Monday, July 17, 2006

Day seven -- Isle of Skye

Today, we had a very long drive out to Skye, the first and closest of the Hebrides islands. The countryside in western Scotland is much more rainy, moderate and, hence, lush and green than in the central highlands. It's a bit like our Portland or Seattle--there are even sequoias growing in some private gardens, though they're certainly imports from the New World.

The drive to Skye was very long, but well worth it. Our first major stop found us at the Castle Eilean Donan, of Highlander fame. The castle is the "prototypical" Scotland castle, and you can't find a single book or brochure of Scotland that doesn't show it. Eilean Donan is one of the more interesting castles I've been in, and I've been in a lot! It's a maze of rooms, halls, secret stairways and passages, most of which we are free to roam. They've restored the bedroom level and the kitchen and dining levels, so you get a very realistic picture of what life would have been like. The castle sits on a saltwater lake (which opens to the sea), so it's surrounded by tidal pools of seaweed and grass.

I'm amazed, but all of these tourist stops have really excellent cafeterias. It was here that we ate our lunch, and though it was a simple lunch of soups and sandwiches, the Scots (and indeed, probably, all the Brits) really know how to make a good sandwich! I had a chicken salad, and it was quite good.

After Eilean Donan, we headed on to Skye, and our next stop was the ruined castle home of Clan Donald, called Armadale. This was a really interesting visit for the scenery and the ruined castle. Though the castle was burnt down in 1855, they had some very elaborate gardens from the eighteenth century and those gardens still flourish today. It was Clan Donald's own Flora MacDonald, being a minor princess in Scotland during the failed Jacobite revolution, who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie to escape the island to exile in Rome. She dressed him up as her Irish maid and rowed him across the water to Skye and beyond. Legend has it that he never thanked her for the aid, though she spent some time in a London prison for it.

After Armadale, we headed down the curviest, narrowest country road I've ever seen. Sheer drop-offs on one side, beautiful heather filled hills on the other. It's one of the times when you just grip your armrest, or close your eyes, and remember that the tour bus does this every single week and nobody dies. The road eventually ends at a ferry, which took us back to the mainland (Scotland, that is).

After Skye, we stopped at the Cluinie Inn for a potty break, and I had a very delicious Cardhu whisky. This stuff was the smoothest whisky I've had yet. Very nice.

It was, therefore, inevitable after the whisky, that I should nap the rest of the way back to Aviemore. Back at Aviemore, it was Scottish night in the restaurant. I had a delicious tower of haggis with neeps and tatties, Scottish beef on red cabbage, and a raspberry crannoch for dessert. Ed had the wild mushrooms and rice, while Kathleen had a salad, and Becky had a wonderful Speyside rainbow trout with prawns and lemon butter.

Then, it was home to pack, for this is our last night in Aviemore. Tomorrow, we move to Glasgow for two nights before heading to Iceland.

© Copyright 2005-2014, Scott E. Harris. All Rights Reserved.
Please do not reproduce or copy without the permission of the author.