Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Last minute holiday in Scotland: Skye–Dunvegan Castle

May/June 2014:

I don’t really mind Karmic weather – the sort of weather where there is a balance – some days it is sunny and some days there is rain.  Let’s face it that is what British weather is about, that is why we have a (generally) green and pleasant land. (I know it isn’t really Karma – but it sort of translates.)  When cycling I liked undulating countryside – you cycle up a hill and then enjoy the ride down the other side.  What I am not so keen on is a day spent cycling up a massive hill and then a few days before I get to ride back. (As happened to me cycling in India.)

Well on Skye the weather- balance flipped the other way. Yesterday we had some glorious weather but  today the weather was misty and apparently rainy. I took a picture first thing in the morning from the bedroom window – well hanging out of the window. It didn’t seem that bad. I could see the mainland. Our bedroom was at the side which is why I had to hang out to get this view.

The Mainland from the Duisdale House Hotel
(taken hanging out of the bedroom window)

What I hadn’t realised is that in this remote spot on Skye we had picked a secret airport.  Before breakfast even, there was again the “chop-chop” noise of a helicopter, surely not coming into our Hotel Garden – near my car!!! Well yes it was.  Was the island being invaded?

Mind you this one didn’t hang around for too long, in fact I lost track of our aerial celebrity movements.  The first celebrity landing yesterday was Bear Grylls and It turned out that the second celebrity today was Ben Stiller. Although before arrival one of the staff told us it might be Ben Miller.   The former is an American comedic actor, known (by me anyway) for films such as Meet the Parents  (which was on TV – 6th July 2014, not during the hols).  Whereas the latter is an English comedic Actor – who gave up a PhD in solid state physics at Cambridge for comedy.  (In this family he is known for Death in Paradise.)

Whilst on Skye there was a feature in one of the Sunday Papers about Bear Grylls who has just launched a keep fit book of some sort (“YOUR LIFE - TRAIN FOR IT”). I have a confession to make, a friend’s son is keen on the Scouts and the like and has Bear Grylls’ autobiography which he lent to me when we got back. I read it and learnt that he was a Reservist in the SAS and broke his back in a parachuting accident. Apparently Bear Grylls is much better known outside the UK than in.

Back to the helicopter, don’t you just love the Internet – want to check out a plane or helicopter, then search on the Ident – G-PDGF in this case and you can find out that it is a Eurocopter AS-350B-2 Ecureuil built in 2000. You can find pictures of where it has been - Wolverhampton, Darwen and Carnoustie.  You can also find out who operates it – PDG Helicopters – the trading name of PLM Dollar Group.  They provided a helicopter for a BBC2 program “Creating the Kelpies”.

Fortunately this was a smaller helicopter, so I didn’t have to nip down into the garden to ensure the safety of my car. Which was a good job as I hadn’t gotten dressed at this point.  Perhaps I should have asked Bear for a job – taking pictures, hanging from his helicopter.

Yet another Helicopter – taken by hanging out of the bedroom window

I have mentioned it before, but I will mention it again. The breakfast (and choice) served at the Duisdale House Hotel is really scrummy. So scrummy that I decided I would have to try something different each day – well most days.   The Scottish Fried Breakfast was delicious, the Scottish Smoked Salmon and scrambled eggs was a reminder of just how tasty smoked salmon can and should be. What’s missing, well Porridge of course. They offered porridge (as a first course) in several styles with various “toppings” including honey and whisky.  Personally I really can’t understand how people drink whisky, let alone enjoy it, but each to his own. However maple syrup, now that is a different matter. Yes I know it isn’t Scottish, but it is delicious on well-made porridge.  As it happens they also offered cream as a “topping”, I couldn’t choose between the two so I had both. That is my tip for the best way to serve porridge.

After breakfast I took a picture of the Mainland – it didn’t look too bad at all.  Mind you islands and mountains can lead to very changeable weather. We’d been warned that the weather on Skye was very local. Drive ten miles up the road and there could be torrential storms.  It was a good job we were prepared and had got our waterproof coats. There is a motto there somewhere.

