An act of kindness

As I’ve said before, I moved to Skye to find solitude but it’s been the people here that have really surprised me.
Of course, not everyone’s an angel but I’ve come across more kind and generous people here than I have anywhere else. Plus, it’s the little acts of kindness that can lift a dismal mood on a rainy day.

A couple of weeks ago I had an evening that really proved this point…

The hammer throw in the heavy events part of the Highland Games. Photo by www.skye-highland-games.co.uk

The hammer throw in the heavy events part of the Highland Games. Photo by http://www.skye-highland-games.co.uk

It was games night (the evening of celebrations after Portree Highland Games) and I was out for the evening with some new girlfriends.
After a few drinks we headed to the official after-games ceilidh party at the community centre.

The community centre is a funny place; a big village hall where all kinds of celebrations are held, from black-tie charity functions to dance music nights (mostly attended by barely-dressed youngsters doing bambi impressions in Topshop platform heels).
There’s always a school disco vibe about it. It’s a million miles from the try-hard types of venue you get in the city and I kind-of love that.

Out in the pub on games night. I'm very lucky to have found three girls who will put up with me. Sorry Toni, Lily and Phoebe for ruining the photo...

Out in the pub on games night. I’m very lucky to have found three girls who will put up with me. Sorry Toni, Lily and Phoebe for ruining the photo…

Like most Skye events, the crowd was a perfect cross-section of Skye life (old crofting boys being the exception, of course). From my lovely postmistress Kenina to the girls from downstairs at the Baking Co, there were lots of familiar faces.

Midway through the night, after much swinging and twirling on the dancefloor, I went to the bar for drinks and realised my purse was no longer in my bag.

I did a thorough check. I asked at the bar, asked at the entrance desk, asked at the food van outside and asked the policeman standing next to it. Still nothing.
Damn.
Buffered by the wine I wasn’t too upset about it but it’s always a pain to sort out new cards etc.

I’d been chatting to one of the stewards earlier, a friendly-faced man with an impressive moustache. When he saw me looking through my bag for the fifth time he asked if I was okay and I explained my predicament.
Without hesitation he pulled out his wallet and insisted on me taking a £20 note so that I could still go to the bar.

He wanted nothing in return, just for this rather tipsy, wobbly stranger to continue enjoying her evening with her friends. It was a really thoughtful thing to do.

All good nights finish too early and, with an early morning start at the forefront of my mind, I refused the offer of a few after-party drams and instead wobbled back to the hostel (my frequent home when Out On The Town).
As I went to swipe the keycard for the door I heard a car pull up behind me and a voice yell, “Hey, Katie!”

I turned round to see two policemen looking at me through the open window of a squad car.
“Here’s your purse…”
The policeman in the passenger side leaned out and chucked it to me.
Relief!
I thanked them profusely and as they began to leave one of them called back,
“We’ve been following your Twitter feed this week, we’ve really enjoyed it!”

Friendly (and social media savvy) local police

Friendly (and social media savvy) local police

That’s another thing about Skye, everybody knows your name (I suppose I’d better be good if the police here know who I am!)

But this familiarity is probably part of why people are so kind here; a proper old-fashioned community spirit.
The lack of anonymity here does take a bit of getting used to (I think that’s definitely a post for another day) but it’s worth it when you know that there are always people here who can look out for you.

*****

Thank you Lynne & Simon! x

Treats and a cup of tea cheered up many rainy days!

Whilst on the subject of acts of kindness I’d like to say a huge thank you to Lynne & Simon for my ‘Emergency Yummy Bag’…

For those of you who won’t know, L&S were the first people on Skye to introduce themselves to me after reading this blog. They’re regular faces at the Skye Baking Co and they also live in the Trotternish part of the island (I often drive past them walking or jogging around the Quiraing which totally puts me to shame!)
It was about a week after the whale rescue and I was feeling drained and poorly when they dropped this lovely little bag of chocolate goodies into the gallery for me. It was totally out of the blue and was such a kind thought that it was kind of overwhelming.

Yet another example of the kindness of people on Skye. So, if you’re reading this, Lynne & Simon, thank you!

An evening in two parts: The Dulse & Brose restaurant launch and an evening trip to the shore

Considering Skye’s wealth of local produce and my appetite for trying new flavours I really should have written more blog posts about the food up here.
Perhaps the block has been because there’s so much to write… Where does one even start?

Well, actually that’s just been made easy. I’ll start with another start… the opening of the new restaurant, Dulse & Brose, at the Bosville Hotel in Portree.

Dulse & Brose at the Bosville, Portree

Dulse & Brose at the Bosville, Portree

I was kindly invited along to the event by Tim Hunter-Davies whose PR firm was running the evening.
Whilst I’ve been to lots of launch parties in London, this was the first night of this kind that I’ve been to in Skye and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

I must admit that I’m always slightly wary of places that have been refurbed and given a ‘concept’.
They often turn out to be somewhere where you sit on cold modular leather furnishings whilst being offered unappetising little jellies and foams inspired by the chefs late discovery of the molecular gastronomy trend.

