The ferry ride from Tarbert, Harris to Uig, Skye is one hour and forty-five minutes. We had clear sailing and lots of rainbows over the smaller islands as we made our way across the water known as The Minch (A’ Mhaoil, The Moyle; or Cuan Sgith, the sea of Skye). The Isle of Skye is the furthest north, and the largest, of the Inner Hebrides islands. It is close to the Highlands of the mainland in both geography and culture. “Skye” is from the Norse Skuy “misty isle” and is also referred to as Eilean a’ Cheo which is “misty Isle” in Gàidhlig, although the formal name is An t-Eilean Sgitheanach, “The Winged Isle”. There isn’t any real documentation to show that it is called The Winged Isle because of the shape of it, though there are two peninsulas in the northern part of the island that form a wing-like shape. (In my mind it has to do with needing to sail on the wings of the olden-day ships that sailed there.)
The Waternish is the pennisula in the west and is home to Dunvegan Castle and the Faerie Flag of Clan MacLeod. As much as we wanted to see the flag, the CalMac Ferry docked at Uig at 5:40 PM (An Ùig, from the Norse vik, “the sheltered bay”), giving us just a few minutes more than two hours until sunset. In light of this, we had elected to drive north out of Uig on the A855, and continue along the eastern coast of the Trotternish (Tròndairnis) peninsula and head south in to Portree where we had reservations for the night. This gave us the opportunity to see some charming little hamlets tucked in the hills, the rock formations of the Quiraing and the Trotternish ridge, Kilt Rock and the Mealt Waterfall, and The Storr with its landmark, The Old Man of Storr.
This northern part of Skye was formed by successive lava flows which built up to 2000 feet on top of the sandstone base of the island. This put pressure on the underlying rocks and in time everything went tipping over on its side, exposing the layers of rock in a vertical. Over time the lava rocks were eroded by the wind, water and weather and now the landscape is full of interesting rock formations. From the A855, the turnoff for the Quiraing is clearly marked. In Gàidhlig it is called Cuith-Raing which came from the Old Norse, Kvi Rand “round fold” referring to the landform that was once used to hide cattle from raiding Vikings. Had we had the daylight left for the hike it would have taken us on a two-hour walk up in to the terrain of the landslip. This area is the only part of the island that is still experiences some geological movement; we saw signs indicating that the road from Flodigarry south was liable to give way. As we drove along, some of the rock pinnacles and formations were visible high above us in the hills.
We passed the small village of Staffin (Stafain). 61% of the Trotternish population is Gaelic-speaking and refer to the area as An Taobh Sear “the East Side”. Dinosaur footprints can be seen along the shore near Staffin and more fossils are housed at the Dinosaur Museum. Just south of Staffin is Kilt Rock and the Mealt Waterfall. The car park near the crofting village of Ellishadder (Ealaiseadar, “dwelling of the stone, or of the rock”) allows for some great viewing of the nearly 300 foot sea cliff of vertical columns of basalt on top of sandstone that make a kilt-like pattern in the cliff face. The waterfall is fed from the freshwater Loch Mealt located just to the west of the road and crashes to the rocky edge of the sea. As we stood there enjoying the beautiful view we became aware of a soft humming around us. A selkie crying in the wind perhaps? Or the wind playing across the open pipes of the safety fence like the top of a soda bottle? I wish it had been the former.
Further south and overlooking the Sound of Raasay (Ratharsair) is the part of the Trotternish called the Storr (Gàidhlig, An Stòr, from the Old Norse, stórr,”big”). The western slope of the Storr is a grassy slope, but the eastern side is a huge rocky outcropping that rises up out of what is called the Sanctuary and stands as the highest point on the peninsula. The Old Man of Storr is a rock pinnacle that sits a bit away from the outcropping and is one of the most photographed places in Scotland, if not the world.
As darkness began to set in, we reached the town of Portree. Now called Port Rìgh in Gàidhlig, meaning “the king’s port”, there is an older name, Port Ruighe(adh), meaning “slope harbor”. I was looking forward to visiting with our hosts for the night; when I booked the B&B, the owner and I had had conversations about my being able to try out the Gàidhlig I had so diligently been studying. Nearly 40% of the population of Portree can speak Scots Gaelic and our hosts were no exception. Unfortunately, we had barely any conversation at all, much less in the Gàidhlig. To make matters more disappointing, the request I had made for a fragrance-free room went ignored. Even the toilet paper had been scented. The accommodations’ lack was more than made up for by the dinner we had in the town. At the B&B we had been told that because we had arrived so late in the day, all the restaurants would be full. We were pointed in the direction of a pub, but when we got to the car park we noticed what looked like a nice restaurant directly across the street. We decided to give it a try and we were more than not disappointed, we were thrilled.
The Granary is located in Somerled Square in the Town Centre of Portree. As we approached, we saw that the restaurant was absolutely packed and were bracing ourselves to be turned away. We were greeted by Craig, who gave us a table right away and then handed our care over to our server, Charlotte. They bill themselves as a café, but the atmosphere was relaxed and still upscale enough to make it more a restaurant. The food was the best that we had on the entire trip, and we had great food everywhere. Our shared appetizer was the Ginger Poached Pear with Goats Cheese, Candied Pecans, Citrus and Thyme Syrup over Dressed Salad Leaves. (My mouth is watering at the memory of it as I write this.) For an entrée Marsha ordered the Lentil Soup and Peat Smoked Mallaig Salmon, Sweet Onion Puree with Homemade Tartar sauce and Granary Bread. She said that the salmon had a delightful taste of peat without being overbearing and that it was the best thing she had ever put in her mouth. I was blown away by the Chestnut, Baby Artichoke and Goats Cheese Stack Drizzled with Red Pepper Coulis, served with Honey Roasted Fig Finished with Hazelnut Praline. Thusly blissed-out by the food, we took a short walk through the town before we headed back to the B&B.