Scotlands Landscapes 2014
Skye and Raasay
Uig Bay at sunset in late June.
Scotland’s largest island is a magnet to people from all over the world. It certainly was busy with tour buses at every beauty spot and attraction. We were just as curious and interested as the other tourists.
Hazel woods, castle rocks and wee lochs make the Fairy Glen a magic place on Skye.
We crossed from Mallaig to Armadale in Sleat (known as the garden of Skye) by ferry. It is still possible to be romantic and go over the sea to Skye. As we left the busy fishing harbour of Mallaig we looked East and in the far distance we could see Knoydart and the start of Loch Nevis.
These three intrepid explorers sit at peace in the Fairy Glen near Uig on Skye.
Our first destination was Uig and the Scottish Youth Hostel sitting high above Uig Bay. It is a favourite for the view alone. We spent the second day of our holiday visiting sites of interest. In the late afternoon we crossed on the motor vessel Halliag, a brand new ferry, to Raasay where the pace of everything slows right down. Peace at last!
Bridget, Margaret and Janette leaving the Fairy Glen.
At this point I am going to let the pictures tell the story.
The Museum of Island Life, Skye.
The Quirang. A stunning landscape on the Isle of Skye.
Exploring the MV Hallaig on the way to Raasay.
Waiting at Sconser for the Raasay Ferry.
Glamming it up at Glam on Raasay.
Calums Road on Raasay is a great walk and should not be missed. Margaret on the right completed the walk. We hope you like the barrow!
Peter, the Volunteer Warden, from Newcastle, is the ideal host for a Hostel like Raasay. He is a gentleman and plays a mean hand of Trionimoes!
Our final evening on Raasay. This view is looking over the Sound of Raasay to the Isle of Skye.
Drama in the Sky above Raasay.
West of the hostel a moorland is frequented by a Sea Eagle. East of the Hostel, on the crest of a hill, a colony of seagulls made a fair racket. It was amazing to see one or two gulls dive bombing the eagle which dropped and wheeled out of the way at the last minute. It was an amazing display of aerial acrobatics.
The gulls could annoy and mob the eagle but were unable to make contact with the magnificent predator. The sea eagle just kept out reach and made no attempt to attack the gulls. No doubt it would visit the colony from time … maybe to steal an unprotected chick.
Only twenty five minutes from civilisation by ferry lies the amazing peninsula of Knoydart. When you arrive in Mallaig you park up until your return and make for the ferry. Two services run the route. One is the Knoydart Bridge and the other is the Western Isles.
There are few cars and little road to talk about. Only those living on Knoydart are allowed cars on the peninsula. Visitors need a permit which will only be issued for very good reason.
Our accommodation was the Knoydart Trust Bunk House run by the ever smiling Fiona. You could only beam back at a smile like Fiona's. Lovely smile, lovely red hair lovely person. Mixed dorms good kitchen and dining room. All you need for a few days stay.
We went on a guided walk of the woods and sea shore which was fine. We walked about ourselves a lot exploring the tiny village of Inverie and the land and sea.
On our final full day we joined many others on a cruise on the Western Isles to Tarbet on Loch Nevis. We were promised a bit of entertainment when we arrived at Tarbet and this was a promise kept.
Some dozen or so cyclists were waiting for the Western Isles and as the boat could not go right into the loch side a wee boat with an outboard engine zoomed back and forth transferring bodies and bikes to the ferry. Tommy, the skipper of the wee boat, put on a skilful display of seamanship and of loading, and unloading bikes and bodies. The job was done in jig time.
The Americans taking the cycling trail from Mallaig to Tarbet were loving the up hill and down glen riding they find hard to get at home. There were the usual tales of thrills and spills and one of the bikes broke and had to be carried for a good part of the way. As you would expect with all this male testosterone flowing the Americans got the girls … again. I did enquire if they had any gum or chocolate or any other compensation for stealing our girls. No luck.
Our short time on Knoydart was over and it was time to go home. The best memories are of happy smiling locals. Even the young ones look very happy. I think that it is a special way of life and some people love it. Others probably migrate to mainland Scotland for a more stressful life away from the peace and quiet.
June 6 2014.
Over the Sea to Skye.
It is still possible to go over the sea to Skye. Travel to Malliag and take the Calmac ferry to Armadale in Sleat, the garden of Skye. A visit to the gardens of Armadale Castle two minutes from the ferry quay will help you recover your land legs.
Uig Bay from the Youth Hostel at sunset.
We were blessed by more or less four days of sunshine. From a travellers point of view it was quiet and ideal for relaxing. This time of year is stunning in Skye. Everywhere you look gorse, Ulex europaeus, is in full bloom with many shades of yellow from pale to deep amber. I think that it could be worthwhile selecting a number of dark amber strains to use in garden plantings as barriers or for shelter.
Dunvegan Castle, Isle of Skye.
Our underrated native Primula vulgaris, the primrose, is a mass of pale yellow flowers appearing everywhere you go. I have believed that this plant deserves a place in more gardens in Scotland. You can buy seed which has been taken from plants grown in captivity and grow your own.
The Gardens at Dunvegan Castle were superb. Since our last visit some years ago various improvements have taken place and landscapes renewed. The gardens had a lived in feel about them and the staff were friendly and helpful. They were all working at their allotted tasks with steady commitment. David Maclean, the Head Gardener, has an excellent team.
