Lochalsh and the Skye Bridge. Because we were fairly early, we made a wee detour to the village of Plockton. This village is famous as the setting for the TV series “Hamish MacBeth” but it’s also a tourist magnet for being a very pretty village. We waited out a heavy shower in the car for 10 mins, then walked around the village in the sunshine. Wendy was amazed by the many types of plants growing in the well-tended gardens. There were palm trees and many varieties of plants growing much further north than you would expect to see them – obviously the effects of the Gulf Stream really can be felt here. From Plockton, it’s just a short six mile hop to the Skye Bridge which of course leads over to the Isle of Skye. We decided to push on across the island now to our cottage as we wanted to get settled in before tea. It’s a bit of a yomp with the first 3/4 of the trip being on fast, ‘ordinary’ A-roads. However, at Dunvegan you turn on to a single track road that seem to be getting narrower and narrower.

Seemingly at the end of the rainbow you find a Land Rover – the car parked at Croft Cottage.

Eventually, seemingly with the land running out and nothing but sea ahead, the sign said Lower Milovaig and we could see Croft Cottage on the hillside. From the cottage front windows, directly ahead we can see over Loch Pooltiel to cliff top waterfalls on the other bank. Looking left, the faint outline of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides is visible. If you catch it at the right time, you can spot the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry scurrying to and fro from Lochmaddy to Uig, further along the Skye coast. It is frankly beautiful.

350 miles northwards

This entry is part 1 of 7 in the series Skye


Approaching storm across Loch Linnhe as seen from the fort in from Fort William

Macclesfield to Fort William
Daily total: 335 miles

A lot of miles to get through today, so a swift start. Elevenses found us at Tebay services near Shap and from there we just hammered on, through Glasgow, past Loch Lomond and right up to Crianlarich before our next stop. It was a little bit further than I perhaps should have done in one hit as I was getting a bit tired towards the end. Note to self: stick to 2 hour bursts in future. However, from there it was only an hour to Fort William. The weather has been heavy showers and sunshine all day, just as predicted, which has made for some spectacular scenery, especially between Crianlarich and Fort William as we drove through Glencoe and skirted Glen Etive. I can understand why the landscape photographers love this area, though the pressure to get a move on prevented me from stopping in more than a couple of spots. When we eventually did reach Fort William, our hotel (Alexandria Hotel) was easy to find as it was alongside the road overlooking Loch Leven. After tea I braved the showers to walk round the town.

Sore Feet – a statue commemorating the end of the West Highland Way.

Seemed a bit of a sad place, especially on a wet Sunday night, but then I suspect you could say that about a lot of places, (not Sheffield where I live though, which seems to be hopping on a Sunday night – I suspect University towns are always more exciting?). Eventually I gave up for the evening and returned to the hotel.