I’ve got one word for you: Elgol

The Isle of Skye continues to surprise and delight. It has everything you need for a well-rounded holiday: awesome countryside walks, beautiful beaches, castles and wildlife, pubs with stunning views, and Elgol.

What’s an Elgol, you ask? Well it’s a village on the shores of Loch Scavaig towards the end of the Strathaird peninsula, of course!

Let me back track a little bit. So we’d just got back to the Ullinish Country Lodge, our 3-night home on the Isle of Skye realizing that we had to check out the next morning. And we were sad. We wanted to stay longer. With nowhere to be and no forward plan other than more Scotland, why not book ourselves one more night, maybe somewhere else on this delightful island?

We chose a small 2-room B&B near the ferry terminal at Armadale. But what to do, what to explore in the mean time?

Cue Elgol. Or rather, The Road to Elgol. I don’t know if this is a thing, like the Road to Hana on Maui or the Great Coast Road in Australia, but if not, why not. Skye needs to put this on one of its “Must-Do” lists and get on that marketing because it’s a beautiful single track road through stunning countryside, around Lochs and mountains and adorable little villages that, in the sunshine and 30c temps of the day, almost made me want to move there.

You might note that I use the words beautiful and stunning a lot. I’m not a fan of repetition of words while writing. Maybe instead I’ll replace them going forward with the word chicken.

We checked out pretty early from our lodge as we wanted to get on our way.

Sunset over Ullinish

Okay, not quite that early. The above panorama is from sunset the night before. These are the photos from the morning.

Oh hai!

Anyway, we set off for our day trip.

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The chicken countryside continued its shock and awe campaign as the chicken vistas came one after the other.

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Okay, maybe chicken doesn’t work. You’ll just have to put up with beautiful and stunning.

First on our day trip to our B&B near the ferry terminal? Portree, the largest village on the Isle and only a 30 minute single track drive away. Our plan was to have an early luncheon and walkabout in Portree, then drive The Road to Elgol where we’d see if we couldn’t grab ourselves a seat on one of the boat trips that went exploring the surrounding lochs.

Portree is, how do I say this nicely… it’s a town, really THE town. So it’s very busy, especially at the height of summer. I found it a little culture shocky having just come from the serene nature and beautiful vistas of Struan. I felt like I was an alien dropped in the middle of the real-life hustle and bustle of Portree. We had a quick lunch and a beer at the Bosville Hotel and stopped in the Co-Operative for provisions. And then left.

So that, dear reader, is all I have to say about Portree. I have nothing to show you, though. Because for some reason we did not snap (or keep!) any pics in Portree. Not a one. Not even of the popular harbour. I know, I’m a little sad for myself too. Luckily photographer Gernot Keller took care of that for us (courtesy of wikipedia).

But anyway, Elgol!

From Portree to Elgol was only just over an hour, not a bad little drive. We stopped in Broadford to get the time lapse camera set up, of which you’ll get to watch in a later post, I promise!

Until then, here’s some more info on Elgol.

And yes, more seal spotting! Have you ever wondered what the difference between seals and sea lions are? I know I have.

Sea Lions have ears.

Okay, it’s a little more than that. Seals move around on their bellies and have small flippers where as sea lions walk around on their larger flippers and are really, really loud. Seals are more chill, easy-going, hang out in a little U shapes on rocks. I like seals.

So when we got to Elgol we immediately got ourselves on one of the many boat trips into Loch Scavaig so we could spot some more. A seal a day, I say.

The Loch was fairly choppy, but the ride was quite comfortable. We were heading into this little inlet off Loch Scavaig that you can barely see unless you zoom in on google maps. Go on, try it. I’ll wait here.

My co-boaters weren’t all as excited as I was.

The Cuillin Mountains were not shy. Clear skies gave us incredible views.

Now in the next photo, I’ll have to give you a bit of context. So one other reason to take a boat trip into this little cove is that there is this crazy Lochside walk. This boat will ferry you out and drop you off so you can explore more on foot.

