Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Scottish holiday part 3: Skye

Leaving harbour
Originally uploaded by westy48
The CalMac ferry terminal at Mallaig is the Gateway to Skye. We left the campsite at Arisaig and arrived at Mallaig well before check-in time, and so we drove round to East Bay where there were plenty of campervan sized parking places. Mallaig is a busy little place, and a coach loads of tourists were exploring. There was a fairly large Co-op so we stocked up on essentials for the cupboards - biscuits, crips, stuff like that. Then it was time to go back to the van and get in line for the ferry. Unloading the previous shipload and getting us on board was as efficient as it had been for the previous ferry crossings we'd made in Scotland and we were soon ready to cross the sea to Skye.

The trip over to Armadale was only about 40 minutes which gave us time to grab a coffee and buy some playing cards in the onboard shop. On deck it was so windy that the froth was blown from my cappuccino and splattered on a bulkhead, narrowly missing the woman behind me. But the views were spectacular, certainly better than any you get crossing the channel by ferry.

On Skye there was a definite island feel to the place, and as we climbed inland the cloud descended and the wind picked up. Our campsite had claimed to have a "nearby swimming pool' so we drove straight past the site entrance into the village of Kyleakin. I popped into Saucy Mary's coffee shop and found friendly staff who guided me across the bridge back to the mainland where the pool was in Kyle of Lochalsh. It seemed a bit of a cheat to leave the island so soon, and by bridge, but Jack and Edward fancied a swim and the weather wasn't up to much else so off we went.

Kyle of Lochalsh playground
Originally uploaded by westy48
The carpark at the pool was just big enough for us - I managed to get turned round and then occupied four bays with the campervan. The pool was smaller than the one in Oban, but me, Jack and Edward enjoyed our dip while Lucy sat this one out and read a few chapters of her book. When we were done the weather had brightened up and we went into the playground outside the pool which had just reopened after a big refurbishment. Edward was in love with the pirate ship, and I managed to remember some of what I'd learned from Mr Poole during PE lessons as me and Jack monopolised the basketball hoop.

When we went back to the campsite we found no sign of the owner, but a notice with our name on it was next to one of the pitches, so that was where we parked up. Ashaig campsite was the most basic we stayed at, but it was also the cheapest. Everything was clean and well organised and all the campers seemed happy. We broke out the cards we'd bought on the ferry and taught Jack how to play pontoon, using the Connect 4 counters as chips. He really enjoyed that.

The next morning we drove up to Portree, stopping when I found a puddle of signal on O2 to call the Torvaig campsite where we booked in for the night ahead. This was just a mile beyond Portree so we went straight to the site and staked a claim on a pitch with a bit of a view. This campsite was beautifully maintained and was quite different to the one as Ashaig. Again we got a friendly welcome and good value. We walked into Portree, coaxing a tired Jack down the hill into town. Portree is a busy town with lots of shops and cafes, a big school and a harbour. In Tobermory most of the activity was on the harbour front, but in Portree the main drag was above the harbour, which was much quieter with just a few seafood restaurants at the waterside. We bought lunch at the chaotically busy Stuart's fish and chips shop, and dined on the picnic tables outside. There were a lot of shops in Portree, but they seemed expensive and served the international tourist trade, including a cruise ship that was in the bay when we arrived. We added a couple of DVDs to our small collection. The TV aerial on the campervan was totally useless and although we had a variety of iDevices and my trusty Apple Dock to AV connector we were getting ready for a change of viewing.

The campsite was packed when we returned, and Edward made another friend from the Netherlands. The next morning was gloomy with low cloud and drizzle hanging in the air. We drove down into Portree and had coffee and waffles at Cafe Arriba which is clearly where the trendy young things hang out in Portree. Obviously we felt right at home.

This was the closest we had to a wasted day on holiday. It was only forty minutes to the next campsite at Staffin, and we arrived there early hopeful that the day would clear up. But the weather was set and the day remained dark and dank. The warden described Staffin as a village with four churches and no pubs, so it didn't seem worth getting drenched to go and explore its charms. We spent the afternoon playing Uno, Connect 4 and card games and were glad to have the extra couple of DVDs we'd got the day before in Portree.

It was a windy night and I lay awake for much of it wondering just how string the wind has to be to roll a campervan over. We rocked quite hard on the suspension but survived in tact. At one point I peeked out of the curtain and saw lights on in lots of the tents; it must have been a really uncomfortable night under canvass.

Staffin Bay
Originally uploaded by westy48
But the wind blew the clouds away and when we emerged the following morning there was a view of mountains and the sea that we'd never expected after the previous day. So after breakfast we drove down another narrow road to Staffin Bay where we found rockpools, a pier that seemed much to big fir the single boat tied up to it and stunning views across to the mainland where we could see some dramatically steep mountains.

We explored the rock pools and enjoyed the clear skies before heading off again to circumnavigate Skye's most northern point. It was more miles on a single track road, and we were surprised to find our journey disrupted by roadworks. You expect cones and delays on the motorway, but not out here. Because of the long wait at the lights we found ourselves in quite a convoy of traffic, but this thinned out as we made our way around the north of the island.

Farthest north
Originally uploaded by westy48
From this road around the northern shores of Skye you could look across to the Outer Hebrides, which are a just one tempting ferry crossing away from Uig. But we resisted that temptation, and made for the Skye Camping and Caravanning Club Site near Edinbane, where we were booked in for the next two nights. It was two o'clock by the time we were checked in and we were ready for a late lunch. The Warden suggested we go to Dunvegan and look out for the Dunvegan Bakery on the right past the Post Office.

