Sunday, July 28, 2019

Scotland! Skye.

The Quirang.
(Photo by Luis Ascenso.  Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

If you had asked me, before I began planning this trip, to name an island in Scotland, Skye would have been the first word out of my mouth. I would then hesitate for a few seconds and then utter, "Shetland?" not relaxing that it was not just one island but a cluster. "Orkney?" would have followed in a similar vein. I don't think I was unusual in that I knew of Skye as being a Scottish isle but couldn't identify any of the others without prompting.

Technically speaking, Skye is part of the Inner Hebrides, an archipelago off the west coast of mainland Scotland, to the south east of the Outer Hebrides. Together these two island chains form the Hebrides. The Inner Hebrides comprise 35 inhabited islands as well as 44 uninhabited islands. Skye, Islay (pronounced "eye-luh") and Mull are the three largest, and also have the highest populations. Skye is known for its dramatic natural landscapes and its that landscape that we are here to see.  You can of course, hike your way across the landscape but we're taking the easy, short way by driving it.  This is why you have a car in Scotland!

We will land on the Isle of Skye via ferry from the Outer Hebrides.  More specifically, from Tarbert to Uig which is the northern part of Skye.  From Uig, we drive south to Portree, the capital city, where we will be staying in an Airbnb apartment for a couple of nights.

On our first full day on Skye, it will be a VERY early morning start and we will be packing a picnic lunch for the day.  We will be driving the Trotternish Loop, which will take us through the Trotternish where the landscapes are the most dramatic.  I'm hoping the road signage is good so we can easily find all the sights; we'll also have my custom Google map with us.

Many of the places do require a bit of hiking.  I'm not sure that Pat's going to be able to handle anything remotely difficult so we'll see how things go.  I don't want to leave her behind so we may just be catching glimpses of views and I'm fine with that - no need for me to climb to top of every ridge around just to take in a more panoramic view- I'm good with just what's around me.
 
So what makes the landscape of Skye so dramatic in the Trotternish? Well, simple answer.  It's all a result of a post-glacial,  large scale landslide that took place millenia ago - all the way back to the Jurassic period.

To get really technical, as described by the The Geological Society of London,
"Geologically, the west and northern parts of Trotternish consist of Jurassic sedimentary rocks and Palaeogene lavas intruded by later Tertiary dolerite sills. Although Jurassic rocks are relatively rare elsewhere in Scotland, Skye offers the most complete sequence of Jurassic rocks in the country, with Trotternish being one of the main exposures. 
The rocks at Trotternish consist of Jurassic sedimentary sequences overlain by thick Palaeogene lava flows. Dolerite sills and dykes intrude the Jurassic rocks. All the rocks dip gently to the west, creating slopes rising gently across Trotternish peninsula from west to east, with steep scarp slopes on its eastern margin. N-S trending faults are also developed along the peninsula.
The slides formed due to the overlying weight of the lava flows (a total of 24 flows, approximately 300m thick), weighing down on the weaker Jurassic sedimentary rocks. Under the pressure, the Jurassic rocks sheared along the N-S faults and huge blocks slid seawards along a rotational glide plane."

Since the Trotternish drive route is a loop, you can go either in a clockwise direction or a counter clockwise direction.  I am planning for the former as I am hoping that by hitting up some of the more popular spots early in the morning, we'll beat the tour buses to them. 

Fairy Glen
(Photo by PaulT (Gunther Tschuch)Licensed under CC BY 4.0)
First destination.  The Fairy Glen, otherwise simply known as "the Glen" can best be described as Trotternish landscape in miniature.  The road winds around small round-topped grassy hills with lochans (ponds) in between which gives the glen an otherworldly feel. 

According to the Skye tourism website,  parking is very limited in the Glen.  It is recommended you either park in Uig and walk into the Glen (30 min) or book a seat on the shuttle service offered by the local bus company Go Skye which connects Portree to five of Skye's most popular tourist destinations.

For some really great shots of the Glen, check out this page on earthtrekkers.com. It will most certainly give you inspiration to go and see this place for yourself!

