From sandpapering to snorkeling; our year on Skye

The staff at Otter Lodge, young and old, have had a whirlwind of a year.

Things started quietly enough. There we were in January, sitting in front of the computer and scratching our heads as we tried to put together content for the new website. This was quite challenging with only a few months-worth of Skye photos. Still, it kept us busy as we waited for a mythical building warrant to appear. We were very keen to get on with all our planned upgrading work and Martin, who is normally pretty calm, was starting to get ‘a bit irritated’.

After much editing and re-editing, we finished the website and sent the results to the designers. No warrant. We filled the time by filling the roof with much-needed insulation and waited some more. Still no building warrant. The Easter holiday season was fast approaching. Then our plumber informed us that he was going on holiday. For two months!

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Skye proves to be an excellent place to snorkel

Meanwhile, February was proving to be a lovely month on Skye; a great time for exploring, so in some ways we were relieved not to have to start all that messy stuff. No point in locking yourself in the loft when you have a new underwater camera and a couple of sea kayaks to play with. Taking pictures of marine life isn’t as easy as it looks. Even if you manage to grab a rock or handful of seaweed to steady yourself, you still get battered by the waves and your carefully framed sea slug ends up looking like a spludge.

Our website was launched and for a whole week there were no enquiries; it was quite scary but we tried to stay calm (motto emblazoned on our staff aprons: Dinnae fash yersel and keep yer heid). Finally, our building warrant arrived at the beginning of March. Phew! This gave us permission to install the new wood pellet central heating system, create an en suite bathroom and make a huge mess. It also gave us the opportunity to really explore the dark underbelly of our 1970s home; quite a few folk have seen it now and some of them even came out again. During the temporary period of disruption, when we had no floor, we thought it was probably a good idea to close. 

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The gigantic water tank for our new eco heating system.

It was great having the contractors around (no, really). You get to know a lot about a community through its tradespeople and it was reassuring for us new-comers to hear that they enjoy life on Skye. However, the cliché about islanders having lots of different jobs is absolutely true; as demonstrated by Donald the electrician who had to attend to calving livestock in his lunch breaks.


Our two boys contemplate life on Skye










Eventually enquiries started to come in. A big sigh of relief – we were beginning to think we had put people off by being a bit too hard-core outdoorsy with our website. Spring was arriving and our son Darach was extremely dissatisfied that his sporty sledge hadn’t had an outing all winter, pleading, ‘why doesn’t it snow here?’ Plenty of snow on the mighty Cuillin Mountains, but he’s not allowed to take his sledge up there. Six year old Ewan just wants to move to a ‘quieter house’, where he can play all the time without distraction and never have to tidy up. 

As time moved on we got to know our neighbours. As you might expect, many of them are outdoor-types; into hill-walking, climbing, kayaking, diving, bird-watching, you name it. It’s uncanny being surrounded by so many like-minded people (apart from the birders, just kidding). Combined with local gastronomy, we’ve plenty to keep us entertained here. And it’s all so trendy. Whereas previously diving for Scallops and collecting shellfish on the beach would have been seen as a niche source of employment it’s now known as foraging. Well, at least in London. Here on Skye, the West Highland Free Press can still publish the ad, ‘Large Winkles Wanted’ without raising eyebrows. 

Free diving for scallops at Easter time

Free diving for scallops at Easter time

The first half of May saw us trying to get the new en suite room up and ready. Martin’s DIY skills were stretched to the max as the plasterer was running on ‘Skye time’. Oh well, plastering is not much different from icing wedding cakes.

And then, we got really busy…our first full tourist season on Skye. april 8 101

What a season! It was one of the busiest in the West Highlands for many years. It didn’t take long for breakfast to run like a well-oiled machine; at least most of time. Once we were in the groove, Martin could start introducing his specialties on a regular basis. We’ve discovered his sourdough bread is very popular and much appreciated, particularly by slightly homesick European guests who have had one too many cooked breakfast.

Once the primary school had broken up for the summer our lads needed entertaining and we tried to get out for regular jaunts. Skye has such a huge coastline that there are plenty of nooks and crannies to explore. As well as our two sea kayaks, we’ve acquired an inflatable canoe which Ewan christened the ‘Larkies’. And that’s what we have with it. Ewan has taken it upon himself to be captain of this good ship, which makes for some wild adventures.

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Martin and Ewan head for the sea at Otter Lodge’

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A rescue drill with the South Skye and Lochalsh Kayak Club.

Our two kayaks have also had a good amount of use over the year. We’d had a bit of experience before we came to Skye but we were very conscious that paddling independently is less risky with practice and knowledge so we joined the local club. We discovered it was full of hugely competent paddlers; as the Black Cuillins are for mountaineers, this part of the world is a mecca for sea kayakers with some internationally renowned instructors. To be honest our lifestyle doesn’t hold a lot of opportunities for mountaineering at the moment, but we can literally carry our kayaks across the road and head out into the Bay at a moment’s notice. We do this quite often, particularly in winter. Opportunity knocked for Vanessa recently when she was asked if she would like to be involved in some filming for a training DVD with local instructor, Gordon Brown. She might have been less enthusiastic if she had realised it would involve spending several hours at the local swimming pool with her head under the water.

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Two excited passengers head for Norfolk. Darach wonders if we’re there yet.

In October, Vanessa took the boys on a twelve-hour train journey from Kyle of Lochalsh to the grandparents in Norfolk. Yes, you really can do the journey in a day (so long as you have plenty of snacks). Our two boys are now wide-eyed when you go anywhere that has arable farmland so an overseas holiday isn’t really necessary the moment. Meanwhile, back at the Lodge, Martin was finding out that the half-term holiday wasn’t as peaceful as he expected and there were still loads of folk visiting the island. He did try to get some time out – the story goes that he took a ‘research trip’ to the Talisker Distillery and the car broke down (allegedly). He also had a visit from some campers at 3.00am in the morning who had discovered that their supermarket tent wasn’t quite up to Skye’s autumn weather.

As autumn turns into winter and we write this blog, we are waiting on the plumber once more. He’s a great plumber; that’s why he’s so popular. There are still lots of jobs to keep us busy over the winter and, of course, the very important matter of Christmas. Our planning for 2014 is well underway… and includes more than just a new shower!24 june 046