We were a bit sad to leave Viewfield House on Skye this morning. It’s been the most perfect accommodation – part historic home and part museum, beautiful gardens and amazing views. But good things await us further on in Scotland, so it was time to move on.
Our transit van picked us up at 10.50 am for the transfer to Kyle of Lochalsh. It’s a drive of just over 30 km, travelling south east and then east. The mood of the sky has changed every day we’ve been on Skye. This morning the clouds were hugging the contours of the Cullin Mountains, sliding over the peaks and rolling down the far sides. I can’t recall seeing clouds do that very often.
We crossed the Skye Bridge into Kyle of Lochalsh. Barely visible alongside the bridge and down to the right, is the white cottage that was once the home of author Gavin Maxwell. He hand-raised an otter here and wrote a best selling book about it – Ring of Bright Water. The bridge was built in 1997, providing an alternative to the ferry crossing for vehicles for the first time.
Our driver, Peggy, dropped us off at the end of the platform. This was the smallest train we’ve been on so far – only two carriages. Marg and I walked to the first carriage. Marg took a seat. There was no room in the luggage rack, so the driver said it was fine to leave them in the doorway as long as I stood with them so they could be easily moved if necessary. That suited me as it was only a 13 minute journey and we were leaving the train at the first stop. Janie and Neil travelled in the second carriage.
This rail service is known as the Kyle Line. Today’s journey took us north east along the Inner Sound coastline to the small village of Plockton on the shores of Loch Carron. I spotted some hairy coos at Duirinish, just a short distance out of Plockton.
We were expecting to be picked up by hotel staff and transferred to our accommodation. We waited about 15 minutes and no one turned up. Four Americans, also doing this tour, but independent of our group, waited with us. I eventually rang the hotel and they were surprised to learn that we were waiting for them. They were expecting us on a later train. A member of staff turned up in her car, and asked if it would be okay to transfer us in two groups. We said that would be fine and invited the other group to take the first transfer to the hotel with their smaller suitcases, which we knew would all fit in the vehicle. It was obvious that ours would not.
The driver, Mags, pointed us in the direction of the hotel and promised to come back and pick us up as soon as she dropped the others off. She told us it was only a ten minute walk. There was a paved footpath and our suitcases were on rollers, so we were happy to begin walking. By the time Mags returned to pick us up, we were already halfway there. She put Marg’s and Janie’s luggage in the car (that was all it could take) and drove them on to the hotel, while Neil and I continued walking. Thankfully most of the walk was downhill, so rolling the luggage as we walked was easy. We arrived only a few minutes after Marg and Janie.
The hotel staff were still preparing our rooms, so they offered to mind our luggage while we went for lunch. We ate at the hotel. As a kid in primary school, my fifth grade teacher gave me the nickname Happy Chappy. It stuck and sometimes I still get it. So when I saw Happy Chappy Ale on tap, I had to try a pint. It was okay.
After lunch, with our rooms still not ready, we went for a leisurely stroll around the village. There’s a small pebbly beach and a pier suitable for small fishing boats. Larger boats were anchored out in the harbour. Because it faces east away from the strong winds, it has a milder climate than other places nearby, allowing palms to grow along the main street. The tide was on its way out when we arrived.
There’s one main street in Plockton that follows the shoreline and a good number of the cottages in Plockton face onto this street. If it looks familiar, it could be because Plockton was the setting for the BBC crime series ‘Hamish Macbeth’. We’re staying at the Plockton Hotel on this street. It’s in the perfect location because everyone must walk past it to go anywhere, and no doubt many use that as an excuse to pop in for a drink. There are very few shops or restaurants in Plockton, so we booked a table at our own hotel for dinner.
The only advertised tourist activity we could find in Plockton was a one hour boat ride with Calum’s Seal Trips, with the promise that if you didn’t see seals your money would be refunded. It sounded similar to the Loch Linnhe boat trip we’d done a couple of days earlier, but this is a different part of Scotland and we figured we might as well see what this one offered.
So at 3.30 pm, with our hotel room still not ready, we boarded Calum’s boat. Only a small number of others came on board, so we had plenty of space to move around on board and plenty of opportunity to chat with the skipper and his mate Chris. The boat cruised at a leisurely pace on a circuit of Loch Carron that took us past Duncraig Castle on its way to a couple of places where we might view seals.
When we left Plockton, it was not possible to view Skye. But out on the loch Skye became visible in the distance. It was impressively high, and I wondered if it was the Totternish Range we visited yesterday that we were looking at. While the islands in the foreground were in the shadow of clouds, the mountains on Skye were in full sunlight and looking quite majestic.
We slowed down and drifted past the first of two islands where harbour seals were basking in the warmth of the sun. There was very little activity, but they watched us keenly as we went by. Calum told us that almost all of these were pregnant females, due to give birth about three weeks from now. Surprisingly, the only predator that will endanger the young seal pups is a type of gull that lives in the area.
A little further on we drifted slowly past our second seal colony. These seals also just lay in the one place and watched us go by. Not one of them moved a muscle. In the background, the high mountains of Skye were dominant.
The boat’s captain dropped us off at a pier at one end of the village because the tide was now out and the water at the main pier was too low to bring the boat in. We walked back to the hotel with a very happy pair of Canadians who had just got engaged a few hours earlier. It was just before 5 pm when we walked into the hotel lobby, and thankfully this time our rooms were ready. It was heavy work carting our cases up the narrow staircase, but when we saw the view from our room, we figured it was worth the effort.
At 7.30 pm we went down to the bar for dinner. I asked for the prawn dish on the menu and the waitress replied that a boat had just come in with jumbo prawns and they had enough for several serves, cooked in a garlic butter sauce and served with a side salad. Would I like one? ‘Yes please’, I replied, and Neil immediately changed his order and said, ‘I’ll have one too’. Each plate held three massive jumbo prawns. It was hard work cracking the shell at times, but the flesh was sensational. We’re all loving the food over here.
Tomorrow we take the Kyle Line train to Inverness.