Imagine a Dr. Seuss book, its illustrations showing green hills outlined with swirls. Beyond those hills, waterfalls cascade in the distance and a light fog hangs in the air above. Insert a few labyrinths, twisting trees, spongy grass, conical mounds with a perfect pond at the base and you might come close to visualizing the Faerie Glen on the Isle of Skye. The Faerie Glen was the highlight of my trip to the Isle of Skye and as much as I try to describe it with words and photos, you must see it to believe it. If you ever visit the area, you must go.
The weather is relatively calm today and I savor this last moment in Skye. I meander through the winding paths of this magical place and a spell is cast. This is the most beautiful place! I think of all the scenic vistas my eyes have witnessed and this is in a category all its own. As I stand on the highest vantage point gazing down and wondering how I will ever explain it to people back home, I wish someone were here with me to share the moment. For now, I will carry these words and images with me to share here and hope I can give you a glimpse into this magnificent world of green called Scotland.
Scotland was experiencing its worst summer and a huge rain cloud followed me everywhere I went. I fell on more than one occasion, skipped hikes, watched movies, and wished for the sun. The sun made its appearance on a couple of occasions for a fleeting moment and that was all. I made the best of the situation though and still forced myself out onto Scotland’s small winding roads and explored some pretty wonderful areas. I learned to drive on the left and while I never felt totally balanced in the car, I was soon zooming around like the rest of the locals in what seemed like a backdrop for the ultimate luxury car commercial. The roads curved and curved and curved. There are no straight roads in Scotland and as I zipped along I could only take in a small amount of the scenery for fear of going off the edge.
As I drove out into the highlands, one of the places that sticks out in my memory is Glencoe and the surrounding area. When I imagined Scotland before coming, Glencoe is what I pictured. It’s beyond beautiful. Great, towering, green hills swoop down in graceful arcs towards a horizon that never ends. It’s truly breathtaking. It took me twice as long as it should to reach Skye because of Glencoe. I stopped in what areas were available and photographed all I could see.
After settling in the town of Portree, my first hike in Skye is the Old Man of Storr. I am up at 6am and the only soul about. I try to break my thoughts of imagining how warm my bed is back in town by gazing up at my destination. The huge stone surfaces start to drift out of the fog. The pinnacles gradually grow bigger with each turn. They are what drew me to this area, even to Scotland itself. Skye’s most popular hike has magnificent rock formations that jut out from the earth in sharp spires. I stand behind a boulder to watch the clouds of rain travel sideways across the green rolling hill that supports the huge rocks and I am in awe. It’s as if I’ve been put on another planet and am entering the realm of fairies and elven kings. At any moment this boulder could stand up and talk to me. For now it’s just me, the rocks and a few sheep. The sheep here have great curly horns and even the young have little spikes popping up like a second set of ears. When I first arrived at the top of hill, I was a windblown mess. My bright blue poncho, rattling like a chorus of 50 garbage bags, startled a family of sheep and the young ran to their mothers at the sight of a strange blue plastic beast. I snap a few more photos and start the trek down. For a moment I see a glow in the sky as the sun makes its appearance for the first time. I put my umbrella to the side and it starts to rain again. The weather shifts by the minute here. It’s as if Scotland is having a laugh constantly from above. “As soon as she puts her umbrella away, I’ll make it rain again. Ha! Ha!” Very funny Scotland. As I enter the car park a local has a chat with me and informs me that this is the worst summer they’ve had and it’s actually like a winter day today. Lovely.
I wasn’t given the weather I had hoped for on this portion of my trip and a slight disappointment affects me. I couldn’t capture it with my camera as much as I’d hoped and I stayed inside more than out. There are very few places to stop and enjoy the views when driving. I grew to appreciate America’s national park system and even our roads. We have rest stops, wide lanes and scenic view points all over our parks for visitors. It’s not true in Scotland. I was also taken back by the amount of clear cutting of forests. The hike I did in Skye that once wound through forest, now was chopped down. In fact every walk I’ve been on has had a forest cut next to it. A sign at this one says it will be replanted with native trees eventually. While the rock formations were beautiful, they seemed to hover solemnly over the scarred landscape as if attending a funeral. The stumps of trees were like tombstones spreading out into the distance of a huge cemetery. You want to come here and marvel at the beauty. Then you realize it’s been harvested and even its most precious areas weren’t spared. It leaves one feeling the loss even if on a small scale. I’m just a tourist here and don’t know all of the history, but I’ve never experienced deforestation so much and certainly not in our state or national parks. Most photos only show you the view you came to see, but here is the view looking back.
