Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Autumn Road to the Isles

This trip is partly inspired by a book I haven't read. The first books that I remember adoring were The Little Grey Men and Down the Bright Stream by 'BB', the first of which won the Carnegie Medal in 1942. These books about the last four gnomes in England were really a way for BB, aka Rugby School art master Denys Watkins-Pitchford to relay his love of the countryside. I first appreciated his colour works from the gnome titles, but it's his black and white scraperboard illustrations which I love the most.

View from St Anthony's B&B in Fort William

The Autumn Road to the Isles
(1959) was the first of set of travel books and covers the route from Fort William to Mallaig that we traversed by train yesterday. My route to the Isle of Skye would take me parallel to this but further north as we aimed for the bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh.

This morning's weather report indicated that all of the cloud over Britain seemed to be concentrated over Skye so I was a little glumly forecasting a room-bound visit to the island. Happily the clouds began rolling away after we started heading west properly.

Cairns, cairns, cairns.

Towards the end of our mainland journey, we reached the Castle Eilean Donan, something of an icon in these parts of Scotland. The most recent of many castles built on the little island over the centuries, it's actually not very pretty if you ignore the scenery around it. I thought it had much less impact then the crumbling ruin of Ardvreck that we encountered in Sutherland earlier this month.

The lady at the ticket office was quick to reel off all the places that dogs weren't allowed to go (bridge, island, castle, coffee shop, gift shop, .....) and when I asked if there were a shaded place he could be left, got a look like I'd spat in her purse. Back in the carpark, a number of dogs had been left to suffer in the backs of cars while the day became surprisingly warm.

Feeling rather unwelcome at Eilean Donan, I skipped over to the neighbouring village of Dornie for a pub lunch. The barmaid was in a bit of a mood, although polite, I think it would have taken a handful of ecstasy tablets to raise her spirits to 'dour'. Sitting outside, we were hailed by a Fife family who had been on the Jacobite train yesterday with their pair of huskies, and sat talking with them in the sun for a while. They were not impressed by the amount of tourist tat being sold on the train or around the castle here. I agreed that the mementoes needed to move into the 21st century - the tired old tartan tea-towels and the like need to be retired.

At the Kyle of Lochalsh, which used to be a waiting spot for the Skye ferry, you can now whizz straight over the (now toll-free) bridge.

Just over the bridge to the left, is the small village of Kyleakin, with the ruins of Castle Moil looking over its harbour.

Coast along the road north to Portree

The last stretch of the journey, from Broadford to Portree was quite amazing. For those into the misty mountain genre of photos that I've been posting lately, there were places where clouds just seemed to have gone to sleep on the slopes of the steep-sided ranges.

Portree is the largest settlement on Skye, and its little harbour has a pier built by the ubiquitous Thomas Telford. August 9 marked the 250th anniversary of Telford's birth, and I'm really surprised that this hasn't been widely commemorated.

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