Mealt Waterfall with Kilt Rock in the background.
(Photo by Colin. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)



After the Fairy Glen, we'll drive to The Quirang.   I don't know how to properly pronounce the name of this place, which is in Scottish Gaelic, and I can't find any information on where the name came from but setting that all aside, this is where the millenia old landslide carved out cliffs, sweeping hillsides and awesome pinnacles, creating Skye's most spectacular landscape.  It's an image of the Quirang that I picked to open up this blog.  That is is an awe inspiring photo!   No wonder that the Quirang is a very popular film location.   Seeing the Quirang fully requires  hiking.  We'll have to assess just how far we go as we go along.  You can get information about the walk around the Quirang on the Skye tourism website.

Continuing on, we will arrive into Staffin.  I'm thinking this would be a good place to use the facilities and maybe enjoy a cup of mid morning tea.

Then, it's off to see more scenic views at Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls.  There's a view point here though I'm certain you can also hike the area.  We'll just do the viewpoint.   Made up of basalt columns resting on a sandstone base, Kilt Rock stands 90 meters high and was given its name because it looks strikingly similar to a pleated kilt. The other point of interest is the Mealt waterfall, which, fed from nearby Mealt Loch, plummets from the top of the cliffs to rocky coast below.

By now, we should be ready for lunch and I think I've found the perfect spot to set up our picnic spread - Rubha nam Brathairean or as it's known in English, Brothers Point (though I'm certain the road sign will display the Scottish Gaelic name).  Seems that this place is just off the beaten tourist path enough that we might be able to enjoy our lunch in a tranquil space.  From the images I've seen, Brothers Point it's possible to walk down to the water's edge here - not sure you can easily do that at any of the previous spots on the Trotternish trail.  Just check out the photos on earthtrekkers.com.

Rubha nam Brathairean aka Brothers Point
(Photo by Colin. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

Old Man Storr (on the left).
(Photo by David Illif.  Licensed under CC by SA 3.0)
Hopefully, we'll be re-energized after lunch and we can continue our drive on the Trotternish loop.  Next stop.  Old Man of Storr, a large pinnacle of rock that stands high and can be seen for miles around.  It too was formed by the massive landslide that occurred millenia ago.  The walk to the Old Man of Storr is considered to be the most famous walk on the Island and and therefore, the most crowded with tourists.  It's not a difficult walk but again, we'll see how it goes and again, you can get more detailed info about the Old Man Storr walk on the Skye tourism website.

From here, we're done for the day and will head back to Portree. We should have enough time to walk around the harbor area and grab a bite for dinner before calling it a day.  Day 2 on Skye will be much more relaxed....at least that's what I've planned for so far.  😁

Before leaving Portree on Day 2, we actually have to check out of our Airbnb apartment.  We still have to spend one more night on Skye but that will be in a remote village called Tarskavaig...not in the "big" town.

On Day 2, we will venture over to the western side of Skye and will actually will get to see a couple of historic sites and if we're in the mood, a museum.

Dunvegan Castle
(Photo by Gernot Keller.  Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5)

First stop of the day.  Dunvegan Castle, the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland. It has been the ancestral home of the Chiefs of clan MacLeod for 800 years.   Hugh Magnus MacLeod of MacLeod (born 1973) is the 30th Chief of Clan MacLeod and inherited Dunvegan Castle upon the death of his father, John MacLeod of MacLeod, in 2007.  I'm guessing that to support the ongoing upkeep of the castle, the place has been turned into a tourist attraction and you can also spend the night here in one of the cottages that are situated on the grounds.  We'll just take a quick look see around the castle and its gardens.

Our drive continues to Neist Point Lighthouse.  Nothing special about the lighthouse itself.  I just want to see what the coastal landscape looks like on the western side of Skye.  We'll park the car and to the short walk to the tip of the peninsula where the lighthouse stands.  Take in the view and then leave.

Next, it's on to see some landscape.  I'm expecting beautiful scenery albeit not as spectacular as on the Trotternish Trail.  We'll hit up some Fairy Pools.....hopefully, not requiring any serious hiking to reach them.