In the next photo, if you look at the upper part of the rock, starting just above the halfway point on the photo on the left you’ll see a line in the rock, as if it were carved there for such a purpose.

Yep, that’s the trail. And its name? The Bad Step.

No thank you! I much prefered looking at the rugged shoreline rock formations from the boat, cheers.

Check out the water line on the rocks, further proof of the lack of rain — them’s drought levels!

Either that or it’s the tide. Don’t listen to me, there’s like 20 photos to go. I’ll shut up for a bit.

You can barely see him, but there’s a wee seal swimming in the next photo that finally made the unhappy green shirted boy scramble to the edge of the boat vying for a view.

My life for a telephoto! Sadly my Olympus Pen only has a pancake lens. Makes travelling a hell of a lot easier and my day packs lighter.

But seals.

I can see why they like this little protected cove. The water is far calmer and except for the annoying boat or two, incredibly quiet.

Note the little building in the photograph above. That’s the Loch Coruisk Memorial Hut. Hiking enthusiasts are dropped off at a little metal dock on the shore for their day of fun in the Cuillin Hills surrounding Loch Coruisk which is just on the other side of those rocks on the left.

The hut itself was built as a memorial to two hikers who lost their lives on Ben Nevis in the 1950s. Apparently it has two rooms and can sleep up to nine, in case you fancy a relax after hiking the Bad Step.

Oh! And we spotted sea birds. I think this is a flock of black guilles, if you are into that kind of thing.

After checking out the seals and mountain views, we headed back to shore. Elgol Harbour was bustling!

Note the girls in wetsuits. Yes the water is that cold.

I highly recommend the Bella Jane for your Loch Scavaig seal stalking and hiking jaunt. They were super friendly and offer a bunch of services. We chose the £18pp 1.5hr Mini Return Trip which doesn’t allow a stop off to explore Loch Coruisk which suited us just fine.

We jumped back in the car for a trip up to the top of the hill for a picnic with our Portree Co-Operative finds. The flies weren’t nearly as bad by the shore. But the views, they were, yet again, stunning.

And that, my friends, is the delightful Elgol overlooking Loch Scavaig, with views of the Cuillin Range. I hope you enjoyed this little detour on our way to the Hottest B&B in Scotland. And I don’t mean that in a good way.

Say no more.

Never mind the Brexit, today’s all about Scotland

My phone blew up this morning over Britain leaving the European Union. Or rather, the referendum vote to leave. Like most Londoners, if you look at the map, I would also have voted to stay. As did Scotland. After all, they just voted two years ago to stay in the United Kingdom, and now the ungrateful Britons do this to them?

You know what I say, Scotland? Get thee to the beach!

If you are visiting Castle Dunvegan, you would be doing yourselves a disservice to not pop up to the beautiful little beach at the tip of the peninsula in Claigan aptly named Coral Beach. It’s just a 10 minute drive. We came across a family who walked from the castle – and being the good samaritans we are, we shoved the family of four in our rental and drove them back to the Dunvegan car park. After all, it was 30F and no shade. Living in Los Angeles, I know what that’s like. The sunburn alone…

Here’s how you get to Coral Beach.

From the Dunvegan Castle car park, take a right and keep going. The single track road will take you to, well, the end of the single track road. There’s a car park there. Shove your vehicle up against the hedges and be ready. There are flies a plenty ready to become your very best friend.

It’ll then be a nice 1 mile stroll to the beach. Takes about 25 minutes. In the hot, burning sun? Feels like forever. Don’t forget your water! Hydration is key.

Speaking of, there’s a little stream that needs crossing. I can imagine this being an issue if there has been recent rain.

Like most of the Isle of Skye, this is crofting land. Crofting, if you haven’t seen me define it for you before, dear reader, is the traditional social system in Scotland for farming. A croft is a farm. So on that croft you might find either cows or sheep. And on this out and back trail you may run in to either.

