Tuesday, December 31, 2013


In reminiscing about my American New Year's Eve last year, I remember the little friend who kept me company on that frigid night. Yes, I had a bat...er...mouse...in my Idaho belfry. A mouse, I say, because I had seen only one at a time. They didn't scurry around in mobs, like roaches, and a mouse didn't mind taking a dive for a kabibble right under my nose in broad daylight--although I think that was an error in judgment on his part. His bud said, 'Mistake, buh-ig mistake, Harold.'

Now, when I mention kabibbles, one might misunderstand and think I was untidy. Judging by the general maligning they get, not to mention downright horror-accompanied-by-creeping-of-the-flesh at the mere mention of the diminutive tykes, it would not bode well for me to admit that, no, I was not untidy, I just felt sorry for the starving little buggers and only picked out the tastiest dainties (nuts, birdseed, healthy cat-crunchies, and homemade, whole-grain bread crumbs) for them and left them on a pretty dish under an antique buffet at night, so they'd feel safe darting to and fro. No, I won't admit to  it.

I felt lucky that they contained their foraging to my kitchen floor. Not one had ventured to my bedroom, but woe for me if I happened to drop a sticky crumble of my midnight snack on my nightie--I might have felt little twitchy-whiskers in my bed. Hmm, though maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing.

Speaking of rodents, I've been gathering up little newsy items like a mousie storing seeds...but Skye folk are pretty cagey about how they're going to celebrate the New Year, unlike Edinburgh, which blasts its party life intentions via every internet possibility on the planet. I have a serious feeling that if anyone on this misty isle is going to make merry tonight, they have a good idea where they'll be even if they aren't telling me. I see that Shooglenifty will be at Dornie Hall; the Skye Gathering Hall in Portree will be dancing with Ros T and Munroso; and keep yours ears open for any local ceilidhs in your neighborhood. Party vicariously all evening with BBC Alba or liven up your sitting room with Cuillin fm 102.7 at 10 pm. 

Ho hum, yes, I'm heading over for tea at Skeabost Hotel, in just a few---wheeee, party on girl! It gets crazier later on--chocolate, Laphroaig and a good book. If I down enough whisky, maybe Mr. Twitchy W will materialize in my dreams!

If you go out, take care and if you are drinking, call a friend for a ride.

Happy Hogmanay to all critters, great and small, on this wet winter's night. I wish you shelter, a kiss for the new year, and may all Skye nibblers have enough kabibbles to fill their tummies and warm their hearts.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas on Skye

Me trying to be artsy with my GE cam--well, I love it
anyway, for always being true blue.
Christmas Eve, I sat in my little white croft house on Loch Snizort Beag, listening to 'Carols from Kings', my wee fire adding ambiance if not much warmth to my sitting room; candles twinkled from mantel and windows, amid boughs collected as a prize in the storm beneath an unfortunate diminutive tree which no longer had its top half. I had thanked and assured the forlorn pine that it would embellish my home for the holidays and through gusts of stinging rain, I carried the branches clutched to my breast, in protective glee, home to my cozy cottage.

Boot Sale Madness!
December has been a month of exhilarating walks over boggy, trickling moors--distance obtained by jumping to and from patches of heather, all tinted golden with a brave winter sun battling pewter clouds and blown by southwest gales.

Last week found the towering Somerled Square Christmas tree on its side, where it still lies like a spirit dashed but not broken. Portree calendars were filled with fun. The Skye Reading Room held a book launch at Skeabost Country Hotel, for Liz Macrae Shaw's debut novel, 'Love and Music Will Endure'. This is the story of Mairi Mhor nan Oran, Skeabost songwriter and activist. Caroling voices filled Somerled Square and St. Columba's Church, and a very appealing Boot Sale at the Community Center satisfied last-minute shopping quests.

Friday night jitters weren't alleviated by the MacBrayne ferry mishap, two hours of free-floating between Raasay and Sconser. No rocks were hit, no dashing upon the coast, just umpteen frantic mobile phone calls to home and hearth. After seven hours of nerve-jangling delay, travelers were on their way. 'The staff were amazing--they went out of their way to help,' said one passenger.

Pretty Dawn at coffee after
caroling, while I devour
mincemeat tarts.
Later, the owner of the Fat Panda laughed and said, 'Oh--the fish man phoned to say he was "on the boat" and couldn't pick up his food. He has an alibi--he wasn't lying!'

According to another passenger, Mac made it a 'storm thing'...was that the same storm that blew in and toppled the Christmas tree, hours later? Hmmm. People were not happy with that but were relieved to be safely home.

Pauline lets the fish man off the hook--no Ron is not the
fish man, just a passenger home again.

I have had a wonderful Christmas day with my fuzzy companions and now that the gourmet chocolates have digested, I am ready to prepare dinner. My Christmas day walk was dry and slightly windy, which made me feel blessed that we on Skye have escaped the outrageous storms that have blasted England and Scotland. We even had some pretty cloud and sun-setting action--I never saw the sun but saw its effects on the horizon--actually realized that the sun is still setting in the west--I thought it had been setting in the south for the past month! Happy day!