This was a good tip. Dunvegan has a small but campervan friendly carpark with a view over the narrow end of the loch (Loch Dunvegan, obv) where a heron was posing for photographers with longer lenses than mine. We walked up the little street to the Bakery where we had lunch (sausage sandwiches for me and Ed, prawn sandwich for Lucy and the ubiquitous portion of chips for Jack) in their cosy cafe. Lunch was delicious and as the shop hadn't sold out when we'd finished we bought some bread rolls, scones and sausage rolls to take back to the campervan which formed the basis of breakfast and snacks the next couple of days. Across the road there was a village store so we picked up some more supplies there and then went down the road to Dunvegan Castle. Or at least their car park.

Originally uploaded by westy48
We'd been told at the campsite to walk down the road past the castle and follow it along the lochside where we'd be able to spot seals. We weren't sure at first if we'd found the right road, but it wound down to the shore past a beautiful little cottage to reveal a view back to the castle and out onto the loch where there were several small islands dotted in the water. It was easy to see where the seals were living because a succession of boats made trips out from the castle to get up close and personal with them, but we enjoyed the early evening walk and looking out across the water to see family groups of seals lazing on the rocks. Dunvegan was definitely my favourite place on Skye. It's little street of hotels and shops, the fabulous bakery, and the lochside walk all came together to give it an atmosphere that I hadn't felt elsewhere. It was also very peaceful, when Jack and Edward weren't making a racket.

The next morning we followed our noses onto the Waternish peninsula. Stein looked like an interesting coastal village, but we drove around the end of the peninsula at Trumpan first where again we found some amazing views and narrow roads. Coming back into Stein we drove down the road and parked at the end of the village by the slipway. We put on our coats and went onto the rocks at the waters edge where we had a chance to interact with the wildlife.
There were two scallops just sitting on the rocks, waiting for the tide to come back in and rescue them. Stein is home to two seafood restaurants, which have fresh ingredients right on their doorsteps! We'd planned to go to one of these restaurants for lunch, but the Stein Inn had a notice on its door which informed us that they were closed to allow them to prepare for a wedding reception they were hosting that night.
So we went next door to the gallery at Dandelion Designs where we enjoyed looking at some of the works on show and bought some pressies for the folks back home. The very nice lady behind the counter suggested we go across to Glendale where there are a couple of cafes and a toy museum, so we went back to the van and pottered off to Glendale, which was a bit further that we thought. Everything on Skye is further away than you think, and takes longer to get there than you expect, but we were on holiday and it didn't really matter.

We wanted to go to the Red Roof Cafe at Glendale which we'd seen advertised and had heard good things about. But the car park was full and there was nowhere nearby to park the campervan so we turned round and headed back to the junction where we'd seen another cafe with an unfathomable Gaelic name: Ceiteag's. Katie's was a proper old fashioned tea room where we had a beautiful lunch.

Originally uploaded by westy48
And Lucy had cheesecake. She needed a doggy bag because although it was the best cheesecake ever it was also a massive slice. After lunch we walked up to the toy museum. The rain was coming straight into our faces, so when we arrived our fronts were wet through, but our backs were bone dry. The Glendale Toy Museum occupies the front two rooms of a large house. The room to your left as you enter is home to the older exhibits and the room to the right houses the newer ones. The hallway is a small, low pressure, shop. Terry and Paddy who own the museum are retiring next year, which means you've got to go there before the end of the season in 2012. Then find them eBay where they'll be holding a rather large auction. Terry has a great line in patter and knows everything there is to know about toys. It's a very hands on museum with children, and grown ups, encouraged to play woth lots of the toys. The closure of the museum will have an impact on the cafes and other small businesses in this small community which support each other, but hopefully they'll all have had time to adapt their plans to cope with the change. Glendale was lovely, and certainly worth the effort of getting to, with or without the toy museum.

And that was the end of our last full day on Skye. Well, almost. Our neighbours on the campsite the night before had told us about the Coral Beach which we'd find right at the end of the road along Loch Dunvegan where we'd been seal spotting the night before. So we took the van down and found a car park which we partially blocked. But it was only another campervan we were obstructing, so I wasn't too bothered. It was still lashing down with rain, and the signs indicated a mile's walk to get there. Jack and Edward weren't keen. I thought I'd better stay with the van in case I needed to move it to let the other one out. So Lucy set off alone to find the Coral Beach, while we played Connect 4 in the warm and dry. By all accounts the beach was amazing. The black rocky shore suddenly gave way to a pinkish-white beach made up of tiny shell fragments.

Real Food Cafe
Originally uploaded by westy48
The next day we left Skye over the bridge, stopping briefly at the playground in Kyle of Lochalsh, and returned to the campsite at Tyndrum where we'd stayed on the second night of our holiday. It was a good stopover on the way home, but most importantly it gave us a chance to return to the Real Food Cafe. This time we ate in, rather than having a takeaway and sat under the awning on what must have been the forecourt of the former Little Chef. I had a rather nice homes made scots pie which came with with a generous jug of meaty gravy. Everyone else had fish and chips and me and Lucy shared a bottle of Chardonnay, which was nice.

On our final day we drove down the shore of Loch Lomond to Glasgow and picked up the M74 to head south to the border and home. Overall we covered a little over a thousand miles in the fortnight, which wasn't overdoing it given that we did more than 200 miles on both the first and last days. The photos are all here, and the first two parts of the the holiday blog are here and here.

We had a great holiday and I can only recommend Scotland and campervans.

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