On my last day in Skye I was about to call Scotland a bust due to the weather. I woke up early to hike to a place I had seen in photos that made me want to come here. The Quiraing was top on my list and I set out early again and drove the small, winding, single track lane up to the top of the trail head. As if to play a joke once again, Scotland had shrouded the entire summit in a fog so thick I could not see very far in front of me. The hike was listed as the most difficult in my trail book and I was barely equipped to do it in good weather let alone what awaited me here. The rain started blowing sideways again and I gave up and decided to see what the weather was like at a lower altitude back in town instead. I had breakfast at Cafe Arriba and decided to walk a trail, the Scorrytreac Circuit, that went around the bay of Portree. I really didn’t expect much as this hike was listed as an easy hike and started and ended in town. I rounded a corner as the sun warmed the clouds and it lit a few great, sweeping, green slopes and the water at their base. Once again I was lost in the iconic Scottish landscape of my imagination. The trail wove through tunnels of trees and moss filled bushes. Bluebells were in bloom and filled the ditches and fields as if in a pointillism painting. I stood at the top of a hill looking out into the endless green and breathed in deeply enjoying the moment. I could be at work, clicking my mouse, tapping my keyboard, counting the minutes until lunch, but I’m not. I’m here and so grateful.
Before I end this entry, I must mention one last place I stayed while out in the Scottish countryside. Inveraray is a quaint little town on the shores of Loch Fyne that I rested in for three days. I was reminded of the movie, The Holiday, with its charming stone houses and small country roads. I would take long walks during the day and visit the local pub when I felt the dampness of Scotland getting into my bones. The pub I went to was in the George Hotel and was the ultimate cozy retreat from the weather outside. Dimly lit with a warm fire crackling and a golden retriever resting in front of it, I was in love with the place and went back 3 times. Every meal was delicious comfort food, my favorite being their baked mac n cheese. I sat at the bar and chatted with bartender, the owner of the hotel and also the head gardener of the nearby castle. Everyone was very friendly and had so much to share about their town. I was bought a drink and made to feel welcome. I did two hikes while in Inveraray. One was a stroll along the shore of the loch, the Brainport Heritage Trail, and was quite tranquil leading me through a mossy landscape and still waters. At one point a side trail led me to ancient standing stones that still align with the patterns of the sun. The other trail in town, led me to a tall peak above the castle and gave the best views of the area. It wound through dark forests with old growth trees that spoke of the centuries in the shadows. More bluebells filled the empty spaces and wove their way along side the path. The peak was a challenge but well worth the panoramic view of the countryside below. The castle became a miniature version and the town tiny next to it. The breeze blew the bluebells and grasses high above everything and filled my lungs with fresh air.
Scotland was full of ups and downs, fog, mist, rain, great people and grand sweeping landscapes. It is somewhere, if given the chance, I would visit again. If only to see it when the sun lights it up and truly appreciate its beauty on a warm summer day. Many people flock to the European destinations like Paris and Rome, never seeing the beauty that lies here. Perhaps that’s a good thing. Maybe it will still remain small in all that vast green, a beautiful secret I happened to see in my life and will hold dear.
Below are a few more photos and some tips and information.
Getting to Skye: If you’d like to save money, make sure to take the bridge to Skye and not the ferry. Double check your GPS because it can send you the ferry way. The ferry costs 29 Euro and can slow down your journey if you have to wait for it. I took the ferry on the way back and drove through Glenfinnan which is famous for the Glenfinnan Viaduct which is featured in the Harry Potter movies. The ferry is very nice, has comfy seats and food for sale.
Come Prepared and Arrive Early: There are very limited parking spaces at the main hikes in Skye. Arrive before 9:30 before the lots fill. Also let it be known that I did not see one restroom at any of the hikes or sites I visited.
Inveraray Hike: The hike I did that rose above the town of Inveraray is the Dun Na Cuaiche hike which you can reach by parking at the castle. This will cost you 2 euro. Follow the blue arrowed signs behind the lot and a path will emerge in the woods.
The George Hotel: Enjoy a warm meal and talk to locals at this great establishment. You can view the menu and also a 360 view of the pub here.