Welcome to the Larchside Blog. We regularly post a colourful mixture of items relating to our thoughts and experiences of living on this beautiful island. If you have an article or information you would like included in the blog please contact us via the Contact page.
Since we started the B&B over three years ago, a number of our guests have either travelled to or travelled from the Outer Herbrides or Western Isles. The northernmost headland of the islands, Lewis and Harris, make up the largest island in Scotland and are renowned for their contrasting landscapes and attractions. Harris is characterised by high mountains and beautiful white beaches and Lewis, although with mountains in the south and some beautiful beaches dotted around the coastline, is comparatively flatter but is a land which is steeped in history and culture, going back thousands of years.
In autumn last year, we took the opportunity to see for ourselves what Lewis and Harris had to offer. We set sail from the village of Uig on Skye (a 20 minute drive from the B&B) to Tarbert on Harris, eventually locating ourselves in a tiny village in the South Lochs or Pairc area of Lewis.
View from the our bedroom window at South Lochs
As we did not have enough time to see all the places of interest recommended in the guidebooks and the internet, we decided to concentrate our first day on the attractions strung out along the north west coast of Lewis.
The first place we decided to visit was the Gearrannan Blackhouse Village. Although people have lived in the west coast of Lewis since the iron age, the cottages in this ‘modern’ settlement only date back to the late 1800. However, they still provide a valuable insight into how people lived in this beautiful but harsh environment. The village also offers a wide range of accommodation from 2 star group accommodation to 4 star family cottages.
Gearrannan Blackhouse Village
The visit to Gearrannan whetted our appetite for our next place of visit, the magnificent Standing Stones of Callanish (or Calanais, which is the Gaelic version). The Stones are renowned for being one of the most spectacular megalithic monuments in Scotland. However, upon our arrival at the site visitor centre, we were surprised to learn that there are over 20 cross-shaped settings of standing stones in the area, all erected by a bronze-age society about 5000 years ago.
Standing Stones of Callanish
The most famous monument in the area is Calanais I, a complex arrangement of some 50 stones. At it’s heart is a circle of 13 stones between 8 and 13 feet tall. The tallest stone at the site lies within this circle and is 16 feet high and weighing about 5.5 tonnes. Looking north from the main circle is an avenue formed by a double row of stones, while single rows of stones extend east, west and south from the main circle. It is believed the unique and fascinating collection of lines relate to lunar phenomena.
Feeling that we had been suitably educated for the day, we decided to head to some of the famous beaches in this area of the island. The first beach we visited literally left us speechless. Uig Bay (or Camas Ùig in Gaelic) is best known as the place where the Lewis Chessmen were discovered following a storm in 1831. They are 12th century chess pieces (of Nordic origin) made of walrus ivory and are currently exhibited in the British Museum in London and at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.
Large scale replica of King Chessman guarding Uig Bay
We were, however, left breathless with the size and scale of the beach at Uig. We walked for miles on the pristine sand along the coastline and towards the sea. It felt like we were miles away from anyone and anything.
Out last port of call on our fleeting visit to the north-west coast of Lewis was to Bostadh Beach. Located on the island of Great Bernera it is easily accessible by road and bridge and again provides a glimpse back in time with a recently restored iron age mill, which like the Chessmen, was unearthed in a storm as recent as 1993.
Iron Age Mill
Now, when you notice the lack of descriptive text for the second part of our trip to Harris, you may think I am being biased towards Lewis. However, this is definitely not the case, in fact, I felt that Lewis needed a little extra help advertising itself. You will understand what I a mean when you see the following photographs.
When the sun shines on Harris there is no better place to be in the world. Kasia and I were just saying that if the island was just a bit closer to civilisation we would definitely retire there, in a cosy, wee cottage beside one of the beaches.
Finally, on the last night of our visit to the island, we were blessed with a spectacular display of the Northern Lights. We have managed to see the ‘Lights’ a few times since we moved to the north of Scotland but this was certainly the most active and colourful display we have seen to date. An amazing parting gift from the island which has made us even more keen to return and spend more time experiencing the sights and sounds of this unique and inspiring land.
In 2013, we had the pleasure of hosting a charming couple from Germany, Karin and Paul, who, it would seem, fell in love with the Isle of Skye. We were delighted when we received a reservation request from them at the beginning of this year detailing their desire to get married on the island.
