Heading north out of Fort William with typically dark clouds lurking overhead and an even more ominous weekend weather forecast for the Isle of Skye did not inspire much confidence.
Trying to navigate my way around the peculiarities of the West Highland public transport network and finding last-minute accommodation on an island seemingly bursting at the seams added to the sense of foreboding on the first full day of my annual trip to the islands.
By early evening, any doubts about the wisdom of following the lure of the big top to Skye had been completely dispelled.
I joined the capacity crowd crammed into the venue which is travelling around the Hebrides this month, along with a troupe of award-winning international acts, for the opening night of the Let’s Circus tour at Kyleakin, in the shadow of the Skye Bridge.
An infectious sense of instant warmth, nonsense and camaraderie was generated among the audience of all ages by maverick ringmaster Steve Cousins.
By the time the Edinburgh folk band visiting a nearby watering hole had broken out into Stevie Wonder and Prince covers I had been transported to a world far removed from a gloomy rain-swept summer in Scotland.
Thanks to a somewhat erratic bus timetable, it took more than six hours the following day to get from Kyleakin to Portnalong for the next cultural experience – a traditional village hall night with the Ceilear Ceilidh Trail, a pick of the crop of emerging young musicians from the Skye and Lochalsh area.
But, ahead of a visit to the Hebridean Celtic Festival in Stornoway, it was a thrill to see and hear some of the next generation of musical talent, whose touring schedule for July would gave any band in Scotland a run for their money.
Our last-minute accommodation at the Skyewalker Hostel was also a real find, with its selection of traditional musical instruments on offer in the lounge allowing the steady stream of international visitors to try their hand and showcase some of their own cultural heritage.
A long walk through heavy rain was rewarded with a visit to the Old Inn, at Carbost, on the doorstep of Talisker Distillery. It took all of our willpower to leave this beautifully unspoilt area, when we realised it was hosting a series of live music sessions later in the week.
We also resisted the temptation of a reunion with the Japanese, Kenyan and Australian performers from Let’s Circus and the musicians we encountered in Portnalong, who were going to be joining forces for a one-off “circus meets ceilidh” night back in the big top in Kyleakin.
It was especially difficult to leave behind the sprawling Skye Festival, in full swing in its 25th anniversary year. Along with Let’s Circus and the Ceilear Ceilidh Trail, the event also offered the chance to sample everything from Basque country music, Cape Breton fiddle and African gum-book dancing to the traditional sounds of accordion king Fergie MacDonald.
With musicians from the National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Scotland and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra also in the line-up, it is hard to imagine a venue in one of Scotland’s major cities or towns assembling a line-up as eclectic as the Skye Festival, while retaining a fierce commitment to showcasing local culture.
When you throw in the fact that its shows are set amid some of the most spectacular scenery in the country you begin to realise what an unbeatable experience is on offer with the event – which runs until the end of next month.