6/21 Roamin’ Solo Day Three: More Fairies, Seals, and a Luggage Reunion

I woke up today with a traditional Scottish breakfast at the hotel. A traditional Scottish breakfast consists of eggs, a tomato, sausage, bacon, baked beans, and bread. This isn’t exactly the healthiest way to start out the day, but hey, when in Rome (or in this case Scotland)…

I had some time to kill before my bus departed for Dunvegan, so I roamed around Portree some more and found a hiking trail just outside the town. I didn’t have much time to do a lot of hiking, but I went down a few trails and checked out some more of the scenery. As I mentioned previously about being told that one could experience all four seasons on the Isle of Skye in a single day, this ended up being one of those days.

Jaime decided to go to Dunvegan as well, and when we met up at the bus stop, he showed me a hiking trail just south of the castle that had some interesting sights. Since we were going to have about four and a half hours there before the bus back to Portree, there was going to be a lot of time to explore Dunvegan.

The bus ride to Dunvegan was, as all the bus rides on the Isle of Skye, very scenic. The weather was cloudy, so it wasn’t as nice of a day as the day before, but still amazing scenery. The bus crossed the Fairy Bridge (more on that later), and we arrived at Dunvegan Castle in about 45 minutes.

Upon arriving in Dunvegan the weather started to clear up a bit, so it appeared that this was going to be a nice day after all. After a pretty cold morning, the weather heated up a tad as well.

Dunvegan Castle is the ancestral seat of the MacLeod clan (the same clan from “Highlander”), who still inhabit the castle, which is said to be the oldest inhabited castle in Scotland. The rock that the castle sits upon has been defended for over two thousand years.

When entering the castle, I noticed that I was not going to be able to take photography inside, which I was hoping I was going to be able to do because there were several things I wanted to photograph for research. The main thing I wanted to see was the Fairy Flag, or “Am Bratach Sith” in Gaelic, which is an ancient relic steeped in legend, though it wasn’t much to look at. Because I wasn’t able to take a picture of the flag, I bought a postcard with a picture of it instead. The Fairy Flag is a very old, tattered piece of cloth, but there are numerous tales as to its origins, some linking it to the crusades, and some linking it to the supernatural.

Here is a brief rundown of its supernatural origins:

Legend has it that the fourth chief Ian Ciar MacLeod (or his father Malcolm), married a fairy woman and she had his son. The fairy woman’s father was not happy with her marrying a mortal, but made a compromise and let her stay in the human world for one year. The reason was because fairies are immortal and mortals aren’t (except in “Highlander”), so he didn’t want her to get too attached and have to live with a broken heart for eternity. After the year was up, she had to return to the fairy folk and they departed ways at the Fairy Bridge about three miles from Dunvegan Castle.

Upon leaving she told MacLeod to not leave their child alone and to keep it happy, because she could hear its cries all the way to the otherworld, and it would break her heart. Well, one night there was a big party at Dunvegan Castle and MacLeod was caught up in all the dancing and partying, and the child was left alone briefly in the Fairy Tower and started to cry. The fairy woman heard the cries and came to the child’s aid and wrapped it in the Fairy Flag. When those at the castle found the child wrapped in the flag they were dumbfounded.

When the child grew up he remembered the words his mother had told him that night when she wrapped him in the Fairy Flag. She said that the flag had magical powers and when waved, the fairies would come to the aid of the MacLeod clan.

The flag is said to have three uses with two already used during the Middle Ages and one remaining. The first use was during a battle with the MacDonald clan, in which the MacLeods were drastically outnumbered. When the flag was waved a fairy army swooped in and turned the tide of the battle. The second use was during a time when all the cattle on the Isle of Skye became very sick with disease. This disease threatened to wipe out the cattle population and would cause a famine. After the flag was waved the cattle were returned to health by the fairies and all was well.

During World War II, members of the MacLeod clan carried pictures of the flag on them during the Battle of Britain, and all of them survived. The MacLeods also agreed to bring the flag to the cliffs of Dover to wave it if the Germans invaded the United Kingdom, but it ended up not being necessary.