After a few emails planning the event, we were reacquainted with Karin and Paul during the first week of May. Even the unusually poor May weather couldn’t dampen the couple’s spirits as they were latterly joined by their good friends and ‘witnesses’, Sonja and Karsten. The wedding itself took place in an enchanting location under some trees in Fairy Glen. The ceremony, conducted by the Rev. Sonja Ganga Eckl-Riel, an Interfaith Minister and Celebrant based in Skye, was a beautiful and emotional occasion and the memories of this day will live with everyone who attended. We wish Karin and Paul all the happiness in the world and hope we will meet again in the near future.
PS Paul, who decided to wear the traditional Scottish wedding attire (Isle of Skye tartan) for the ceremony, later confessed how much he enjoyed wearing the kilt 😉
Following the recent bout of stormy weather, we (Kasia, Charlie the dog and myself) took advantage of the first sunny day in a while and decided to climb up to the Old Man of Storr. Located just a five minutes drive from the house, the hike to the Storr Sanctuary is probably the most popular walk on Skye. The climb from the car park is both steep and strenuous but is definitely worthwhile.
The iconic pinnacle of the Old Man stands guard over the Sanctuary, a whole array of rock formations beneath the towering cliffs. The pinnacle was first climbed in 1955 by the famous Alpine climber Don Whillans, who described the pinnacle’s brittle and loose surface as like trying to climb up porridge. Apparently, the Old Man lost his head during a severe storm over a century ago, something we can now fully understand having experienced our first true winter storm a couple of weeks ago.
Kasia and two old men …
Having had our fill of porridge at breakfast time, we opted to give the accent of the Old Man a miss and enjoy the amazing views towards the south of the island and across to Torridon and the mainland.
Old Man looking south
Anything for a treat…
We were lucky to experience the aurora borealis on Thursday 27th February for the first time. It has been a dream of mine for many years to see it and, wow, it didn’t disappoint. On the basis of a rumour, Charlie (our puppy) and I headed a few miles along the road to gain a good vantage point of the northern horizon. In hindsight, we needn’t have bothered, as the sky was lit up in every direction. I could hear myself inadvertently making a cacophony of shrieks and cries (and for those of you who know me this takes some doing) as the sky continually changed colour with intermittent pulses of light. My only regret being that I didn’t have my tripod with me and had to balance the camera on the car roof and with an exited pup in the car, it wasn’t conducive to producing sharp photographs at long exposure times. Fingers crossed we don’t have to wait another 11 years for the solar cycle to produce another display like this.
Skye is home to some wonderful artists with a variety of galleries located all over the island. There is something to suit every taste and a visit to Skyeworks Gallery in Portree certainly wetted our appetite. Situated above the Isle of Skye Baking Company in Portree, the gallery is a treasure trove of unique gifts and artwork. During one of our visits we were drawn to the sea-scape paintings created by local artist, Marion Boddy-Evans, and in particular, the striking 3-D effect of the waves she managed to capture on canvas. Marion suggested she could tailor her paintings to our specific requirements and this was all the encouragement we needed. We decided to treat ourselves (and our guests) and commissioned three paintings for the guest bedrooms.
We were really impressed with Marion’s attentiveness and attention to detail throughout the consultation and creation phases and, we feel, the finished articles speak for themselves.
We had to commission a sea-scape painting and this canvas entitled ‘Across the Minch’ ticked all the boxes for us.
‘Red Wood’ is an amazing 3-D effect painting which reminds us of the sun setting behind a forest. We love the reflections of the sun bouncing off the sides of the trees.
Last, but not least, is the painting aptly entitled ‘What time is breakfast?’. We asked Marion to replicate one of her fabulous ‘sheep family’ paintings for us. She did exactly that but went that extra mile by visiting our neighbourhood to capture the views we can see from the B&B for the background to the painting. If you would like to see how this painting was created, please click here.
Now that the festive season is over, we have been reflecting on our first season running the B&B and, in particular, the wonderful people we have met. Some of our guests have even been kind enough to mention us in their own blogs:
We have also had some accomplished photographers staying with us and would like to pay a special mention to Jean Olivier Weber and Pawel Kuzma who have continued to stay in touch with us throughout the year. And finally, a big thank you to Sajhid Ahmed who sent us a link to an amazing time-lapse video he made whilst visiting Scotland and Skye at the end of last year. Always brings a tear to my eye.
