We must have been mad to visit the Isle of Skye in December. It took the best part of two days to get there, driving on slow, winding roads and – on our particular trip – navigating through absolutely filthy weather. I’m talking sheeting rain, floods, gales, and a scurvy-inducing lack of vitamin D.
But turns out Scotland is beautiful, even when freezing wind and rain are chasing you from its viewpoints.
As we made our way north of Glasgow to ragged landscapes, remote cottages and mountains, I was constantly reminded of Skyfall. Didn’t spot Daniel Craig though (more’s the pity).
We arrived at Carbost – a small village on the shore of Loch Harport – in virtual pitch darkness, leaving us to imagine what lay beyond the few houses and pubs around us. Although, if I’m honest, the pub made for a nice distraction.
But what a view to wake up to.
And look! We found the famous Talisker distillery! It was literally around the corner from where we were staying. We didn’t get to do the tour due to some spectacularly bad planning, but we did get to enjoy the grainy, boozy smell that wafts out of there from time to time. For me, this was far more preferable to actually drinking it – does anyone else think it tastes like antiseptic? When it comes to the hard stuff, my slightly drunk and weepy heart will forever be with gin.
The main thing that struck me about Skye is the light; even in broad daylight, there’s a permanent watery twilight that gives everything a slightly eerie tinge, as though you’re constantly looking through a filter.
The light was especially noticeable in the wide open spaces of The Fairy Pools, just south of Carbost, where crystal clear waters run against a backdrop of slate-grey, snow-topped mountains.
Even the water is friendly on Skye (you can see the face, right?).
We took a road trip around the island, hopping out from time to time to take photos in the freezing weather, and then scurrying back to the car to get the chill out of our bones.
Did I mention that we did absolutely no planning whatsoever for this trip? For a consummate planner like me, this is anxiety-making stuff – I like to research, research, research, and then just go with the flow, smug in the knowledge that I’m fully aware of my options. But it was actually quite nice to be surprised by what we stumbled across…. Like these seals, which crept up on us while we were looking elsewhere (they’re there, honest – just squint a bit and tilt your head to the right).
Passing through a small town called Dunvegan, we spotted a cosy cafe and decided to challenge our pudding stomachs with some well-deserved cake. If you’re ever in that neck of the woods, I can highly recommend popping into Jann’s Cakes for the sweet stuff – it’s not cheap in there, but the desserts are incredible and the portions are diabetes-sized. I loved that they served savoury dishes like West Indian goat curry and Moroccan tagine too. I don’t know why, but I didn’t expect to see food like that on the menu in the middle of Skye!
New Year itself was… eventful! it was like two halves of a completely different night. The first part – spent with a friend’s family – was wonderful. There were four generations of the same family partying in one house and everyone was friendly, welcoming and chatty – as Scots are apt to be. The booze flowed freely while our hosts played the violin and accordion and people clapped and danced. We crossed hands and sung Auld Lang Syne to welcome in the new year, and it was all just as lovely as sounds.
And so ends part one.
Part two, however, started at around 3 am in our bunk house over the road, where a huge group of rowdy twenty-somethings had set up a PA and brought some (ahem) party prescriptions and enough booze to sink a ship… all right next to our bedroom. We made ourselves some drinks, joined the party and settled in for a late one, which was all going great until a scuffle kicked off in the corner. After some pretty broad Scottish swearing and a lot of chest beating, a guy was muscled out of the door. “Did you see that?” one of the guys asked. “He just pulled a knife!”
Er… no. Nope. No, thank you. That’s not my kind of party. Especially when there are no locks on any of the doors (including our bedroom) – any knife-wielding weirdo could wander in.
So, being the southern sissies we are, we grabbed our duvets and bunked in a friend’s hotel room for the night… which turned out to be a good decision as a few hours later another set of gatecrashers arrived and kicked off a huge fight (I’m imagining a western-style bar brawl here) which left blood spattered everywhere: on shirts, in some poor girl’s hair extensions, smeared around the door frame, around the taps… as well as some very sorry-looking guys with fat lips, busted noses and black eyes the next day.
Rumour had it that the gatecrashers had travelled over from Portree, one of the main towns on the island, so naturally, once the hangovers had abated and several helpings of bacon consumed, we went off in search of this wild and lawless place…
Yep, looks rough to me.
Skye’s trouble spots look very different to the ones in Birmingham, that’s for sure.
But, troublemakers and awful weather aside, I was utterly charmed by our trip to Skye. In fact, I think bad weather is a great measure of natural beauty – if you’re still wowed when it’s cold and grey and throwing it down with rain, you can be sure it’ll look gorgeous when the sun comes out. I’d love to return in the summer and go for some long walks along the coast and into the mountains. And frankly, any excuse to take a trip back to Jann’s Cakes is fine by me…