The room which contains the Fairy Flag is called the Fairy Room, and is believed to be extremely haunted with supernatural beings. The world-famous Scottish romantic writer Sir Walter Scott (“Ivanhoe,” “Rob Roy”) spent the night in the Fairy Room and wrote of his feelings of being in touch with the supernatural.

Another relic on display was a large medieval drinking horn that holds a bottle and a half of claret. Each MacLeod chief must drain the horn without falling over to be initiated as the clan chief. The Dunvegan Cup was also on display, which is about 11 inches in height with elaborate inscriptions and an engraving of 1493 when it was made. Walter Scott referred to the cup in “The Lord of the Isles.”

Dunvegan Castle was also the last hiding place for Bonnie Prince Charlie before his exile to France after the battle of Culloden, and there are several relics in Dunvegan that belonged to him, including a lock of his hair. There was also a pin cushion embroidered by Flora MacDonald, the Jacobite heroine who helped the prince escape.

After walking around the castle a bit I went to check out the gardens surrounding it. These gardens were absolutely amazing with strange looking flowers, plants, and trees. There was a large water garden with two waterfalls whose splashing sounds added to the beauty and fragrant smells of the garden to bombard the senses. During Walter Scott’s visit he commented on the gardens surrounding the castle “as to correspond with the highest tone of superstition.” Like the previous day at the Faerie Glen, there was a sense that the “wee folk” were close by.

I met back up with Jaime down at the boat dock where we decided to go look at the seal colony out in Loch Dunvegan, where the Atlantic Ocean feeds into the castle and village.. The “Ceol Na Mara,” or song of the sea in Gaelic, swept its natural harmonious tune as we boarded the tiny boat and ventured out into the loch. It was a nice change of pace to ride in a boat after all the other modes of transportation I had been using thus far in the trip.

There were numerous seals out on the rocks, and you could see how high the tide rises by seeing the seaweed all over the little islands where the seals rested between tides. There were also several baby seals that were recently born, and a few seals swimming around in the water catching fish. In the boat we were able to get very close to the seals, and it made me wonder what they were thinking as they stared at us going by. You could tell they were used to all the tourists because they were not afraid at all when we got very close to them.

After visiting the seals we headed off to look for the hiking trail Jaime had found in a brochure earlier that day at the Portree visitor information center, called the Two Churches Walk. We walked south of Dunvegan Castle but walked right past one of the entrance gates until we reached the town of Dunvegan, where the two churches the trail was named for were located and had entrances to the trail as well. One of the churches was still standing and looked fully functional while the other one was in ruins and had graves scattered throughout the inside.

High up on a hill behind the ruined church stood a five ton stone pillar, called the Duirinish Stone, which was found on a beach in southern Skye. The stone was erected on the hill in 2000 to mark the millennium, with a time capsule buried beneath it. The erecting of the stone was a part of a millennium festival of Celtic culture for the Duirinish people.

We hiked further up the path and there was a cow standing right in the middle of the trail. As we got closer the cow started staring at us and we were afraid that it was going to charge at us, but then it nonchalantly took a crap on the trail while walking off and continued the deed while it was walking. That is quite a talent! We then carefully walked further down the trail, trying not to step in cow droppings.

It was at this point of the day that it heated up probably the hottest it had been since I had been on Skye, or in Scotland for that matter. It got so hot I had to shed the jacket, especially since I was hiking down a long trail, which was making me burn up even worse. The midges were out in full effect as well, but I had my midge repellant with me (fortunately not in my luggage in Broadford), so I put some on. It worked pretty well. Even though I was still walking through swarms of midges hitting my face, they weren’t landing on me or biting.

The trail then twisted into the woodlands which were very thick and lush. After awhile I could begin to see the castle in a clearing as we were on a large hill up above it. The trail then twisted down towards the castle and we found the gate we had missed earlier when looking for the trail.

We then ate at the MacLeod’s Table restaurant, and I tried this soup called Scotch broth, which was very good, and no, there wasn’t any Scotch in it. I also had some seared beef with mashed potatoes and peas.

