July 13, 2009
Today was the day that I was so excited for – not like the entire trip wasn’t something to be excited about – because I wanted to see whales. We’d booked a trip through Sea.fari boat lines. The only problem? We had to get up WAY too early in order to get to the Isle of Skye, two and a half hours away. The tour was at 10am, so that meant we had to leave by 7am to give ourselves enough time. Early is not good – ever. But we got out, a little later than anticipated, and started our trek north towards the Skye Bridge.
On the way, we had much mountainside to traverse and it added a little stress to our journey as there were some quite steep sides to possibly fall over for two girls who are just learning to ride the other side of the road. But we tore through the scenery, ogling pictures we knew we’d want on the way back. I only saw quick glimpses of haunting mountains draped in greens and browns; waterfalls scarcely populating high regions of the mounds. A placid loch where the reflection of the mountain winked at the reverse image tempting me to stop and grab that beauty with my camera. There was no time to waste though, so we scurried onward towards our destination.
But then we saw Eilean Donan castle, one of the larger ones we’d see on our trip, and we had to stop for a brief moment. It was magnificent and cover in a slight drizzle, adding to the mystery of this ancient ruin. We’d stopped for long enough, however, and knew we’d need to hurry on.
Jumping back in the car, we continued onwards towards the Armadale pier, knowing that our Sea.fari boat trip launched from that same site. Many, many turns and fantastic scenery later, we finally saw the sign for the ferry. Finding parking was a bit of a challenge but we were directed to an area where we would be safe. We quickly jumped out and ran towards the pier, overlooking the bagpiper in the parking lot entertaining his adoring fans.
The bright red boat held about 15 total people if everyone was onboard but today we only had 11. We donned the sun yellow water jackets that barely fit over our heads (Wendy had a waterproof jacket and refused one) and made our way slowly down the steep steps to the waiting boat. We pulled away from shore and stopped quickly to look at relaxed seals on a nearby island mound. They lazily rocked back and forth trying to make their way into the sea. We paused for a bit to watch, then moved forward.
Our guide said that if we saw patches of these lovely little seabirds called shearwaters that lit on the water, it was usually a good sign for a whale or porpoise. There are tons of these birds around, so we did much stopping and starting but had little luck of seeing that beautiful minke whale. But what we got instead were views of many of the little uninhabited isles all along the Scottish coast, including amazing views of the Cuillin Mountains. Every turn had various peaks and greenery, each angle more beautiful then the next. Then, finally, we caught our break – a porpoise tooling about amongst the birds. It hung around for a little while, but not long enough to catch a picture. Our guide said they are not as playful as the dolphins so he quickly went on his way.
We stopped at a few more of these bird havens having pretty much the same luck. We were “lucky” enough to be able to sit and watch as the birds tore into a jelly fish – unsure if it was alive or dead – and have a feast. As much as the theory of that grosses me out, it’s interesting to see how nature takes its course.
So there we were, stuck in the middle of the sea surrounded by miles of water and hungry seabirds. And it was amazing. Peaceful doesn’t even describe it; there’s nothing like it. The clouds rolled by, concealing the sun from us in a game of hide and seek. There are so few craft on these waterways, it’s like you have the whole sea to yourself. The feeling is indescribable.
Eventually, we made it back to shore – no whales to be found. I was a little disappointed, but the journey was still amazing.
Heading back, we saw a sign for a castle and figured we’d go and take a look. Somehow, we got lost and ended up on another road, finding a cute little hotel with a few shops around it too. We detoured and headed back the way we came, remembering there was an Indian restaurant we wanted to hit before we headed back to the cottage. We’re always looking for a good Indian restaurant and this one looked really promising. It was closed. Sigh.
Then the search for food began as we hit the little village of Kyleakin right by the Skye bridge. There was a castle ruin there – Castle Moil – so we snapped a few pictures and found food at King Haakon restaurant (although I have no idea who he was). At the end of our bar visit, we thanked the bar man for staying open for us. “Tha’s alright,” he replied (which basically means you’re welcome) and then a very drunk elderly man came stumbling back to thank us as well. He quizzed us on our origins stating that he liked America, giving us a Scottish blessing of sorts: “I walk with sky above me, Skye below me and it flows through my veins. I wish to you peace and prosperity in your journey ahead.” I’m sure I blew that but that was the general sentiment. It was lovely and he truly meant it.
As we continued on our way, Wendy found this little town on the edge of nowhere on our map called Elgol at the southernmost tip of Skye. We wanted to get a better look at the Cullin Mountains and this seemed the place to do it. In order to get there, however, we’d have to travel the elusive one lane highway that we both are so fond of. And guess who was behind the wheel. Talk about getting your experience on the road!
