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Posts Tagged ‘Isle of Skye’

a retrospective of a 1975 trip with my friend Mary, at age 20, recreated with travel journals, letters, and photos (slides taken with a Mamiya-Sekor SLR and scanned in 2008).

The Isle of Skye

Thursday, 19 June, 1975

From a letter to a friend:

We arrived in Skye last night. Skye is the most beautiful place I have ever been.  It has everything: Mountains, bleak moors, gentle treed countryside, streams, peat, ferns, wild fuchsias, yellow irises, lochs, rivers, bays, ocean, wind, lots of gulls, thatched cottages, crofts, churches with Gaelic services, and the friendliest youth hostel.  It also has Donovan, who has two houses here.  We would never be pests, but we would like to see from a distance where he lives!

near the ferry and Kyleakin

From the ferry, we hitchhiked to the town of Broadford, right on the bay, and checked into a very relaxed and friendly youth hostel with an amusing host.

Broadford

I took a walk through Broadford and looked in a phone booth at the book for “Highlands and Islands”.  Found an address and phone number under “D.P. Leitch!” [Have I mentioned we were Donovan fans?]

Mary’s photo recreates the moment

[I often wished I had taken a lighter jacket than that big, expensive down one from REI.  I had chosen it because it would stuff—with difficulty—into a tiny little bag, but it was almost always too warm on this trip. Why did I expect the whole trip to be cold in June and July is a mystery to me now.]

Broadford pier

church with services in Gaelic

I walked down to the bay where the clear water showed all the little rocks and shells. [I still have some powdery-coated seashells in a little box.]

Broadford beach

Friday, 20 June, 1975

We hitchhiked toward Uig, up at the north end of Skye. We had tried to get to a hostel there last night, but no luck, so we hoped to go for the day.

on the way, near Sligachen

The road near Sligachen

bridge near Sligachen

We got a ride as far as Portree, with its beautiful harbour.

Portree

Portree

Portree

We went to a woolens factory, and to Edinbane Pottery, and fed seagulls…..

The path by Edinbane Pottery

[Sometime after getting these photos scanned in 2008, having not seen the photos since at least 1980, I had a dream about this place…an island, and a pottery shop, and a green, green path, and happiness.]

near Edinbane Pottery

….and we then walked half a mile, hitching, with two people behind us doing the same.  To let them get ahead, I found a phone booth and showed Mary Donovan’s address in the phone book.  Part of the address said Waternish, and the front of the phone book said Waternish was in Portree.  We walked back to the village. A map at the tourist office there showed us that Waternish was a peninsula way off on the other side of the island.  Decided might not make it there, roads too poor, no bus, might not get a ride back.

The weather was clearing up from rain. We got a ride in the direction of Dunvegan, past the branch to Uig, in the direction of Waternish.  We were dropped off by another pottery shop and looked at the crafts inside.

somewhere on Skye

somewhere along the way

We hitched again and got picked up by two men who said they were going to Waternish.  They repaired houses all over Skye and lived in Portree.  One was a former schoolteacher but “hated that job.”

somewhere along the way

We turned down a Waternish road, called Ferrybridge road, and one of them said, “This is Donovan country, a singer who lives down here, he’s bought three of the islands off shore; have you heard of him?”

“Why yes, we’ve heard of him,” I said, real cool.  The man said, “He’s not here right now, but he owns two houses, and bought some more and sold them at half price.”

on the road in Waternish

Road to Stein. We had found out that was where Donovan lived. We had been big fans in our early teens, and even though we were all grown up now, we couldn’t resist going to have a look.

They kindly drove as all over the peninsula.  Along the way, we passed a badly injured seagull with its wing almost shot off.  The driver rummaged up a box, got out a sack, and caught the bird. They would take it home and fix it so it can fly again.  They said seagulls are easy to tame.  I got to hold its head until it calmed down.  I looked into its beautiful golden eyes.  Its beak was yellow and its head feathers were short like fur.

The driver, Ian, had such calloused fingers that he could let the gull (“my friend,” he called it) bite them.

We saw three beautiful children come onto the road from a patch of woods.  We slowed, and the other man, Alistair, talked with them. “Who are they?” asked Ian.  “Donovan’s brother-in-law’s children,” said Alistair.

We stopped on the other side of the peninsula while Ian did some business, then back to Stein, where they drove us right up to one of Donovan’s houses, and showed us that he also had a tea room.

driving up to Donovan’s house

the tea house

They drove us back to Portree and we hitched back to Broadford.

Mary is leaving tomorrow for home.  She’s been away from home for well over a year.  I am sad to be here alone, but I will be leaving on Monday for Wales.  I just hope I can tear myself away.  I am afraid I might stay here and not see Wales at all! Tomorrow I will take a long walk in the hills.

Saturday, 21 June 1975

This morning, Mary left for London and then home.  I felt bereft as I watched her walk away.

If you look very closely, you can see Mary on the road in this photo that I took from my hostel window.

When I went up the road to hitchhike, Mary was still waiting for the bus and so we had another farewell.  Eight couples from the hostel were also hitchhiking. I walked for awhile and finally I  got lucky; after an hour of no rides, I was picked up by a Swedish couple who only had room for one extra passenger in their car. They took me Dunvegan Castle, and I toured through it for 40p.  It’s the oldest occupied castle in Scotland and home to the McCleod clan.  Flora McCleod, now 97, is clan chief.  The castle had a silk fairy flag, with an interesting legend that it was given to the clan by the fairies and, if waved, would protect them in dire times.  It can only be waved three times and has been already been waved twice and is now in a glass case, very tattered and fragile.  In WWII, McCleod soldiers carried photos of it for protection.

