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Published: August 1st 2017
Handa IslandScotland 2 - 2017
Walking the plank
June – 15th
Continuing our travels through Scotland. Islands – Handa and the Isle of Skye.
There’s a strange light coming from somewhere outside our motorhome. Fine shafts of yellow appear through the slats of the screen on the window above our heads as we open our eyes to a new dawn. It must be that rare commodity up here in Scotland, sunshine. A peek outside reveals an azure sky shared with a few fluffy cumulous clouds heading south. Time then to head for Handa Island, a ten-minute ferry ride from the tiny harbour at Tarbet, a few miles down the road, before it starts to rain.
Handa is one island we have missed on previous journeys. It’s a privately owned, boggy, rocky, treeless uninhabited island, promising a four hour walk around its perimeter with the serious prospect of being dive-bombed by nesting Arctic skuas and Bonxies (Great Skuas) at this time of the year. Ferries leave the tiny harbour of Tarbet whenever there are enough passengers and we were there early enough to catch the first ten-minute boat ride to
Attack! - attack! - attack!
Spitfires overhead! Being dive-bombed by locally nesting Arctic skuas!
the lovely Robinson Crusoe beach on the south of the island, where it’s a requirement to walk the plank to avoid splashing knee deep into the crystal water! The cliffs and sea stacks on the island support the largest guillemot colony in Europe we’re led to believe, and the crowded ledges of bustling birds and the many, many thousands bobbing on the waves offshore would certainly seem to support this. In addition to these vast numbers of guillemots and razorbills, there are shags and kittiwakes, common terns, stiff-winged fulmars and …… puffins galore, much to everyone’s delight! Tracks and boardwalks around the island, meticulously maintained by Scottish Wildlife Trust volunteers, help in no small way to make this a truly magical experience. We will certainly come again if only for the joy of watching the daring spitfire antics of the hundreds – and yes, I mean hundreds, of skuas. Remember to keep your hat on!
Our passion for those places other travellers don’t reach, took us the long route south towards Ullapool via the coast road out to Drumbeg and Stower, but the single track with passing places and few convenient points to stop made us question
the value of this extremely tortuous and slow route. The one highlight, should you chance this way, is the opportunity to take a seat in a quiet corner of the secret garden in the Drumbeg Candle and Tearooms, for tea and scones with lashings of jam and cream! Watch out for the sign that says, ’If you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours,’ donated by us, to join the many other quirky sayings dotted around the walls.
Somewhere on our itinerary we have a list of a few special things which would brighten our day should we get very lucky. It goes without saying that all of those birds on Handa Island feature on this list, with puffins in particular, but there are a few more we have promised Jan and Trevor, our travelling companions from Aus. At the top you’ll find those ever elusive otters and we still have to come up with the goods on that one. There might be a better chance of finding White tailed Eagles if we get really lucky, and red deer if we chance to be in the right place at the right time.
And that time and place came soon after we returned to the main road. Janice, observant as ever, spotted them; alert, ears erect, apprehensive, watching us pass, perhaps a hundred yards away: a trio of magnificent red deer stags! Our two motorhomes screeched to a halt at the nearest pull-in and we raced back, breathless and excited, to see them, staring, bright eyed, checking us out, before bounding off across the water, vanishing into the tall grass and up and over the rise. In all my years I have not been that close to these magnificent beasts. Thank you Janice.
If you share our passion for gardening you might like to join us for a walk around Inverewe Gardens, managed by the National Trust for Scotland. Blessed with the fresh breeze and mild weather of the Gulf Stream along Scotland’s west coast, these gardens host plants collected from around the world: bamboos, tree-ferns, rhododendrons and azaleas, giant gunneras, magnificent trees and lilies in tranquil pools. This is not our first visit to Inverewe and it surely won’t be our last; we’re in awe of the lush walled garden and the diversity and creativity of the planting.
Not to be missed by anyone with green-fingers.
Time to redesign our own garden back home, sadly being neglected yet again whilst we travel.
OK. We promised you Islands, so let’s move on to Skye. Having travelled this way a number of times before, we’re keen to investigate a few of the places we’ve previously missed. To that end, there's a plan to drive to the end of the road into Elgol, promising a good campsite and fine views of the Cuillins, those magnificent mountains in the south of the island. It’s the best part of an hour’s drive along the narrow road to reach Elgol, first spotted from the top of a dramatically steep hill overlooking the harbour – but there’s no sign of a campsite: just a few houses, a wee school, a shack or two and a few moored boats. We had indeed been misled by our guidebook, and there’s not another campsite within an hour’s drive or more – back the way we came! It’s getting late in the day and enquiries about campsites at the local shop cum café confirmed our fate.
But in our experience there’s nothing quite like a little sweet-talking to bring on a
View towards the Cuillins
severe case of good fortune. The lovely young lady in the shop at the top of the hill was just closing up for the night, keys in hand, when we tearfully pleaded for help. ‘If you can be gone before the first boat out in the morning, you can park just there, across the road, for the night,’ she told us with a beaming smile.
How about that? It beats the long drive back to the campsite at Portree where the tents were all blown away in the storm in the middle of the night the last time we camped here on Skye!
Every visitor to Skye will eventually get to take the circular tour around the Trotternish Peninsula to tick a few boxes: Lealt Falls, The Old Man of Storr and Kilt Rock, but it’s peak holiday time and there are cars and people everywhere; the single track roads are making driving a chore, the car parks are all full to overflowing – and it’s horribly grey and drizzling again. Remind me never to come to Skye in July or August again. It’s far more peaceful in April or May, June or September.
With fond memories of our time in Shetland and Orkney, we headed for Dun Beag, an Iron Age broch, or fort. It’s a delightful walk up the hill, nodding politely and apologizing to the recently shorn sheep for disturbing their peace as we pass, and treading carefully between their droppings. These circular stone fortresses are truly fascinating with an inner and outer wall housing a staircase and domestic quarters in their day, thought to be a few hundred years BC. Dun Beag (small Fort) is somewhat better preserved than its big brother, Dun Mor, nearby.
Janice and I walked the delightful valley path to the Fairy Pools at Glenbrittle some years ago and our memories of this encouraged us to share the experience with Jan and Trevor. This proved to be another fruitless journey when we discovered hundreds of cars parked for miles along the road, trails of hikers like ants on a birthday cake, and all car parks full to overflowing. We don’t do crowds on holiday. The better option at this time of the year might be a tour of the Talisker Distillery at Carbost for another wee dram.
Home of the Talisker Whisky Distillery
rain or shine, we’ll be heading back to the mainland and then on to the glorious islands of Mull and iona. Be sure to join us!
David and Janice
The Grey haired nomads
Scroll down for more pictures – and don’t miss the panorama show at the top!
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