Luck

Spot the orca

Spot the orca

I’ve just got home after an impromptu orca-spotting trip
(well, I say ‘orca-spotting’ but it was really just a few hours staring at the sea…)

There were a couple of reports on Facebook about a pod being spotted near Neist Point (the most Westerly point on Skye) and there was a possibility that they’d be heading North.

I’ve been working on a portrait in the studio this month so I washed my paintbrushes, made a Thermos of tea, then headed up the road to the ruins at Duntulm, a good vantage point.

The wind made the water choppy and my eyes were streaming. Not ideal for seeing the white mist of a blow or the dark surface of skin or fin.
Still, I sat and scanned the water as best I could.

I sipped the tea (instantly chilled by the wind) from my Thermos and nibbled on a Single Track brownie whilst tourists came and went around me wondering what this bundled-up human being was staring so intently at.

Can you tell it was chilly?

Can you tell it was chilly?

Eluded this time.
After about an hour and a half I got up and wandered back to the car, imagining the whole way that there was a pod of orcas jumping up in acrobatic cheekiness the moment I’d turned my back.

At home I checked my emails and posted a picture online to say that I’d gone for a look but that the shiny buggers were nowhere to be seen.
Often when I post a beautiful picture of Skye someone will tell me how lucky I am to live here. It’s just happened twice with my orca-spotting photo.

I don’t completely disagree with it but I always find it’s a funny thing to say…

I am incredibly lucky with so many aspects of my life.
I’ve probably had too much good luck… at least more than my fair share.
But coming here wasn’t luck. I didn’t just float up here on the breeze; I made a conscious decision to live here.

Moving to Skye was a choice. It meant making sacrifices…
In choosing Skye I’m far away from my the people who care about me most; my family and friends (even the stinky old dogs who I miss to bits).
There’s almost no getting dressed up and going out (something I used to love). There’s no pub. There’s incredibly limited dating prospects. There are less career opportunities (I’ll never become wealthy from my existence here).
I’ve even started to feel the odd pang of loneliness.

BUT…

…there’s nature, wildlife, landscape, light….
These things, for now, are what make me happy.

Brogaig Beach. Worth giving up a few things for

Brogaig Beach. Worth giving up a few things for

In a way, I suppose it’s a selfish existence, to leave loved ones behind for something that I want.

Of course, there is some element of luck; I’m lucky to have had the freedom to come here and I’m lucky that those loved ones have supported me in this decision.
A happy healthy family, no partner, a flexible career… all this meant that I didn’t have ties to keep me in one place. THAT is what was lucky.

But the bottom line is that I think we make our own choices.
I’m lucky in many ways but with Skye I wanted to move somewhere pretty so I did (I might get invited to a lot of fancy things by fancy friends but at the heart of it it’s really a simple life)

Life is short so we need to find what we love and…
…actually, ignore that, it’s a quote by Charles Bukowski: “Find what you love and let it kill you”. I don’t intend to shuffle off this mortal coil anytime soon, thank you.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is… just make your own luck.

Try to be near what makes you happy

Try to be near what makes you happy

As I write this someone’s just sent me a message saying that moving somewhere so remote is brave.
If ‘lucky’ is the adjective I hear most often, ‘brave’ is the second one.
Don’t even get me started on it…

*Also, lucky is when you go out to look for orcas and actually see them. 

The Otter License

Hello! Apologies for being a bit quiet recently… I’ve been buzzing about down South and up North, partying over in Germany and on Skye and all over the place.
I hope to catch up a bit over the next week or so. Watch this space!

In the meantime I thought I’d tell you about something exciting that I received recently…

I am now the proud owner of an official otter license!

Grrr!

With the otter skull… Grrr! (It’s missing the fangs here but they’re also pretty impressive gnashers)

You might, quite rightly, ask what an otter license is (everyone else has…)

You may remember a few blog posts ago I mentioned finding an otter skeleton on a walk from Rubha Hunish down to Erisco village. What I didn’t write in the post is that I bagged it up along with all my other beach-combed treasures and took it home with me.

Because otters are a protected species I had an inkling that I needed a special license to possess the skeleton legally (an intuition that turned out to be right).
Licensing laws such as these aim to protect certain wildlife from being exploited (alive or dead) by the taxidermy trade and other kinds of nasties that might lead to the decline of an already pressured species. Other animals listed as Eurpoean protected species include bats, wildcats and sturgeon.

