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