I described our journey to Edinburgh and then the Isle of Skye in my last post. Here I’ll relate some of the high points of what was probably the best UK holiday I have had since I was child. We all (Middle Son, Youngest Son, their partners, Long-Suffering Wife and myself) had a fabulous Christmas period on the westernmost edge of the island.
Our adventure started the first full day after our arrival. As Youngest Son (YS) and his partner took up primary breakfast-making duty (a role they thankfully assumed pretty much throughout the week since they were very good at it), so the murky dawn dissipated. Gradually, the full glory of our view across Loch Pooltiel to the cliff and waterfall beyond, became clear. Then, after breakfast, we all opened the little gate separating the house area from the open moorland and set out for a walk. Our hearts leapt almost immediately as we spotted a seal near the nearby salmon farm.
We wandered over ancient strip fields, boggy peat and wonderfully named craggy ridges: Biod Ban, An Ceannaich and Druim nan-Sgarbh. The colours of the moss, lichen and grass underfoot were gorgeous and then, as we breached one more ridge, we were able to look south across unexpectedly dramatic cliffs. It was a breath-taking moment.
Over the following few, rather grey days, I continued to walk around the local area. The nearest village and shop was a pleasant but sometimes damp, 45 minute walk. This was either along the loch or over the hills behind the house and between a mix of old crofts and new, designer holiday-let houses.
The infrequent copses of trees along the way dripped with lichen. The landscape colours were a little mournful but somehow peaceful, comforting and easy on the eye. They reminded me of some of the colours I recall from children’s paint boxes: burnt umber, yellow ochre, burnt sienna, crimson, teal green.
Between walks and other outings, we settled into chat, films and football on the telly, meals and games. Monopoly Deal inevitably appeared but new games called Heckmeck (translates to ‘Nonsense’ in German) and Obama Llama were favourites. I was ok at Heckmeck but hopeless at games like Obama Llama and Heads Up! which involved acting out – like souped-up Charades. Simulating a penguin without speaking by waddling then diving onto the sofa (i.e. the icy sea!) was probably the low point for me.
As the weather improved, we all headed out to see the most westerly point of Skye and the lighthouse at Neist Point (Rubha na h-Eist). The lighthouse is, as expected, beautifully positioned among high cliffs. The rocks, and plant life hanging onto them, were interesting and we spent a happy hour amongst these chatting and watching the waves.
By Christmas Eve afternoon, sun was beginning to peek between the layers of clouds more regularly. To celebrate that and the impending Christmas, we scooted back out to Neist Point with a bottle of prosecco to celebrate the sunset over the Inner Hebrides. We were taken aback by the strength of the wind – it made the prosecco hard to pour! It was another very memorable time for our group.
Christmas Day morning started with Secret Santa present opening. Long-Suffering Wife was my not-so-Secret Santa and she took the opportunity to give me a smart wash bag which replaced a perfectly effective, but admittedly unattractive, plastic shopping bag which I have used since a trip to South Africa almost four years ago. LSW was overjoyed as that faithful plastic bag was discarded at last to hold kitchen waste and then be deposited in the rubbish bins.
We then postponed Christmas lunch until after dusk and, instead, used the hours of light to explore the Coral Beach (Traigh a Chorail) north of our nearest town (Dunvegan) and its coastal castle. On the walk to the beaches, we saw a sea otter – the first I have ever seen.
The beaches themselves are made up of bleached fragments of a coral called Maerl that grows in Loch Dunvegan and which, when alive, is deep red. The rising sun, bright blue sky, deep blue sea, rocky promontories and white beaches led to another batch of photos and happy memories.
LSW conjured up a lovely Christmas dinner from local vegetables and two very free-range chickens. As per recent Christmas traditions, I provided a Christmas picture quiz and Christmas hats laced with sparklers, rather too many chocolate Brussel sprouts, jokes and (cardboard) party poppers. As had been the case every day, the drinks flowed alongside extremely tasty and filling plates food including, of course given that it was Christmas Day, Christmas pudding with brandy butter.
The sky was so clear that night that when we turned off the house lights, went outside and looked up for while, we could see the Milky Way. It was as clear as I have seen it since I was in remote Madagascar over 15 years ago. We even saw a couple of shooting stars (but not the Northern Lights). A very jolly time, enlivened by some sparkler waving, was had by all.
Our holiday crescendo was on Boxing Day – our last full day on Skye. YS was very keen to take us to a mountainous area on the other north side of Skye called The Quiraing that he had visited on a previous trip to the isle. The weather was cold and icy but there was barely a cloud in the sky, so off we set.
The route to The Quiraing was beautiful. It skirted island-strewn lochs and passed through small villages and fishing towns before we headed inland to the northern mountains of Skye. As we emerged from our cars at the tourist car park, The Quiraing stretched out wonderfully before us. It was one of the most jaw dropping landscapes I have seen in the UK.
The subsequent walk along The Quiraing to The Needle was just tricky enough in the patches of ice to be a challenging adventure but straightforward enough to feel safe. The sound of collapsing ice sheets and icicles on the cliffs above added to the sense of drama.
Everywhere one looked, the vistas were huge and we capped these views with a sighting of a golden eagle (another first in the wild for me). In the distance, the snow-capped tops of mountains on the Hebrides were beautiful reminders that this was a rare sunny day and we were so lucky to have one on our last day.
Even the journey back to Edinburgh the following day was a final hurrah for sun-lit, mist-draped, snow-covered mountains.
We had been so fortunate with the weather. We had been fortunate with Covid and avoiding it. We had been fortunate that all the holiday logistics had worked out well. We had been fortunate in so many ways to have a Scottish holiday we will remember forever.