Monday, September 8, 2014

Last minute holiday in Scotland: looking around Skye

May/June 2014:

The weather the next day was glorious, so glorious that I had to go out and take some pictures before breakfast.  This was the view from the front garden of the Hotel.

Duisdale House Hotel – Sunny all the way to the Mainland

Duisdale House Hotel – Sunny all the way to the Mainland
(especially when zoomed in)

We went in to breakfast – which was delicious – a choice of a full fried Scottish Breakfast, or Scottish Smoked Salmon and Scrambled egg or Smoked Kippers. (After a choice of porridge or fruit salad or cereal etc).

Whilst chatting about what we might do that day we also got in touch with Skye Seaplanes. They had left a message for us to call them – oh dear, perhaps there is a problem.  I had seen flights over Skye mentioned in the Sunday Times a few months ago and we had booked a flight.

It turned out that the weather forecast for the day we had booked for our flight wasn’t too good but they suggested we go that afternoon as the forecast was very good. So we agreed. It was a good job we had told them where we were staying as there was absolutely no mobile phone contact.

There was a “Broadband” connection though. Although my test suggested it was less than 1Mb/S, which is to be expected when the nearest exchange is some way away. That is not a lot of bandwidth to share between us all. I wonder how many telephone lines they had.

So our plan was to visit Armadale just down the road and then to head back towards Broadford ready for the flight. That gave us a few leisurely hours before the flight.  Although you can’t really go far wrong on a small island, just to be sure we got them to give us the postcode of the airfield.

As we sat eating our breakfast an eagle popped up, looking through a van window. Not something you see every day.

An Eagle in the Duisdale House Hotel Garden

It wasn’t far down the road from the hotel to Armadale, however it took us a wee while to get there. The weather was glorious, there weren’t many cars about and there were vantage points and lay-bys aplenty.

In fact we had barely left the hotel before we stopped to take a picture of Ornsay, a tidal island.  It is overlooked by Isleornsay, a small village.


The small island helps to create a natural harbour for the village. Although I do wonder how this boat got to where it is. At first I assumed it was beached deliberately, however the mooring rope stretches well back into the sea did it drift?

However a closer look shows that there are another five ropes, so it is moored and the owner wants it to stay there.  It hints at the wilder weather you can expect in these parts.


Beached or moored boat -  Isleornsay Harbour area

After that brief excursion we set off again and yes stopped along the way again. This was the place, I think - Bagh a’ Mhuilinn, or the Bay of the Mill.

This part of the sky (over Skye) seems to be where the transatlantic jet routes are. We saw loads of contrails. There seemed to be a sea mist on the mainland opposite.

Bagh a’ Mhuilinn

It was a delightful time of year to visit, not only was it gloriously sunny (well this day) there were also quite a few wild flowers in flower.

Wildflowers along the Coast of Skye

Apparently Armadale is Skye’s back door! Well that is what the tourist blurb says, because of the ferry from Mallaig.

We went there to visit Armadale Castle and gardens. They were beautiful and well worth a visit.

The mainland from Armadale Castle plus contrails

Armadale Castle Ruins – great view of the mainland

Armadale Castel - More views of the Gardens

Pond Flowers

The sea mist seems to have hung around all morning.

The Mainland Mountains

The Mallaig Ferry loading cars. The ferry is named after Loch Coruisk (the Cauldron of the Waters) a Loch on Skye at the foot of the Black Cuillin mountains.

Mallaig – Armadale Ferry – Coruisk

We had lunch at Armadale Castle (Once the home of members of Clan Donald), sitting out in the sun, before programming the SatNav and heading back towards Broadford to the airfield.  Which is where the SatNav sent us. We drove through Broadford, wondering where the elusive airfield was, but we had plenty of time. Then we stopped and asked at the local Post Office. They sent us back the way we came. Still no sign of the airfield.

By now we were starting to get close to the deadline for catching the plane.  So we drove around a bit trying to get a one of our mobile phones to connect so we could talk with the flight operators. It turned out that the airfield was nowhere near the Post code we had been given. It was back down the road towards the Skye Bridge.  You can just about see the sign as you approach the turn.

Phew, we had arrived just in time. The “Ground crew” (one chap) were there, but no plane and no other passengers. In fact we were the first to arrive. A car pulled up with a family and then two others arrived by Taxi.

There was an airstrip, windsock and an old shipping container/office, but not much else.  Oh yes, there was also this stone commemorating the opening of the Isle of Skye Airstrip in 1972.

I have just checked the website of Skye Seaplanes, which indicate that the airfield can be found just off the A87 – postcode IV49 9AD, which if you search for it on Google Maps takes you to Broadford. However if you go to the Highland Gov website for the Skye Aerodrome then they publish a different Post Code – Ashaig, by Broadford, Isle of Skye, IV42 8PZ. This seems to get you much closer. (A Google search for Broadford Airport pin points it – but shows the Post Code that points you in the wrong direction. Perhaps this is a case of a Post Code area being too large in the Highlands.

Stone Commemorating the opening of the Isle of Skye Airstrip

After a brief wait the plane was spotted. It flew overhead, presumably to check that it was the right place.

According to a search of the ident – G-DLAK, it is a Cessna 208 Caravan. Although this one has floats which is why it is a seaplane, so it is really the Amphibian version. According to this link this actual plane once had air conditioning, but that was removed. Well Scotland isnae that hot.

Either that is the wrong plane or the pilot was just doing a check overfly of the runway as he seemed to head off again.

