From Portree, first thing in the morning we went to the Isle of Raasay,
which is squeezed between Syke and the mainland, on a 20 minute ride on a
tiny ferry (there were 2 cars & 10 people). This was a place we had heard
about when doing research on Scotland back in London and seemed like a nice,
out of the way place to hike and relax. It turns out that the hostel is a
3 mile walk from the ferry terminal and there were sustained 40 mile per hour
winds that day. We had planned to hitchhike to the hostel, but for the entire
2 hour walk we were passed by exactly one car. It was a gorgeous walk through
dense forest and along rugged beach and finally up onto the heather covered
slopes. We were thankful, once again, that we left the big backpacks in
Seattle and took only our daypacks!!
The hostel is a gorgeous little stone farmhouse. The view out the front is
across the straight to Skye and of the cliff and meadows that we hiked in
the day before! The hostel is extremely isolated. It is a 30 minute walk
to the only store on the island and a 20 minute walk to the closest building
of any kind. We arrived at about 1pm and the sign out front said that the
hostel opened at 5pm, but it said that we could take shelter in the temporary
bunkhouse out back. The wind was amazing. We spent about an hour in the
bunkhouse trying to decide what to do, we were all tired and hungry.
When the warden saw us poking around outside he invited us inside next to
the fire. We cooked up some lunch and then Cheryln and I walked down the
road for about an hour while Justin took on a more strenuous climb over the
hill to the highest peak on the island, Dun Caan and back through the forest.
When he returned around 7pm he said that he got to the base of the peak, but
the wind was far too strong to attempt to climb it and he lost the trail while attempting it, so he walked back through the forest.
Now we had a decision to make. It was Friday evening. We wanted to see
other places on the Isle of Skye... I REALLY wanted to see a Scottish castle.
But the ferry didn't run on Sunday, NOTHING on Raasay happened on Sunday.
There was so much to do on Skye and beyond that it was overwhelming. So we
could leave in the morning or stay two more days.
I was exhausted from travelling and I very much needed a break, so after
a lot of discussion we decided to stay at Raasay. The little farmhouse
was very cozy in the wind, and the following morning when we woke up my
wish was granted. It was raining in sheets -- just pounding rain. The
hostel was closed during the day usually, but if it was terrible weather,
since there was NO where else to go, it stayed open. So I got my rest
day. We ventured out in the late morning for a walk to the store in the
rain, and bought food for a couple of days, but otherwise spent the entire
day around the coal stove relaxing. It was wonderful.
The store on this little Island was really a cultural experience.
Everything was behind the counter, or in the side room as a special order --
and the accents made it seem like another language. The store was clearly
the social center of town, and we were a bit of an attraction. During the
hour or so it took us to dry out after we returned the warden told us all
about the very bizarre politics on the island. The people seemed to be VERY
bizarre and weird things seem to happen (I believe one quote was 'Law and
Order stops at the Raasay ferry!')
Sometime in the mid-afternoon a very very wet person appeared at the window.
It turned out to be the English couple we had seen at Mallig. They had
walked up in the rain and were very discouraged. After warming up (and
their own trip to the store) they decided to stay the weekend. It was a
very interesting weekend. There were 7 of us in that little farmhouse,
which was really just 1 room with bunkrooms off to the side. Cheryln &
Justin & I, the English couple, the Belgian warden and the Scottish former
warden come to spend 2 weeks and relax. We had some fascinating
conversations and the house was very very cozy. The warden was a painter
and had some wonderful paintings of the Island with the clouds and mountains
They also told us about the bizarre walls of stones we had seen, going
diagonally up the hillside in front of the hostel. The two walls, really
just piles of stones, run from the straight between Skye & Raasay and right
up to the top of the ridge. It seems that the are 600 to 500 years old,
and they were designed to lure the Kelpie (sea monster) out of the straight,
up the hill and right off the cliff. Must have worked too, because we
didn't see the Kelpie at all!
On Sunday it was crystal clear and very very still. The water was like
glass. And it stayed that way all day long! We walked a couple of hours up
the road through glorious terrain to the ruins of a 15th century castle
where we had lunch. Then we walked through a very thick forest, heading
for a different approach to Dun Caan. As we walked through it, parts of the
forest were getting direct sunlight for the first time after several days of
very heavy rain. It was stunningly gorgeous to see steam rising from the
path, from the moss, from tree branches. I've never seen anything like it!
Outside of the forest we walked through the ruins of an 8th century
village and started up a very steep heather slope. We had to ascend about
1800 feet to the plateau, which runs the length of the Island, for the long
walk to Dun Caan. The heather was very wet and there were many boggy
places, it was slow going, but very beautiful! The plateau was even wetter
and we snuck around the bogs as best we could -- Justin went in to his thigh
at one point! The view in all directions was stunning. 360 degrees of water
and mountains and the very occasional castle. We could also see the sleek
new bridge that was recently opened connecting the Isle of Skye to the
mainland of Scotland at the Kyle of Lochalsh. (Which is called, of course,
the Skye Bridge.)
We finally reached the base of Dun Caan at about 7pm. I was thinking
that it looked like we could scamper up it quite quickly until I saw Justin
standing near the bottom. It was probably close to 700 feet and almost
straight up. We could have done it, if we had 2 or 3 hours, but with only
90 minutes to sunset, we had to push on back to the hostel -- but we found a
trail and so the going was easier. The entire day we did not see a single
person! The following morning (Monday) we left the hostel on Raasay. We
really didn't want to leave Scotland, there was so much more to do -- but
we were due in The Netherlands. We split up, because Justin's return train
ticket was from Mallig and Cheryln & mine were from Inverness. Justin left
an hour before us. We walked to the ferry, and from the other side of the
ferry we hitchhiked to The Kyle of Lochalsh. While we were waiting we
counted the number of cars with driver on the left (wrong side)... about
one in 8. Do you think THEY were tourists? We were picked up by a very
cute, very old Australian couple with Scottish roots. We got to Kyle
with plenty of time to grocery shop and see the entire town (3 blocks).
We crossed the Skye Bridge and got to hear a number of people tell us how
and why the bridge is killing Skye. The old ferry cost 3 pounds either
way, and the bridge costs 6 Pounds. And people don't mind paying for a
ferry, but they hate paying for a bridge, so tourism is down 60% over the
last 2 years (although most of them did the math wrong and said 80%) and
tourism is the ONLY industry there. So the people are unhappy... and the
fact that the Pound Sterling is so strong, which makes it so terribly
expensive for everyone, even people with US dollars, only made it worse.