Dunvegan Castle

Dunvegan view

I then got a ride from the same Swedish couple, who took me to Stein on Waternish, where I had tea in that tea room run by Donovan’s friends.

Stein is on the peninsula of Waternish. The bigger peninsula to the right is called Trotternish, and I did not manage to explore it.

Stein, in Waternish

The tearoom hosts were lovely people and it was a lovely place, decorated with fish nets and driftwood and an old wooden loom and things from the sea and flowers and paintings.  At one end, there was a stage set quite high up, accessible only by a ladder, and on the other side of the room was another loft with a piano and a big geometric painting and painted windows. I was told that the tea room used to be a school house and that the school children painted the windows for decoration.

painted windows

inside

The tearoom had tea and a home baked scone with butter for only 11p.  As I was leaving, a woman with long brown hair, rather plain, but with that sort of shine that some people have, came in from the private part of the building and sat down to read a long letter.  Was it from Donovan, I wondered, by now having heard he was in the States (how ironic!). The two other people there were a short, bearded man in baggy clothes and a woman with frizzly brown-red hair.

The house had a view of the bay.  I walked around on the beach for awhile.

the view

on the beach

teahouse from the beach

thatched roof in Stein

the Peninsula of Waternish near Loch Snizort

Loch Snizort

On the way back, I got a ride from a pipe-smoking banker from the Lake District, who took me round the Glen Brittle side of the Cuillin Hills and back to Sligachen.  The banker was a very nice man with good conversation.  [It is possible that some of the random “along the way” photos were from that part of the day.]

Evening: I feel sad because I only have one more day on Skye and there is so much to see and do.  I am due back in Larbert on Monday night to pick up my luggage.  Sad because I found out that a boat ride that I want to take to Loch Coriusk does not run on Sundays.  Sad because Mary left to go home.  I am also left with a feeling that my life is empty and barren compared to the lives of the tea room people in the tiny village of Stein.

Sunday, 22 June 1975

Today, I went to Elgol on the southwest part of Skye.  Walked for an hour with no rides and then got a ride all the way there (15 miles).  It was a beautiful inlet with a view of the Cuillins, interesting beach rocks, tiny waterfall stream, sailing boats.  If only the cruise down the inlet ran on Sundays.  Nothing runs on Sundays and all stores and cafés are closed.  The same people brought me back partway.  I got out about four miles from Broadford to visit an old ruined chapel and old graveyard and climbed through a lovely birch wood with streams, cattle trails (sheep and cattle run loose here, it seems).  When I went to change my film, I was shattered to see that I had not hooked on the last roll right and had lost all 20 photos I thought I had taken in Elgol.  I had taken such care with them [as each photo counted so much more than modern days when we can take hundreds digitally]. I had taken photos of the beautiful erosion patterns on the overhanging cliffs of Elgol.  I am desolate.

on a walk in the woods

A couple had set out from Broadford for Elgol on bikes today.  They passed me while I was walking.  I passed them in a car.  On the way back, I saw them collapsed a few miles from the hostel, taking a rest.  They did make it all the way and had the energy to go walking tonight, which was more than I did.

I have come down with a cold, I think because we are not allowed to wear shoes in the hostel and the floors are so cold.  I sat on the beach in a cleft of rocks out of the wind in the late afternoon, with violent sneezing spells, waiting for the hostel to open for the evening.

I am so SAAAAD. I don’t want to go to Wales; I just want to stay here for the rest of my life.  The sea around here and the lochs look like the Mediterranean, I am told, with a warm current touching part of the island.  I was also told I was lucky it was not raining.

Later: Last night I was terribly embarrassed because I could not get a little can opener to puncture my can of beans.   I finally asked the warden’s wife, and she did it for me rather sarcastically.  I must be pretty weak.  Tonight, I was trying to open my can of veggie soup in the corner of the busy kitchen and managed to do it.  Later, a big strong man from Germany came up to me holding the same opener and asked me if I knew where there was a sharper one!  He said, “Will you try it?” and I punctured the can as easy as vegetable pie!

I heated the soup and also made a curry rice from a packet.  I’ve been eating cold food out of cans to avoid the scrum in the hostel kitchens, but I think I am getting run down and need a hot meal.  Except for at our friends’ house in Larbert, where we sat around too much with too much with comfort and good food, I am have been on the go from sunrise to sundown every day.

I learned that from Broadford to Glen Brittle over the Black Cuillins—only 14 miles—takes experienced mountain climbers two and a half days, with two nights of camping out!  The Black Cuillins are the challenging mountains that I saw at Elgol (the lost photos!) that people travel from all over the climb; the Red Cuillins are the soft, round hills near Sligachen.

I like this hostel.  My bed has a view of the bay and is a little partial room off the main dorm.  The warden is letting me stay 4 nights instead of the permitted 3.

I will not have time to visit the peninsula of Trotternish.  I have already cut down on my Wales time.

There is a full moon tonight, seen from my window.  I have never seen darkness in Scotland.  It just appears and quickly disappears while I sleep.

 Monday, 23 June 1975

Noon. I am waiting for the ferry from Armadale to Mallaig to begin my journey to Wales.  [Originally, because of my love for Lloyd Alexander’s book based on Welsh legends (The Prydain Chronicles), Wales had been my ultimate destination.]

Armadale

Armadale

Armadale

Fog settled over the island as I left.  I watched till the “misty isle” disappeared. How I love that island.  I want to live there.  I want my children to grow up there.  My love for unseen Wales does not compare.  Next time I come to Britain, I am going straight to Skye! [Next time did not happen for over 20 years and revolved around my then-spouse’s family in the north of England.  On that trip, I did find another place that I adored: Whitby.]

from my scrapbook

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