Christmas Gift For Readers: A loverly remembrance of my Idaho winters by my ole'
pal and finer photog than me by far, David Bagnard.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Somerled Square: Portree's 'Park'

Whatever were they thinking? One might suppose (as I did) that a pretty central park was replaced by a car park and bus stops but it ain't so. Well, when Scottish King James V cruised into the harbour in 1540 to exercise his royal prerogative over the unruly and great unwashed, it's true that the future 'Somerled Square' served as a campground for the king's troops. It appears that was the last lovely grassy park on this spot above the harbour. From the earliest photographs, we see that the only concept of 'park' in dusty, muddy, busy Somerled Square involved your bum, rig, gig, bus, car or sheep, from the time buildings began to gather about the area.
Photo credit: Highland Archive Service (Skye and Lochalsh)
This was prime real estate in Kiltaraglen, which got a name change sometime after the king's visit. Some say Port an Righ, for king's harbour, and some anti-Royalists say Port Ruighe, for 'slope harbour'. Nevertheless, the village has been the Heart of the Island for hundreds of years, pronounced as Portree. 

If you walk onto Somerled Square today and raise your eyes above the concrete and vehicles, what magic you encounter. Look at these lovely stars, which beg for a camera and lights.
Portree Parish Church,
with latticed gothic lights and cottage porch.
Window in Parish Church

The original Free Church turned 
Parish Church, has been used as a 
warehouse and is now on the 
The Parish Church, which is described as 'cottagey gothic', was originally built as a Free Church in 1850-54, designed by John Hay, of Liverpool. Louisa MacDonald had it raised in memory of her father, Sir Archibald MacDonald Baronet. Its predecessor was the large 1820 church on the corner of Bank Street and The Green.
Masonic Lodge St. Kilda 881, built 1912, by R.J. MacBeth.
"The painted, balustraded parapet gives the whinstone
frontage a quirky charm." (Mary Miers)
Construction of Masonic Temple in 1912.

The first Portree St. Kilda's Lodge was formed in 1784, but ceased operation around 1848. In 1898, the Master Masons received permission to resuscitate the Lodge.

The Free Presbyterian Church is topped by an endearing octagon timber fleche and sports gothic hood moulds. This beauty was designed in 1895, by John MacKenzie. I snapped this photo again a week later, for the winter effect and love it but left you with the side view of autumn (below). This gives the reader a perspective on the amazing visual changes on Skye.
Side view of the Free Presbyterian
Church, which sits on the curve heading
up Home Farm Road.
Eye-catching north transept between St. Columba's 
Church (Scottish Episcopalian) and it's rectory.

Look across Home Farm Road and you'll see the pretty Church of St. Columba. The rectangular hall with gothic lancets was designed for the Scottish Episcopalian Church by Alexander Ross, in 1884, and the foundation stone was laid by Bishop Chinnery Holdane. The big southwest porch was the base for a saddleback tower that was demolished in 1953. Inside is a gorgeous window depicting Esther delivering her countrymen by E. Ingram, which was dedicated to Flora MacDonald. The linked 1891 rectory is available for lodging rental.

MacKenzie's Bakery and the Granary Restaurant do business in Hawthorn Cottage. 

Comely 1889 Hawthorn Cottage was first owned by Angus Campbell.

Neil Beaton returned from the WWI front line and founded a motor hire business on Portree pier. He purchased Hawthorn Cottage, where he lived with his wife, Catherine.

The cottage's story continues with McKinnon's Bakery, which was in the big, clotted-cream yellow, three-storey house next to the Masonic Lodge, possibly first owned by Rhu Arden. Roderick McKinnon lived here and ran his bakery business. Descendant, Harry McKinnon, continued the bakery and was later joined here by Alisdair Kemp McKenzie.

When Harry McKinnon died in 1959, Alisdair McKenzie took over the bakery and moved it to Hawthorn Cottage. Alisdair died in Portree on 3 May, 1991. The family still own the building and the bakery continues to bear the name of McKenzie.The old McKinnon Bakery building is now owned by Dr. and Dr. Laughland, who visit regularly.

Portree Courthouse

Clydesdale Bank
Inverness architects James Matthews and William Lawrie contributed a trio of styles to Somerled Square.

From 1865,  you'll find the simple pedimented classical villa-styled Courthouse, playfully embellished with traditional urns on the parapet.

Clydesdale Bank was built in 1866, as the North of Scotland Bank. It has a friendly, home-like appearance in Georgian Survival, with heavily pedimented ground floor windows.

Below, the 1873 Caledonian Bank is now the Bank of Scotland. This is the most impressive of the Matthews-Lawrie Portree productions--a show-off, with gables and hood moulds in gothic. It is easier to appreciate this craftsmanship over others which are painted (such as the three-storey McKinnon). Look closely at the work under the paint on these structures and you will see the elegance that was.

Bank of Scotland.

A tour of Somerled Square buildings would be in order, for aficionados of these old buildings. Here is the interior of the building once owned by the Isles family, now known as the Isles Inn. The pub is renown for good local music.

