Sunday, 7 September 2014

Returning to the Isle of Sky - Day 1

We return for our annual trip up to the Isle of Skye on the far north west of Scotland.  We leave home early Saturday morning and make the trip up in one go.  We're a little excited because this year the forecast looks promising.  
We pitch the tents at our usual base camp at Torvaig campsite in Portree.  
As usual the forecast changes for the worst but promises to improve as the week goes on.  Today (Sunday) a strong northerly force 5-6 with moderate seas is forecast.  Two options, I shelter to the south but know from experience that there will be very strong down drafts along the steep southern cliffs, or paddle with the wind at my back from Staffin in the north back down to Portree.    
I opt for the latter and we park up at Staffin beach taking in the full brunt of the wind.  It's very gusty but looks do-able.  I'm not backing out this year I'm determined to put in some miles.
Off I paddle out of the small harbour and around to the right, the wind snatching at my paddle and kicking up cold spray off my bow into my face.  I have a long paddle ahead of me, 18 miles of steep cliffs with only one possible place to land and get out.  The first 5 miles face the north east where there is a kilometre long headland jutting out into the sea.  From there on the cliffs run directly north to south.  My thinking is once I round that headland I should be out of the worst of the wind, but until then it's going to get rough.
My dad takes this short as I disappear out of view.  Around this corner is a reef and a small island.  To my right steep breakers roll in, the wind whipping of their peaks in mists of spray exposing the reef bellow.  Around the island it is then, but it looks big, the swell is intimidating.  I retreat back into the harbour where a local fisherman is readying his boat.  I don't know the area, my concern is the headland five miles away so I ask what it's like out there.  He makes a large wave motion with his arms.  "It will be hell out there today but yes once your around the headland you should be out of the worst of it" he replies.  He can see I'm trying to weigh up my options then says "come back tomorrow".  He's right, it's only day one and it's not going anywhere, it'll still be there tomorrow and the forecast is better.       
My dad pre-empts my return and is there waiting on the slip way for me.  The boat is back on the van and we head further north of the island for a tourist day.
We take the road that skirts the most northerly point of Skye and to the west side of the point to Duntulm Castle.

Looking across the Minch just able to see the peaks of Harris.
A memorial to the MacArthurs, the pipers to the MacDonalds of Sleat for successive generations.
Most of what remains of the castle was built in the early 1600's by the Macdonalds.  Duntulm has be fortified however since the Iron Age then by the Norse and their successors the Macleods of Skye.  The castle was abandoned in 1730.  Legend says this was after a nursemaid accidentally dropped the baby son of the clan chief from a castle window over the cliffs.  Here ghost, killed in retribution, is said to wander the ruins.
And artists impression of how the castle may have looked in it's former glory.
A sea urchin between the kelp down on the shore.
A short distance down the road is the Flora Macdonald memorial.  In 1746 she famously helped the fugitive Bonnie Prince Charlie evade capture.  She was imprisoned in the tower of London but later released in 1747. She later married and emigrated to North Carolina but returned and died in 1790 to be buried here on the Isle of Skye.
Another interesting grave in this cemetery is that of Angus Martin, or Angus of the wind, earning this nickname by apparently insisting on going to sea whatever the weather.  More of a man than me it seems.  Legend has it he stole this grave stone depicting a medieval knight from the grave of a Scottish King from island of Iona and carried it on his back from the sea.
These croft houses are actually replicas of the houses that were common place on the Isle of Skye at the close of the 1800's, part of the Skye Museum of Natural Life.
We made our way back down the west coast and across the middle of the island back to Portree.  We had a fish and chip lunch on the front where my dad decided to take a boat trip out of the harbour to sea the sea eagles.  Eager to get on the water myself I decided to get the boat back off the roof and go for a short paddle. 
Out of the harbour the northerly wind was still apparent although it had died down considerably since this morning.  Off to the right here there are some huge boulders which have come down from the peaks above and make for some great rock hoping, but there was still a large swell rolling in making getting up close impossible.
Tucked out of the wind I landed on this small beach with views over the Cullin hills.  Behind me the grass slope rises almost vertically to the cliffs where white tailed eagles commonly roost.  It seemed like a perfect spot to wild camp the night.  We retire back to the campsite and walk on into Portree for the evening with the prospect of returning to Staffin in the morning.

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