So I duly printed out and filled in the application form. It required a fair bit of detail and I had to prove that I will be using it for educational or learning purposes rather than for simply keeping as a cool beach find. (Luckily, I can use it to teach volunteers about the effects of marine debris on wildlife at my Art For Oceans beach cleans, so that box is easily ticked)
Once popped in the post all I had to do was wait…

And here it is!
It might not be the most normal thing to get excited about but I’m chuffed to bits to get it through. One step closer to being my own Natural History Museum!

A date with nature -Valentine’s Day part 2

Cracking company!

Cracking company!

Following my Valentine’s breakfast I was keen to get out and make the most of the day; after all, this was my first taste of spring sunshine on Skye and I didn’t know if it would last for the rest of the weekend.
I stuffed some snacks into a bag and grabbed my binoculars. It was a clear day with little wind so I decided to walk up to the old coastguards bothy at Rubha Hunish, the last little bit of Skye that juts out towards the Outer Hebrides.

I might live in the most Northern cottage on Skye but Rubha Hunish trumps my house as the bit that gets closest to the Arctic here.
I had a wee look on Google to try and find a map to show you the area and I came across this image on the beardedgit.com blog. I’ve pinched it as it also happens to show my exact Valentine’s Day route from Kilmaluag Bay up across and up to the bothy then back down via Duntulm Castle and along the road.

My route from the bay to Rubha Hunish. Image from beardedgit.com

My route from the bay to Rubha Hunish. Image from beardedgit.com

This wasn’t my first visit to the headland but it’s the first time I’ve walked from my own front door rather than parking at Shulista as the guidebooks recommend. It’s also the first time I’ve gone right up to the Lookout bothy.

I ambled down round the bay and up a little path past the old St Moluag’s church graveyard.
It may sound macabre but the Scots really do cemeteries brilliantly. In the cities there’s the gothic grandeur of places such as the Necropolis (Glasgow), Greyfriars Kirkyard (Edinburgh) and Old Town Cemetery in Stirling.
But the places that I love are in the Highlands and Islands where the resting places have been built on hillsides, overlooking lochs or beautiful glens. Their locations, often alongside crumbling church ruins, are really quite beautiful. Whatever your spiritual beliefs I think there’s something lifting about the idea of your headstone looking out over a stunning landscape for all eternity.

The remains of St Moluag's Church and it's graveyard, Kilmaluag Bay

The remains of St Moluag’s Church and it’s graveyard, Kilmaluag Bay (taken at the beginning of Jan 15)

The bothy soon came into view on the highest point of the rocks ahead (you can see it’s tiny silhouette outlined on the photo below).
I amused myself with a thought… In case being alone on Valentine’s Day wasn’t enough, I had decided to spend the day on my tod in a teeny little box on the top of a cliff. I don’t think you get much more solitary than that!
I must work on being a bit more social….

Walking along the cliffs towards the bothy

Walking along the cliffs towards the bothy

This particular bothy is owned by the Mountain Bothies Association, a brilliant organisation that maintains a whole host of open mountaineering shelters all across the UK (find out more at http://www.mountainbothies.org.uk)

Prior to being taken over by the MBA, this was the old coastguard’s lookout station -the bay windows at the front give a full panoramic view over the waters of the Minch towards Lewis.

As advances were made in radio technology the need for a lookout became redundant and it was turned into the bothy that it is now.

The Lookout

The Lookout

The whitewashed front part of the building, the watchroom, was built by the Macleans of Mull in 1928 -it’s survived the weather here for almost a century (much longer than most of my neighbour’s sheds!)

The watchroom part of the Lookout

The watchroom part of the Lookout

I couldn’t resist exploring inside…
I was surprised to see how characterful it was. Little brass candlesticks, binoculars, a vintage phone and cream wood-cladded walls. It’s got more of a feeling of a little hideaway hostel than a plain old bothy (though, of course, there’s no plumbing or electricity here).

I’ll definitely come up here soon to camp out before it gets busy with all the summer walkers. This would make a pretty perfect place to watch the sunset with a flask of wine.

Overlooking the Minch

Overlooking the Minch

Homely touches

Homely touches

Here and there I noticed little personal touches like scrawled notes and faded wildlife pictures (lots of basking sharks!).