The building has the Skye whitewashed look, with small third floor dormer windows that cry out for a good book, a candle and a cozy blanket.
Isles Inn

The police station has more charm than some in the United States, but we expect more in Portree. There was a quaint stone jail on the corner here but it has been demolished. 
The cranberry doors and window frames rosy-cheek the bureacratic attitude. Perhaps if the entry provided tea and if the doors leading off to nether regions had some ornamental cottage detail...and the stairs were wooden..and...well, the man dutifully helping out the probing American citizen was friendly enough. At least she didn't get arrested for espionage.

Another autumn/winter effect. Take your pick for when you visit Somerled Square and the substantial Portree Hotel: an Alexander Ross, 1875 design. In William MacKenzie's 1930 book, Old Skye Tales, he recounts a 'hazy recollection of the Portree Hotel  as a blackened ruin from which the present hotel emerged'. MacKenzie was involved in a stand against oppressive landlordism in 1880 but by the time he wrote his book, it was fifty years later...I've found no reference to this fire...help me if you can!

The 1922 War Memorial sits in the center of the Square. It remembers both Great Wars and the lives lost from Portree and Snizort.

The monument is a small version of the Edinburgh mercat cross, which is topped with a seated lion. In 1580, King James the Sixth granted market privileges to Portree.

So there we have Somerled Square. When we are dodging buses, cars and tourists and when we are hurrying to find a parking space and get our shopping done or grab some munchies before catching our ride, it is easy to overlook the beauty that embellishes this busy section of the village. This winter, when time slows in the cold and you happen to be in Portree for something, why not take a deep breath and pause to appreciate the bonny jewels that have been here right under your nose for so long~ 

Who Was Somerled?

(Notes from an article in the Scotsman, 26/04/2005):

Somerled Square was named after Somerled, who was always known as an Ulster-Scots warrior. He was victorious against the Norse 'Vikings' and assumed the title of King of the Isles in 1158. This was considered to have been the start of the Gaelic Kingdom of the Isles, which was to last four hundred years--the same as the Norse reign over the Hebrides.

Though Somerled has always been considered Celtic, an Oxford professor of human genetics, Brian Sykes, has discovered that Somerled's Y-chromosome was of Norse origin--from around one-hundred years before his birth. 

Considering that eighty-seven generations (of MacDonalds, MacDougalls and MacAllisters) later, clan chiefs still have the same basic Y-chromosome, Professor Sykes says it shows that the high-status women in the clans were 'extremely faithful'. However, the large number of people today, with the same Y-chromosome, means the men in the family did not share the virtue to the same extent...
~ ~ ~

Acknowledgements for this post:
*The Western Seaboard: An Illustrated Architectural Guide, by Mary Miers.
*The Highland Archive Service (Skye and Lochalsh): Anne MacLeod, archivist and Alison Beaton, archivist assistant.
*The Portree Local History Society.
*RCAHMS, Canmore.
*Am Baile
*The Scotsman News
*Norman MacDonald, Portree

Friday, November 8, 2013

Goblins on Skye!

The heavens did open up and pour but I slipped on a skirt, dabbed on a bit of make-up--not too much I was thinking, the Skye folk who invited me for cider and bonfire may be somewhat earthy and did I want to look like an American floozy on first meeting?--and through the deluge I drove the two miles to the 1702 House on the Glen, next to the ancient Skeabost Bridge. I usually walk the old drovers path to this spot and have wanted to see the house, not knowing I had already been trading e-mails with the owner of the mysterious dwelling. There was also mention of a pig's head, which made me a bit nervous, vegetarian and all...

I saw no bonfire and was somewhat dismayed because I was assured this would happen even in the sod and soggy night and it was my landmark. It appeared I had reached the right abode when a young monk clad in brown habit opened the door and seemed to recognize me, calling me "Foofy", referring to my e-mail address. I was brought a cup of highly boozy Steaming Bishop (say that five times), amidst the raucous flurry of two teenaged Blues Brothers and a couple of masked and hairy ghosts. The atmosphere was enveloped by a bellowing Tim Curry humping out his declaration, "...cuz I'm a uh! trans-vestite-from Transylva-a-nnnyaa-a-a-a!" Oh dear, why didn't she tell me it's a belated All Hallow's Eve party? was all I could think momentarily. On second thought, Guy Fawkes rambled through my mind--dismissed, with no evidence of an effigy. Bonfire Night--of course!--with overtures of Hallow E'en for tardy revelers.

After what seemed like several trainloads of enchanted teen girls gliding down the bedeviled staircase, and a friendly encounter with a beguiling older monk resembling the younger, and a longer exchange on the sofa with an Englishman as ignorant as I was on the party theme, the wild black and oranged hostess tumbled down the stairs into the decadent candle-lit room and recognized me for what I was--the only American in the room, looking like a wet blanket in normal duds and ironically too little make-up for this crowd--what was I thinking!

I was chatted up by a Blues Brother who insisted he was a twenty-five-year-old writer and I spent a half-hour with this fifteen-year old enjoying the repartee, happy I could keep out of the wandering flood of painted people who all looked a bit lost and resurrected from the vasty deep. I'm not a lover of parties, where I usually end up talking to someone as happy as I am to endure the alcohol-induced madness from a corner.

