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 of my least favorite odors. Immediately alerted, old dog-nose me sniffs 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.

~ ~ ~

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