Isle of Skye (Part 1) – Dunvegan Castle

Farmhouse on the Isle of Skye, Scotland

First Day on Skye

After our wet and windy visit to Eilean Donan Castle, we took the impressive Skye Bridge over Loch Alsh, across to the Isle of Skye, stopping briefly in the small town of Kyleakin, which no longer gets the passing trade it used to when its ferry stop was the only way to get to Skye.

Lunching at Red Skye Restaurant Broadford turned out to be an excellent choice. Had pan-seared island scallops with garlic and herb butter; squat lobster and fresh salad; and roasted goats cheese and beetroot salad with walnuts. The waiter was charming, but we were the only people in the place, which was unfortunate for a Saturday lunch. Maybe we were just too early (we are known to do that).

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Talisker Distillery seemed like a good choice for our next stop, especially with full bellies to prepare ourselves for a tasting of the local whisky. We didn’t factor in the popularity of this place on a weekend, and so did not book ahead for a tour. It was an hour and a half until the next one, so we skipped the tour, had the tasting and moved on. We’ve visited distilleries before, so we didn’t really need to see the workings of this one. And the whisky can be bought for less at home in Dan Murphy’s…or at least the ones we liked the most!

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In the northwestern corner of the island we found our B&B for the next two nights – Hillstone Lodge. Everything about this place was tasteful, sleek and modern, while still using elements of wild Scotland – silvered timber slats, grey stone fireplace and warm coffee floor boards under foot. We loved the lounge where we sat with a glass of whatever and watched the water, searching for seals on the rocks near the shore.

For dinner (which was not really needed, but desired) we drove the 5 miles to Dunvegan and The Old School Restaurant; cute little whitewashed exterior with grey, slated roof, housing a cosy retreat from the weather, lovely, friendly service and delicious food. Had cauliflower soup as starter (each), then shared a dish of roasted vegetable and pinenut filo pastry parcel with Chinese spice, redcurrant sauce and butternut puree and potato puree. Missing our greens, we added a side of green beans and broccoli to the table. Filling, warming, comforting food.

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Consuming three large meals in our day was completely unnecessary, even if each component was memorable and delectable. So I slowly stretched out along the Dunvegan Road as John took some photos and I tried to make my stomach feel less full. Didn’t really succeed, but it was a lovely evening, none-the-less. Came back to our picturesque digs, and found some room for a glass of deep red wine and a Ledaig whisky relaxing in front of the fire.

Exploring Dunvegan

We ate slowly at breakfast the next morning, not wanting to take leave of our views of Dunvegan Castle (each room at the front of the guest house has these spectacular views). The baked eggs with spinach, tomatoes, yoghurt and garlic (after fruits, cereal, cheese and bread) were a solid choice for our planned day – we had a walk to do!

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We intended on taking the ‘Two Churches Walk’ above Dunvegan to fill the morning before the castle opened for its daily visitors. Technically only did half of the walk – it was a circuitous route that at half way had an ‘exit’ out on to the road at one end of the narrow oval path. But by the time we were buffeted about at its bare, vulnerable highest point, taking photographs while attempting not to be swept off the top, we were then eager to get to the castle. So we took aerobic strides along the flat road back to the beginning of the walk.

Dunvegan Castle

When we mentioned to people that we were planning a visit to the Isle of Skye, I was amazed at how many had ancestors from this tiny part of Scotland. At first, I thought that they may have been told porkies by their parents, but on hearing about the extraordinary Flora MacLeod, the 28th chief of Clan MacLeod (and the only woman who was chief), they clearly were not deluded. The reason so many with ancestral heritage linked to this island are knowledgeable and proud of their heritage is because of this one woman. Over centuries, Clan MacLeod dispersed throughout the world as wars, famine, social and political upheaval made it harder and harder to stay on the Isle of Skye. It was Dame Flora who encouraged her distant clansfolk to reconnect with their ancestral heritage, and thus branches of the Associated Clan MacLeod Societies sprang up ‘all over.’ Since 1956 clansfolk have been returning to Skye every four years to celebrate their shared ancestry.

When visiting an historic property like Dunvegan Castle, the value of a knowledgeable volunteer cannot be underestimated. We were very impressed with Andrea, who spent time in two of the beautiful rooms, patiently answering my barrage of questions. I could not get enough of the stories about the castle and its various chiefs, but particularly Flora (who is the great-great-grandmother of the current chief – Hugh MacLeod (30th chief).

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A leisurely walk through the gardens followed, which was an apt vantage point to gaze at the castle and contemplate both the joys and burdens of such an inheritance. When a title comes with pretty much only the bricks and mortar, and no fortune, it must be a constant struggle to maintain and repair as needed. And of course, the first priority when repairing is to focus on the areas open to the public – without which there would be no money to keep mending this old girl. This means that the small apartments on the upper floor of the castle where the chief lives still have their water-damaged roof, while the repairs are carried out on the tower in an effort to make them visitor safe once more.

The Three Chimneys

One of the few restaurant reservations made before leaving home was at The Three Chimneys in Colbost (down the road from our accommodation). This fine restaurant was previously bestowed with a Michelin star, but lost it this year. You would certainly never know from the full tables and people being turned away at the door (so glad we made reservations).

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The food was amazing, but the wine was pricey. We had the vegetarian three course set lunch for £38 (which, when one is happy to split courses, means it’s a much more reasonable degustation than paying £55). Entrees were: crispy croft egg (with cauliflower, Glendale salad) and Cairnsmore Goats Cheese (with rye & seeds, Glendale salad, beetroot sorbet). Mains were: Autumn Squash (roasted squash dumplings, almonds), and carrot and pearl barley (with hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, Isle of Mull crisp). Desserts were: marmalade pudding (with Drambuie custard) and 70% Colombian bitter chocolate (silver birch and bramble sorbet, lemongrass toffee, pistachios).

Late Afternoon

This was a long, luxurious lunch, so since the sun was still out (which was surprising), we drove to Neist Point and began a walk down and up cliffs only to be halted before the final pinnacle due to rain setting in, and the icy wind threatening to blow us into the Atlantic. We’re too old for that crap, so we headed back to the car. Good choice.

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Came back to the guesthouse, and had beer and chickpea crisps. Contemplated venturing forth again after the sun reappeared, only to have those plans thwarted with another burst of moisture. Spent the evening cocooned, reading, drinking, eating crisps for dinner. Loving the Isle of Skye.

Accommodation: Hillstone Lodge, Isle of Skye

Read our full Isle of Skye story here:

Part 1 (current): Dunvegan Castle

Part 2: Quiraing, Culnacnoc & Portree

Click on any image below to view as gallery

About bontaks

Nic is the the ‘Bon’ part of ‘Bontaks.’ Together we are Nic and John – two travel-addicted teachers who enjoy every opportunity to go places, meet people and experience life.

2 Replies to “Isle of Skye (Part 1) – Dunvegan Castle”

  1. Pingback: Isle of Skye (Part 2) – the Quiraing, Culnacnoc & Portree – bontaks travels

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