With Rocky Horror Picture Show blasting through the darkened and ravaged building, I meandered out into the unsubdued rainfall to find the bonfire, where I expected apparitions to more naturally arise. The blaze brought me into contact with ghoulish grimaces and deathly shrouds, and I imagined? incantations of weird sisters, howls from the waving trees and prophesies from water spirits crying out from the nearby maniacal River Skeabost--"...you shall come to me..."--and I felt fingers on me and they convulsed with spectral delight of flesh to be had.
  I somehow made my way to the room where I might find food and looked suspiciously upon something that looked like pumpkin pie. "Haaa-ve some pie," a whispered inducement blew into my ear, and with wide pupils staring intently at the offering, I could only mutter, "It doesn't have pig's head, does it?"

 I did find the ill-fated pig sans body as I was grabbing for some gory licorice treats, and I photographed his mutilated remains out of respect for his demise and  posterity.

Later, a man without his mask was looking almost normal as he ate his chili. He looked down at me and grinned weirdly: "Welcome to Skye!"

Friday, November 1, 2013

Where’s the beef…er…coffee beans?

There are a few rosehips in Bernisdale that I didn't filch
Just now having my breakfast after being up for almost three hours: My favorite oats with milk, pure yogurt (no additives, no pectin, the real stuff and cheapest in town), berries, flaxmeal, nutritional yeast (getting better all the time, eh carnivores?), with decaf. Now here we’re coming to the point.   

When I went to the bank in Portree to get cash for my rent, the exchange rate between the British Pound and United States Dollar was 1.73.

Being on a limited budget, as so many of us are, I have always gotten my great deals at thrift stores—so-called, because they add a bit of thrifty spice to our lives. I have to hand it to my ex-little town of Garden Valley, Idaho, for Granny’s Closet and Ruth Richter, who started Granny’s at the Senior Center. Her idea of thrift is to make great donated merchandise affordable for anyone and her prices are mini-mini-mini, even compared to thrifty stores in the U.S. Call me spoiled.   

So…I walks into the “charity shops” in Edinburgh and they have some nice products, mostly clothing, and I need things, not having been able to bring all items to the UK. But…everything is priced so much higher than seems righteous. No problem, I pay up and feel grateful.   

I arrive on Skye, October 8, and my first stops are the three charity shops in Portree. Again, I am shocked at the prices, but acknowledge the service that offers me wonderfully warm fuzzies and some small bits and pieces of necessaries. That’s the rub…small…I no see my much shopped-for (every day for three weeks) hair dryer, coffee grinder, toaster oven, light for over the kitchen sink, space heaters, blender, and household things that other people might be looking for, like toasters, small vacuums, and irons. What’s up? Maybe we need one more shop for appliances and small household stuff.

Luckily for me, I’m one of the most snoopy folk I know—comes from being a reporter, maybe, well no, might be that’s why I was a reporter…anyway, I creeps up to the attic in my charming croft house on Loch Snizort Beag, and hurray—I find a blender with attachment for coffee beans, in a box, so not even dusty. Point being made, finally: Where are the decaffeinated coffee beans on this isle? All this trouble for no fresh, whole beans…harrumph…and nosy me in this kitchen with my grinder attachment. Call me if you’ve seen them.   
Snizort Free Church of \Scotland

So here I am, having settled for at least the six undesirable months on Skye after years of having this dream of living here, after being warned off by Scots living in other parts of Scotland—“it’s too rainy”, “the cold, dark winters are hell”--and after being screwed by my ex, who failed to deliver the money. Talk to me in April if you want to say I told you so.   

Meanwhile, every day I awake to look at the curtains and ask, “What am I going to see out there today?” Each pull on the rings promises a surprise, because no day is the same. The clouds are masters of transformation, turning mist into magic and rainbows that hopscotch through layers of celestial suds and froth. My loch is a bit different, with no land mass breaking up the smooth flow of ebb and fill, but it glimmers and reflects the opposite Monet hills and the pretty Skeabost hotel with its jetty that was once filled with emigrants. It is a peaceful loch giving gentle support to the flocks of migrating and local bird life. The sun makes appearance for lengthy hours or peak-a-boos, but always gives a show of hues for Skye glam.   

One moment of one morning sky on Loch Snizort Beag
Amid the tempest, sunny autumn warmth, or skin-plumping vapour, my daily walks have produced some fun encounters with local residents so there will be ample material for Angel on Skye. Til then, floreat.

Friday, August 23, 2013

My First Cottage on Skye

Excerpted from Gimme the Song o' the Pipes.
This is from my first intended trip to Skye, Fall, 2009.
Fooh is my companion bear who hails from Salisbury.

What was it like to live on Skye?
Couldn’t say ~
the faeries threw dust in my eye.

   I am excited to see my little cottage I have rented for a week but also apprehensive. I reserved the cottage to save money, but now realize it was probably not the thing to do, as I will be alone with no human companionship. Am looking forward to pretending we live here. There are high wind warnings over the Skye Bridge: all ferries are grounded and I hold my breath, imagining my little Corsa wafting through the air and into the tossing waters as we pass Gavin Maxwell’s cottage on Eilean Ban, the little island now under the bridge.