There’s also this small brass plaque dedicated to the late David JJ Brown, the adventurous character who the Lookout is dedicated to. The words ‘wilderness-lover and anti-materialist’ always seem to be next to his name, both here and where I’ve read about him online. He sounds like he was an awesome man; I wish I could have met him.
(You can read more about David JJ Brown and the Lookout dedication here)

'wilderness-lover and anti-materialist'

‘anti-materialist and wilderness-lover’

The Lookout is gorgeous but this was a day to be outside and enjoy the sun whilst it was shining.

I found a spot near the edge (not dangerously near, Mum, if you’re reading this! I’m far too sensible/wimpy to get too close) then unpacked my picnic.

This is a famous place for spotting big beasties in the water and I could see why; the view down onto the sea was amazing. The Minch is sheltered between Skye and the Outer Hebrides so I’ve rarely seen it with rough waters. This means that any wildlife is extra easy to spot as it breaks the rippling surface and alerts the eye.

Unfortunately it’s not the season for whales or basking sharks. There might be dolphins, porpoises or other interesting around though, so I had my binoculars handy just in case.

I didn’t see anything of note… seabirds, seals, a large dark fish that may have been a type of small shark.
I wasn’t fussed, I’ve found my place for when the seasons start. As a total ocean wildlife geek and shark/cetacean lover, I intend to spend most of the summer lolling about on the grass whilst idly gazing into the sea.
This was a dry run (with warmer clothes!)

A perfect view

A perfect view

I’m not usually an ale drinker but a bottle of Skye Gold (leftover from my friend Matt’s visit) made the perfect accompanying tipple.
There’s also a certain satisfaction about knowing you’re drinking something brewed only just round the corner (the Skye Brewery is in Uig, literally just along the coast from here)
I haven’t been to the brewery yet as it’s been closed for winter but I might have to put a visit on my To Do list now that I’ve got a taste for the stuff.

(The other nice thing about a long wander is that it means you can have crisps and dips and a chocolate bar all washed down with beer and not feel guilty about it because it counts as walking fuel!)

Product placement ;)

Product placement

I whiled away a couple of hours up here until the wind started to work it’s way through my clothes and I began to feel a chill.

I may be on my own but I was spending my Valentine’s Day with the thing I love the most after my family: Nature.
This was my date with the ocean, the sunshine and the island.

(Maybe it sounds cheesy but it’s Valentine’s Day so cheesiness gets a free pass at this point)

A birds-eye view over the Minch

A date with nature

As I got up to go I noticed lots of tufts of sheep’s wool stuck to some wire nearby…

I’ve recently discovered the craft of felting (using a needle to mesh wool fibres into shapes) and it’s something I’d like to explore further. I was excitedly telling Liza at the gallery about this one day and she suggested that I could collect the small pieces of wool that can be found caught on fences, it would be a free and local source of materials.

So now I find myself on a clifftop pulling slightly damp strands of fluff from various fences and pieces of heather and stuffing them into my pockets. I must look a bit like a nutter, it’s lucky there isn’t anyone around.

Liza, you may have started me off on a slippery slope here… it might not be long until I’m that strange person who smells a bit sheepy because she makes all her clothes out of tufts of old ewes found on hillsides…

My first felting project -pretty good, even if I do say so myself!

My first felting project -pretty good, even if I do say so myself!

I returned via the coastal path towards Duntulm Castle. This took me down to the flat rocks of the shore where the abandoned village of Erisco now sits in small, stony ruins.
Like many areas of coastline that are off the beaten track this one was suffering from a huge amount of washed-up marine debris. Old fishing ropes and nets (known as ‘ghost gear’), buckets, bottles, even shoes, they were all piled up on the tideline here.

If you’ve read my post about Talisker Bay you’ll know that the issue of plastic pollution is something that is close to my heart. This shore at Erisco a well-known spot for otters and it’s incredibly frustrating and saddening to know the dangers that this rubbish can pose to the resident wildlife.

I was going to put a terrible 'sole'-based pun here but I've spared you the cringes...

I was going to put a terrible ‘sole’-based pun here but I’ll spare you the cringes…

An unwelcome delivery from Iceland

An unwelcome delivery from Iceland

On a more positive note, amongst the brightly-coloured plastic I noticed the soft, rounded shape of driftwood.

I think it’s quite hard to find driftwood, it’s something that everyone likes to pick-up, so I started collecting the best pieces that I thought I might be able to use in future artworks.

