Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Last minute holiday in Scotland: Skye– A Sea Voyage

May/June 2014:

It was a grey day on Skye, although we could at least see the mainland – well just about. The weather wasn’t going to be too good again though.

The Mainland – just about visible from the Duisdale House Hotel

After another delicious breakfast (I had the porridge, cream and maple syrup again – I couldn’t resist it) we decided to go and see some sea-life. The only problem was where – there seemed to be loads of options.

In the end, after consulting the Hotel staff we chose to visit the Kyle of Lochalsh (Caol Loch Aillse or “Strait of the Foaming Loch”).  It is just the other side of the Skye Bridge, back on the mainland.  Apparently it lies almost 500 miles due north of Land’s End.

The suggestion was that we take a ride on the Seaprobe Atlantis – which offers a Semi-Submersible Glass Bottom Boat Trip.

When we got to the Kyle of Lochalsh we parked with a view across the water to the village of Kyleakin on Skye on the strait of Kyle Akin. Before the Skye Bridge was opened in 1995 a ferry service would operate between the two places. It was a pretty short crossing – only 500m.

We had a bit of time before the sea trip so we had a look around the Kyle, although it is a pretty small place.  As we looked around I did ask one or two people if they knew my Auntie Annabel (deceased) who used to live and work there. Well everyone knows everyone else in the towns and villages of the Highlands, don’t they?  I wasn’t in luck, she did die a wee while ago though.

I gave up on my genealogical quest and took some pictures instead.  These two buildings are in the Kyle Industrial Estate, the one on the right is the Scottish Crofting Federation Head Office. The one on the left is Scot West Seafoods.

Interesting Office – Modern, yet not

I reckon that the Kyle of Lochalsh doesnae look quite as prosperous as it once was. Mind you it was yonks ago when I last went to Skye (except the last time when we travelled around Scotland by train).  It probably did the town good for a bunch of cars to turn up and wait for the ferry and spend their money (well the occupants of the cars – cars just burn money). Now travellers whiz though, just like we did when getting to our hotel we blinked and we passed through. (Just for the record, I was driving and didn’t blink, I paid attention, honest.)

The Skye Bridge – not waiting for the sea trip

Pretty soon the boat arrived and we were on. Whilst it wasn’t full there were a reasonable number of people.  Oh yes, the weather, well it didn’t get any better, in fact it hovered around “grey and misty” and “grey and misty and rainy”.

Now as the boat went out to explore the various areas where there might be sea life one of the crew kept up a pretty good commentary describing all the things that we might see – otters, whales, dolphins, even sharks.

Apparently there were three groups of otters in the area and the boat visited each likely spot – but we didn’t spot them.

We got some good views of the Skye Bridge though. This is the Kyleakin Lighthouse and is 21m tall, according to the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses. It was decommissioned in 1993, but is denoted as a day mark for navigational purposes. There are red and green buoys now.

The lighthouse sits on an island (Eilean Bàn – White Island) between the mainland and Skye. At one time it was the residence of author and naturalist Gavin Maxwell.

Kyleakin Lighthouse

We did see wildlife – lots of jelly fish when we were in the underwater viewing part of the boat. We saw some fish. We also saw seals – although they were some distance away.

Fortunately I had a lens with even more zoom and stuck that on my camera.

“You looking at me?”  Seals off the Kyle

Another picture of the seals, well since the crew had gone to so much trouble to find some wild life it would have been rude not to.

Seals off the Kyle

A green navigation buoy.

Fork Rocks – yeah

Wildlife Hides on Eilean Bàn’ (White Island)

Kyleakin Lighthouse – the weather is brightening!

This being Scotland it is pretty normal to see quite a few ruins (mainly castles). When I was small my brother and I used to like exploring and climbing the ruins.  This is Caisteal Maol – Bare Castle, although according to Wikipedia it has a few aliases as well.  (I think I’d better add Gaelic to my Spell-checker dictionary).

Caistol Maol

These boat operators  do regular cruises around the West Coast of Scotland – but you can also charter it for private cruising – it takes 11, or you can charter two boats and take 22. (That Physics degree wasnae wasted – I can still add up.)  In case you might be wondering a 6 night cruise is a snip at £18,125 and 33p and a 3 night cruise costs £9,550 (and yes I made the 33p bit up). So the 6 night cruise works out at almost £275 per person per night. (Hey division as well.)

If I did it I would try and cycle bits of the route – by road and mountain obviously, not in the sea.