   I find my small settlement and turn left on a tiny road next to open space and a farm. Here she is: a small, white house built in 1890. I have precise directions and park next to the cute wooden fence and gate. The back door opens to a three-foot-deep entry porch, where I can hang coats. As I open the door to the tiny kitchen, the reek of mildew hits us.

   I look around briefly, leaving the door open for Fooh, who is left on the counter, gasping for clean air; am upstairs when I hear my host. I come down the narrowest stairs I have ever encountered in a house and here she is: bigger than life. I had expected a small woman musician. She is woman-sized, big voiced and friendly. I am welcomed and off she goes, tramping out into the chilly rain wearing a long, loose dress of flowers and purple thongs. Fooh is not partial to eau de mildew and opts to sleep in the car. I bring in my gear and set to creating a home.

  Not wanting my clothes to take on the mildew effect, I limit my clothing exposure to the open air. The cottage is adorable; the sitting room has a tiny original fireplace, with stone hearth. Upstairs is a bath and small bedroom, decorated in shabby chic. There is another door with a ‘no entry’ sign—a sure way to get me to sneak in.

  Up the road is the Co-op in Broadford, which is a nice store with almost everything. I buy my week’s groceries, including dark molasses sugar for my oatmeal, a great deal on a bag of tangerines for Fooh, along with his favorite chocolate biscuits--and laundry soap. They ask me at the counter if I want a Co-op card. I say no, just here for a week. This was my mantra last time all around Britain and will be this time. Why not just get the darned card?

  At ‘home’ I have my comfort food of a large plate of spaghetti and steamed veggies. Never yet have I figured out how to work the television at B&Bs so I read instead, delicately licking my violet creams, with hot tea. It is very chilly in here--toes and nose are frozen. I find a card on the table with house information. The biggie I see is the heat, which is only on from 8-9 a.m. and 6:30-7:30 p.m. Water is heated at 7:30-8:45 a.m. and 8-9 p.m. Her webpage had never mentioned I would be responsible for buying firewood and coal, and I paid ten pounds for utilities; now I understand the several references to the ‘romantic fireplace’.

  At bedtime, I pull the pretty red floral covers back and the odor of old wet washcloths rises up to my nostrils...one of my least favorite odors. Immediately alerted, old dog-nose me sniffs everything...one pillow isn’t too bad, but I tear off the sheets and sleep under the duvet.

4 October:  After a hot bath and oatmeal, the stinky towels and sheets head to the launderette. Fooh says, “Better to just get on with it than complain.” I am told at the Co-op that there is no internet cafe in the area. The lady in the information shop informs me of Saucy Mary’s Hostel in Kyleakin, where I can use wifi for free. Off we go .

Mary’s sits on Loch Alsh and from here, we can see the mainland and Kyle Lochalsh. The tiny shop at the hostel carries an impressive array of merchandise and offers a computer, wifi and a small counter that seats four easily. I sit for two hours and order a latte to remain welcome. This is a popular lodging and close to the Skye Bridge, convenient for those traveling by train and bus.

  The weather is off and on drizzling as we walk through the wet grasses toward the ruins of Castle Maol, a keep built on the headland...I have forgotten to put on my rain pants. They will be a staple on this trip, I suspect. Tradition has the castle built around 900 CE, by the Norwegian princess nicknamed Saucy Mary (wife of the 4th MacKinnon chief), who stretched a gigantic chain across the Kyle to extract tolls. The chain is also attributed to the heavy-duty Celtic woman-warrior Sgathach (ska-hah). This Kyle was a shortcut, rather than using the west side Minch and Little Minch, to get back and forth around the Isles.

  The Minch (An Cuan Sgith) is believed to be the site of the largest meteorite ever to hit the British Isles. It divides Skye and the mainland from the Outer Hebrides of Lewis, Harris and Uist.

   On the way home, I tell the cashier at the Coop about my problem with the heat. He entreats me to just buy the coal and kindling and get myself warmed up. I say I’m going to freeze on principle, because my host must bank on people heating the place to keep the mildew out and I’m not spending money to take care of her house. Oh dear, Mrs. Curmudgeon is raising her ugly mug—I should be blushing but am not…yet. My friendly cashier gives me prices in case Mrs. C snaps out of it: Kindling, £4; wood, £4; and coal, £9—this, for maybe two nights! That would add about £60 to my rental, not including the £8 for laundering the smelly linens. As usual, my attempts to be frugal have bitten me on the arse.

   At the cottage, I turn on the stove to provide heat. Paper towels are not provided, nor any sponges or bathroom cleaning materials, soap, shampoo—nada. With no breakfast either, I feel like a fool. I have really had no conversation with anyone in my five nights this trip, just brief encounters; I am a shade passing through.

  Still working on another profile for the newspaper and literally chilling out! I am beginning to worry about Fooh out in the cold, but he’s covered with fur, so I decide to go to bed in my clean linens. My yogurt container/chamber pot is perfect for a situation like this, as it is close to frigid with the damp—who wants to walk half asleep to the bathroom? If needed, I will just keep my eyes closed, slide out of bed to the floor and then crawl back into my cozy covers.

