Moving In

(This post is long overdue… I have been living in the North End for three weeks now. Yet each time I’ve tried to write about moving day something has happened, my computer crashes or the post won’t upload. Very frustrating but here’s one last try!)

My new home overlooking Kilmaluag Bay

Another cottage overlooking Kilmaluag Bay

After spending over 10 days hostelling and B&B-ing in Portree I was beginning to get weary of living out of bags, having limited kitchen access and needing to put on trousers to go to the bathroom.
Moving day couldn’t come soon enough.
Of course there was the added excitement of moving into my own place where I could wake up in the mornings and make friends with the new day by gazing out to the sea with a cup of tea. After all, Portree is lovely but I came here for the natural landscapes, not urban living.

So, just over a week ago, I stuffed my belongings back into their bags and hauled them into the car. On the way I stopped off for supplies and some flowers for my lovely landlady and then I was on the road.

Despite the postal address containing the line ‘Near Portree’, the house is a good 45 minute drive from Skye’s main town (or more, if the sheep have decided to park themselves on the road).
This distance was a big negative when I first started househunting. But then I made the journey… It’s probably one of the most spectacular routes I’ve ever driven.
It’s pretty much just a tour past the natural icons of Skye; The Old Man of Storr, Kilt Rock and the Quairang. The weather and the hour make it look completely different from one day to the next and driving this route has become one of my favourite parts of the day.

The drive along the A855 past The Old Mann Of Storr

The drive along the A855 past The Old Mann Of Storr

Back in the car I cranked up the music, put my sunglasses on and wound round the bends with the hills on one side and the ocean on the other. The sun was shining and the sea and sky were a vivid blue; much better than the grey drizzle of the previous day.

As I  turned onto the little road up the house I had to stop.
Sitting on the middle of tarmac in front of me was a bright-eyed collie dog. As I braked to a halt it got up and turned, then looked back over it’s shoulder at me. I inched the car forward and it began to trot along ahead of me. After a short distance I halted again in case it wanted to get out of the road and go back past the car. It stopped too, sat down again and looked at me. I started again and so did the dog. I followed it with amusement, this curious dog seemed to be leading me home.

As I crawled the car along the track I glanced up the hill towards the house.
On the cloud-shaded landscape I saw my new home sitting in a little spotlight of sunshine. It looked as if someone had put a light on to show me where to go. It felt welcoming.

And so I followed my little canine guide up to the only sunny patch in the bay; it was a curiously charming start to life in the North End and I got a little feeling that this kind of thing isn’t unusual here.

The keys were in the door as I got to the house. I meandered through each room and tried to take it all in. This is the first place I’ve ever lived on my own; no family, no housemates, no boyfriend. Just me.
I could make this space mine. An Englishman’s home is his castle, or something like that…

photo 2

I quickly noticed that Patsy had put a great deal of effort into preparing the place for her new tenant; the main bedroom was all made up with sheets and there were even fresh teatowels in the drawers and new pots and pans in the cupboards. But the thing that touched me the most was the main fireplace.
When I had first called about the house I had asked if there was the option to have a real fire, I had said that I know it’s a minor thing but that it’s important for me to have a fire to curl up in front of during the winter months. Patsy had agreed, saying that we all need our home comforts. Today I found the fireplace ready set with a bucket of coal, some long matches and even a couple of candles from the Isle of Skye Candle Co. Out in the utility room there was a further bucket of coal, kindling and firelighters.

The amount of care and attention that Patsy had put into making the house feel homely really touched me. It was my first taste of the kindness that a lot of people have up here. I knew that I’d made the right choice to choose this place to live.

photo 3

My lovely Art Deco fireplace all ready for my first fire (the wood was to stop the wind from coming down the chimney)

Only having a small carful of bags meant that unpacking was unusually speedy.
I didn’t put everything away immediately though. You never know when the sun might be shining again so, after saying hello to Patsy and her husband Donald, I took the opportunity to go out and explore.