We still had an hour to kill so Jaime went back to the boat docks to relax and I found another trail in a different part of the woodlands around Dunvegan Castle.

This trail was awesome, and had brightly colored flowers, moss, and clovers everywhere. After I found it, I wished that I had more time to explore it more thoroughly, but had to head back to the bus stop early in case the bus showed up ahead of time. Then the suspense began…

All day I had this on my mind, but I tried my best not to worry about it. I was under a severe time crunch with this trip to Dunvegan. The bus back to Portree was scheduled to arrive at the Portree square at 5:29, while the last remaining bus down to Broadford left at 5:30. So basically, I had a minute to switch buses, and if I was late getting back I would be stranded again. Taxis on the Isle of Skye are very expensive at 40 pounds (80 dollars) to get from Portree to Broadford, and with it being 25 miles it was too far for me to walk.

I informed the bus driver of my plight and he assured me that we would get to Portree in time, which was good. However, on the way back I kept staring at the clock and the road signs hoping that we wouldn’t get delayed somehow. One of the bus stops was at the Co-op in Portree, and the day before coming back from Uig there were lots of people there hauling on tons of groceries and a big screen TV, which caused a big delay. If this were to happen again, I decided I was just going to get off the bus there and try to run to the town square, though it was pretty far and would be hard to make it in time.

As we approached Portree we had 7 minutes before the other bus was leaving so I had my fingers crossed as we approached the Co-op. We had been making good time but got stuck behind a car at an intersection that wouldn’t go even though it had several chances, which was really ticking me off as I watched time ticking away. Fortunately, there was no one standing at the Co-op bus stop though, so we didn’t even stop and got back to Portree square with 4 minutes to spare.

My connecting bus was sitting there at the stop and I jumped off the bus and ran onto the other bus. This was one of the citylink buses going down to Glasgow, which were more expensive and did not accept the all-day bus passes for the local buses. However, the jolly bus driver saw it in my hand as I was digging through my pounds and told me not to worry about it and he would just let me ride back to Broadford for free since I had bought the pass, even though he wasn’t supposed to. So basically, I went from possibly having to spend 40 pounds to get a taxi to Broadford if I would have missed the bus, to getting down there for free instead. These strange misadventures would continue, but lady luck continued to smile my way…

As I arrived in Broadford and went to check in at the Dunollie Hotel, it was a different person at reception than the nice lady I had met the day before who had my bag in her office. I told the guy at reception that I had a reservation and he couldn’t find it in the computer and said that the hotel was unfortunately full. Evidently when I had cancelled the day before, I hadn’t been put into the computer for the next day. This was bad because Broadford is a tiny village and I think there were only maybe two hotels in the whole town, and there were no more buses out of Broadford because they had all stopped running.

When I told him I had left my bag there the day before however, everything changed. He said the lady told him to make sure I got a room if I was able to make it back that day (evidently she thought I might get stranded again). He said that all the single rooms were full but there was a double available, and he would upgrade me for free. Not only was this an upgrade to a bigger room with a bigger bed, the view out the window was absolutely incredible, as this was obviously one of their best rooms.

Right next to the hotel was a grocery store that was open until 10, which was odd because it seemed like everything on Skye shut down at 6. I called my parents to tell them I was still alive, then grabbed some food at the store and headed back to my hotel room. I opened the window so I could hear the waves crashing below and just stared out the window in awe for awhile, watching birds and taking it all in. This was my last night on my favorite place in the world and I wanted to savor every minute of it. I then took out my laptop and began working on my journals and recording the vast amount of material for my book I had gotten so far on the isle now that I was reunited with my luggage, surrounded by the sights and sounds of paradise.

I went to sleep to the sounds of birds and crashing waves…then, I awoke an hour later. Evidently Mother Nature had turned the Skye dial from summer to winter and it was freezing. This was bone chilling cold too, and I went to shut the window before I had to build an igloo in the middle of the room. This day was both the hottest and coldest day I had had the entire trip in Scotland, and it made me remember what the couple told me on the train two days before about experiencing all the seasons in a day on Skye. I cranked the heat up all the way and then fell back asleep.

 

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