5 October: A hot bath puts me right for awhile, even though the cottage is cold. As I cool off, it dawns on me that I am definitely getting the feel of Skye if I were poor and a crofter. They heated with peat; in fact, I am to discover peat is still a common fuel used in the isles - there certainly is enough of it here. The cottage is so adorable though. There are a few pale roses in the garden, still in bloom, and a low palm, along with trees. It is all picturesque, with cows and horses across the lane and the view of the Kinloch Mountains across the wet green fields. I love this isle, no matter the chill or wet—it is still mystical ~

   Just around the corner is the turn to southwest Skye and Armadale’s Castle Donald. The MacDonalds arrived from the southern Hebrides in the fifteenth century, living at Dunscaith on Loch Eishort, on the other side of this Sleat Peninsula, and also at Duntulm, on north Trotternish.
  This isle is all peninsulas, reaching out in every direction. When I look for it on the map, I always see it as the Rampant Lion of the Royal Flag of Scotland (having a penchant for Rorschach inkblots). By the way, this flag is older than the Scottish Flag that has St. Andrew’s cross. Though it is now a secondary flag, it is used by the monarch and represents loyalty to Scotland—and may be waved at football and Highlander games.

   Members of the Clan Donald were the Lords of the Isles, during medieval times. This ended in 1493, when King James IV revoked the title; thus, the clans, especially the MacLeods, no longer felt compelled to pledge allegiance to the MacDonald chief. 

  By the 1650s, the MacDonald chiefs lived at Armadale as well as the other castles, though the dower house here later became a rental. Because the Clan MacDonald of Sleat took no part in the Jacobite uprisings, their Sleat possessions remained intact. Around 1790, Lord MacDonald returned to the property to build a mansion house here. The beautiful landscaping was continued at that time, as a demonstration of landed aristocracy.
   In 1815, a mock-castle was constructed next to the mansion, but much of it was destroyed by fire in 1855. The central section was rebuilt, though the family abandoned the home in 1925, which led to its ruin. Ironically, the original house, the Somerled building, still survives intact but is neither impressive nor available to the public, as it is used for offices. Strange. And even stranger is how the ‘castle’ could fall apart so quickly—there are only walls, windows and fireplaces, along with some stairs that go nowhere. The royal ‘We’ are not impressed, but it has become a special folly for weddings.

  Fooh and I stroll through the pretty gardens then head for a walk up the Cnoc Armadail path. It’s very swampy and sloppy. We’d planned to go to the other side of the peninsula, where there are ruins of settlements, but it’s too mucky. I take my first correct panoramic photos of the hills and across the Sound of Sleat to the mainland—the changeling sky and mist, and purple heather and red bracken drying in the cool of fall, take my breath.
  Tired but happy, we make our way down the hill almost to the stables, frothing for afternoon tea and crumpets, when Fooh announces he doesn’t see my burgundy, crocheted scarf that daughter Woo gave me—my favorite. More tired and exceedingly frustrated, I make my way back almost to the top of the hill and find where the scarf had caught onto a branch when I’d picked up a bit of heather.

  The tea and carrot cake are now an anti-climax, but still good. They have a nice shop here and I get some soap for me and my kid, and some elderberry wine in honor of my coming birthday. I won’t have to drink alone—Fooh has never celebrated a birthday and looks forward to having a nip—I, on the other hand, imagine us two teetotalers having a good-ole rousing head-nod instead of a gay party bash. 

  Thinking there is a village named Aird at the end of Sleat, we drive past the isolated croft houses til I have to turn around. There is only a small church. That’s it. We could park right here and take a wonderful walk to the end of the peninsula.

  On the way back, I turn into the wrong lane...a small slip but potentially deadly! Again, I was talking to myself. Am tired of having no one to talk to. Who did I speak to today? Gas station, ticket man at castle, person I paid at tea, person I paid in shop. No more than yes, no thank you. This will not do...though Fooh says I chatter aloud so much, there is no chance of my tongue getting rusty.

  When we get home, Fooh becomes an indoor guy, now to sleep under the blanket instead of in the car. The lingerie I washed this morning is sopping, so gets hung above the hot stove burner--I will get my ten pounds worth of utilities.

~ ~ ~

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Mad to get to Skye

Love is better the second time around!
Fooh, my companion from Salisbury, England.
Close on the hounds the hunter came... Sir Walter Scott
2 October, 2009: Rejoice, rejoice! We’ve made it to Scotland again. After a hackle-raising night alone in a huge Victorian B&B, with the owner up the road and a weird grocery clerk down the road who was aware of my lone night with Fooh (a 20-pound-deal sleepless night, listening for creepings up the stairs), I am a bit fuzzy.
   North of the border, past Dumfries, to Thornhill, with the idea of having lunch in town, then tea at Castle Drumlanrig. Am hoping to talk to Dorothy, the chef, who had offered a job to my chef daughter, Woo, the last time I came through. The owner of the Drumlanrig Cafe makes a deal with me for four pounds of violet creams for £18. They go in the back seat, where sugar-crazed fingers can reach them at all times.  
   Then to the bathroom by a parking lot. I just sit down, when I hear the clump-clump of boots and the sound of a zipper going down by the sinks. Oh my god. It’s the grocery clerk—he’s found me in the toilet! Fearful of encouraging the wrong sort of chap, I remain quiet til he leaves. I finish quickly and rush outside to find I have gone into the men’s room. This calls for a photo of the sign, just to remember when...

