In which Ruth goes over the sea to Skye

I left Falkirk at 9am on the A9 and I’ll never do that again. What a horrible road especially if you get a mobile home in front of you who won’t go above 40mph and never pulls in to the let the queue pass. In fact this was a common grump on the holiday so I’ll just get it out of the way now and we’ll say nothing more about it, okay?

Stopped at Spean Bridge Mill which is really the Edinburgh Woollen Mill under another name (as was the Portree Woollen Mill and I’m guessing any other Woollen Mill you find in Scotland). It sells the usual tartan trash, cheap tartan cashmere scarves (never at full price, always for a bargain), tins of shortbread and fudge and much in the way of Scottishness. Oh what I couldn’t do if they wanted a makeover. I was told to stop here for lunch and it is about the last place you can stop until you get to Skye. Sadly, the day I was there I reckon the chef had run off with someone more exciting and there was no lunch.

Best sign on the road was ‘Feral Goats for 2 miles’. Sadly I didn’t see any but it was quite thrilling, all the same, waiting for one to pop out from behind a rock and go.., go ‘Grr’?  Dead Bambi at the side of the road was less so. Arrived in Portree after a six hour journey, found the Piskie pub sign and my home for the next week. A warm welcome and a tour of the lovely accommodation which is the old rectory attached to the church. It is a bit like the layout here with the ground floor rooms given over to church rooms and then the upstairs being the holiday let. (Open to clergy at a great rate – sleeps 4!)

I knew there was to be no TV for the week and I was okay with that. Yes, that’s fine, I thought. I shall read and listen to music and perhaps a spot of prayer shawl knitting. There was a radio but it only got a good signal for Radio 4. Not much music then. Not any music except for Desert Island Discs actually. Oh how I missed my music. I’ll eat the lovely chocs on my pillow instead, I thought. Jolly nice they were too. Went out for a drive to find the ‘big’ Co-op. (‘Big’ is all relative really. But good old Co-op – they’ll have branches where nobody else will.)

Back to the flat after a long and tiring day. Forgot to ask for the wifi code and 3G was intermittent. I could send messages but it took too long to read and reply. A job for tomorrow. In bed by 9pm with my Kindle. Not much else to do really.

Portree harbour houses

Tuesday 6 August – The day the pipers arrived

‘Did we mention the piping competition?’ they asked when I arrived. ‘No’, said I. For two days. Bagpipes indoors for two days. For the renowned bagpiping competition. People come from all over the world, I’m told. Well good for them. Why don’t they try living above it? Because you see there were three pipers going at a time. There were the actual competition ones who were playing their hearts out in the church. I could hear them a bit and jolly nice it was. But much closer to home, and I mean very, very close, as close as someone in your next room, were the pipers who were warming up and practising. Usually two at a time. So loud that I couldn’t hear the radio or concentrate on a book. So loud it shook the china on the lovely country-style dresser. I went out.

Up and down the street of Portree I wandered. (Actually there are two streets with shops but the other one only has one shop so I didn’t count it.) Spent a little of my holiday pennies on some lovely batiq and some puffin pottery. All I wanted was a map. Back for lunch and the pipers were going strong so in the afternoon I drove north to Uig where the ferry comes and goes. Not a lot else happens in Uig. Lovely pottery though (of the puffin fame). And a petrol station. That’s about it at Uig.

On the way home found a shortcut over the Quiraing. Still haven’t sussed what Quiraing means but it seems to be hills and rocks. Quite dramatic. Small steep one track road which took all my attention and saw little of the views. Learned that many tourists haven’t learned to translate ‘passing places’.  At Staffin found a nice candle shop and a strange museum full of old tools, fossils and dinosaur footprints. The man whose collection it is, is very charming and interesting.  Went on to Elishadder Gallery for coffee and shortbread and lemon curd. What an unusual and winning combination. I learned that the name ‘Gallery’ on Skye means someone’s front room.

Got home to find the pipers had gone and learn that the Highland games take part at The Lump tomorrow. The Lump! This is turning into Father Ted country. Ten minutes later and the pipers have returned. They were just having their tea break. And on and on they tuned and skirled and puffed until 10.30pm at night. It really is very popular then. (Not with me, it ain’t.) Even after they’d gone I could still hear the bloody moaning of the pipes in my ears. Meh.

Wednesday 7 August

Woken by, guess what, a pipe band in the square outside! Within minutes the piping competition downstairs began all over again. I spoke to the Pipe Major. “When will you finish today?” I asked. “Och I don’t know. It’ll finish when it finishes, you know? Just as long as there are folk to play. Perhaps about 3ish.” “3 in the afternoon?” “Och no, 3 in the morning!”  What a sense of humour these islanders have.