One of the Fairy Pools
(Photo by Drianmcdonald.  Licensed under CC BY 4.0)

The Fairy Pools are a natural waterfall phenomenon located near Glen Brittle. It's the blue green color of the water of the pools that make them so attractive. The physical landscape is predominately rocky, with some boggy areas here and there. The water in the area is typically cold, as the pools are fed by mountain streams.  I'm not expecting to do any swimming....maybe I'll just dip my fingers in to the water to feel just how cold the water really is.

Just a short drive from the Fairy Pools is Rubha an Dùnain, an uninhabited peninsula that is home to the remains of several prehistoric settlements dating from the Neolithic period, including a chambered cairn from the 2nd or 3rd millennium BC and a passage grave. The remains of an ancient Iron Age fort have also been found on the peninsula.

Loch na h-Airde is a body of freshwater that is situated to the east of Rubha an Dùnain, close to the sea shore. It had been known for some time that an artificial "Viking canal" had been constructed at some point in the past along the length of the stream that runs from the loch to the sea. In 2009, archaeologists discovered boat timbers dating back to the 12th century, a stone-built quay in the loch and a system to maintain a constant water level in the loch. The shallow "canal" allowed for boats to exit at high tide. It is now believed that the loch was an important site for maritime activity for many centuries, spanning the Viking and later periods of Scottish clan rule.

In the post-Viking era, Rubha an Dùnain was the home of the MacAskills, a sect of Clan McLeod, and the peninsula contains the ruins of a small township, including an 18th-century tacksman's house.

While it is possible to hike the peninsula and see the ruins, it’s a full day affair which we don’t have time for so as an alternative, I will just do the virtual walk that is available on the Macaskills of Rubh' an Dùnain Society.

We only have two full days on Skye. Midday on Day 3 and we'll be catching the ferry from Armadale, which is on the Sleat peninsula of Skye, over to Maillag which is part of the Western Highlands.  I decided while we had the chance, we should go ahead and check out the ferry dock in Armadale so we know exactly where we have to be to catch the ferry.  At the same time, there is another castle and gardens here - Armadale Castle is the ancenstral home of the Clan Donald. Clan Donald is still the largest clan in Scotland and the descendants of thousands of MacDonalds who emigrated also make it the largest in the world. 

Armadale Castle
(Photo by unukorno. Licensed under CC by SA 3.0)
All that remains of the former clan home is a ruined country house. A mansion house was first built here around 1790. In 1815 a Scottish baronial style mock-castle, intended for show rather than defense, was built next to the house.

After 1855 the part of the house destroyed by fire was replaced by a central wing, designed by David Bryce. Since 1925 the castle, abandoned by the Macdonald family, has fallen into ruin. The gardens around the castle have been maintained, and are now home to the Clan Donald Centre, which operates the Museum of the Isles.

There are not a whole lot of eating places in Armadale (I found two!) so again, we may pack in a picnic lunch and find a nice place to spread out, relax a bit and munch on a bite or two.

Beyond the above, I have nothing planned for Day 2 so in the afternoon, we will just head to our B&B in Tarskvaig which is located in the middle of literally, nowhere Skye.  I just love it when, instead of a street address, you get GPS coordinates and written instructions, as follows:
"For GPS, LAT 57.115793 LON -5.987939
From the A87 at Broadford take the A851 junction towards Armadale / Ardvasar. After approximately 14 miles turn right immediately after the ‘Sabhal Mòr Ostaig’ Gaelic College, signposted ‘Achnacloich / Tarskavaig / Tokavaig’. Continue on the single track road for approximately 7 miles and when approaching the village of Tarskavaig, with the Village Hall on the right, take the left turn down the hill in to the village. The Willows is the 2nd house on the right just past a large green shed with a long wooden fence in the front."
Hopefully, we won't get too lost! 😁

Our time on Skye is going to be really short but we're going to make the most of it!  I'm already prepping my camera gear for all the landscape photos I hope to take.  I haven't decided whether I prefer cloudy days or sunny days.   I guess either is fine.   Just don't want rain!!