A lot of it was wet and heavy so I rammed it into my rucksack to make it easier to carry. Somehow within ten minutes I’d gone from lightly hopping over the rocks to bent over, lugging a bag that appeared to be sprouting long greying sticks. I jammed a sturdy 3-ft fence post under my arm and made a determined effort not to look down in case I saw any more. After all, I was still at least 30 mins walk from home over ground I didn’t know and the sun was starting to set.

Driftwood treasures

Driftwood treasures

As I walked, I wondered how I could organise a way to clean this beach. It’s close to the Duntulm Hotel, would the new owners be interested in helping?
Something to think about…

I stopped and watched two oystercatchers hopping around each other before flying off into the sunset, movie style. There’s something so striking about their vivid orange beaks and contrasting black and white feathers.

IMG_5102

I also kept an eye out for otters, this was the perfect time of day for them, but I was probably being too noisy and cumbersome for them to come near. Telltale crab and mussel shells lay broken and scraped-clean all over the place so I knew that this was the right place.

And then I saw something strange…

A jumble of bones amongst the seaweed and bits of rope.

I knew immediately that it was an otter skeleton. It was missing a few limbs but the elongated backbone and flat skull with sharp, carnivorous teeth were easily identifiable, even though I haven’t seen one of these before.

The otter skull

The otter skull

I checked to see if there was any obvious sign of marine debris as a cause of death (it’s important to record the effects of plastic etc on wildlife as evidence in trying to fight it) but it was too far gone to see.

I suppose I can say I’ve seen an otter now, but I’d rather have seen a live one.

It took a while to lug my wood-laden body over the fields up to the road.
I had to make my way through a field of sheep that seemed to find me very interesting. It must have been feeding time because usually sheep move in the other direction when they see a human -these ones came storming towards me!

Sheep

Sheep

Sheep

SHEEP

What ewe lookin' at?

What ewe lookin’ at?

I must have looked a curious sight staggering back to the cottage in the dark with pockets sprouting straggly bits of wool, a log under my arm and what probably resembled a small tree strapped to my back (along with a couple of faded buoys and bits of old rope).

What with all this and the skull in my garden and the birds in my freezer, I may be beginning to go a bit feral!

Still, I can’t wait to get making stuff with my new beachcombed finds. Some might call it old trash but I think I can make it into treasure.

Sunset at Duntulm (though it would be much lovelier without all the ghost gear)

The Fairy Glen

Sometimes I wonder if I’m just hearing things. Despite the drumming rain and howling winds of last night, I found myself waking up to beautiful blue skies again today.

I had a couple of letters to send so I hopped in my car and drove West towards Uig, the nearest settlement with a Post Office.

As I rounded the top of the road at Duntulm I pulled over. Despite my address actually being ‘North Duntulm’ I’d never visited the old castle ruins that the area is known for. I wasn’t in a hurry so I walked along the cliff to have a wee snoop around.
IMG_3561

Duntulm Castle stands on an impressive cliff-like piece of basalt that juts out into the sea. It used to be the seat of the clan MacDonald but there’s not much left of it now (I’m not surprised now I know how fierce the weather can be here)
It was interesting enough but I didn’t stay long.

'Inside' Duntulm Castle

‘Inside’ Duntulm Castle. You can see the snow-covered mountains of the mainland in the distance

The road into Uig winds down from a high hill. I noticed some tourists taking pictures from a passing place halfway down and I stopped to join them. It’s a nice enough harbour/bay but I’ve never paid it any special attention. Today it looked quite lovely in the sunshine with the snowy hills behind.

Uig today.  Storms? What storms?

Uig today.
Storms? What storms?

After posting my letters I decided to check out the Fairy Glen (obviously in a dawdling, exploring kind of mood today!)

Yet another Fairy-centric feature on Skye, the Fairy Glen is a little place a couple of minutes South-East of Uig which is famous for it’s unusual landscape. I’ve never been before but it’s firmly on my To Do list.

The clear, green hills turn into snowy hillocks as I come into the glen. The road winds right through it and it’s instantly recognisable by these funny little cone-shaped, turf-stepped mounds. You can tell it’s got the same kind of strange geological makeup as the Quiraing; only in a kind of cutesy-miniature.

