Guesthouse Katie opens for August: Family, friends, filmmakers & photographers (and my first basking shark!)

(Most of) my August visitors

(Most of) my August visitors

September rolls in and it’s the calm after the storm here at the cottage.

Since moving to Skye I’ve always had a nice little trickle of visitors travelling up from the South; it’s super lovely to be able to share my new home with friends and family.
Then this August came around and someone turned the taps on full… it was Guesthouse Katie open for summer season! It’s been totally manic but great fun at the same time.

Mum and I rocking the bobble hats on Scarista Beach, Harris

Mum and I rocking the bobble hats on Scarista Beach, Harris

My first visitor was someone very important, my Mum.

Her visits are always special. As I grew up it was just the two of us so it’s not easy to have left her so far away.
It’s her third time up here but this was the longest stay so far. Having 10 days meant that I got to take her to some places that are a little further from home, like Applecross and the Outer Hebrides.

We did a little potted tour of the area which included some Highland Games, a Michelin star lunch and even helping out with some sheep shearing!

We did so much that I think I’ll have to write a separate post about it (otherwise we’ll be here forever). To be continued…

Mum looking out towards Skye from Applecross Bay

Mum looking out towards Skye from Applecross Bay

Week 2 of August and here came the next set of visitors… The Boys

Will, Dickon and Hugo are some of my oldest friends. We met way back, at the end of our A-levels, when we spent that entire carefree post-exam/pre-university summer together just hanging out and enjoying the sunshine.

With life and geography getting in the way I rarely see them now but when we do it’s always comfy and fun. We’ve argued, laughed and cried together and I love them to bits. This was to be a fun week.

Will, Patrick and Dickon at the Quiraing. Photo by Hugo Donnithorne-Tait

Will, Patrick and Dickon at the Quiraing. Photo by Hugo Donnithorne-Tait, 2015 (www.lightorflight.com)

We also happened to be joined by my friend Patrick, a Savile Row tailor and adventurous cyclist whom I’d met for the first time a couple of years ago a Polo Awards bash.

I was slightly apprehensive about whether they’d all get along, what with the boys being a big scruffy bundle of energy and Patrick being a suave London gent (though I have seen him pull some epic moves on a dancefloor)…

I needn’t have worried, they got on fine and enjoyed a day out hiking the Quiraing together whilst I put in a shift at the gallery.
The only wobble was with the introduction of a new board game, The Settlers Of Catan. I’m not sure I’ve witnessed competitiveness at that level before; the Tunn Christmas Scrabble Championship has nothing on this.

Serious competitiveness. I stayed well out if it!

Serious competitiveness. I stayed well out if it!

A house full of boys is a beautiful but chaotic thing. Lots of catching up was done over many bottles of whisky.
Patrick stayed for two days before he had to leave for a meeting somewhere near Oban.

Despite the dull weather we filled the next few days with walks along the beach, fossil hunting and a very (VERY) cold swim at Loch Shianta.

Loch Shianta is a really deep little pond billed as the ‘healing loch’ and is the most stunning vivid blue colour. There’s something eerie and magical about it; I’ve wanted to swim there for ages but have been waiting for company to go with (safety first!).

Since our dip my views on it have changed slightly.
I mentioned our swim to a girl from work and she looked at me in shock “Oooh, we don’t swim there! They used to drown cats in there. It’s dangerous, full of death…”
Err… lovely!

Will about to make a splash (photo by Hugo Donnithorne-Tait)

Will about to make a splash. Photo by Hugo Donnithorne-Tait, 2015 (www.lightorflight.com)

Each day with the boys was lovely but the last one was particularly special…

The sun had finally decided to make an appearance and I decided to take them on my favourite walk; straight out of the back door and up to The Lookout at Rubha Hunish. It was chilly and blustery but the view over the bright blue sea over to the mainland was as good as ever.

When we got to the bothy we sat down for a rest on the clifftop overlooking the headland below. We swigged our water and I automatically scanned the water in the bay below. I rarely spot anything interesting but I look anyway, just in case.
But this time, for once, I did spot something. Dark, almost black, two parts above water….
OH HOLY SHHHHH…
Basking shark!

Me (about 30 seconds before I noticed the shark and that weird grimace turned into a grin!) -Photo by Hugo Donnithorne-Tait

Me (about 30 seconds before I noticed the shark and that weird grimace turned into a grin!)
Photo by Hugo Donnithorne-Tait, 2015 (www.lightorflight.com)

The poor boys. I was up and running to the cliff path in an instant (those of you who know me will know that I rarely move fast if I can help it)
I yelled some general directions to the path over my shoulder and slipped and skidded down the path as fast as my clumsy little trotters would take me.
This wasn’t actually the first time I’ve slid down a rocky cliff on behalf of a (supposed) basking shark, but that’s a story for another time.