The Skye Seaplane arrives – or does it

The plane looks rather Heath-Robinson. It looks as if the plane has been stuck to some floats using a cut-up ladder.

Skye Seaplane just about to become a landplane

I have flown in large and small planes, this one wins the record for shortest take-off. Although according to the Cessna link the take-off distance for the Caravan Amphibian is 3,660 ft (1,220 yds or 1,116m).  A quick check on Wikipedia suggests that the landing strip is only 793m (2,602 ft) in length.

Which implies that the Cessna figure is the worst case fully laden length of runway required (or seaway?).  Another look at the Cessna site suggests that the ground roll required is 714m (2,342 ft) which is enough I suppose.  It didn’t feel bad. The landing distance required is about half that of the take-off distance.

There has been a push to get commercial services flying again – but cost gets in the way.

The pilot seemed to use an iPad clipped to the dashboard for GPS?

It took a while to track down and work out what this place is, despite it being pretty distinctive and Skye not being the largest of Islands. – Cill Chriosd (Christ’s Church or Kilchrist). More pictures here and here on the OS Map.

Cill Chriosd

There is the Black Cuillin and the Red Cuillin, the black mountains are mainly composed of black igneous rock called Gabbro (according to Wikipedia). Whereas the Red mountains are composed of granite, which in some lights and angles can look red! The red mountains have been eroded more and are not so high – Gabbro is tougher than Granite.

I think this is the Black Cuillin range – well it looks black and rugged anyway. If only they had flown me along mountains like this when I was learning about ice-age rock formations  for my Geography O Level, it would have been so much easier to learn.

It was a fine day and there wasn’t much wind about, so the pilot flew us up through the middle and then back down so the passengers on both sides would get to see both the Red and Black Cuillins. 

Corrie and Tarn

The other thing we noticed was how green the land was at lower levels – they must get some rain. (They do we found that out the next day). Also Wikipedia seems to agree, they average over 53” in a year. Whereas here in the Flatlands of Cambridgeshire we get 22.6849”. Some nerdy numbers-obsessed Cambridge Graduate must have put in the data – 4 decimal places – really, they know better at Primary School level

Taking pictures through the windows on planes tends to compromise the sharpness (that’s my excuse). This rock looks a little as if there is a hole through it. It doesn’t have a hole, there is grass growing on it. The rock is the “Old Man of Storr”. This picture shows the green patch must have grown recently.

The Old Man of Storr

Clear Blue Seas around Skye

The famous Kilt Rock and Mealt Waterfall

The large Island is Eilean Flodigarry and the smaller one in front is Sgeir Eirin.  Eilean means Island. It is going for the kilt look as well.

Eilean Flodigarry

Wiggly River – Oxbow Lake developing, maybe
(More O’ Level Geography)

The Old Man of Storr

A close-up of the cruise ship – Le Boreal – well cruising the Scottish Waters

We then flew over Portree, ready to land (or should that be to sea)…


The water was pretty calm especially in the harbour and the landing was pretty smooth. The only thing you tend to notice is that on touching down on the water there is quite an initial deceleration.

Portree from the Harbour

The landing on the water was over pretty quickly. The take-off took much, much longer. I think we all wondered whether the plan was for the plane to cruise back to the airstrip by sea.  Fortunately the plane managed to launch itself from the water and we headed on down back to the airfield and beyond to the Skye Bridge. You get a good sense of the mountainous side of Skye from this view.

The Skye Bridge from the Air

We then headed back towards the airfield and after a pass over the lined up to land.

Skye Airfield

One of the things about the Scottish Highlands is that there is plenty of opportunity to sample fresh fish. One of the things we had decided we had to do was have fish and chips in the harbour at Portree, well not in the harbour but around the edge.  So we headed back up the Island.

We’ve just  flow around there – Black Cuillins

One of the things you notice when visiting the Highlands is that the long-term car parks are closer than the short-term car parks in places like Cambridge and they are free (which they are certainly not in Cambridge). Now I am not arguing that they should be free or closer in Cambridge. The reality is that there is not the same density of people in the Highlands and there is much less congestion even with tourists around.

We got our Fish and Chips from this place – and ate them with a marvellous view.

The only thing we had to worry about was the marauding seagulls, although they weren’t actually that bad.

Portree gets its name from the Gaelic – Port Righ: King’s harbour or Port Ruighe: Slope Harbour.  It is of course home to the Quidditch Team – Pride of Portree.

I can’t find much about the commercial fishing in Portree, presumably, like a lot of places in the UK the fishing fleets have lost out to the larger boats.

Our fish and chips were delicious – although I had scampi and chips as it happens.

Portree Harbour from the land

After our one-course dinner we headed back to our hotel for a rest. We sat in the lounge  (no fire required) and I read the newspaper and we planned our activities for the next day on the island.  We had been warned that the weather was going to change though.

It is important for tourists to support local industry. So I did my bit for Skye Ale – a brewery on the Island. And had a bottle or two of their excellent beer.

Meanwhile my wife supported the economy of Mombasa in Kenya, which is apparently where much of the UK’s tea comes from.

As we sat there in the peace and quiet a flipping helicopter came buzzing around and then landed on the postage stamp of a front lawn. Practically taking off the roof rack on the Squealing Pig (my Land Rover) – not really, the pilot clearly knew what he/she was doing. (Actually this is the helicopter taking off again really.) Apparently there were celebrities in the House!


Helicopter landing on my car the lawn

Next Dunvegan Castle in the ran

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