Skye’s fine dining comes in more than one type: there’s the try-hard-but-miss ones (as described above); the lazy ones that don’t try because they cater for one-off tourist bookings; and the spot-on destination restaurants.
As I got ready, shrugging off my painting scruffs and brushing my hair, I wondered what kind of place this was to be…

A busy opening night

A busy opening night

The venue was already full when I hurried in to escape the downpour.
I looked around at the crowd.
Once you’ve lived on Skye for a wee while you begin to spot the same characters at each event (although faces taken out of their usual context can be quite confusing, especially when the person in question can usually be found working outside on a boat or croft!)
But it was nice to see some familiar faces such as Mitchell Partridge of Skye Ghillie with his lovely wife Samantha, Mina and Chris from Skye Sea Salt, Marcello Tully from Kinloch Lodge and the boys from Skye Adventure, John and Matt.

It was also really lovely to catch up with Paul and Mags from The Oyster Shed and Karen and Colin from Lochshore House in Edinbane (who I’ve been bumping into on Skye consistently since my very first day here!).
One of the nice things about Skye is that it’s not short of friendly or interesting people -these four are both.

Strangely enough, at this event I met a lot of people who I’d interacted with via Twitter and my Facebook pages but who I’ve never met face-to-face before (including a number of the Hunter-Davies team).
A strange success for online networking and finally a positive excuse for spending so much time on the internet!

Paul and Mags from the Oyster Shed with Karen and Colin from Lochshore House

Paul and Mags from the Oyster Shed with Karen and Colin from Lochshore House

The food was a taster selection of canapes representing dishes from the main menu. I watched them glide past on huge white serving dishes like flying saucers whilst I chit-chatted hello to various familiar faces.
It must have been about half an hour before the conversation paused for long enough for me to try anything.

I plucked a little cup from a passing platter. Mushroom soup.
Soup isn’t something I’ve ever been interested in but I wanted to try a bit of everything tonight, this included.

I’m pleased I did, it was delicious. I’m not quite sure how the kitchen managed to get such a lot of flavour into a little serving of speckled taupe liquid. It was velvety and rich in umami with a cheesy, almost truffle-y garnish.
I’ve never ordered soup from a menu before but I’ll definitely have this when I come back here. I’d also be interested to see how well it works in a larger portion.

A terrine made from Kyle rabbit with apple and jam on crisp toasts was equally tasty. The meat was seasoned well (I think rabbit err on the bland) and the puree was sweet but acidic enough to counter the gaminess.
Well done D&B; two out of two.
Those first two tasters were my favourites but the rest were also good. The menu takes inspiration from Skye’s world-class produce and treats it with simplicity and respect. It’s something that I’ve noticed a lot of new places try but fail at; they complicate things with technique and the original ingredients become lost.
The source of each ingredient is stressed on every printed placemat or menu leaflet. For once it’s not just lip service to the importance of provenance.

The taster menu

The taster menu

As for the style/atmosphere of the place itself?

It was exactly how interior design should be done on Skye; contemporary but warm. Clean lines and minimalist design can be lovely but this is an island where you want a cosy place to retreat to on a dreicht day and stark modernism doesn’t usually provide that. The rough wood and earthen tweeds were stylish but in a comfy, casual way.

Skye arts and crafts line the rustic boxy shelves. Like the menu it’s a nice commitment to local artisans. Even the upholstery was made by Skyeweavers, a local couple who weave tweeds in their workshop on a foot-pedalled loom.

A map of Skye and it's local producers

A map of Skye and it’s local producers

It was a generous evening; the canapes didn’t stop and champagne flowed freely. The live music was a nice touch and the atmosphere was relaxed. Top marks all round.
But, all that said, these things aren’t what will make this a successful restaurant. What makes a successful restaurant is the strength of the cooking…

Once the evening had drawn to a close I sat in my car and unfolded the menu from my pocket. Within seconds I’d decided what I wanted to come back and try. I also decided what I’d have on my second visit.
If that’s not a good sign I don’t know what is…

***

I often get a restless energy in the evening, a kind of witching-hour desire to wander. It kicked in again when driving home after the restaurant launch…

As I neared the top of the island I remembered a text from my landlady about long finned pilot whales still in Staffin Bay. Although past 10:30pm it was still light. If they were still there I should be able to see them.

I pulled off the road and went down to Staffin Slipway. A glance from a few viewpoints. Nothing. They’d left.

Staffin Bay

Staffin Bay. Still light at around 10:45pm

Back on the main road I picked up speed and then… what was that? Something splashing close to shore. Not gone!
Almost missing the turning I swerved onto the track for Brogaig car park, crunched to a halt and jumped out.

