The Land of Poets and Warriors: Scotland’s Isle of Skye
“So where in Scotland are you going?” a British colleague asked over lunch. “Edinburgh? Glasgow?”
“Isle of Skye,” I said.
“Ah, the Scottish Highlands,” he sighed. Leaned back and said, slowly, “We always think of Skye as a spiritual place. I really envy you.”
It was only after we boarded First ScotRail’s middle-aged cars at Glasgow’s Queen Street Station that I felt the first intimations of the Highlands as a spiritual precursor to Skye.
The train slipped through rolling, rugged hills and moors, profoundly beautiful, yet vast and lonely.
This is not a land for the faint hearted.
This is the land “Braveheart” and his men fought and died for – a land made for heroes, or the place where heroes are made. And I began to get William Wallace’s unnerving passion and love for his country.
But if the clash of arms still echoes faintly from the hills and valleys, so do the verses of Scotland’s other favorite son, Rabbie Burns, not, as we learned, Robbie Burns.
I found myself quietly whispering his lines as the train clicked and clacked along the stirring land. All that was missing were the bagpipes:
My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart’s in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer;
Chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go.
Hours later, crossing the Skye Bridge onto the Isle itself, I understood what my British colleague had said.
Though he understated it, “spiritual” is perhaps the best way to describe this noble island with its mystical mists and shrouded mountains.
Winding through the shifting light and shadow, sweeping across uninhibited streams, the roads seem to stretch the land forever.
In the middle of the heather and sheep covered heaths, there are solitary houses, white ghostly things huddled against the sky and moody wind.
The stillness of the land is reinforced by the silence of the sheep that dotted the hills by day and lined the roads at night.
In such a place, the mind needs relief, and we were grateful for the randomly scattered small fishing villages and clusters of stucco homes.
Signs in Gaelic led to small, white B and B’s, and stone houses along stone walls lend a sense of stability.
Portree (in Gaelic, Port Righ) is the provincial capital.
It’s a terrific little town with many pubs, B and Bs, narrow cobbled streets and small specialty shops.
In the spring and summer, the streams team with salmon and kyakers, and the Cuillin Mountains are favorites for back packers and hikers. Skye is a playground for otters and seals.
The Talisker Distillery is open, its signature full-bodied single malt as memorable as the boat tours of the lochs and coastal scenery.
May’s an especially fine month to visit.
The flowers are just budding (the tourists are not), and the heaths hint of new purple heather.
But in the early winter of this journey the bracken is brown, and only the wind and the sheep keep watch.
The Four-Star Bosville Hotel is ideally situated, and its nineteen rooms are very comfortable and quiet. The staff is helpful and welcoming, and the included breakfasts authentically Scottish with smoked salmon, kippers, eggs, fruit and of course, Scottish porridge.
For a Five-Star dining treat, The Three Chimneys on the isolated North Coast is among the country’s best.