Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Skye vs South – Some Differences


To us, Skye is just ‘Skye’. We love the place for everything that it is, and have done since we first set foot on this magical land. But it is most certainly a very different land to the one we left behind in south east England when we moved here some ten years ago. However, we’ve never felt homesick for the south, and today, only notice the differences when we make trips over the border on our visits to friends and family.

So – what’s different? Short answer – ‘everything’. Longer answer… ermmm...

Kent, SE England

Isle of Skye, NW Scotland

Landscape;  No-where is flat. There are no fields of growing crops here, no hedges and very few big deciduous trees.

Views;  From almost everywhere, you can see for miles. There’s a sea-view round every corner (or a mountain view) (or both).

Colour;  Winter is brown. Early spring is brown. Late spring and summer are a riot of colourful wild flowers amid the lush greens of the grasses. Autumn is gloriously golden.

The Air;  Fresh, clean, invigorating.

Light;  Daylight goes on for a very long time every day in mid-June, but a grey gloom descends throughout December. Often, the low sun casts its rays over the (usually brown) landscape to illuminate the shapes of the land and the colours of the vegetation in a way much appreciated by artists and photographers.

Sounds;  Mostly, it’s simply silent. Or you may hear the burbling of a burn. However... during a storm, you will be aware of much howling, wailing and whooshing as the wind does its best to find a way into your roof or through the gaps in your windows. You need to get good at sleeping through storms...

Smells;  The sea, sheep and cattle - not exhaust fumes.

Wildlife;  Seals bob about offshore, while rare white tailed eagles and marsh harriers may be spotted in the sky. Brown hares and three different species of deer and are common, and pine martins are here too. We seldom spot a hedgehog or a fox though.

People;  There’s definitely a Skye-look – I wonder if we have inherited it yet…?  It is friendly, welcoming, relaxed, peaceful, comfortable and happy.

Shops;  There aren't many here.

Traffic;  Even in peak tourist season, we don’t experience traffic jams. In winter, one can frequently drive several miles without seeing any other vehicle.

Gardens;  We don’t really have gardens – just a moss-choked bit of a lawn and a few scraggy shrubs. It’s too wet/cold/windy here for garden flowers which are popular in the south.

Which brings us to… The Weather;  You don’t know anything about the weather until you have lived on the west coast of the Highlands for a few years… I’ll have to break this down into categories…

Wind;  We get a lot of wind. It is very seldom calm. 40mph winds are frequent. Gales of 50 – 60mph occur several times every year. 70 – 80mph storms are not uncommon.

Rain;  We get a lot of rain. Rain does not ‘fall down’ here – it comes at you horizontally. The rain drops are not drops at all, they are tiny needles that sting if they happen to strike any unprotected skin. Skye rain can penetrate most waterproof clothing within minutes.

Drizzle;  Much the same as ‘Rain’ above, except the needles are very much smaller, so don’t sting as much, however, Skye drizzle can penetrate all waterproof clothing within seconds.

Snow;  We don’t get much snow (except on the hills). This surprises many people.

Temperatures; It is quite unusual to see winter night time temperature fall below about -2C. It is quite unusual to see summer maximums above about 18C. Of course - we are talking weather here, so exceptions, in summer and winter, can and do happen.


This is not an exhaustive list. I could go on and on, but I am sure you have the idea. We wouldn't move back to the south east of England for all the tea in China. Could you cope with living here?



Tuesday, 3 April 2018

They're Back...Again !

There's no arguing that Skye is a stunningly beautiful place. The scenery has been used as the location for a number of recent big-budget films. And with snow on the hills and bright spring sunshine... it's just 'wow!' Today, I watched the TV, bemused, as it was announced that Skye is the only place in the UK where dinosaur footprints can be found. So - OK,  it really is not too surprising that many people travel from all corners of the globe to visit our lovely and fascinating island. Of course - Sue and I chose to make Skye our home because we wanted to become part of the network providing self-catering accommodation for visitors. We expected to be able to let our holiday cottages here rather more easily than if we had set up our business in a more remote and little-visited corner of the country.

Skye dinosaur footprint.
The prints are on a tidal shore, and often hidden by sand or seaweed.
I'll bet not many visitors ever find them
So - we must try not to moan when our winter silence is suddenly disturbed by the distant sound of passing traffic, and the Co-op car park is rather more crowded than we have become used to in the past few months. We know the places to avoid in summer, and certainly know any number of places we can go that very few visitors ever discover.

Dunvegan village
I swear the camper vans get bigger every year..
But we may have to alter our dog-walking routines a bit. In winter, we can happily walk on the verges of our local 'main' road, where we are likely to see fewer than half a dozen cars in a two-mile walk. However - this evening, I was jumping out of the road every few seconds as another scenery-gazing visitor in a brand new rental car whooshed past far too close to us. The visitors seem not to offer pedestrians the courtesy of slowing, or giving a bit of space.

No worries - we can adapt. We have our 'secret spots'...!

Holm
Located about one mile from The Storr - which is one of Skye's most-visited natural features.
Here, on a beautiful day in mid-summer 2014, I walked all day without seeing another person.



Friday, 23 March 2018

A Trip South

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have friends and family in the south of England. I try to get away from Skye at least three times a year to visit them all - though it can be quite a challenge to find a slot when I can take time away and everyone is available to visit. I always drive south - enjoying the drive in my lovely Jaguar...

I had beautiful weather for the first day,
driving through the stunning scenery of the Highlands on mostly deserted roads
However - things didn't quite all go to plan this time. I managed to get to my sister's on the edge of Dartmoor on Saturday 17th, this being the birthday of my niece Hilary, so all the family were in attendance - which was lovely.