The sheep on this croft were smart. They found whatever shade they could, I imagine, in order to avoid the blinding sun. Which for us made a beautiful beach day and stunning clear blue skies almost unheard of in Scotland.

Turning back to look where we came from, you can see that the trail is really quite pronounced thanks to the sheep tracks. Loch Dunvegan in the background.

You come to the top of a little hill and voila – ahead you can see the beach as it sits at the mouth of Loch Dunvegan. The far island is Isay, one of many uninhabited islands off of the Isle of Skye.

In fact, right next to Isay is a small island called Clett. Apparently legend (and the BBC) has it that singer Donovan owned it and sold it off foot by foot to tourists. You couldn’t make any changes, couldn’t build, stay overnight or alter the island in any way. I imagine it’s a lot like owning a star.

Note the animal tracks. They also like going to the Coral Beaches.

A brief look back at the track and the tourists who decided to climb the hill. Better they stay there and not clutter the beach, I say.

There were a fair amount of people on the beach. Some who’d climbed up the rocky outcrop behind. Locally this outcrop is known as Ghrobain.

The little island out in the Loch in direct view of the beach is called Lampay. Only 150m or so offshore, it could be an ideal swim. Apparently at low tide a causeway is revealed so you can walk across.

I have this thing with sticking my toes in water. You may have seen me do this at Loch Lommond. The water there was pretty chilly. Here? Downright icey despite the afternoon sun.
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It even turned my toes blue!

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Jk.

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With the skies so blue reflecting in the sun drenched waters, you’d almost mistake this place for a tropical locale. Or perhaps more Mediterranean. Maybe even Spain.

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The Coral Beach gets its name for being made of coral. No, that’s not true. It’s actually made of little bleached skeletons of Red Coralline seaweed and bits of little colorful shells.

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A panoramic view almost shows how beautiful it is here. LA’s beaches wishes they were this stunning.

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Being so unbelievably hot for Scotland, we’d noticed a distinct lack of something incredibly important to hot weather.

Beer.

Where are the pubs?

You’re in the countryside. On an island. Off the Highlands. Of course there isn’t a pub on every corner, no local in which to bide your time. And to get to the nearest one? You have to drive. I didn’t rate our chances on single track roads against drunk drivers. Though oddly you never see a car in a ditch on the side of the road.

So we decided to chance it at the Stein Inn, the oldest Inn on the Isle of Skye, says its website. And I believe it. To get there is a 20-30 minute drive (depending on the sheep in the road) from Dunvegan Castle on the A850, then the delightfully tiny B886. Mind the cattle grates in the road.

The Stein Inn is quaintly perched on the shores of aptly named Loch Bay on the Waternish Peninsula. The B886 will drop you directly in front of the pub. Car park is behind.

Proof of the age of the Inn hung over the doorway. 1790, not too shabby.

The pub is a small, cozy wood paneled affair, everything you’d expect a pub in the far reaches of Scotland to be. And today, on this heat wave day of days, it was bloody hot. The publican was not happy, practically dripping in sweat, using bar towels to wipe down his face each chance he got. I doubt he’s usually this grumpy. Tolerance of heat is likely something Scotts don’t usually have in spades.

I knew there was only one tipple that could take away the woes of a summer day by the shore of Loch Bay.

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Glorious cool and refreshing lager. Stella, you charmer.

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This fair haired lass was taking a well deserved nap – I hope she was wearing sunscreen!

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If there were any doubts of the tropical nature of this quiet corner of Skye, this palm tree proved it.

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To give you an idea of where we now are, the hilly land jutting out across the bay is the Dunvegan Peninsula. Just over that hill? Claigan and the Coral Beach.

Kids play on the boat ramp, enjoying a cool off in the Loch.

You can barely see it, but there are a couple of seals out in the calm Loch enjoying the sun. And despite the grumble on the barkeep’s face, he had to have been enjoying it too.