  At the castle, there are about thirty dark green Rovers parked all over by the entrance, with perhaps fifty to sixty men and a sprinkling of women, all in woolen knickers, vests and wellies. It has the definite feeling of a hunt, sans les horses, with lots of energy and activity. I keep waiting for the horn to call the hunt. They all look at me in my skirt and raincoat; I probably look preoccupied and scowling, because I am figuring the castle is closed and am not happy we will miss our tea.  

Castle Drumlanrig
   As we walk toward the stables, I meet a be-knickered and wellied man and ask him if the castle is open. "It closed yesterday for the season." Shucks, I say. He by now has deduced I am an American. I ask if they are going on a hunt and where are the horns? He chooses to be cagey and gives me some information about the use of hunting horns, which are integral to the hunt.     
   The hounds are trained for the horn and the voice. ‘Tally Ho’ is when the rider sees the fox—I actually never knew that. In a hunt, the condition of the riders can be detected by their voices, whether they are fresh or fatigued, loud or distant. The horn calls announce all activity, from moving off, drawing, bringing back the hounds, leaving cover and finding the fox.
   Gavin, my friend for the day, says a huntsman has to think like a hound. I am giving my best English interjections of ‘Fancy!’ and ‘Did you ever?’ and Fooh in the backpack giggles behind my ears. Gavin describes the sport. ‘You think of a hunt as being organized and focused, but it can become complete mayhem. The hounds get distracted and sometimes lost, riders go off course and even the hunt master can’t be found.’
Stables Shops at Drumlanrig
  I wish him good secret adventuring and go to the castle outbuildings, looking for life. Here is a lone woman cooking in a stables shop. She tells me to ignore the north part of Galloway, which is the old industrial area and not pretty. I am supposed to go over the Erskine Bridge, before Glasgow, which advice turns out to be my downfall ~  
   We go northwest toward Kilmarnock. I have begun to fill my hunger pangs with violet creams and rather enjoy the villages and housing, clearly the aftermath of the industrial era: Dark granite-looking attached houses lined along the road, all the same and not too many souls walking around. I am driving toward Glasgow and looking at my newer map, much too small to get it right and miss any suggestions of Erskine Bridge. This is where frustration begins to rumble in my brain and then, over these two and a half hours, turns into anger and panic. I cannot find the bridge and there is too much traffic everywhere in this god-forsaken city that I am stuck in again.
   We wind up in a quiet area and Fooh suggests we stop at a small store to catch a man outside his car. ‘How do I get to Erskine Bridge?’ He starts to tell me then asks, ‘Where are you going?’ I say, ‘Loch Lomond.’ He says, ‘You don’t need Erskine Bridge then—you are on the other side already!’ I argue with him (as I am wont to do when completely confused), unable to imagine how I could have gotten to the other side of the Clyde without knowing it. He tells me I didn’t use a bridge, I simply went too far and wound up in Glasgow and around the other side. I write him off as nutty and drive away, but some little voice tells me to remember his directions anyway and I find Dumbarton in spite of myself.
   Meanwhile, it has begun to rain and get dark. We see a sign for a B&B and turn up a rough, pot-holey dirt road, which goes on forever. I continue to be frustrated, with the agitation of having missed lunch and tea and being hungry and knowing if I find this place, I will have to come back down this way to find nourishment. I do find the B&B, and she wants £50. No way Jose will I go down and come back for robbery, so I inevitably, in my hunger, go down a wrong road and wind up at the woman’s lower farm. A worker says, ‘Oh aye, ye’ve just come down her other road and missed the turn—it’s funny-like.’ Two hungry bears don’t find much humor in it.
   Soon, we are back on A82, in driving rain, pitch black but for blinding headlights. The other cup holder is now filled with violet creams, which I nibble each time I stop. We are on the narrow road along the loch and it seems hours of miserable, hair-raising half-misses—either a car on the ‘opposite’ side of the road (all the same lane really) or the hill on my left; I marvel I haven’t hit one or the other...and the spreading strobe-lights in the downpour are destroying my vision. Out of the blackness, the Ardlui Hotel appears on the loch side. Grateful for my big English Glencoe umbrella, I run to the door and book a room—no matter the cost--and I devour a veggie burger in the quiet pub.  
   Good lighting is still hard to come by in the UK. Not as bad as Costa Rica, but they do try to save here. I set up my laptop, though trying to take the shade off of a lamp gets me in trouble, so I let it be. My pudding arrives and I’ve forgotten pudding in Britain means a cakey thing with Crème Anglaise or rummy sauce. Not in the mood, I don’t finish it and head to the car for more violet creams. Fooh has developed a decidedly gourmet palate, so I am surprised that he has gotten into my cheap violet chocolates himself.    
   My discontent in my room might have something to do with the noise that has started up with a rumble and now is a constant vibration and party voices coming from the walls. It seems I have been given a room above the party pub. I am moved into a twin room not nearly as well furnished, only heated by a radiator in the bath, and a high window has a broken hinge. The attendant acts like it’s okay and closes the curtain; I am freezing and the traffic from that small crazy road is loud, so I climb up and fix the darned hinge. Hardly any light again but this is the price for being a small town, small time reporter. I must get my articles done for the newspaper back home.
   3 October: I sleep and wake up smiling, thinking of Skye. Instead of the prepared corner table in the dark, I grouse--'dark, dark, dark'-- and pick a nice light table in the middle of the dining room, so I can see the loch outside. At this point, a man comes in grumpily to join some people at the large window table and says, ‘Aye, it’s pretty grim out there.’ I laugh—someone to match my own curmudgeonly mood.   
River Coe prehistoric monster!
  Rain, rain—pouring, then finely sprinkling, then wild and wooly...but all beautiful. We are in Scotland! The rain stops and starts and I splash through it at 60 mph and it doesn’t bother me at all. We turn onto the small road that goes through the forest at Glencoe, past the hostel and over the River Coe.
Little people watching us.
  On goes my poncho, so I can get out and take photos of green mossy things and a red telephone booth. It is lush, with twisting trees and rotting stumps covered with ferns; if I look carefully, I can see the little people peering out in curiosity, but I’d never take their picture...Fooh says soul stealing and all that.  
  We see a whole rainbow over Loch Linnhe on North Ballachulish by Onich. So enthralled, I take a panoramic photo and again, it is backwards. Now I realize how to do it. I make a mistake in memory and follow the turn to Glenfinnan, forgetting I had seen it last time on the way back from the Skye ferry at Mallaig.
My backwards rainbow on Loch Linnhe
Bonnnie Charlie from France met clans here, before
third Jacobite uprising and Culloden disaster.
   This time, I get shots of the ‘Hogwarts’ train trestle, sorry there is no steam train to Hogwarts. I am taking a shot of the Standard tower amid clouds and gorgeous light, when I hear the train steam-whistle blow. By the time my camera finishes its focusing and shutter movement, I spin around to get a shot of the train and there is only a long, puffy trail of smoke. So I shoot the smoke in the trees and have done with it. Am mad at myself for missing that wonderful photo op...and the magic of seeing the train travel across the trestle. Fooh, on the other hand, has been sitting in the car park, with a straight view of the train and trestle, and is in Harry Potter ecstasy.  
   Ten miles from Mallaig, I realize my mistake. I think about going ahead and taking the ferry across to Armadale, but I am driving along the Strait of Sleat and the wind is quite bad and waves are huge, so I turn back, figuring the ferry won’t be running. Good choice, it turns out.  
   A freaky thing happens. There is a sharp left turn into a one-car, low stone tunnel, and cars are warned to slow way down. I am busy loudly berating myself about the steam engine and the wrong road travelled, when I get to the tunnel and turn. A car comes through the tunnel and I slam on my brakes like mad, then swerve into the tunnel. Fooh admonishes me after we get through safely that I could have killed someone and us, had there been anyone behind that car.     My imagination has been running rampant lately and the thought crosses that perhaps I have come here to die. For me, there would be no better place and I now have visions of having my expired body chopped up and tossed to the eagles. Even though this seems a viable option to ending a meandering life, I have just escaped one opportunity to leave the planet. It is celebrated with a few violet creams ~ ~ ~ ~

