Europe · UK

A Visit to the Island of Skye, Scotland – Europe Travels August 2022

This was the day I had been waiting for: another Rabbie’s tour. The trip around Inverness with Rabbie’s had been so interesting and fun that we looked forward to our trip out to Skye for several days. It would be a much longer day: twelve hours, because Skye is a fair distance from Inverness. This tour is very popular, and although we were still in a small minibus, there were two of them waiting when we arrived at Inverness bus station.

First things first, though. There were Highland cows to see on the way out, and we had a much better view of these than we had on the earlier tour.

Besides these two, there were an additional two further out in the field. The cow on the left was very friendly and trotted right out to see us.

If you want to attempt to sound like a local, you would call this animal a “Heelan Coo”. It is indigenous to Western Scotland. Highland cows are as docile as they are cute. This one even stopped to show us one eye beneath all that hair.

Cuteness overload!

When we left Inverness, the skies were clear blue. As we got closer to Skye, the clouds gathered and the day became gloomier. I hear this is pretty typical for Skye. The average amount of sun hours for Portree, the largest town on Skye, is 1,170 hours annually. If you figure an average of twelve hours of sunshine daily, more or less, that works out to only 98 days when you may luck out and get a sunny day.

Arriving on Skye, our first stop was Glen Sligachan, with the Cuillin Hills in the background. This area is peatland, which the locals once used to cut for heating and cooling. About 20% of Scotland is covered in peatland. We walked over this bridge for a better look.

It was beautiful, but there were too many people about and not enough time for a venture further into nature. People were wandering everywhere. And therein lies a problem: these peatlands are fragile and protected. A signboard made a plea for a donation to the John Muir Trust to upgrade the paths.

The two men in this statue are John MacKenzie and Norman Collie. They climbed, mapped, and named the Cuillin hills in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Their partnership together lasted fifty years, and they are buried next to each other in a small cemetery within view of the mountains they loved.

The Island of Skye is covered in sheep. Unfenced sheep are grazing everywhere. There are over 100,000 sheep on the island of Skye, with blackface being the most common breed. I stopped to admire this little group, grazing near the bus park where we had stopped. They were too busy eating to turn around and pose for a picture.

Our guide had plenty of information for us as he drove. In the 1930’s and into the 1940’s, people built new homes next to the old thatched roof ones that had housed their families for generations. They removed the thatch, replaced the roof with cheap tin, and the old home became their shed. I looked for these as we rode and found several of them. Old stone fences also criscrossed the landscape.

We had some delicious fish and chips for lunch in the town of Portree. It was the second time on our trip that we ate in a former church, and these folks were doing a brisk business. It was the only item on their menu. The tour buses and minivans that are on the island for the day all converge on Portree at the lunch hour, so every eating establishment is full.

If you have ever watched the series “Doc Martin” on PBS, Portree looks a lot like the fictional “Portwenn” from this view.

In Portree after lunch, I poked around a local craft market and found a Skye author, Liz MacRae Shaw. Her books are historical fiction. One of them, “Love and Music Will Endure”, portrayed the life of Mairi Mhor Nan Oran. She was a poet and political activist from Skye during the 19th century.

The British had decided they wanted more sheep from Scotland, and Skye in particular. The landlords were encouraged to increase their income by replacing the smaller farms in their holdings with larger farms with more grazing land. They also wanted to reduce population. As a continuation of the hardships imposed after the Battle of Culloden, they started squeezing out those smaller farms in the 1750’s, now known as “crofts”, in a policy known as “The Highland Clearances”. There was forced migration and old ancestral homes were set on fire. To add insult to injury, the potato blight struck, just like in Ireland. People were suddenly homeless and crowded into local churches. Poverty reigned, and many former crofters left for the large industrial city of Glasgow to work. Some were involuntarily sent to Canada or the United States. The Highland Clearances went on for almost a hundred years.

Mairi fought for crofter’s rights in a time when women were supposed to be tending the hearth. She expressed her love for her homeland and the need for change through her poetry. I purchased the book, Liz signed it, and I spent the next week or two engrossed in this place at that time in history.

Looking down Skye’s rugged coastline from Portree

Back on the road after lunch, we headed northward along the coast. We were sometimes on single lane roads, preariously winding around the mountains, rising in elevation, with the wind picking up. The next stop: Kilt Rock or, in Gaelic, Creag An Fheilidh.

The cliff face that looks like a kilt is in the top rear of this photo. I was honestly more entranced by the gushing waterfall in the foreground. By now we had some light rain in addition to the wind, so this was a very quick stop.

Away from the coast and higher into the mountains we climbed, with the rain coming down in earnest now. When we finally arrived at Quirang, I was stunned at the panoramic beauty of the place.

I was cold, wet and almost blown away by the wind. Cal thought this was an auspicious time to take my picture!

The view at Quirang was more than worth the time we spent out in the weather.

We had seen the other Rabbie’s minibus here and there throughout the day, but by Quirang it was nowhere in sight. When I expressed my appreciation to our guide/driver for making this stop in deteriorating conditions, he said that some of the other guides don’t bother with it when the weather is getting bad. It was his opinion that you shouldn’t miss seeing what you’ve paid for. Of course, I wouldn’t have known the difference if we hadn’t stopped, so I was glad that we were on this particular minibus! For me, it was the highlight of the day.

It had been our furthest point north, so we started on our way back. At the bridge to the mainland, we stopped for a cup of hot cocoa and a look at some ruins.

We took a different way back to Inverness with completely different scenery. Unfortunately, it was not possible to take pictures out the window since it had rained off and on throughout the day. Especially closer to the island, I would have liked to know what I was seeing but our guide fell silent. He’d been regaling us with his stories and talking all day so I guess he was just tired! Our Rabbie’s day had been stellar, just like the first one had been.

I will be on a Christmas topic next week, and then will be taking a week off from the blog for the holidays. What about our RV’ing life, and what did we do after we returned from Europe? I’ll be answering those questions when I return.

There will be one more blog about our travels in Scotland. I’ve left out details of three things that many people think about when they think of this country. Do you know what they are? I’ll leave you to ponder that until I get back to it in 2023!

Next time – A Musical Christmas Card

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