The clifftop path

Looking over the bay from the clifftop path

Straight out to sea

Straight out to sea, one of my favourite views

On my first visit I’d noticed a little rocky beach on the edge of the bay just a little further North of the house. I’d go and check that out.

It wasn’t quite as simple as I had expected, as I crossed the fields I realised that I needed to find my way down a vertical craggy rock face first. In the end I found a sheep path that ran along the cliff the zigzagged down a less precipitous part of the rock.
If in doubt always follow a sheep path; they may seem stupid but they’re good navigators. Just make sure it’s a sheep you’re following and not a mountain goat…

Walking along the cliffs

Walking along the cliffs on the sheep path

Rock climbing beasties

Rock-climbing beasties

It was worth the effort. I picked my way over rockpools containing shells, fat ruby sea anemones and tiny darting fish. The only sounds were the lapping of the waves and the songbirds in the grass. It was like my own private beach.
I sat for a while and thought of how busy and stressed I’d been in the months before I came here. Now I have time to sit on a rock and do nothing but stare out to sea and enjoy the peace.

Colourful rockpools with red anemones

Colourful rockpools

A sea anemone

A sea anemone

Shells amongst the rocks

Shells amongst the rocks

Of course, the peace here isn’t constant. Today is calm but I’ve been told about a fisherman who was washed off the rocks metres from where I sat. He was dragged out to sea and never seen again. It’s a tragic thing to happen but it doesn’t seem to be uncommon around here (I’ve heard other similar stories)
This isn’t a place to be underestimated.

Sitting on the rocks looking out over the bay

Sitting on the rocks looking out over the bay

Eventually I head back and begin to unpack into my new home. I couldn’t (still can’t) help but keep stopping to look out of the windows at the view.

As the sun began to set over the sea I pulled a chair over to the window and popped open the little bottle of champagne that I’d brought especially.
With a silent cheers I drank to my new home and wondered what adventures would lie ahead…

Toasting a new home

Toasting a new home

Notes From A Small-ish Island #1

Just a collection of odd recollections and musings from the last week or so…

I was working at the gallery today and an older man came up to the desk. He muttered something that I didn’t quite catch. He repeated it, “[mumble mumble] …trousers.”
I look down at my trousers, black disco pants, confused. I’d tried to tone down my clothes a bit since arriving on Skye and had thought this outfit of boots, a jumper and (admittedly slightly-shiny) trousers was quite ordinary.
“Well I never!” He says, turning to his wife, “I’ve never seen anything like it! What on earth is the world coming to?”
Probably best to leave my sparkly catsuits in the closet for a little while yet…

I drove through Portree last night on my way home from a meal at the Edinbane Inn.
As I made my way out of town I thought to myself, ‘Wow, it’s busy in town tonight! I hope I’m not missing out too much on the party…’
I thought about it for a few minutes then realised I’d passed three cars and a group of four people walking together through the square.
I think the London-Skye acclimatisation is well under way.

Skye lesson #1:
Always hold onto your car door when opening it; never underestimate the strength of the wind.
I almost learnt the hard way when I pulled over to take a photo on a clifftop near Uig. The door snapped back with such force that I actually heard a ‘whoosh!’ sound. The fact that I’m not driving a doorless car like the yellow one in the Inbetweeners is testament to Toyota’s impressive engineering skills. Or luck. Well, I don’t know which but I wont be risking it again.

One of the first things I did when moving here was to register with a doctor (very sensible, well done, Katie). After completing the impossibly complicated forms they handed me a 29-page printed information document.
When I got home I sat down with a cup of tea and started flicking through it.
I smiled at the little advice sections advising the preparation of a thermos flask for evening coughs or administering Rich Tea biscuits after a case of D&V. How cute, I thought, sweet but somewhat twee, a little bit like the famous colourful harbour cottages that sit below the surgery itself.
Then I turn the paper over to find a page titled: TICKS.
An A4 side of paper all about ticks and containing phrases such as, ‘They are not insects… They are blood-suckers’ and ‘The tick’s mouthparts will remain in the skin’. Not to mention a paragraph on contracting Lyme disease because nymph-stage ones are so small that you might not notice if you’ve got one feeding off you.
Aargh! I’m not sure I’ll ever walk through long grass again.