The Mainland from the Duisdale House Hotel

After breakfast we hopped in the helicopter car and set off. Although I tend to think of Skye as a small island it was nigh on 50 miles from the hotel to Dunvegan Castle. Mind you the roads are pretty good and the level of traffic wasn’t high. What we did notice though, as we headed from the inland South-East coast to the North-West coast, was that the weather got bleaker. We were glad we had bought our waterproofs with us.

The view from the North-West Coast of Skye

It was still pretty mountainous as well, although it was a little harder to see the mountains in the mist. They are there though if you look closely.

Misty Mountains of Skye

I have been to Dunvegan Castle before (well I think I have), a long time ago when I was a young lad.  Well all can say is that this time, when we turned up it seemed familiar. Although Scotland does have quite a few castles. Many of which have been restored from ruins in relatively recent history.

Here is a link to some tourist information on Dunvegan Castle – with a good picture of the castle, home to the Chief of Clan Macleod.  A Google search for Dunvegan Castle does throw up the Dunvegan Castle website as the first link, but also indicates that “This site may be hacked”.  I did visit the link and nothing untoward seems to have been on the pages I looked at, but you have been warned.

Here is the Dunvegan Castle website (but you have been warned). 

We wrapped up and after paying walked across the road from the car park to the castle grounds entrance (which definitely looked familiar). It was very wet – the rain was a very fine misty sort of rain.  So we tended to walk around with our coats done up and hoods up.  It also meant that I didn’t take quite so many pictures.  In fact I didn’t take any of the castle.  We did visit the castle which is apparently the oldest inhabited castle in all of Great Britain and has been in the control of Clan MacLeod for almost 800 years.

There are some artefacts such as the Fairy Flag around 400 years before the First Crusade.  Further renovation seems to be taking place although a search on the web suggests some controversy arose in the past when the previous owner John MacLeod of Macleod was proposing to sell the Black Cuillin mountains for £10m to pay for repairs.  That fell through and then there was a plan to put the mountains into community ownership and gain lottery funding that also fell through. The latest news I could find is here: Restoration Project (on the Dunvegan Website).

Despite the misty rain we did visit the gardens.My wife reckoned the plants were flowering a few weeks after ours in the flatlands. Which meant that it was a good time to visit. Certainly the rain does the garden good.

The View out to Sea – Dunvegan Castle

I was going to call this next picture “the view out to sea from the dungeons”, although I don’t really think it is. The grill is on a gate down to the shore from the castle.  (I also avoided any Bear Grills jokes as well.) Here is a link a Google Maps showing Dunvegan Castle – it isn’t actually exposed to the opens seas but is sheltered by the island of Gairbh Eilein

Gairbh Eilein, an Island seen from Dunvegan Castle Coastal Gate

The gardens were lovely with formal gardens and wilder woodland walks. There were pictures of what it looked like in years gone by, pretty much an open valley. Despite the rain it was a wonderful garden to visit and very peaceful.

This was a lean-to greenhouse in the Kitchen Garden, with tomatoes growing along the wall. They also had a tea urn and presumably served tea in finer weather?

The nearby mountains and the high rainfall certainly help to ensure the waterfalls ran freely.

Dunvegan Castle Gardens – Waterfall

The reason there are a few pictures all taken from the same spot, is because I was sheltering under a tree and it stopped water getting on my camera – more or less.

Dunvegan Castle Gardens – The Waterfall again

After a very pleasant wander around the garden we were starving and went into the Castle restaurant – to be found in the car park across the road – for a late lunch.  The food was good and although the place was packed when we went in it turned out to be a coachload of transatlantic visitors. When the coach left we had the place to ourselves practically.

We then wended our weary way back to the hotel. Surprise, surprise it wasn’t raining at the Southern end of the island. In fact it was almost clear.

A Yacht Sailing near the Duisdale Hotel

The Misty Mountains of the Mainland From the Duisdale House Hotel

Next: A Sea Trip where we hear about all sorts of wildlife – we even see some. I also ask random strangers whether they knew my Aunty Annabel!

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