Formal beds of tulips.
The extensive use of Tulips in specific areas such as the circular bed which has seasonal plantings is magnificent. There is much to see with new developments taking place as you enter the garden. The Rhododendron ponticum hedge running parallel with the path to the Castle from the entrance is being removed and Hawthorn hedging and fresh landscaping is being planted.
Janette, Irene and Laura enjoy a rest in the walled garden of Dunvegan Castle.
There is a lot to see. The Castle is worth visiting and a journey on the Seal Boats is “a must do” experience. On a previous journey out to the small islands on Loch Dunvegan a woman became very excited as we approached seals for the first time. She brought a packet of crisps out of her bag and gestured and said is it OK to give the seals some. The boatman announced solemnly “Not unless their prawn cracker”. She put her crisps away.
The Coral Beach on Dunvegan Loch Skye.
Beautiful gardens, beautiful people what more could you ask for. Oh … the beyond bit is about St Kilda which will be told as another story.
Do not miss the Coral Beach near Dunvegan Castle and the Fairy Glen near Uig.
An archipelago of small islands lying eighty five miles west of Skye has a magical attraction to people from all over the world. My garden walks minibus was parked outside the City Chambers in Glasgow when a lady approached asking if we were going to St Kilda. She was from the USA and was waiting to be picked up by the National Trust for Scotland. I did my best to persuade her to come with me to visit one of Scotland’s most beautiful gardens however she was not for turning!
Rock n' Roll on the Atlantic Ocean.
My friend, Janette, has been asking to go to St Kilda for about ten years. I finally caved in and soon found out that it is relatively easy to go to the islands for a day trip.
Janette, you finally made it to St Kilda!
So off we went to Uig in Skye where we based ourselves in the Scottish Youth Hostel. At seven o'clock in the morning on the appointed day we set sail in Integrity a twelve seater fast boat on our four hour crossing to St Kilda. We crossed the Minches and passed between the Sound of Harris and into the Atlantic Ocean. The seas were bigger in the Atlantic and amazing from a small boat. We sailed for four hours to reach our isolated islands.
Welcome to St Kilda.
First impressions were of a misty place of snow covered small islands and rocks. When we approached Hirta we saw signs of civilisation. The iconic street looked minuscule against the scale and grandeur of the place. By the strong smell of the smaller islands we realised that the snow was actually a massive accumulation of bird droppings. After all it was late April.
The Main Street in Hirta.
We transferred from our boat to Hirta on a small dingy which was quite dramatic and fun. It was uplifting to find ourselves on terra firma again and finding our land legs. We noted the presence of our Armed Forces in a base looking after what was perhaps an early warning or listening station. It is a bit of a blot on the otherwise incredible landscape.
We were met by the resident National Trust for Scotland Ranger who welcomed us and advised us not to touch the Soay sheep and lambs. The bonding between the ewe and her lamb is basic. The smell of a human on a lamb would be enough for the mother to reject her young. The consequences would be fatal on Hirta and the lamb would die.
Soay sheep on Hirta.
A time was arranged for a guided tour of the township with the NTS Ranger. We were let loose to do some sightseeing ourselves. Everyone scattered in all directions. Some up the hill to see the highest cliffs in Britain some 1300 feet high. A staggering view to the smaller islands of the archipelago.
Others to examine the remains of black houses, cleits and more recent structures. Whilst no one lives on Hirta on a permanent basis staff, students and volunteers take up residency from time to time to study the Soay Sheep. Also the people manning the Army base are also resident for spells. You are never far away from civilisation.
Students from Edinburgh University take a break from chasing sheep.
This is a time capsule. A place of memories of those whose whole life was spent here. There are at least three books on the story of St Kilda and it's not a happy ever after tale. It is a sorry tale of betrayal and deceit which led to a whole community being displaced from their island to live on mainland Scotland. So it therefore a sad story and not one of man defeating the elements to live a happy life on Hirta. The support the community needed to continue was not forth coming from the British authorities and the last community on this isolated place was forced to give up and move away from their preferred way of life.
Cleits were built from stone cleared to make the land suitable for cultivation. These cleits or stores were vital to the community. The birds they killed for food, puffins and gannets, were stored in them.
So when you marvel at what you see when you visit St Kilda think also of the people who once enjoyed a very basic life together. No need for money. Barter was adequate. They did however sell tweed and other items to people visiting the islands from cruise ships which brought in a little cash. In the end when they left St Kilda the little wealth they had was in cows rather than money.
Time to go home. Here we are heading back to Integrity to sail back to Uig on Skye. Mission accomplished.
St Kilda is worth visiting. It is an iconic place. The scale is much greater than we had imagined. It is a landscape on a grand scale. It is beyond our imagination.
Arran Scotland in Minature.
The weather was exceedingly kind to us. What looked like a poor forecast turned out as three and a half days of dry sunny weather and one half day of light rain.
The view of the bay from the front of Lochranza Hostel (SYHA).
The village of Lamlash.
Holy Island off the coast of Arran is a peaceful haven for walkers. It is owned by the Samye Ling Buddists and is reached by ferry from Lamlash.