What Katie did

It’s been a busy day today. I’m too sleepy now to go into detail but, in brief photo-diary format, here’s what I did…

I met some inquisitive peacocks…
photo 1
I got sad at rubbish on Talisker Beach…
photo 2
I had a stand-off with a sheep…
photo 3
I made friends with an oyster farmer at his Oyster Shed…
photo 4

I contemplated a swim and some Germans asked if I was a fairy (it was at the Fairy Pools)
photo 5
And then I went home and ate some haggis.

The End (until I’m feeling awake enough to write properly)

You shall go to the ball… somehow!

How do you find yourself standing in a car park in your pants with paint on your face? We’ll get to that in a minute…

Saturday night was the Row St Kilda To Skye ball and ceilidh, an event to celebrate the charity efforts of a group of islanders who raised money for local causes via an epic 100 mile row.
Liza and Barry had booked a whole table for the staff of the gallery and bakery and I was chuffed to have kindly been given a ticket. My first proper night out on Skye, it was a chance to dress up and to spend some social time with my new colleagues.

1920411_382307125251571_2215584694952731040_n

The Row St Kilda to Skye superstar fundraisers. With thanks to them for this photo!

It was a grey day so I’d ensconced myself in my B&B room for the afternoon with a book and continuous cups of tea. Of course, I forgot the time and all of a sudden it was time to get ready. Emma, my landlady at the B&B was staying elsewhere for the night and there were no other guests so I put on some music and started laying my outfit out. I always end up rushing to be ready for black tie things (I’ve got dressed in 5 mins in the back of a London cab SO many times), so I was going to take my time and enjoy this.

To transform from scruffy girl in pyjamas with sleepy panda eyes I needed to grab my hair curlers from the car so I slid on some shoes and popped out.
Slam.
The door!
Oh, you’ve got to be kidding…

About 8 laps of the building and I’ve learned that Emma’s B&B is possibly the most secure place I’ve ever come across (not that I make a habit of trying to break into homes). The curtains in my room are open and I peer in at my phone, door keys, purse, evening dress etc etc on the bed. Everything just sitting there, mockingly. All I had were car keys.

It was no use, I couldn’t get in. The last of the light faded away and I realised I only had 15 mins to get to the ball.
Luckily I’ve got my entire life packed into the back of the Yaris and I ripped through my bags until I came across a long summer dress that could pass as eveningwear. A further rummage uncovered some shoes and a hair tie. I went to put my greasy, frizzy hair up but couldn’t see a thing. I’d have to drive to the square, park under a streetlight and get ready there.

So that’s how I found myself stripping down to my pants in the pouring rain in the middle of a Portree car park.
Have you ever been so desperate to look nice for something that you dug out a pot of black acrylic paint and used it for make-up? Well I have, and I can tell you that old Daler & Rowney actually makes quite a passable eyeliner. I knew that art school degree would come in handy somewhere…

So, slightly frazzled and without ticket I rushed off to the ball.

I followed the beautiful ladies and men resplendent in kilts to the entrance to the Portree community hall. It was beautifully decorated with creels, shells, pebbles and all kinds of coastal paraphernalia. Inside I joined the table and we had a lovely meal accompanied with live music from a local band. A film about the row followed and then the ceilidh begun.
I’ve never really enjoyed country dancing myself but I loved watching everyone flinging themselves across the room to the sounds of traditional Scottish music. It was quite an appropriate introduction to the island, although I’m pleased it was more authentic than those tourists who go abroad and watch belly dancing or something to feel part of the culture!
I also found out that on Skye people don’t call this type of dancing ‘reeling’, only a ceilidh. I assume that it’s a Gaelic thing and that reeling is a mainland term…

10694311_10152757553907177_4839095686117636144_o

The Skyeworks gallery and bakery table. With thanks to the Skye Baking Company for the photo!