It being the day of the Skye Highland Games, I thought I’d have a wander and see some handsome men in kilts throwing big sticks around so off I headed for The Lump. It was indeed a Lump. As far as I could see from the Lump it was a few men jumping over a pole, some men tossing a shot putt and wee ones Highland dancing but you couldn’t see them for all the crowds doing what crowds do best – crowd. I only stayed for about half an hour before the excitement got too much for me and I thought I’d better leave before I disgraced myself.


Off to Dunvegan and then Glendale. Fabulous chowder at the Waterside Cafe and popped in to more peoples’ front rooms to adore prints and pottery and stuff. Skyeskins was lovely – a barn full of sheepskin – but a bit out of my price range. The sheepskin ‘ends’ for pussy cats were sold out so poor Lucy Pussy and Rita Kitten will have to make do with faux fur again. Get home and the piping has indeed finished. What a relief. Then I’m told the pipe band will march to the square this evening to entertain us all. I wept.  And the Highland Games Ceilidh takes place in the hall next to the church, I’m told. Indeed it did.

Thursday 8 August

I haven’t mentioned the weather yet. Well, it hasn’t been much different from the weather generally in Scotland. Four seasons in a day sometimes. The thing that makes it so dramatic here on Skye (as on Iona) is the landscape is so big and open and lends itself to dramatic cloud cover, mists coming down, and blue skies with clouds scudding along, You could happily sit with a camera in a field and click all day long.

But today was a day at home. A day for pottering and knitting and reading. I finally got the secrets of the wifi and did a bit of catching up with the outside world. I’m sure I could still hear those pipers, mind you.

Skye sun water

Friday 9 August

Headed off to Broadford today. I’m told it has lots more to see than it used to. That would be a post office/crap craft shop, Co-op, small crap-craft shed, nice candle shop, nice pricey jeweller and a petrol station. Never did find World of Wood.

Knitted lots while listening to Radio 4. Came to the conclusion that I can see why Women’s Hour was so important – and still is. Because everything else on talk radio is so macho.

Saturday 10 August

Woken at 7am by loud clattering and stomping downstairs. Had an awful thought that it was Sunday and they were getting ready for the service and I was late, but after checking I realised that no, it was Saturday. Then another set of footsteps, howls of laughter, and off they went in a car. Nice alarm. (Turns out that a few of the ladies were going on an outing to Elgin and the charity shops which requires an early start.)

Went up north again, but this time right up to Flora Macdonald’s hangout. Found some old croft museums. Came to the conclusion that a week is long enough for me to be in the country. The large moth waiting on the door when I returned half scared me to death. And I also learned that I hate holidaying alone. Ah well, such is life. Bus tours again for me.


Sunday 11 August (Pentecost 12)

Opened the bag wherein the black shoes lay and lo! The black shoes were not black but were pink. Catastrophe! No idea how it happened as I know I went to get black shoes but somehow the pink ones had obviously wanted to come and that was that. Facebook friends would have had me barefoot, in Birkenstocks, or going for the pink ones but in the end I put on the darkish purple trainers and hoped nobody would notice. As I heard people moving around downstairs I set off, alb in hand and sermon in the other. But the door was stuck. Stuck shut. I’d had a bit of trouble with this Yale lock and had taken to leaving it open when I was out as there was a lock downstairs too. But the snib was down and it wouldn’t budge. I tried a knife. I tried a loyalty card (well they seem to work in the movies) but to no avail. I opened the window and shouted and that got me frosty looks from the Presbyterians over the road. It’s funny to be stuck in a flat with such poor sound insulation but nobody can hear you scream. So I phoned the lovely lady who’d let me in, her number being the only one I had. Got her out of the shower and she came racing down and managed to open it from the other side. What a hoot!

The service went well except for the Offertory when the server appeared with a tray. Not being sure what to do, I took the wine off it and poured it into the chalice. Still not exactly sure what I should have done but judging by the look on her face that wasn’t it. Think we got away with it though. Lots of visitors who stayed for coffee and lovely homemade cakes and sausage rolls (take note Christ Church!!).

Learned that Radio 4 repeat pretty much everything on a Sunday that I’ve already heard during the week. Meh.

In the evening I was invited to another service down at Sleat where they have a monthly service from the reserved sacrament. Sr Elizabeth offered them a ‘real priest’ to do the Eucharist but that went down like a lead balloon so I joined the ranks of saints in the body of the kirk, as it were. Lovely. Home by 9pm and an early night again.

Clouds and hills

The journey home was quite uneventful. Still no sign of the Feral Goats. I’m a little disappointed. Not even much in the way of midges so that was a waste of a fiver on Skin So Soft. Came home by a different route which was much better and I even managed a stop at the Green Welly Stop.

It was a lovely break really. Skye is a beautiful place and much, much bigger than I thought. The flat is lovely and really nicely done out. Hard on your own though to admire scenery and drive at the same time. Next time I’d go with friends. But I finished a prayer shawl and got a bit of reading done.


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