Excerpted from Gimme the Song o' the Pipes! Crazy American Lady on Tour in Historical Scotland

Saturday, July 20, 2013

She tied a string around my heart
A lasso then she formed
And tossed it round the Isle of Skye
Beware, she said, be warned:
Ne’er shall you leave him
No ma’er where you roam
Ye’ll alas see him in yer eye
Until yer drawn back home.

"15 April, 2009: In Ardvasar, my host, Richard, helps me with my heavy bag and mentions a place with a loch nearby, saying I can’t leave without seeing it. His enthusiastic descriptions of Skye intrigue me as I’m beginning to think it has more to offer than the one-day chance I’ve given it.
  While we wait for the ferry, the crystal water of Sleat is up and it is pretty here in the southeast, across from the mainland--lush with evergreen trees and the sky changes constantly...there is a shimmer I hadn’t noticed before. In early April, Skye was not magnificent viewing, but it has a bewitching effect. As I stand here, I realize I do not want to leave. It is tugging at my heart.
  From the top of the ferry, the island becomes smaller and I am taking photos all the way. Tears roll down my cheeks and I miss it already ~ "   (excerpt from Gimme the Song o' the Pipes)

Ally, or 'tuna-face', in Ardvasar.
Thus was my first departure from the island I will call home--no, I've called it home since I first left it. My ex is in the process of selling the place I've camped for the past seven years--the place I've lived alone for many of those. I've worked as a newspaper journalist in this large Rocky Mountain county small town for four years and for three years, the GV Daily News blog has been my often headlong dabble in exposing myself. I've been lonely among the crowd; I've been ill from a sad spirit; and now, I'm going home.

My friends loved crisp, whole-grain toast.
Angel on Skye will be filled with my adventures on the Isle of Skye, past and present, and the occasional tale from the rest of my home country of Scotland. I will be arriving on the isle in September (2013) and plan to meet and write about anyone I can...and ye shall meet them here.