Maybe just a little?

Dunvegan Castle and Gardens, my version of a photo tour

If you are going to the Isle of Skye, go to Dunvegan Castle. It’s a must-do on all the hip kids’ travel lists. Besides, the Clan MacLeod is kind of a big deal around these parts, and this castle has been the clan’s seat for over 800 years. In fact, it’s the 27th Chief we have to thank for opening up his home to the public in 1933.

Thanks, Chief!

The Castle is located in the north west corner of Skye, just one mile north of the village of Dunvegan. Lucky for us, we were only a 20 minute drive away.

So let’s get started!

I noticed immediately how busy it was, chock full of tourists. Although happy for the clan getting all that entrance money (£12 from each of us for entrance to the castle and gardens), it did mean that I had lots of strangers in my photographs. I am one of those photogs that will wait until the tourists clear the area. Sometimes I am not so lucky. This guy below looking at camera features heavily in a few of my pics.

Hello!

If I may be honest, I am not a fan of pebble dash. And at some point in this castle’s illustrious renovation history, someone decided to render the exterior in little tiny pebbles. Pebble dash may have been de rigeur at one point, however I prefer my castle exteriors to be clad in big-ass stones. Perhaps this is the working man’s castle. I’m not judging.

The inside was pretty cool. Lots of museum pieces collected over the years, including some Jacobite relics. They were especially proud of their famous visitors. Photographs of Queen Elizabeth II and Sir Walter Scott lined the walls.

I was more excited about what was happening outside. Lochs and more Lochs.

It was at Castle Dunvegan that I learned about my iPhone’s panorama function. I am hooked.

Now, about those gardens.

There are apparently 1 hectare of land to wander. Although I have no way of measuring a hectare in my brain, I can say the gardens were quite compact, with a few different areas to explore from formal gardens to the vegetable garden. I really enjoyed wandering the more wild, natural parts. The waterfalls were pretty neat too. Nice gardens. Five stars.

Considering how hot it was, the gardens did offer lovely pops of shade to hide in.

And little paths to wander.

Oh, and I mentioned waterfalls. My Olympus Pen did the waterfalls no justice.

The gardens lead to the water where, if you time it correctly, there will be a boat trip in your future!

I was filled with glee to discover that they run seal boat spotting trips on Loch Dunvegan for only £7.50pp. And as we wandered up, we found a boat practically waiting just for us.

View of the boat launch from the castle grounds.

The Clan McLeod’s motto is “Hold Fast”, so this salty gent’s tee shirt is appropriate.

The boat was quite small, so if you are squeamish about water or wake or whatever, these little motor boats might not be for you.

All the more closer to the seals, I say!

Oh, and how about a couple of poorly shot videos?

We got pretty close up to these gentle beasts. Obviously they are quite used to the tourist boats. I wonder if they are as excited to see us as we are them?

 

Lone seal

Something tells me no.

After all that seal excitement, it was time to head back to shore.

Heading back to the castle, I shot off a few choice pics using some of the art scene filters the Olympus Pen has on offer, to varying degrees of success.

And just when I thought I’d got the shot of the day, another tourist photobomb. Such is life in Scotland. It’s kind of a big deal.

 

Here’s a link to Dunvegan Castle’s website for all their opening, closing and other dealings. Pick up a tea towel in the shop! Super cute and easy to pack reminder of your trip in the north west corner of Skye.

Next time I’ll let you in on one of Skye best kept secrets. What’s that, you say?

You’ll just have to wait and see.

Walking and whisky in Scotland

Did you know that most distilleries in Scotland have a claim to fame? The most this or the highest that. Well, Talisker’s claim to fame is that it’s the oldest working distillery on the Isle of Skye.

More on that later, though. It’s time for a walk.

