Episode 29g – Bonnie Scotland Tour Day 8: Beyond the Isle of Skye

The rain started in earnest last night, and ferries were cancelled. Our fearless driver Colin and indefatigable tour manager Barb worked fiendishly late into the night to rearrange routes, entrance tickets, and hotel arrival times for our next couple of days.

Around 8 a.m. the rain stopped, the mist cleared, the sun broke through, and a spectacular rainbow appeared over the harbour as we headed out for the day. Unfortunately, the weather continued to change every 10 minutes, alternating dark rainy skies and bright beautiful sunshine. What pictures we were able to take depended in the whims of the weather fairies.

We drove through the two Cuillins mountain ranges, the red and the black (pictured below under overcast skies), past lush gardens, lots of remote B&Bs (all with no vacancies), and groups of “tinkers” collecting razor clams and mussels at low tide.

This area is the clan lands of MacKinnon, MacLeod and MacDonald. On both sides of the road gushing waterfalls could be seen coming out of the mountains, some narrow and tall and others in multiple tiers over the rocks. Colin commented that the good thing about all the rain we’re getting is that the waterfalls are spectacular.

We drove out to the formation called The Old Man of Storr, which has been the backdrop for movies like Prometheus, Snow White & the Huntsman, Stardust and even Transformers, but is currently best recognized as a frequent setting in the television adaptation of Outlander.

Further along is Kilt Rock, named for its vertical “pleats” of basalt formed by volcanic activity thousands of years ago.

It is very near the site of fossilized dinosaur footprints.

From Kilt Rock we retraced our route into the more inhabited part of Skye.

The population of the Isle of Skye was 22,500 in 1825, but dropped to just 1000 at its lowest in 1914. Forced clearances, potato famine and end of the town’s kelp industry created mass emigration between 1790 and 1890. There are currently 13,500 inhabitants. We toured Portree, its main town.

In the town square is the war memorial, in a Mercat Cross style topped by a small lion, constructed in 1924.

We saw the Royal Hotel, which used to be called MacNab’s Head, and was where Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed before fleeing the island after his failed attempt to take back the crown for his father. While he was there, he was “incognito”, dressed as a ladies’ maid to Flora MacDonald. At over 6 feet tall, he must have been quite a sight!

The ice house by the harbour was in use until the 1970’s. It is now overgrown with the kind of vegetation that is typical on Skye.

This stone tor, built in 1834, was once the site of hangings of criminals. It toppled in a gale in the 1980’S but has since been rebuilt.

In the graveyard, where there are a mix of marked, unmarked, and multiple graves, our Portree tour guide Michelle told us about Scottish burial customs in the 1700’s and 1800’s. They included leaving windows open for the first few hours after a death so the spirit could leave; closing windows against the spirit’s return; sitting with the body for 7 days so the devil could not steal its soul; and turning all the chairs in the house upside-down so spirits could not make themselves comfortable. One of the saddest things she told us was that none of the historic graves on Skye are maintained by anyone, and as a result are falling into ruin.

Colin had his fingers crossed that bridges would not be closed due to high winds, and they weren’t, so we were able to leave Skye as planned in the afternoon and head toward Fort William. We took the scenic route from Lochalsh all the way to Glengarry. One of the interesting places we passed was Loch Cluanie, created when government forces dammed a river in order to flood out 3 villages to clear them of people. This dammed loch is now part of a “power scheme” providing hydro to the area, but there is talk of draining the loch to reveal the villages and turn it into a historic site. This was also the area where the 613 squadron of “dambusters” trained during WWII.

We visited the Commando Memorial near Spean Bridge, dedicated to commandos in all conflicts, right up to Afghanistan.

Our last stop of the afternoon was at Glenfinnan, to see the viaduct built by Sir Robert MacAlpine that became the Hogworts Railway in the Harry Potter movies, and the memorial to the Scots clansmen who died fighting in support of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

With the storm coming through in waves all day, a lot of what we saw was obscured by mist or rain, limiting our chances to take pictures. The weather seemed to change about every 10 minutes, but cleared just as we reached The Nevis Inn in Fort William, which will be our home base for the next two nights.

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