Glen Massan

When we had our last holiday in Scotland we visited most places by train. However although we got the train from Inverness to the Kyle of Lochalsh we got on a coach to take us in to Skye. On the way back we called in at Eilean Donan Castle. We had so little time that only the youngest members of the group attempted to look around the castle in the 30 minutes or so that we had before we needed to get back to Kyle to catch the train back to Inverness.  (Yes we were two of the four youngest on the trip.)

Now Eilean Donnain (Gaelic version – it means Island of Donnan, not much of a surprise that really) is a small tidal island where three lochs meet – Lochs; Duich, Long and Alsh.  The castle is apparently one of the most iconic images of Scotland (they say on their website).

Now if you look on a map, you will see that it isn’t far from the Kyle to the Castle – 8.4miles.  As it happens when we drove up to Skye from St Andrews we passed this way. We didn’t even bother setting the SatNav or looking on a map this time. We knew how close the castle was, or rather we thought we knew. For some reason we thought it was barely any distance down the road – 5 miles at most.

After a while we were starting to get a little worried – surely the castle ought to appear soon. We got to the point where we decided to check and pulled in at this lay-by. Fortunately someone’s phone worked and we programmed the destination into the SatNav. It was less than a mile away and as soon as we rounded the next bend there it was.

As you can see despite the weather being murky it is quite picturesque. I think that its position on an island helps and the bridge across to it provides a good “lead-in”.  The first fortified castle was built in the mid-13th Century, but according to the Eilean Donan website there have been four versions of the castle over the years and after the Jacobite uprising in 1719 the castle was in ruins until 1911. It was bought by Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap and he restored the castle over the next 20 years. Which is why it looks both quaint and sound.

Eilean Donan Castle

Of course although there was a castle to see there were other important matters to attend to before we looked around. Lunch was one of them and fortunately the Castle had a large café. I can recommend the lasagne. As it happens I did some research into the quality of lasagne served the length (but not the breadth) of the UK when I cycled from Land’s End to John O’ Groats.  This was very good, although one of the absolute best I have had (from a restaurant) was near Loch Lomond in Balloch (Cucina). The second best was in Windermere (Rastellis). As you can see in the picture we had no trouble finishing our lunches.

Although before we went in we did have a bit of a wander around the outside as well.  This is Dornie Bridge, which carries the A87 over the head of Loch Long. (You can study this bridge at Glasgow University for 20 credits.) This bridge was built in 1990 and has ten spans. There was another bridge before that built in 1940, a little further upstream. Before that there was a ferry.

Dornie Bridge

The weather changes quickly in these parts – there were misty mountains in one direction and blue skies in the other.

Loch Alsh

Loch Alsh (probably)

Another Slipway – Loch Alsh

Another Aspect of Eilean Donan Castle

One last picture of the castle – with the Saltire off to the right. The weather wasn’t too terrible – but the greyness of the weather suited the greyness of the castle.

Eilean Donan Castle (the last picture of the castle – honest)

As we headed back we thought we would check out the restaurants in Armadale back on Skye. There was the Shed which was more of a café and so we decided to rough it and eat at the Hotel – another seven course meal. If I haven’t mentioned it before their scallops were delicious, we had pigeon ravioli as one of the smaller courses and at one meal I had Carpaccio of venison. All scrummy.

But I digress. We had a walk around the harbour area of Armadale and came across Grumpy George – he is a self-taught photographer who having started and run a successful garden centre business near Aberdeen decided to opt for the quiet life and has turned to photography. He takes multiple-exposure pictures and then combines them by hand in Photoshop and then prints them on canvas and frames them – all in his shop – with the exception of the taking of the pictures. (A technique that I also use and known as High-dynamic-range imaging.) By the way he wasnae at all grumpy.

As a photographer it is my duty to support fellow photographers and in the past we have sometimes bought pictures from places we have visited on holiday. (Well actually three from the Lake District.) So we decided to buy a souvenir picture from Skye – preferably one of a place we had visited.  We also had to be mindful of the limited space in the car for anything too unwieldy and bulky.

It turned out that the one we wanted wasn’t around on the walls in the size we wanted, so Grumpy George offered to mount one that had been printed, whilst we waited.  So we had a good old chat about business, work-life balance, entrepreneurship, Canon Cameras and lenses, Printers, HDR photography and Scottish Independence.

George also has a side-line he takes pictures of all the dogs that pass his gallery/shop and posts them on Facebook – here (there are loads and loads).

Here is Grumpy George busy mounting our picture. It was well wrapped and he put a hardboard cover on to prevent anything untoward happening to it in the back of the Squealing Pig. Oops I almost forgot, in case you were wondering it was a picture of Eilean Donan Castle.

Grumpy George at Work

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