Driving into the Fairy Glen

Driving into the Fairy Glen

I’m the only person there and as I get out of the car the only sound I can hear is my sturdy Muck Boots crunching on the ice-hardened snow.
There are no other footprints here and everything is hushed. As I walk back along the road I find myself breathing extra softly and carefully so as not to disturb the peace.

Still calm. The flat-topped peak on the right is the Fairy Castle

Still calm. The flat-topped peak on the right is the Fairy Castle

I find myself at a lochan with a mirror-like surface. There’s an absolute stillness here, barely even a breeze.
I’m pleased that I’ve come here in winter whilst it’s like this; so that I can have it to myself before the tourist hordes descend.

Hello

Hello

From here I meander my way round the ponds and bushes up towards Castle Ewen, also known as the Fairy Castle. The tallest part of the glen, It’s the natural rock formation that stands proudly overlooking the pond in my pictures above.

Ambling up to the Fairy Castle

The Fairy Castle from the West

As I amble my way up I hear something other than the satisfying *crunch* *crunch* of snow under my feet.
It’s such a hushed sound that it’s almost inaudible, a mellow whooshing noise. The best way I can describe it is as an incredible softness.

As I turn to look down I see a heron gliding over the pond. As it nears the bank it follows the incline of the little hillocks, tracing the shape of the landscape. It swoops round, up, over another and another before following the road round the corner and out of the glen. It was mesmerising.

Behind the Fairy Castle

Behind the Fairy Castle. There are stone spirals all over the place here.

When I got up behind the fairy castle I wasn’t on my own.

Tiny bunnies darted this way and that leaving little dotty tracks in the snow. Blackbirds and a robin hopped from rock to rock eyeing me up curiously. A stranger on their patch!
Even with my new company it remained silent yet as I wandered further I recognised the sound of running water.

I followed it and found a little three-tiered waterfall.

Taking my gloves off I cupped my hands under the flow to take a drink. The water on Skye is such a treat, it’s sometimes worth scaling a massive hill for that alone (it must be high-up to limit the risk of contamination by run-off or dead sheep!)
This was amazing; the coldest, clearest water you could imagine. There really is nothing like it. I gulped it like someone who’s drunk far too much wine and woken up in the morning with a mouth like a desert. I should’ve bought my flask with me.

The waterfall

The waterfall

A bird of prey appeared out of the crags and swooped past me. Though it’s gone before I can identify it.

Then the silence is broken by some shouting and a buzz. A flurry of sheep, almost hidden against the snow, come trotting en-masse over the horizon followed by a farmer on a quad and a couple of collies.
I watch him in admiration as he artfully steers the sheep across the hillside (I tried to chase a single cat out of the house the other day and it was almost impossible) until he’s disappeared out of sight. The noise trailed off only to be replaced with a familiar baa-ing.

A marching baa-nd?

A marching baa-nd?

Sliding down a snowy slope on my backside (on purpose, great fun!) I noticed a procession of sheep making their way along the ridge in front of me.
They’re such funny animals… whenever I go walking on Skye I feel eyes on me, if I look around there always seems to be a sheep somewhere, watching. It would be quite creepy if they weren’t so characterful!
These ones hadn’t noticed me yet, they seemed quite preoccupied.

Counting sheep?

Counting sheep?

They were far too busy to bother with me today so I slipped past them and slowly made my way back towards the car. I made sure that the radio didn’t come on when I put the key in the ignition; I couldn’t bear it breaking the peace.

It’s a strange place, the Fairy Glen. I can see exactly why it’s called this. Obviously the solitude and snow was responsible for the exaggeratedly hushed, peaceful atmosphere but there’s definitely a magical feeling here -I can’t quite explain it.

If we get another blue-sky day this week I’m going to come back with a picnic and a book (If it’s still snowy I’ll just wear salopettes and bring a flask of soup). This feels like a wonderful place for contemplation.
With so much wildlife it also feels like one of those places that comes alive when you just sit for a while and look.

In places like this you might just start believing that magic does exist.

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January Storm

I wrote this post a few days ago. Unfortunately the storms soon took out our power and phone lines which means it’s been a bit delayed in getting to you.
Here it is nonetheless… (at least you now know that I wasn’t actually blown away!)

I never used to be that interested in the weather. Yes, I loved the sunshine and the snow, rumbling storms and autumn breezes. Like any other British person, it’s my go-to topic of conversation with strangers. It’s not forced small talk, I actually quite enjoy it.
But then I moved to Skye and the weather has become one of the main characters in my daily life.