Now, I know that this might seem like an over-reaction to some people… to most people, probably…
But where some people have a favourite football team others of us have favourite animals. Bucket list ‘To See’ creatures.
I’ve been desperate to see a basking shark for years and I’ve been on tenterhooks waiting for them to arrive in Skye (they’re late and few this year here). Imagine watching your favourite team winning right in front of you, that’s the feeling.

Watching the shark

Me and the shark

By the time I got down to the rocky shore Will was already there (long legs for easy overtaking).
We clambered down to the barnacled tideline and watched this huge, dark creature gently weave through the water just metres in front of us (although technically this one was quite small for a basker, only 3-4m long).
The adrenaline was running and I was high as a kite.

Will, Dickon and I on the rocks (photo by Hugo-Donnithorne Tait)

Shark watching positions. Photo by Hugo-Donnithorne Tait, 2015 (www.lightorflight.com)

We sat for ages.
The sun came out and the water glittered as we watched this giant fish meander back and forth between clouds of jellyfish.
We’d been watching the gannets diving all week but now we had a front-row view. The water was so clear that you could even see their bubble-trail once submerged. At one point a gannet surfaced and had to swerve off-course to avoid flying straight into the shark fin.
It was incredible.

Watching these awesome animals in one of my favourite places on Earth with some of my oldest friends is an experience that’s going right up there in the top 10 best moments of my life.
I’ll never forget that amazing afternoon.

Hugo's picture of the shark -a million times better than any of my snaps. Photo by Hugo Donnithorne-Tait, 2015 (www.lightorflight.com)

Hugo’s picture of the shark -a million times better than any of my snaps (but he is a pro so what do you expect?) Photo by Hugo Donnithorne-Tait, 2015 (www.lightorflight.com)

On week 3 my visitors were Dom, his son, Leo, and their dog, Kit.

Dom is a filmmaker and he was up here to make a short mini-video featuring me for the outdoor equipment company, Alpkit.
(Alpkit, by the way, have a company motto that I love: ‘Go nice places, do good things.’ Is there any other rule for life needed really?)
So Dom’s making a series of these films for the company, each featuring a different person living a different kind of outdoors lifestyle. I’m the arty girl who left London-life for island life and loves anything ocean-related.

I’ve only met Dom once before and I did try to tell him that my life certainly isn’t interesting enough to be filmed but they weren’t persuaded…

Dom setting up his camera in the garden

Dom setting up his camera 

Unfortunately things didn’t exactly go as smoothly as planned…

First of all Dom’s camera drone broke and wouldn’t get started again (if you know what the landscape in Skye is like you’ll know how incredibly frustrating this was!)
Okay, we said, lets get some of the in-the-water swimming footage instead…
We drove to Coral Beach but it was so busy we couldn’t even park, let alone find a quiet spot to get some filming done.
We to Kilmaluag Bay to try there instead. As we wetsuited up I noticed that the bay didn’t look as pretty as usual. When we reached the water we saw that it had turned a murky, peaty brown; completely different to the Carribbean blue of just a few days ago. Argh!

A bright blue Kilmaluag Bay just a few days earlier

A bright blue Kilmaluag Bay just a few days earlier

Despite a barrage of hiccups, we managed to scrape together enough footage for Dom to use.

He’s actually just sent me the first rough cut of the film and it looks fantastic. Of course, hearing your own voice is always pretty cringey (and I have a terrible lisp!) but the boy’s done good. I’ll share it on here once it’s out.

In the meantime you can see more of Dom’s stuff here:
Land and Sky Media

Kit the dog looks on whilst Dom catches some footage of light on the Quiraing

Kit the dog looks on whilst Dom catches some footage of light on the Quiraing

Towels in the wash. Bedsheets changed. Week 4 begins…

My guests seem to have been staying in order of decreasing familiarity; my last set of visitors were two people I’ve never actually met before in person, Anthony and Anne Sophie.
Anthony is an incredibly talented photographer and a friend-of-a-friend; at one point we moved in similar circles in the London art/alternative scene. He is best known for his brilliant Self-Styled project which you can check out here.
His girlfriend, Anne Sophie, is an extraordinarily ingenious costume designer and, to my delight, fellow sparkle-lover. You can see some of her pieces here.

I was slightly nervous about putting up two people who I’ve never met before, especially when they’re both artists whose work I admire.
Would they mind being stuffed into the twin room with my mis-matched sheets? Would they be expecting something a bit fancier? Our mutual friends can be fairly ‘quirky’… what would they be like?