So in my last post, I introduced you, dear reader, to our accommodation for our three night Skye adventure, the delightful Ullinish Country Lodge on the western coast of the Isle of Skye. We’d just spent the good part of a day driving up through the Highlands, had a wicked five course dinner worthy of a Michelin Star (imho) and a restless night’s sleep. That’s right, what a shocker, I had a crap night’s sleep. I’m pretty sure it had everything to do with the fact that, at mid summer, the sun really never set before it was time for it to rise.

Never mind that, we had an island to explore!

Breakfast consisted of Benedict for me (of course) and a coffee. We were planning to tackle the delightful walk to the tidal island of Oronsay, the trail head just a short stroll from the Lodge.

Oronsay is a small hilly island inhabited by grazing sheep. And, my crafty research has turned up that Oronsay is a Norse word for tidal island. There are two around Skye alone, and one further south that comes up when you google maps it.

Go on, check it out, I’ll wait for you.

We double and triple checked when high tide was to make sure we didn’t get accidentally trapped on the island with the sheep. Just in case we brought snacks.

The 3.2mi (5k) walk started, for us, at the car park of the lodge.

A delightful morning greeted us as we hit the Oronsay Path.

There she is, our destination: that little cliff just above that cottage.

A sign at the kissing gate directed us off this patch of road.

We read that the walk could get muddy depending on the whether, but since it hadn’t rained in days, our boots remained unsullied. In case you were wondering, lack of rain is a strange occurrence for Scotland.

We came upon a really beautiful, picturesque gate which lead to the main event of the walk. But my lovely other half is in the pic, and he would absolutely hate me for posting it.

You’re welcome, babe.

And past the gate it just gets better and better:

We crested the hill topped with sheep to find Oronsay just hanging out, waiting to be climbed.

But first! The tidal causeway and Oronsay Beach.

It looks much smaller from far away. This causeway was not in any danger of flooding during our hike. (Phew!)

Can’t stop now, the peak beckons!

A brief look back to Ullinish shows why the Isle of Skye is known for being rugged and wild. Note the little trail created by the sheep. Yeah, we totally followed that.

The views up top are pretty great. You get clear vistas of the other small islands in the lochs as well as to the hilly northwestern Duirinish peninsula with villages on it with such names as Roag and Skinidin.

Wicked.

I didn’t realize when taking the photos of the little pink flowers that sheep poo was everywhere. My face was inches away.

Inches…

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I wish you could see this panorama full size, cause it’s awesome. I just don’t know how to make that happen on this blog thing. Do you??

A few more pics before heading back of the Minginish peninsula.

And with a sigh we head back. We still had a couple hours before the tide thought about coming in, but didn’t want to chance it. Who knows how friendly the sheep actually are???

Remember I mentioned the pretty little gate? Here she is.

It’s much prettier looking the other way.

Ullinish may not be much, but she is beautiful. I don’t know if I could live here year round, especially with all the rain but what a lovely place to visit.

Oh yeah, and there’s the whiskey!

Talisker is the first Scotch I’ve ever had that I actually liked. In fact, I recommend to anyone who does not like whiskey: get thee to a distillery and do a proper tour! Get someone to teach you how to drink it, what the nuances are, the differences before and after you add water or ice or when to swirl or savor. You’ll be glad you did.

Talisker is the oldest working distillery on the Isle of Skye. It’s on Loch Harport in Carbost, a short drive away from our Lodge. Yes, I planned it that way. Never too far from the whiskey.

We took the fancy tour, a two hour walk through and tutored whiskey tasting that cost us £25pp. It now costs £35 and imho it’s worth the extra £££ – go on, splash out! It’s really fun.

They ask you not to take photos on the tour, if only to protect everyone from blowing up. Camera shutters and the Angels Share do not mix!

The water they use in the distilling process comes straight from the moors above. Our tour guide opined that if it didn’t rain soon they would have to stop production.

Noooo!

We were given 6 of their malts taste. If I recall correctly, they had a new make (the clear, moonshine looking drop upper left), then the 10 year, 18, 25, Distillers Edition and the non-chill filtered 57 North.

