AN annual trip to Skye lets Alison Gray experience the misty isle’s magical scenery, wildlife and hospitality
About five years ago we spent a glorious weekend on the Isle of Skye. The long May days of baking hot weather allowed us enough time to climb Sgurr Alasdair, a monster hill in the Cuillin, memorable for the massive slog up scree which I would have found too intimidating in anything but perfect conditions. We have made a return pilgrimage to the island about once a year ever since, but like Brigadoon, have found a second slice of wall to wall sunshine to be curiously elusive.
Undaunted by the grey clouds brewing overhead on this year’s adventure we headed to Glen Brittle with the intention of continuing our explorations of the Cuillin and making an ascent of Sgurr Dearg. However, the elements turned against us, and by the time we reached the lochan within the Coire Lagan, catching up with a party of high schoolchildren, low cloud had obscured the route ahead. We weren’t minded to continue, a view we shared with the mountain guide leading the kids, who said simply, “It’s not a day for the high tops.”
Accustomed to being thwarted by the weather on Skye, it didn’t take us long to find alternative entertainment. It’s his third season running The Oyster Shed, and his family has been farming oysters since 1981, but this was the first time we had encountered Paul McGlynn and his growing seafood and game operation located just up the hill from the Talisker Distillery. New for this year is the seafood takeaway, an unassuming snack van from which Paul’s mother-in-law produces delicious treats, cooked to order. Four fat scallops, panfried in garlic butter for £6.50, seemed like a bargain, and Paul will also shuck as many of his Isle of Skye oysters as you wish, at £1 a pop.
The record for the number of oysters scoffed on the spot is 60. We were tempted to challenge, but settled for trying just a couple each. Landed less than two hours before we ate them, these Pacific oysters farmed in the waters of Loch Harport were salty and delicious.
If, like us, you can’t get enough seafood, book into Duisdale House Hotel in Sleat which specialises in fish dishes. We sampled the seven-course tasting menu with starring dishes of cod loin and more scallops, this time on mackerel risotto. Owners Anne and Ken are incredibly hospitable, taking guests out on their yacht for daily excursions in search of whales and dolphins.
For another unique Skye experience, sign up for a day with Mitch Partridge. Mitch is the Skye Ghillie and he will increase your knowledge about the wildlife and history of the island, as you pick up tips on bushcraft and forage in Scotland’s wild larder. We learned how to identify wood sorrel (delicious, sharp and appley, like a Granny Smith), read the topography of a landscape (identifying the former sites of blackhouses, runrigs and Viking forts) and how to track otters via the spraint messages they leave for their fellows. Unfortunately the female we were looking for remained elusive, but with Mitch’s help we thrilled to the sight of golden eagles, as well as sea eagles.
Hearing of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s flight across Skye in the company of Flora Macdonald takes on a new urgency when you are looking at the remains of her uncle’s great pile and imagining their escape, perhaps metres from where you are standing.
Canowindra, aboriginal for “home”, is a dream B&B for lovers of modern island hospitality. The interior design is minimalist yet comfortable in elegant neutrals, with no tartan carpets to be found. We arrived at Georgie and Rick’s beautifully designed B&B following a thorough soaking after spending the day with Mitch in the inclement Great Outdoors, so it wasn’t long before we took advantage of the claw foot bath and the rainforest shower in the spacious en suite. We even raised a smile at Georgie’s choice of products from Arran Aromatics – After the Rain – it couldn’t have been more appropriate. Once we warmed up we could take in some of the attention to detail this young couple have lavished on their business. With everything from a jar of little homemade biscuits in your room, to a thoughtful selection of books and DVDs, they’ve thought of everything.
One final tip, if you can get to Skye this summer, check out pop-up resturant Scorrybreac, which is run by Runrig singer Donnie Munro’s sons, Niall and Calum, and hosted in his house. The rumour is that dad wants his gaff back so the boys may be setting up in more permanent premises after this season. With dishes like caramelised apricot with a whisky flapjack and star anise, they won’t struggle to fill their tables.
• The Skye Ghillie, tel: 01470 532690, www.skyeghillie.co.uk; Canowindra, B&B £145, tel: 01478 613640, www.canowindraskye.co.uk; Scorrybreac, tel: 01478 612939, www.scorrybreac.com; Duisdale Country House Hotel and Restaurant, tel: 01471 833202, www.duisdale.com