I found out today that, with the contributions from the ball, Row St Kilda To Skye have now raised over £39,000 for the RNLI and Skye & Lochalsh Young Carers. So they don’t just throw a good party, they’re pretty incredible fundraisers too!
To find out more about the rowers and their journey check out their Facebook page here: www.facebook.com/RowStKildaToSkye

So, that’s how I went from standing in the rain in my pants to enjoying a rather lovely evening.
As for getting back in? I’d resigned myself to a night in the car but I thought I’d post a note on the B&B door first to let Emma know the situation. By a blessed stroke of luck she’d changed her mind and decided to come home after all. I pushed through the door of my room and collapsed on the bed in bliss.

The moral of the story?
Sometimes there’s no fairy godmother to get you ready for the ball; a princess has to be resourceful and independent and get herself to the ball.

Actual moral of the story?
Just keep a hold of your damn keys.

“Bugger practicality”!

So I’m back in Portree having seen three gorgeous cottages, all completely different…

  • The old one next to the cliffs, no wifi, no phone, no mod cons and almost an hour from the gallery.
  • The second one in the Duntulm, also far away but with everything installed, a lovely owner and smart decor.
  • The cute one 10 mins from Portree, wifi,neighbours, tv and everything sorted.
photo 1

My third cottage: Cute and practical

A long let shouldn’t normally be such a big decision but this isn’t just a holiday home to me. When the winter gets dark and stormy I want a refuge where I can curl up in front of the fire with a book whilst the wind whistles through the dark Cuillins behind. Or somewhere where I can run through the door to a hot cup of tea when the raindrops are pelting so hard they feel like whiplashes and you can’t tell what’s rain and what’s sea spray.
Yes, it’s completely silly and whimsical but it’s a significant part of why I’m here so I wont be apologising for it!

But back in the real world… I’m in a far away place, on my own, with no experience of a Hebrides winter and no 4×4. I suppose I need to be sensible. My head says the third property, or at least the second. Still something in my heart pulls at the first.

There’s only one person to turn to when a girl is in a quandary. I call Mum.

Well, I don’t actually call Mum because this is Skye and there’s NO PHONE SIGNAL ANYWHERE!
But I do manage to locate some Wifi and get hold of her via Whatsapp. I tell her about the place I’ve just seen, how handy and how near it is. I tell her I can’t decide. What do I go for? Do I choose romance or practicality?

…And this is one of the thousands of reasons that I love my Mum:

photo-2

So I emailed the owner, Patsy, and Kilmaluag is to be my new home. EEEEEEEK!!!

A big, old fashioned cottage with deep, fuzzy brown carpets, retro patterned wallpaper and a particular kind of charm.  with a view that stretches out across the Atlantic and the Norwegian Sea towards icy Svalbard (that little island next to Greenland). Apparently there are also dolphins and porpoises that often visit the bay. Though I’m trying to ignore the stories I’ve just been told about fishermen being swept off the headland and out to sea, never to be seen again (no clifftop walks for me then!)

Toto, we’re not in Kanas anymore!

 

A nomad in Portree

It’s late when I first get to Portree and I just manage to get to the Information Office before they close. Despite it being October it’s still busy in town and there’s no room at most inns. I roll into the main hostel on the square with the aim to sort out better accommodation in the morning.
As I open the door to the bright yellow townhouse I’m met by a familiar smile and, “Katie!”
“Pat!” I reply as I grin back at the man who ran the Glenbrittle climbing lodge I stayed at last year. Pat was a wealth of information and he guided me to all the best places on the island. It was partly down to his recommendations that I fell in love with Skye and decided to move here.

Bumping into pretty much my only friend here within 10 minutes of getting out of the car is pretty indicative of Skye life. It’s not a small island but everyone seems interconnected in some way here. Saying “it’s a small world” doesn’t quite cover it.

DSC_0449

The colourful cottages of Portree Harbour