National Geographic : 1952 Jul
Over the Sea to Scotland's Skye Bagpipes Welcome Devoted Highlanders Home to the Moors and Hills of the Hebrides' "Misty Isle" BY ROBERT J. REYNOLDS * T HE MAN at my right was having trouble with his eyes. It was a high and handsome day, and the water curled back from the bow of the boat with no spray whatever. Yet he dabbed at his lids now and then with the sleeve of his tartan jacket, as if some mist had formed between him and the rocky cliffs ahead. "That will be Skye," he said gruffly. "A good sight." It was, surely. We were crossing from Kyle of Lochalsh on Scotland's west shore, and the sun glowed on the heather-clad upland moors of the Hebrides and on the cobbled streets above Kyleakin, the nearest port. Be nign and fair, Skye bid the wanderer welcome. On such a day it was not hard to under stand the devotion that Skye breeds in its inhabitants and the longing that it instills in its exiles. Yet I knew that if we had been approaching Eilean a Cheo-the "Misty Isle" - in winter, we could have expected a greeting far different, wild gusts of rain hurtling down from the mountains or wind-driven sleet flail ing the pitch-black waves around us. Even in summer we might more confidently have expected a drizzle or a sudden squall than this bland and cheerful weather. I knew, too, that life ashore on Skye was not something easily sentimentalized. Here, if one looked at it coldly, were only weary wastes of mountain and moor, the ceaseless noise of an inhospitable sea, starved crops that the winter may find half ripe, a perpetual struggle with a niggard soil. Nevertheless, I could read in the moist eye of my companion, and in the island's history, evidence that its attraction embraced and over came all these shortcomings. The sons of the Hebrides are scattered the world over; their memories hold fast to these hills. As one man of Skye, far off in Canada, once phrased it: From the lone shieling of the misty island Mountains divide us, and the waste of seas; Yet still the blood is strong, the heart is Highland, And we in dreams behold the Hebrides. The MacLeod of MacLeod For some, of course, dreams are not always enough. Returning with me this day on the ferry to Kyleakin were Scots from the farthest parts of the globe, gathering to celebrate Skye Week with piping and dancing and a deal of palaver (page 99). I myself came with a cherished invitation from a most remarkable woman, Flora, Mrs. MacLeod of MacLeod. The 28th chief of her clan, Mrs. MacLeod is the first woman to head this great feudal family, which traces its de scent back to the Norsemen (pages 93 and 94). I was to visit her at the clan's ancient for tress, Dunvegan Castle, "the hearth of the race." But first, through arrangements made by Mr. and Mrs. Donald Ross, National Geo graphic Society members in Skye, I would stay with the Sutherlands of Broadford. Three buses were drawn up at the pier. I climbed into one marked Portree. Bus Attuned to Island's Tempo Thebuswasinnohurrytobeoff. Afew passengers got aboard, but the driver only surveyed with calm detachment the unloading of the boat. Daily newspapers from Inverness, luggage, cartons of food, and sacks of mail slowly accumulated on the wharf. A lady across the aisle took pity on my im patience. "I can see you're a stranger," said she. "You'll not be knowing the Gaelic mo thogair. It means, 'I don't care,' or 'It makes no difference to me.' And that's the operating principle of the buses of Skye, mo thogair!" Finally, however, the driver, having assured himself that he had a quorum and that the cargo's discharge no longer needed his expert surveillance, climbed behind the wheel. Jouncing along the shore, the bus took us past clean white cottages, some of them newly imported prefabs from Sweden. Above us we could make out the ruins of a citadel more in tune with Skye's romantic past, Castle Moil. Within its battlements-if you'll credit the legend-lived a Norse princess who levied toll on passing ships by means of a chain stretched across to the mainland. She had reason to scan the sea; but no one in Skye can keep his eyes from it for long. The Atlantic's rough arms probe deep into the island's coast line at a hundred coves. Only 50 miles long, Skye has a shore line that measures well over 300 miles, and no place on the isle is more than five miles from the shingle (map, page 88). I was favored with many a quiet view on this trip alone, for the bus ambled over the * In the preparation of this article, the author has drawn with gratitude upon an account written for the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE by George D. Valen tine, late Sheriff-substitute of Skye and the Outer Isles of Inverness-shire.