Sophie photographed by Anthony in the Welsh mountains as part of their collaborative project (Photo by Anthony Lycett Photography, www.anthonylycett.com)

Sophie photographed by Anthony in the Welsh mountains as part of their collaborative project. How aresome is this shot?! (Photo by Anthony Lycett Photography, http://www.anthonylycett.com)

I needn’t have worried, they were two of the nicest ‘strangers’ I’ve ever had the pleasure of spending time with.
Genuinely sweet people.
Plus, having Sophie working on one of her rainbow-coloured, glittering costumes in my home was an absolute delight (imagine waking up to a riot of colour in your normally neutral living room)

A detail of one of Sophie's creations. How can you not be happy when waking up to colours like these?!

A detail of one of Sophie’s creations. How can you not be happy when waking up to colours like these?!

Like Dom’s visit the week before this was a trip with a mission…

Firstly Anthony took some pictures of me in the studio for one of his recent projects where he’s been photographing all different kinds of artists in their working environments.
Of course, it’s a massive honour to be photographed by someone with his skills (when he’s working you can tell his brain is whizzing with ideas) but when I found out that some of his other subjects include names like Gavin Turk and Micallef I almost keeled over! (If you don’t know who they are let’s just say they’re VERY successful artists. Or you could just Google them…)

My scruffy little studio didn’t feel worthy of this kind of attention!

One of Anthony's photos in his artists series: Sue Kreitzman in her London studio. (Copyright: Anthony Lycett Photography, www.anthonylycett.com)

One of Anthony’s photos in his artists series: Sue Kreitzman in her London studio. (Copyright: Anthony Lycett Photography, http://www.anthonylycett.com)

The second half of the visit was spent snapping Sophie in one of her magical costumes on location in the Quiraing.

Sophie and Anthony are working together on another series where he photographs her wearing her creations in various locations all over the UK.
Putting this vibrantly-dressed girl in the midst of these dramatic natural landscapes creates images with a surreal, dream-like quality.
It’s a really cool project.

Anthony shooting Sophie on location in the Quiraing. To see the actual picture you need to visit Anthony's website!

Anthony shooting Sophie on location in the Quiraing. To see the actual picture you need to visit Anthony or Sophie’s website!

Also like with Dom’s visit we had our fair share of hiccups.
A good few hours were spent huddled in the car waiting for the rain to pass so we could get a clear shot of Sophie. Then as soon as the sun came out so did the midges. It was a fairly speedy photoshoot once they’d turned up!

But we did get a good picture and I finally managed to get Anthony the local chippy supper that he’d been wishing for since he’d arrived. We ate our chips on Portree Harbour and celebrated the successes of the day.

Don't feed the seagulls! Anthony and Sophie in Portree Harbour

Don’t feed the seagulls!

Then, as fast as everyone had turned up, they had gone again.
August is over and Guesthouse Katie has closed. Time for a wee sleep until the next visitors arrive…

that turned up on the doorstop last week. Lots of memories here, thank you boys xx

that turned up on the doorstop last week. Lots of memories here, thank you boys xx

Loneliness

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If my most asked question is, “why did you move to Skye?” then the second most asked is definitely, “but aren’t you lonely?”

My answer is always an unwavering “no”.
Actually, it’s usually a bemused “no”… I’m always a little surprised when someone asks me that. If I had been looking for a buzzing social hub I wouldn’t have moved from the outskirts of London to somewhere almost an hour away from the nearest pub.

Some solitude at Coral Beach

Some solitude at Coral Beach

Not that I had intended to come up here and live the life of a hermit… when I arrived I knew that my 2 days a week at the gallery were an important lifeline to help me meet people and get involved with the community a bit.

However, I had expected to enjoy a significant amount of peace and solitude on Skye.
Life was getting busy in the South and I was spending too much time, money and energy doing stuff just to keep other people happy. I’m an incredibly social person (I love a party) but I grew up as an only child which means I also like my own space. I actually think that time alone is a great luxury, as I said in a previous post, it’s quite indulgent.

Some time to think

A place to think

So, a move to Skye was going to be a way of streamlining my life; less time trying to maintain work/social commitments and more time for myself.

Only, it hasn’t really happened.

Not at all.

I’ve tried to be solitary up here, to take time out, but I’ve actually been just as busy as I was in Surrey, albeit in a slightly different way.
I’ve been to music nights, lectures and ceilidhs. I’ve been on sporting weekends, day trips and dates. I’ve even seen the Scottish National Opera and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, all right here in Portree.

