Bernisdale to the Fairy Glen
A late start after sorting out a few family things at the house and having a leisurely breakfast with Gaelic radio and song in the background. I don’t think many visitors realise that Gaelic is very much a living language on Skye and the Outer Hebrides, particularly the older generation. And a very beautiful and rich one it is too. I don’t understand many words though my husband and his family are native speakers.it’s still the language of choice for my Mum- in – law. My mother’s family, were from North Uist and Skye and spoke Gaelic. Genetic memory again perhaps, but I really love listening to it. It always makes me feel at home somehow, as if things are as they should be. I did attend a Gaelic class many moons ago, but unless you speak it regularly, it’s so difficult to retain it – or it is for me, as I have a shockingly poor memory for languages.It’s one reason I am so interested in what so many place – names mean though the mixture of Norse and Gaelic and the anglicisation of many words doesn’t always lead to a definitive answer.
It was 11am before we finally got going, the forecast promising gale force winds and low cloud/drizzle – again. Familiar, but the Met Office had been so wrong about the amount of bright weather around so we ignored most of it and decided to head for the east coast which would at least offer some shelter. They don’t usually get the wind wrong.First stop would be the Quiraing, then a drive down the wonderful Trotternish coast in the hope we’d manage some sort of walk, even a short one. The drive is one of Skye’s finest taking you into an other – worldly Lord of the Rings landscape – a true Middle Earth and an absolute ‘must do’ on this glorious island.
Typically with Skye as we headed up towards Uig ( pronounced OO – ig), the heavy clouds dissolved and the sun came out, lighting up the landscape and transforming everything in a heartbeat.We just had to stop above the village and join half a dozen others at a popular lay who were equally impressed. Beautiful.
I’d never seen the Fairy Glen and it gets so many 5 star reviews , I really wanted to check it out though Chris had suggested it wasn’t anything special. Drove along the single track road into the glen which is signposted for Balnaknock. A few minutes later and the unusual little outcrops and mini – hills for which it is famous, appeared. It was all very green, bordered by a couple of pretty lochans. Only one other car there. Very nice indeed. Pretty.Tiny area.
But we wanted to get up to the Quiraing, which is one of the most spectacular places on an island brimming over with spectacular spots. It’s an extraordinary place , featured as a backdrop in films and car adverts – paradise for those who love grand landscapes.
Passed by Rankin’s General Store outside Uig, which usually has Scottish Dance music playing as you shop and is well worth a stop for this alone.
Once you leave Uig and head up the hill road towards Staffin, the single track winds across very empty moorland.In minutes, we drove alongside the Quiraing car parking area, relieved that it was quiet – maybe the wind and forecast had put people off. But today, we wanted to park lower down as the walk that beckoned us was on the opposite side of the famous rock pinnacles.On a hike up onto the summit above the Quiraing, I had spied a lonely, almost secret lochan and it had called me back ever since.I’m a sucker for these hidden, far from the madding crowd places. Today was the day for it.
It also looked to be in the loveliest spot AND it would be well out of the fierce westerly which had already chilled us above Uig bay.
Quiraing means , possibly, the round fold (as in cattle fold) a Norse name – as so many place names are in the Hebrides, evidence of the Viking influence. It is pronounced ‘KOO rang.’ With the emphasis on ‘koo.’
With showers forecast and the wind bitingly cold, I donned the waterproof trousers again as an extra layer. It was quite bright as we set off , picking the best route down the steep hillside and using sheep and deer tracks to make walking easier. It was a lot drier than I feared it might be, given how wet the spring had been. It was mostly short, firm turf dotted with heather clumps and the moorland was so fragrant with summer grasses and tiny flowers. I have never smelled air as sweet as that in the Highlands and islands.It is a joy in itself.
It took about 20 mins to reach the lochan, nestled below an emerald green pinnacle, with an knife edged ridge, an outlier of the main escarpment.
Spotted a lone walker absolutely loaded with camera gear and heading up the steep contours below the ridge itself (just visible in one of my photos).The whole place is a photographer’s dream with its unearthly looking rock formations and pinnacles, its light and colour.If clear, the views to the mainland mountains across the Sound of Raasay and along the coast are knock-out.