It turns out, unsurprisingly, that long sequinned skirts and canvas sneakers aren’t the best items of clothing in which to tackle a boggy path after a month of constant Hebridean drizzle.
Painstakingly hopscotching over the puddles and tripping over my hem wasn’t working. I tucked my skirt into my knickers and sploshed through the mud. Who cares about soggy feet when there’s wildlife to be seen…

Muddy toes

Muddy toes

Down on the beach the whales were still slightly too far away to be seen properly. I took my shoes and socks off to wade out but the beach was still too shallow to get much of a view, even when I found a rock to perch on for height.
All I could make out was a closely-knitted group of bobbing heads. It wasn’t behaviour I recognised but I didn’t think anything of it (after all I’m a cetacean enthusiast but not an expert)

It started to rain (again) so I pulled my hood on and fastened my coat right to the top. Despite not being able to see the whales well I enjoyed how surreally special it felt to be standing bare-legged alone on a rock in the ocean in the drizzle in the wee hours. It was nice to just stand there listening to the fat water droplets hit the sea water around my feet.
What is it about the sound of rain that makes us all so calm…

Cold toes

Cold toes

In front of me I noticed some creatures surfing the breakers; left and right, back and forth. Very large and curious seals I guessed.
I dismissed the urge to wade out further to get a closer look: when you’re alone common sense must prevail over adventure; the chance of getting too cold or caught out by a current isn’t worth the risk. Not being able to swim in cold water when and where I want is one of the few things that frustrates me about being up here alone.
As the light finally began to dim I started shivering and it was time to trudge back up to the car.

Moody moon

Late night light

I walked through my door leaving my socks and sneakers in a gritty, sodden pile on the doormat.
It was an enjoyable evening but little did I know that it was to be continued in a less pleasant way…

Not the M25

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As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I work two days a week at the Skyeworks Gallery down in Portree.
There’s a lot of things I enjoy about working there but one of the things I least expected was the commute.

Originally I had looked at living only just outside of Portree; I didn’t know if the roads on Skye would be treacherous in winter so I thought that was the sensible option.
Of course, falling in love with my funny little house sent the sensible option flying out of the window (although I’ve since found out that the warm, salty sea air here prevents it from getting too icy here anyway)

So, twice a week I drive 45 minutes down the Trotternish Peninsula to work and 45 mins back

…And I love it.

Rush hour

Slow moo-ving traffic

No journey is ever the same.
Morning rush hour on the A855 is when the young farmer walks his characterfully shaggy ‘coos’ down the middle of the road.
Stubborn, wild-eyed sheep threaten to make me late most mornings. Once in a while my journey is blocked by the solid figure of Charlie the bull.
Sometimes I’m greeted by the collie at the end of my road who runs alongside the car as far as it can. At other times I find myself swerving around the chickens, turkeys, ducks and bunnies who congregate at the bottom of my hill.
I usually see a couple of birds of prey perched on posts as I pass the croft cottages and if I’m lucky I’ll spot a sea eagle or two circling over the clifftops just past Staffin.

Rush hour in Kilmaluag

Rush hour in Kilmaluag

On a particularly busy day I might even see some people too.
I like the way the other drivers thank you here, not just a finger lifted from the steering wheel or a solemn nod, you’re more likely to get a proper wave and a grin. Of course, you get the grumpy ones too, and the bewildered tourists, but I enjoy sharing a “Good Morning” smile with the postman, the bus driver, the farmers on their quad bikes…
If it sounds a little like living in an unusually cheery children’s TV show, Postman Pat or Balamory, you’d pretty much be right.

The Quiraing

The Quiraing

Whilst all this is lovely the really incredible thing about my commute is the landscape.
My journey takes me past some of the most famous sights of Skye; the Quiraing, Kilt Rock and the Old Man Of Storr. The spectacular views seem to look brand new every day under different lights and weathers.
Sometimes the tops of the hills are spookily encased in mist with a dark, stormy background. At other times the jagged rocks look like they’re on fire from the neon-red sun setting behind them. When the light has been soft, almost misty, I’ve felt as if I’m driving through an old painting come to life, like that bit in Mary Poppins where the jump into the chalk drawings.

Heading home past The Old Man Of Storr

Heading home past Loch Fada and The Old Man Of Storr

Even something as basic as the road itself is fun. There’s a straight-ish bit over little hills where I like to put my foot down and you can feel your stomach lurch over every drop, fairground-style. Then there’s the flat, open bit along the cliff where you feel like you’re flying along the top of the world.
My favourite part of the journey is where, from going parallel to the coast, the road bends to the right so you face straight out towards the open sea. At the same time the tarmac also curves downwards, disappearing from sight. It gives the impression that you’re about to drive off a cliff and plummet straight into the water hundreds of feet below, Thelma and Louise-style.
The first time I drove it it made my pulse quicken like at the top of a roller coaster before the drop. Even though I pass this way every day I still get that little buzz of exhiliration as I speed towards the waves.

Looking over towards the mainland from the cliff road

Looking over towards the mainland from the cliff road

Could I ever had imagined that I’d enjoy a commute enough to be inspired to write over 600 words about it? Not likely.

Yet with my favourite music on I’m reminded why I moved to Skye every time I make this journey; here’s something that should be ordinary but instead it’s extraordinary. 45 distracting minutes to ease me in or out of the working day.

As Graham, one of my new friends, put it, “If you ever get bored of that drive then it’s probably time to move on from here.”

Morning sunrise over Loch Leathan

Morning sunrise over Loch Leathan