Aside from that, I’ve found it impossible to be lonely here because… everyone’s just too nice!

As with most rural places in the UK, the sense of community here is strong; though I’ve never come across this intensity of general kindness before.
In my next blog post I’m going to write about Skye as being a place ‘where everybody knows your name’, and I think it’s that involvement and knowledge of what’s going on in the community that ties in with the people here being so caring.

Liza and Barry at the Skye Baking Co.

Liza and Barry at the Skye Baking Co.

It’s not hyperbole to say that the people I’ve met here are some of the nicest folk I’ve met in my life.

Firstly there was my old pal Pat, who put me up in the big yellow hostel at the last minute when I arrived on the island in the pouring rain with a car full of stuff and nowhere to stay.

Then there were my colleagues at the gallery.

Liza and Barry who own the Skye Baking Co and Skyeworks gallery have created a business where being one of the team really feels like being part of a family. They’ve offered me places to stay when the weather’s been dodgy, they check my car over to make sure it’s running smoothly and they’ve all just generally kept an eye on me to make sure I get through my first winter (the lovely Christine is like an oracle for all things island-related!)

Home -Kilmaluag Bay

Home -Kilmaluag Bay

Later, two weeks after my arrival, I moved into the cottage at Aird and met my landlords, the Macdonald family. I cannot over stress how lovely this family is.

I still can’t quite believe how lucky I’ve been to find this place. They might be my landlords but they’ve always got an eye out for my wellbeing too, whether it’s making sure I’ve got enough fire fuel or just reassuring me that this amount of wind and rain isn’t the norm (I don’t mind it, I expected the weather to be much worse).

Then there’s all the other characters that have come into my Skye life… Peter and Ria my very cool Dutch neighbours with their gorgeous house on the shore, there’s Jane at Neist Point, Linda from Aros, Gordon from the hostel, Morten the photographer, Clare and Ian at the pub, Sarah the writer, my neighbour Mo, Mina and Chris the saltmakers….

I know it’s boring for me to list everyone here but the fact that I bump into at least one of these people every time I go out means that it’s hard to feel forgotten here.

I may have sounded somewhat antisocial at the beginning of this post. Sometimes I am, but I honestly think that meeting new friends can be one of the greatest pleasures in life. A lot of the characters I’ve met here come from completely different backgrounds to me so I’ve learnt a lot from them in the relatively short time I’ve been here.
I also believe you meet people for a reason…

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Perhaps one of the best examples of the kindness of the people of Skye is that of a man called Vernon.

We met when I was trying to pre-organise the beach clean at Talisker bay and needed help accessing the track to the beach. I was trying desperately to find out who to talk to locally and I waved him down as I was about to give up and slump back to my car. Not only did he help me with that but he also offered me the use of his van since my little car couldn’t carry a lot of rubbish.

The fact that he’d offer the use of his vehicle to a total stranger was totally humbling and, after completing the beach clean, I realised I couldn’t have done it without his help.

Two of our hardiest beach clean volunteers sheltering from the wind in Vernon's van

Two of our hardiest beach clean volunteers sheltering from the wind in Vernon’s van

The other reason I haven’t had a chance to feel lonely is the number of friends and family that have come up to visit me. My parents, my grandparents, my ex’s parents (the Outlaws!), my Godmother and her family, my friend Vicki, my friend Matt, Mum again…
I’ve had friends ask to visit who I’ve had to turn away because I didn’t have time to squeeze them in!

My grandparents at Portree harbour

My grandparents at Portree harbour

It’s been wonderful showing them my favourite places on Skye.

It was especially important for my close family as I felt that I needed to show them why I love this area and thus in turn explain why I made the decision to move so far away from them.

I’ve enjoyed every minute of having them here (and appreciate the fact that it’s a hell of a journey for them to make) but I can’t deny that it can be exhausting hosting people, even the most chilled-out guests are still guests who you want to feed and look after.

Mum at the Fairy Pools

Mum at the Fairy Pools

And all this is still without even mentioning all the friends from home who I haven’t hosted at the cottage… The London gang who were up for New Year, the Glancarron estate party, the Soval estate party, my old schoolfriend Charlotte…
All these guys came up and stayed at places nearby whilst I enjoyed the feeling of having friends ‘just down the road’ again.

A good internet connection also means that I’m only ever a click away from talking to friends on Facebook too (it might be an annoying addiction but it’s priceless for keeping in contact with everyone back home)

So, after all that, I think it’s safe to say that, nope, I don’t feel lonely up here!

Illustration by Maurice Sendak for Open House For Butterflies by Ruth Krauss

Illustration by Maurice Sendak for Open House For Butterflies by Ruth Krauss