Then - who would ever imagine that I would get snowed-in in Torquay - a place where palm trees grow in every garden, and that prides itself on its Mediterranean climate? But, oh boy, did it snow...! All day on the Sunday (my birthday - the 18th), the white stuff fell and fell.

Falling snow blots out the view from Val's flat
There was no getting Puss off that drive!
Torquay is hilly - these were the local roads on Monday
There was even more snow overnight, so Monday it was quite clear I was not going to follow my plan to drive on to Southampton to see friends there. I spent a couple of hours of hard labour clearing the driveway and about eight inches of snow off Puss, in the hope that the roads would be OK to use on Tuesday.

I knew she was under there somewhere...!
Now - my planned itinerary had been to drive on from Southampton to Paisley, near Glasgow, where I was booked for a visit to a Jaguar specialist garage for Puss to have her annual pampering and MoT test. Since I was still in Torquay, I decided the almost 500 miles from there to Paisley was too much to tackle in one day, so I hastily found some ovenight accommodation in Warrington. On Tuesday, I had a trouble-free and snow-free (at least on the roads) drive up to there.

It is worth a mention here that I used Airbnb to find accommodation. Bed and Breakfasts seem to have become very expensive, as are the Travelodge-type motels when booking at short-notice, but through Airbnb, I have been able to find very acceptable self-catering accommodation at a much more reasonable rate.

I drove on to Paisley on Wednesday, where I had booked another self-catering apartment for two nights (through Airbnb) to use as a base while the car was at the garage. At around 200 miles from Warrington to Paisley, this was not an all-day drive, so as I approached the Lake District, I decided to take a chance on calling un-announced on our friends, Ian and Andrea, who moved from Skye to a village near Penrith a couple of months ago. Luckily, they were home, so I had a lovely break in my journey chatting with them and seeing their lovely new (old) home.

Ian and Andrea at their characterful Cumbrian cottage
I spent the day in Paisley - without a car - so wandered about the town a good deal. In common with many once-industrial towns in the UK - it is a town of stark contrasts. There is a modern and smart traffic-free High Street filled with glossy shops, and there are a number of fine historic buildings. I also found a lovely park featuring a fascinating and unique cast iron fountain. But stray into the back-streets (only a stone's throw from the High Street) and much decay and dereliction is all too evident. Empty shops are everywhere, and the streets are not being maintained or cleaned. Wander further from the slick centre of the town, and many tired-looking aged industrial buildings stand alongside more modern units, most of them no doubt providing local employment and essential services.

Grand Central Fountain, Fountain Gardens
The fountain features dolphins, herons, cherubs and four life-size walruses
Former Post Office, now Wetherspoons pub/restaurant
Sheriff Court, St James Street
Back Sneddon Street - just a short walk from the above
Former warehouses of the major Scottish grocery chain - Galbraith Stores Ltd,
Currently disused
Today - Friday - I have driven home from Paisley. For much of the journey, I had the wipers keeping the rain off the screen. But there was little traffic, so I enjoyed giving Puss a stretch of her wheels - she is definitely a Highland cat! As I crossed the Skye bridge, a miracle occurred - blue patches appeared between the grey of the sky, and by the time I approached Roskhill, the sun was shining brightly.

It's good to be home!

Back in her natural Highlands habitat...
Loch Linnhe, near Fort William 

Friday, 23 February 2018

Skye Roads

When Skye was first populated by humans, the sensible residents stayed close to the shores and travelled about by boat. Simple paths were sufficient to get between the scattered farmsteads and crofts in a township.

Time moved on, and the need for wheeled transport became greater – though it was well into the 20th century before coastal ‘puffer’ boats ceased to visit piers around the island bringing in supplies and taking out produce.

However, rough tracks were built around the shores and over the moors to connect the various coastal communities, and as over time some of the communities grew larger, better surfaced roads were constructed. Many of the older tracks have now disappeared back into the moor. Single track roads are still the only way of getting to the far-flung tips of the island.

Almost gone - a disused gated track leads onto the moor. 
By the middle of the 20th century, Skye had a widespread network of roads, both inland, and around the coast. However, all the roads were single-track, and barely able to cope with local traffic, let alone the cars belonging to the increasing numbers of visitors. It was from the 1960s to the early 2000s that saw significant improvement, with the start of the reconstruction and realignment of many of the single track roads to create two-way modern highways to connect the largest settlements of Broadford, Portree, Dunvegan, Armadale and Uig.

Typical single track road - roads like this provide access to the far tips of Skye.
Good for dog-walking in winter when they are very quiet..
Re-alignment of the single track roads when two-way roads were built
has left sections of old road like this all over the island.
A modern Skye main road
The Skye Bridge opened in 1995, providing a fixed-link from the mainland at Kyle of Lochalsh. Originally a toll bridge, it became free to cross from December 2004.

Today, Skye’s roads are suffering again. A slight increase in the island’s population has led to an increase in building and renovation works, meaning heavy lorries are plying the single track roads more suited to horse and cart. Plus - a continued increase in tourism means that all the roads are busier, especially in summer. For the most part, the main roads don’t go to the most popular tourist destinations, so again many of the old, single-track roads are carrying far more traffic than was ever envisaged.

Add to that, a general lack of maintenance over the years, leading to blocked drainage ditches and cracks in the road surface going unattended, then it has only taken one winter of harsh weather (we’ve had a lot of snow and rain this year) and many of the roads have returned to being little better than rutted and pot-holed cart tracks.

Weather damage this winter is extensive, and is costing £millions to repair.