Following an article published by Travel magazine naming a self-catering cottage in Skye as the top destination in the world for a “sunset-view stay” (beating places in the Maldives, Thailand and Italy to the coveted title), we decided to take a look back at some of the photographs of sunsets we have taken from our garden this year. Here are a few of our favourites…
Winter sunset over Cuillin mountain range
Amazing colours taken in springtime
Example of sun pillar
A sunset sandwich
When the opportunity arises, which is not very often now the B&B is up and running, we have found an amazing place where we can go for a walk and relax for an hour or two. The Coral Beach at Claigan (not far from Dunvegan Castle) is Skye’s very own tropical paradise. The first time we visited the beach we were mesmerised by the brilliant white ‘sand’ and turquoise waters. We were lucky in that we had chosen a beautiful sunny day for our venture and the blue sky brought out amazing colours in the sea. Despite its name, the beach is actually composed of dried, calcified sea weed (known as maerl) and thousands of tiny, delicate sea shells. Definitely a place for a picnic when the summer finally arrives.
Coral Beach at Claigan
Our third visit to the beach at An Corran, Staffin finally paid dividends. On the verge of going home disappointed again, we were fortunate to witness a local girl show her two young companions the dinosaur footprints embedded in the flat rock. Trying to maintain a level of coolness, we casually meandered towards the imprints, pretending we knew where they were all along. In hindsight, perhaps the girl felt sorry for us staring blankly at the rocks for what must have been an eternity, and gave us a helpful hand.
One-legged Ornithopod footprint
Anyway, the footprints found in this area belong to a family of dinosaurs called the Ornithopods that walked across the sand some 165 million years ago. The Ornithopods along with the more well-known dinosaurs such as the Stegosaurus and the Megalosaurus, all once roamed this area of the world. In fact, Skye is often described as the ‘dinosaur isle’ (and here we thought this was an endearing term for the number of retirees living on the island). If you are interested in fossils, dinosaur footprints etc. you should pay a visit to the Staffin Museum at Ellishadder which displays a large number of local finds.
View of Cuillins from Elgol
Another place we recently found of stunning natural beauty is Elgol in the west of the island. Approximately one hour from Portree, this quiet village must have one of the most spectacular views on the island and is a must visit for all budding photographers and those inspired by the Cuillin mountain range. Local companies also provide boat trips for those wanting to experience the scenery at closer proximity and enjoy the local wildlife.
Skye is full of hidden ‘gems’ which we are discovering every week but one place we feel is worth mentioning is the Ellishadder Art Cafe. Nestled within the wonderful scenery of the Trotternish peninsula and close to the Kilt Rock cliffs, the cafe is a wonderful place to relax and have a bite to eat and admire the art and design work of owners, Maggie and Stuart. The cafe has a real cosy, traditional, atmosphere which should be experienced by anyone visiting the area or in need of a good coffee or tea. Maggie is the perfect host and her homemade nougat cake legendary this side of the Trotternish peninsula.
Ellishadder, road to Staffin
If you have not stayed in the Skye and Lochalsh area before, there are a couple of places we would highly recommend visiting going by our recent experiences. The first is a small, picturesque village called Glenelg where we stayed in a rented house with family during the summer.
This is a wonderful location to visit and even the journey to and from the area is one to remember, either going over the Mam Ratagan Pass at a height of 1100ft (road branches off the A87 at Shiel Bridge) or taking the ferry to or from Kylerhea on Skye. This had previously been the main gateway to Skye until 1819 and can be used as an alternative route for those romantics who still wish to travel “over the sea to Skye”. The old turntable ferry is a visitor attraction in itself.
Bustling ferry terminal at Glenelg
Other places of interest in the Glenelg area include Sandaig, the retreat of author Gavin Maxwell who wrote the classic Ring of Bright Water. The small islands at Sandaig are worth visiting on their own but be prepared for a good 30mins- 1hour walk to get there. Glenelg also plays host to the remains of two of the best-preserved brochs (Iron Age lodgings) on mainland Scotland. Finally, we cannot fail to mention the fabulous Glenelg Inn, a favourite haunt of ours during our stay in the area when we felt like treating ourselves (which was most nights).
We arrived on Skye on the 28th September 2012, leaving behind a wet and claustrophobic Glasgow for a new life on this remote and beautiful isle.