Our Scottish adventure continues with visits to the Hebrides, the island group off the western coast of Scotland. Our first half day was to the Isle of Skye, the largest island in the Inner Hebrides, closer to the coast of Scotland. We have actually been here before, spending several days on Skye when Rocky was younger and discovering the heritage of our West Highland Terrier, Peabody. Our hosts that visit were the Macdonalds who at one time had been Westie breeders. Flora Macdonald was famous for smuggling Bonnie Prince Charlie to Skye after the disastrous Battle of Culloden and the end of the Jacobite Rebellion.
Since we had been to both places on the offered excursions, we picked the tour that also provided us with more scenic touring of the island. Skye has absolutely breathtaking landscapes. The tour bus can not go everywhere, but we certainly did on our last visit. Give yourself at least 2-3 days to discover the beauties of this island.
We have to go in by tender to the city of Portree. I recognized the pier restaurants and shops from our previous visit and the many films in which it is featured. Unfortunately, being a Sunday, most places were closed on our afternoon arrival.
At the edge of the pier, we met our guide and set off to view the landscape and Dunvegan Castle. Another picturesque spot, known to us from previous visits, is Eileen Donan Castle; this castle had been featured in many films. The castle had lay in ruins for more than two centuries when it was finally rebuilt.
Our kilted guide shared lots of interesting information about the island. (He was wearing a kilt of the Macdonald tartan.) He has lived here for many years and his children grew up on Skye. He told us about the island’s hostel system where children who did not live near the one island school would come in for the week and only see their families on the weekends. Those who lived on neighboring islands for in more remote corners of Skye might not see their families for the whole term.
He also spoke about the Gaelic language, outlawed in Scotland after the Battle of Culloden. It is not the same as the Gaelic spoken in Ireland. It is also not the Scottish language, but rather the language of the Highlands. Its use is encouraged now and the language is making a comeback. It will take time. According to our guide,”more people in Scotland speak Polish than Gaelic.”
We were riding on a “floating road” set on peat. When we stopped to take photographs you could tell the difference; your feet sank into the soft moist earth. Regular roads are set on bedrock. He pointed out the commercial forestry and also the purposely burned land and the scaring. He said that nature actually repairs this better and the regrowth was better for the wildlife. I saw this last year in Tanzania where sections of the reserver were purposely burned.
After the photo stop, our next was at Duvaegan Castle which has been in the same family for 800 years, the MacLeod family. It is believed to be the oldest continuously inhabited castle in the Highlands. As it is the official home of the 30th MacLeod chief Hugh MacLeod, there were no inside photos permitted. There most famous artifact is the fairy flag, said to have magical powers. Rocky spotted articles belonging to Flora Macdonald and Bonnie Prince Charlie. There was also a fabulous Claymore.
Dunvegan Castle has beautiful grounds and seal trips are run out of the Harbor below. I remember spending a lot of time looking for the seals on our last visit.
On our way back to Portree, our guide talked about the Highland Clearances. In the 18th and 19th Centuries, tenant farmers (crofters) were cleared from the Highland estates to make way for sheep farming. The Clearances devastated the Gaelic culture and the highland way of life. The clan strength had been in the people and the cattle. In the “Year of the Sheep”, 1792, a massive wave of emigration occurred with many Scots going to America, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.
After our tour, we had only a very short time before our boat left Skye so we had to go straight to the tender. I am glad this was not our only visit to Skye, it was more of a teaser half-day visit.