My fave? The 18, for sure. Highly recommended.

After that wonderful morning walk and an afternoon of whiskey tasting, it was time to relax. On the menu tomorrow? Castles, beaches and sea lions.

Oh my!

The road was long and full of photos

I just watched the most recent episode of Game of Thrones, and even though it may not be shot there, I’m pretty sure we are all thinking that north of the wall is modeled after Scotland.

Lucky for me and my travel companion, our trip north of the wall was lush, green and full of sunshine… and 30C temps.

So we just left Loch Lochy behind and followed the A82 as it turned west, heading for the Isle of Skye.

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Why the Isle of Skye, do you ask? I dare you to google it and not be wowed by the photographs, to be taken in by its beauty. It’s the largest of the Inner Hebrides islands, and it has everything you could want for your summer Scotland vacation: stunning scenery to tramp through, dramatic mountains to climb, castles to visit, beautiful beaches, wildlife to spot, whiskey to try, and pubs with views for days. Even just driving through it gives you something new to look at everywhere you turn.

And this passenger couldn’t wait to get there. I was pretty excited when we reached the Skye Bridge connecting the mainland to the island over Loch Alsh. My iPhone, however, took some shameful photographs.

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And as we put our hotel info into google for directions on the last leg of our journey, we realized that there was still another hour plus of driving. After six hours plus all the stops for the food and photo ops, I was definitely starting to feel the strain. So imagine how my legal driving license carrying partner felt.

Bless.

We were heading to the Ullinish Country Lodge on the western part of the island. I’d found the place when researching, and it looked idyllic. Rustic location, close to walks and not far from some of the sights we were hoping to see: Dunvegan Castle, the coral beaches and, of course, Talisker. It even has one of the highest rated restaurants on the island.

Oh, and the island. Just as beautiful as expected.

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You can always expect a place with daily rainfall to be this lush and green.

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There were little waterfalls everywhere. Some of them frequented by tour buses, of which we did not want to fight for the view.

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As we crossed the interior of the island, the sun still shining strong well after 7pm, we were late for our check in at the lodge. But when we arrived, I almost didn’t even want to get out of the car.

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We quickly checked in and were shown our room, the Harpoort. It was upstairs overlooking the car part, but beyond that… totally Instagram-worthy.

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It had views over Loch Harpoort to the Cuillin Mountains beyond. This was, by far, the best thing about the room: it’s views. The inn itself could use an update, as some of the furnishings seemed a bit tired and may not have been to my taste, but in this writer’s opinion the tariff fit the decor. Other than that, the room was comfortable save for the mattress which I found way to bouncy. I think I even woke myself up when I moved!

Having unpacked and freshened up, we dressed for dinner. This is something I was really looking forward too and is the real highlight of the Ullinish Country Lodge. Dinner and Breakfast are included, and they are delicious.

Your dinner will start with canapés and drinks in the lounge. I didn’t take photographs of any of this, because my priority was to relax and enjoy the pampering. But I did find this one from its website:

lounge

It’s a cute, warm spot with a fireplace and leather sofas. I think my grandparents would have liked the decor a bit more than I, however it was a lovely room for a glass of sparkling wine before dinner. And we were treated like royalty. We chose to take our drinks outside to the patio so as to continue enjoying the view. Shortly thereafter we shuffled in to the dining room for our five course dinner.

I do wish I was into taking photos of my food then (I can’t stop myself now) because everything was so beautifully presented. I felt that my dressing up for dinner was worth it because dinner sure dressed up for me.

After dinner, the guests retired to the lounge for after dinner drinks and conversation. And, to bring this post back to its start, we met a delightful couple, parents to an actor who played a secondary character on Game of Thrones. I was impressed by their son’s chops. They were impressed I wore heels to dinner.

And with that, the sun started its descent, sinking behind the Cuillin’s peaks and softening the sky with its pastel glow.

One last photograph before I say goodnight.

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Goodnight!