But it was the deep blue lochan I wanted to get some shots of. It was sparkling in the sunshine which had broken through the clouds again. We were out of the arctic blast down here thankfully. The whole scene was stunningly beautiful, utterly peaceful and as impressive as the more popular walk into the Quiraing itself. Easier too. There was another lochan just minutes walk away but in more open moorland, without the superb craggy backdrop of this one.Still stunning however.
In the mid distance we could just make out the Storr Ridge, looking very atmospheric with mist rising from its crags.
Found a flattish rock and enjoyed some crisps and fruit as a snack though I couldn’t sit still for long, clicking away to try to capture the changing light and wishing that after going on a one day photography course, I had the confidence to progress beyond auto. But I don’t feel anywhere near doing that yet.
We spent about 2 hours on this short, easy walk, enjoying the surroundings and vowing to do it again in mid winter when the colours would reach their very best.
I love Staffin with its wild black sand beach and its white croft houses dotted across the green and golden filed and moorland. Delightful location. Caffeine was required however, so we decided to pop into Columba 1400’s cafe, a place we hadn’t tried.
But just as we swept alongside Staffin Bay , I spied a huge bird above the croft houses, a 100 metres away, no more. A bit more squinting and peering and …yes…..it was a sea eagle! It was enormous, there was no mistaking it for a buzzard.Wings like planks.
Caught sight of a big flash of white on its tail, suggesting it was an adult bird. Juveniles don’t develop this until they are around 5 years old. Car screeched to a halt and I jumped out to try to get a shot or two – it was incredibly close.Then it began to head away from us and finally, it swept away against the wind over the moorland. Fabulous.
The Columba 1400 was absolutely deserted, a big barn of a place. Ordered two lattes and a biscuit thing which tasted better than it looked. Can’t say we were overly impressed with it as a coffee stop but of course it has a much more important role than this in supporting troubled young people.
Remembered too late about the Elishadder Art Café not too far away: next time.
The Trotternish Coast
It’s impossible to drive down the Trotternish coast without constantly stopping.No matter how many times you’ve seen it, the views are show-stopping. Got out for a gander at the Kilt Rock car park, where I could hardly open the car door, the wind was so fierce, it almost whipped it closed on my legs. Ouch! Heavy metal railings mean it’s safe to admire the waterfall plunging over the cliffs in any weather, a very impressive sight. But for me, it’s the views of the open ocean, turquoise and green and whipped into white horses that really make the scene.
We now realised just how sheltered we’d been in our earlier walk, protected from the gale. You just couldn’t be out in this for any time – impossible to walk in. BUT – another good thing about Skye, there is always somewhere out of the worst of the weather.
By now the big mountains of Torridon directly opposite Trotternish were clearing, revealing an amazing panorama of peaks the full length of the western seaboard. Scotland’s mountains are not high by world standards of course, nowhere near Alpine or Himalayan. But because they rise three thousand feet straight out of the sea and moorland, they look ultra impressive beyond their relatively lowly height. And they are some of the world’s oldest, weathered and honed like fine antiques compared to the much younger and bigger ranges. This landscape, bathed in ever changing light, wild and elemental , hailed by artists as the most colourful country the world, sears the soul as no other I have yet had the privilege to witness.
Not that mountainscapes abroad have not been mightily impressive . We have enjoyed the Alps and the Canadian Rockies, Yosemite and the Dolomites and some of southern Africa’s wonderful landscapes around the Western Cape and Namibia’s Namib desert.Yet it hasn’t been the biggest ranges that have left the deepest impression. Table Mountain overlooking Cape Town and the desert mountains of the Namib Naukluft, took those honours.
Picked up some lovely shellfish and smoked salmon from the Co-op in Portree as we were eating in again with the family. Very good selection as they stock Kallin Shellfish from North Uist’s pristine waters, under the Na Mara (The Sea) brand. Cocktail crab claws (sublime), hot smoked salmon, langoustines, some mackerel……salad and nice bread. I’d packed away some meringues I’d made before we left, sealed in an airtight bag and box and miraculously they had survived all the jostlings about in the car. All they needed was some cream and raspberries to be transformed into one of my favourite puddings, little mini Pavlovas. Big favourite of my better half’s too who wouldn’t thank you for dessert normally, but always makes an exception for this!
A hill walk up Macleod’s Tables and a Michelin Lunch – Macleod’s Table Hike and a Michelin Lunch