It’s not just any character either, it’s unpredictable and changeable and sometimes more than a little bit absurd.
I looked out of my bedroom window earlier and there was sunshine and blue sky. It was also hailing violently with rainbows beaming up from the sea. As I remarked to my friends, it’s sometimes like Skye’s weather is on drugs.

A day full of rainbows. An everyday sight on Skye.

A day full of rainbows. An everyday sight on Skye.

Over the last couple of days there’s been a torrent of weather reports about hurricane-force gales making their way towards the Hebrides.

Warnings of impending meteorological doom have been coming thick and fast from friends and family down South whilst I’ve been prancing around in the Scottish sunshine wondering what all the fuss is about. “Will it or wont it?” was the hot topic in Staffin stores this afternoon.

Crisp blue skies looking out towards Staffin Island

Crisp blue skies looking out over Staffin Slipway towards Staffin Island

Well, it will. Quite a lot actually.

I’m currently sitting in bed surrounded by candles whilst gales roar round the cottage. I can’t quite describe the noise, I suppose I’d put it somewhere between an aeroplane take-off and Armageddon. Just before the power went out I read a post on my neighbour’s ‘Skye Weather’ Facebook page saying that his instruments had just measured a windspeed of 109mph, the fastest he’s ever recorded here.

I’ve always loved storms but as I’ve got older I’ve begun to worry about their effects (growing up sucks reason #325).
Whilst I’m cosy inside there’s likely to be a lot of wildlife (and people) having a hard time exposed to the elements. These aren’t unfounded concerns; the Scottish Marine Mammmal Strandings Scheme put out a warning today saying that we should expect a large number of animals washed up on the shores tomorrow and dips in certain bird populations often reflect severe weather patterns.
Tonight would be much more enjoyable if I wasn’t sitting here worrying about Charlie the bull and his sheep and cow pals.

A weather-sensitive sheep

A weather-sensitive sheep

When I first moved here a few of my neighbours jokingly said that it was a waste of time buying garden furniture as it just blows away. They weren’t kidding. I popped out to the car this evening and could barely stand up. As I jumped in to move it closer to the house I found myself completely unable to pull the door closed until a lull allowed me to wrench it back.

The weirdest part of the wind outside, though, was that you could hear the strongest gusts coming before they hit you. I heard this really intense whistling sound as they worked their way over the hill towards me. The only thing I can think of that it’s similar to is the whistling of a dropping bomb from old WWII footage, just with a slightly deeper, rounder sound. Maybe like a tornado. This weird howling WHOOOSH coming closer and closer and then you’re smacked sideways. It’s one of the most peculiar natural things I’ve come across and, to be honest, there was something quite creepy about it.

That was more than enough fresh air for this evening so I ran inside and slammed the door behind me. Even inside I had to put my full weight against each door to close them, then I barricaded them with cushions and furniture. Sitting back down on the sofa I noticed little lumps of soot sprinkling their way down the chimney and into the room. The papers on the coffee table rustled in a breeze and loose strands of hair blew across my eyes. It was actually windy inside the house!

I nipped to the loo and found the bathroom soaking. Not flooded but splashed, all over the walls and even up the mirrors. I looked for leaks but couldn’t find one. Then I glanced into the loo and saw the water sploshing back and forth like a miniature ocean tempest. I flipped the lid down as the power went off and everything went pitch black.

One of the last Facebook posts from Skye Weather before we lost power. Shulista is about 3 mins down the road.

One of the last Facebook posts from Skye Weather before we lost power. Shulista is about 3 mins down the road.

That was about 20 minutes ago. I’m now hiding upstairs in the comfort of my lovely bed enjoying the residual warmth from my now-cooling electric heater. The building is actually shaking -not something I’d expected from a sturdy stone crofters cottage. A bit unnerving. The glass of water on my bedside table is doing that ripple-y thing like that scene from Jurassic Park. Other glasses are dotted around the house catching various new leaks that have sprung with gusto this evening. I don’t blame the drops, I wouldn’t want to be outside either!

So, it’s getting louder and louder and I half expect to wake up tomorrow to find my lovely house has been blown away in the night, Wizard of Oz-style. I suppose the only thing I can do is get some sleep and wait for it to pass.

See you in the morning (hopefully…)

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…

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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.

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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

“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.
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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:

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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!