The winding road never seemed to end, creating obstacle after obstacle, obviously the most worrisome being the cars coming towards you. After some trial and error, I think we got then hang of it, on some level. One lane road has passing places and whoever gets there first basically has to pull over to the side to allow the passing. The first time I had to do it, I kind of panicked and pulled to the wrong side. Eventually, we figured it out.
In addition to the cars you have to dodge, there were various blockades in the road that don’t give a damn if you’re trying to get somewhere. For example – sheep. They have no clue, nor do they care about anything. If they want to be in the road, they’ll be in the road and screw what you want. They were hanging out by a cemetery, eating the green grass on the graves, so we had to stop. In fact, we saw them open the gate to the grave yard to get in! Like I said, they go where they want to.
They are also very noisy. We had one little bugger who hung out in the road and tried to get hit by a passing car, just baaing at it. And it was quite a baa. It was the cross between a normal sheep and a crabby old woman that had smoked her whole life yelling at you. We both have it on video for posterity.
Still others hung in the background and explored. We turned around to see two of them trying to eat our Corsa, licking the bumper and then rubbing against the wheels. I tried to shoo them away, but that just elicited non-stop giggling from Wendy. We did get them off and continued to wind our way through the hills, mountains and lochs to the world’s end atop the mountain.
Up we climbed and the more freaked out I got. A soft mist started to drizzle on the windshield adding an extra layer of discomfort. We finally did reach a peak of sorts but the final stage of the road required us to drive down a pretty steep incline with limited visibility (and the Corsa already had a pretty awful blind spot) so we decided we were going to turn around.
The famed red phone booth was perched on this mountain and Wendy stopped to make a call, but it didn’t work so we continued on. I was so thirsty that I wanted to stop and have a quick drink. I figured it would wash down my nails that I’d chewed off on the trip up. As we pulled into the parking lot of this cute little seafood restaurant, Wendy realized that she’d lost her cash. We dumped everything on the seat from her backpack, tearing through it all. It wasn’t there. She figured she had around 250-300 pounds in the envelope. I feared that my ability to lose money at the drop of a hat had rubbed off on Wendy as I’d done the same thing on my trip out West with Kathy, losing $1000.
She was panicked. So was I but I tried to remain calm. The last place she remembered having it was at King Haakon so I went inside the restaurant and asked for assistance with their number. The couple was so incredibly kind (which, by the way, has really been the standard here. No one has treated us poorly) and gave us the number, offering advice that my cell wouldn’t work until we’d hit the loch several miles below. I thanked them and returned to the car.
Wendy had calmed some and decided to continue driving. I’d told her of my pangs of fear as I remembered losing my cash. But it’s only money and somehow I was able to let it go. I’d tried to impress that upon her as well, saying that we’d stay in more and work everything out.
We were anxious to get home to check around the cottage for the lost funds and then we ran into large, brown cows who decided they needed to hog the road. There’s no messing with a cow! They came right up to the window and looked in like they’d never seen a car before. It was quite hilarious and brightened the mood inside the car immensely. Shortly afterwards, we hit the mountain goats who like to perch atop the small hills. They always look like they’re ready to come and ram you so we cautiously made our way down through Nature’s obstacles.
Finally we wound down the mountain and I was able to call the restaurant. They looked around but it was to no avail. Our last remaining hope was that somehow the envelope was taken out of her book bag and it was at home.
The ride back was quiet but relaxed as we wound our way through. We’d seen some pretty amazing scenery on the way and stopped at a battle ground for Gala Shiel marked by a brown sign with two swords crossing. There was a beautiful bridge that was probably the keeper of some horrible battle; now it just contained horrible slugs. I’ve never seen slugs, but the first one I saw looked like a cigarette lighter that someone had dumped on the grass (which got me mad) but then I came to realize it was this plump, evil beastie. Oh, they were so gross, and everywhere! Absolutely disgusting!
Climbing back into the car in a much lighter mood, we took another peek at Eilean Donan castle, wandering up the path and getting a bunch of really nice shots of the sides and loch. It is a magnificent structure!
Our final stop was to ogle some highland cows that grazed idly along the road. They were easily frightened by us (and who wouldn’t be) and raced off across the pasture.
Getting home, Wendy ran upstairs to find the envelope with all her money sitting happily on her bed! Same happy ending that I had only much quicker when I’d lost my money. We could go to sleep with no worries after another wonderful day!