A man arrives at a hotel in a Scottish village on a cold, grey, drizzly day. The weather remains the same for two weeks. Exasperated, he stops a little boy in the street. ‘Does the weather here ever change?’ he asks. ‘I don’t know,’ replies the boy. ‘I’m only six.’
An English colleague mailed me this classic weather joke about Scotland, the minute he heard I was headed to the Isle of Skye for a few days. I parked this under the usual case of English weather talk.
|A nature junkie with a penchant for legends would never want to leave Skye
The Isle of Skye or Eilean a’Cheo (misty isle in Scottish Gaelic) is the largest island of the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. Dominated by the Cullins hills, a dramatic coastline and rich greenery, a nature junkie would feel at home here. And a nature junkie with a penchant for legends would never want to leave.
James, our tour guide was blessed with a healthy belief in Scottish myths and a wicked sense of humour. At the first meeting, James held forth for 40 minutes and told us of how he spent his childhood thinking his name was ‘Shut-up’.
|A vintage car cruising on an empty road in Skye
Scotland conjures up romantic images of green landscapes, lakes and castles. As we drove past Doune castle, the one made famous by the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, I expected James to spout the usual, “… And on your right is the oh-so-beautiful…” Instead, he pointed out that it was illogical to romanticise castles. Palaces were where kings and queens lived, castles were where they hid.
To reach Portree, we drove through a mountain range and past lochs (lakes) and glens (valleys). “Take away your mountains, glens and lochs, and what have you got? England,” said James. “Aye”, I replied, thinking of my colleague.
Portree and a love story
The largest town in the Isle of Skye, Portree is a tourist hub. Situated at the base of the Trotternish range, Portree has a picturesque harbour and a row of colourful houses. Home to barely 2,000 people, it wouldn’t take you more than 30 minutes to walk around the entire town.
But, a well spent evening in town involves a couple of whiskies at the local pub Isles Inn and conversations with locals about legends passed down through generations.
|Barber sign in Portree
Even modern Scots have a strong sense of superstition, I learnt. One such legend surrounds a rock, referred to as the Old Man of Storr.
The Storr range is a group of weirdly-shaped rocks formed from basalt lavas and rest on Jurassic sediments in the Trotternish peninsula.
The story goes that there was once a villager named O’Sheen, who died of a broken heart. O’Sheen saved the life of a small Brownie (a mythological character pronounced Broonie, which strongly resembles a hobgoblin) and never asked for anything in return, though the Brownie was keen to repay the favour.
Over the years, the two became fast friends. One time, the Brownie was out of town and O’Sheen’s wife died of a bad heart condition. Heartbroken, O’Sheen passed away. When the Brownie returned, he was devastated that his friend was no more.
He chiselled the rock — the Old Man of Storr — and a smaller rock behind him to remember O’Sheen and his wife. We don’t know what the geologists would think of the story, but I can tell you that the entire bus listened to James’s narration with bated breath.
Brownies were not the only creatures that inhabited our day. At the Cullins range, we were smothered by midges (two-winged flies). While that may have been a battle for some of us, I’d sooner defer to Skihak’s war with her lover, Calohan, whose sword-fight led to the formation of the mountain range.
Skihak, a female giant who once lived in the Skye was one of the greatest warriors of all times. She was in love with Calohan, one of the giants who came to train with her. But he planned to deceive her.
After learning the skills, he challenged her to a sword fight. The two fought for days, and their lunges and swipes gave the Cullins range its wild appearance.
With every new place we visited, the beauty of Skye unfolded, only to be accentuated by the Scottish storytelling. So, if you ever head to Scotland, forget the castles and whisky trails. Find a Scot who can spin a good tale, instead.
How to get there:
British Airways flies daily to Edinburgh via London from all major metros in India. Return economy airfare costs approximately Rs 55,000. Indian citizens need a visa to travel to the UK and this can be applied through the VFS application centre. Website: http://www.vfs-uk-in.com/
Portree has many quaint bed and breakfast self-service apartments. The cost for double room per night ranges between Rs 5,000- 7,500. Apartments can be rented for Rs 10,000 per night and can accommodate a family of four. Website: www.airbnb.com
Catch a meal at the Isles Inn pub in the centre of Portree — famous for serving Scottish scallops and Haggis, the local specialty. Follow it up with some local whisky in the bar, while listening to some live Ceilidh music.
Walking trails in Skye
1 A walk starting from the Aros Centre on the outskirts of Portree is a great option to explore the forestry and views over Portree bay, followed by a walk along the salt marsh — taking up to two hours.
2 The area in front of the Storr, known as the Sanctuary, is a beautiful landscape to walk around and admire the cliffs behind. Explore the walk to the summit of Storr, which can take four-five hours.
3 Neist Point offers a stunning viewpoint overlooking rock formations similar to the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. A steep walk down from Neist point leads to the lighthouse — a great place to catch a glimpse of dolphins and sea-birds.
4 Coire na Creiche and the Fairy Pools circuit is a great walk to get you into the Cuillin scenery. The path follows a beautiful crystal clear stream full of pools and waterfalls and takes upto three hours.