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Over The Sea To Skye

Shaped by the powerful forces of nature and history, Skye remains wonderfully
magical in spite of its popularity.


"Speed bonny boat, like a bird on the wing,
'Onward' the sailors cry;
Carry the lad that's born to be king
Over the sea to Skye"

Skye Boat Song

There is considerably more to the Isle of Skye than that bonny boat speeding across the Minch towards it, carrying a misguided young man born to be king, ignominiously dressed as Flora Macdonald's maidservant, fleeing reprisals after his unfortunate attempt to claim sovereignty over the British Isles*.

Volumes have been written about this extraordinary island and guide books provide the details. When they slung a bridge across from Kyle of Lochalsh to Kyleakin about ten years ago, people (mostly visitors rather than locals who were shrewd enough to know how much easier their lives were to become) said things would never be the same again; the island would lose its special magic and become an extension of the mainland.

They were wrong. Nothing could destroy that special magic and nothing seems to have changed much except that one doesn't have to queue up for the ferry that crossed the narrow Kyle in minutes but could keep you hanging about on the pier for hours in the summer, impatient for your holiday to begin or for your next ferry from Uig on Skye on to the Outer Isles. The bridge itself, said to be the longest single span outside Australia, is elegant. The roads seem no more crowded, the scenery is just as spectacular, the choice of activity and entertainment as diverse as ever. The influx of tourists had already happened and without them Skye might have sunk into poverty. (Visitors should always remember that the majority of the population of Skye is Presbyterian and respect the fact that the Sabbath is kept holy -- up to a point.)

From the Aird of Sleat (pronounced like the slates on a roof) in the south to the ruin of Duntulm Castle in the north, the island is shaped like a lumpy, deformed lobster claw. In Gaelic it is called An t-Eilean Sgiatheanach -- the Winged Island (referring to the winged promontories of Trotternish in the northeast and Durinish and Waternish in the northwest), but I prefer the miss-shaped claw. It is gashed by deep fiord-like inlets, ridged with the fearsome Cuillins, carpeted with heathery moorland, studded with extraordinary volcanic rock formations and steeped in history -- bloody, sometimes legendary, always romantic. Divided geographically, each peninsula is neatly bounded by its river or sea loch and each has its own character, its own history and legends, its own community. Each is unique and if I had to advise a visitor with limited time where to explore first, I would find it impossible -- there is so much. Every time I go to Skye I discover some new place and I know islanders who have lived there since birth and still don't know every corner.

The full text of this article is available in the Autumn 2006 issue of Scottish Life.

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