We had intended to leave the B&B in Portree by 9:00 AM in order to have a long, leisurely day driving the three-and-a-half hours from Skye over to Nairn, so the mandated end of breakfast at 8:30 was not a problem for us. We wanted to spend a little time in Portree and the car snacks were getting low so I parked in front of a little grocery and perused the shelves for munchies while Marsha browsed a shop across the street. Walking around a little more, we happened upon Café Arriba at the top of Quay Brae (“Kwai Bray” which as near as I can figure out means the higher part of a common pasture near a stream). We walked up the stairs and entered in to what is billed as “a funky bright upstairs café”. It did not disappoint. The vegetarian menu made me wish that we were staying in Portree for lunch. But the latté that I ordered and the hot chocolate that Marsha ordered did not disappoint either. We sat at a table in front of the window and eased our way in to the day with the view.
The first part of the day’s journey took us on the A87 south out of Portree to Sliigachan (Gàidhlig: Sligeachan “a place with a good inn”) where we turned back to the northwest on the A863 and then the B8009 to Carbost (Càrrabost, “copse or brushwood farm” from the Old Norse, kjarr-bólstaðr). From Carbost, it was a 15 minute drive along unnamed roads to reach the car park for the Fairy Pools at Glen Brittle. We traveled the sometimes single track roads through the light rain of the day. The scenery was amazingly beautiful and the constant backdrop of the the Cuillin Range changed in form and hue as we rode along through the mists.
When we arrived at the car park we were surprised to see so many people there on a rainy Thursday in September. There were so many people in fact, that the car park was completely full. A few dozen people were standing and walking about with many more on the trail to the Fairy Pools. All of them were waving ferociously in front of their faces and around their bodies to keep the swarms of midgies away. Even the weather-protective clothing they were wearing was not keeping the little beasties from biting them. The Highland Midgie (Gàidhlig: Meanbh-chuileag) is an especially voracious flying insect that is found predominantly in the northwest of Scotland. Like the American noseeum, they are small enough to get through screens and just about anything else. Based upon my previous trips to Scotland, I had assumed that they would be gone by mid-September, but I was proven wrong. The air was thick with them. What clouds weren’t made of mist were made of midgies. As the Scots Gaelic (Gàidhlig) saying goes, cho pailt ri meanbh-chuileagan as t-fhoghar “as many as stars in the sky”. As much as we wanted to see the Fairy Pools, the misery we saw on peoples’ faces warned us away. Neither of us could imagine ourselves walking for an hour or more in those conditions. We drove the mile or so to the end of the road and turned around. I felt sorry for the young man that was leaving the hostel there and was looking for a ride out. We just did not have the room in the car for him and all his gear.
We made our way back to Carbost and then to Sliigachan where we re-joined the A87 eastward. Here, the A87 runs along the edge of the Cuillins and the edge of the Isle itself. In another fifteen miles or so we came to the settlement of Broadford (An t-Àth Leathann, “the broad ford” from the Norse, Breiðafjorðr “the wide bay”). In Broadford, we found Café Sia and a very good lunch of sandwiches and soup. Our server had just returned from a summer in the US and it was interesting to watch him slip back in to his Scottish accent as he talked with us. I think that the American accent was a novelty there until a couple of people with real ones walked in. Just west of Broadford in the Red Cuillin is the “The Beinn”, Beinn na Caillich “Hill of the Old Woman”. While it isn’t a Munro, it’s still a beautiful sight to see as it stands a sentinel for the town.
Broadford is also home to the liqueur Drambuie. The legend says that when Bonnie Prince Charlie sought refuge on the Isle of Skye after the Battle of Culloden he gave the recipe to John MacKinnon of Clan MacKinnon as a thank you for having given him a place to stay. MacKinnon shared the recipe with John Ross, the owner of what was then the Broadford Inn (and is now the Boradford Hotel), in the late 1800s. Ross worked with the recipe and trademarked it in 1893. After he passed away, his widow needed the money, so she sold the rights to Drambuie back to the MacKinnons who produced it until they sold it to William Grants & Sons in 2014. Drambuie is a blend of scotch whisky, spices, herbs and honey. The name “Drambuie” comes from the Gàidhlig “an dram buidheach” (the drinnk that satisfies”).
Just after Broadford, near Upper Breakish, we turned south east on to an unnamed road. I had been told to look for the sign that would let me know if the tides were right for the Glenelg-Skye Ferry to be running. Had the sign not told us all was well down the road, we would have stayed on the A87 and crossed over the Skye Bridge to Kyle of Lochalsh (Caol Loch Aillse, “the narrows of Loch Aillse/ Alsh”). As it was, we made our way down the single track road; and when I say “down” I mean in elevation as well as traveling on it. It wound through the hills and after an 8 mile/20 minute drive, we came to the end at Kylerhea (Caol Reithe, “the narrows of Reithe/ Reatha”).
The Glenelg-Skye Ferry, “The Glenachulish”, is the last working turntable ferry in Scotland. We were greeted by the two dogs that work alongside the humans, guided on to the ferry and rode the all-too-short ride over the Kyle Rhea to the ferry landing on the other side just north of Glenelg. We spent a few minutes out of the car on the other side, enjoying the view, watching the ferry make its return run with other cars, and playing with one of the dogs who decided that catching the stick I was throwing was better than helping to pull the ropes on the ferry; at least for the moment.
Continuing on the unnamed road (which was originally built in the late 1800s) for nine miles, we drove up through the pass, over the summit of Mam Ratagan (seems to be “Ratagan’s hill”) and down again to Loch Duich (Loch Dubhthaich, “Dubhthach’s loch”) and on to Shiel Bridge (Drochaid Sheile, “the bridge of the river Shiel”). As we made our decent we could see the Five Sisters of Kintail (Còig Peathraichean Chinn Tàile) as they stretched along the north side of the A87 from Loch Duich through Glen Shiel. Of the five peaks, three are classified as Munros and the other two are Munro “tops”. Just to the east of the Five Sisters is the site of the Battle of Glen Shiel (Blàr Ghleann Seile). Known as “The Nineteen”, the battle was fought on the 10th of June, 1719 between Jacobite and Spanish forces and British and Scots forces. Rob Roy MacGregor was one of the Jacobite commanders. The rebel forces were defeated here after three hours of fighting.
Just to the east of Loch Cluanie (Loch Cluanaidh), a reservoir behind the Cluanie Dam built in 1957, the A887 heads north east through Glen Moriston (Gleann Moireastan) and the River Moriston (“River of the Waterfalls”), past the village of Dundreggan. Dundreggan is the home of the Dundreggan Estate, which was purchased in 2008 by Trees for Life. Dundreggan is Dùn Dreagain in Gàidhlig, meaning “the meadow of the dragon”; more importantly, it derives from the word Duldragin and dul is one of the few Pictish words to have survived.
We connected with the A82 at Invermoriston (Inbhir Mhoireastainn,”confluence of the Moriston”) and continued north to Drumnadrochit (Druim na Drochaid, “the ridge of the bridge”) and Urquhart Castle.