What’s been happening in 2017?
It’s officially our fifth year on Skye – how cool is that? We’ve been here so long now that the boys have only vague memories of our move from Perthshire. Not only that, but Darach has now finished primary school and has started at the big school in Portree. It might only have about five hundred kids, but it’s a big place for Skye.
So, what other news can we tell you about this year? Let’s start with Hogmanay (every year in Scotland does). We welcomed in 2017 with a house full of Martin’s relations who had made the perilous drive over the mountains from central Scotland to Skye. One of the benefits of having a B&B is you have plenty of rooms for family when you aren’t looking after regular guests. I think they would be amazed how messy things get when they’re not around!
You might be wondering where the Otter Lodge staff go for their holidays. The answer is (mostly) south. This year the boys had the luxury of a whole week off school in February as they decided to close it for a few days for maintenance. So we packed up the Citroen Berlingo and headed down to Vanessa’s brother’s place in deepest Somerset. We did it all without a satnav – just. It’s easy to forget that although Skye is remote, the rest of the UK has a lot more roads. Suffice to say, we now use modern technology for navigation.
February was also the perfect time for a spot of wild swimming. The Fairy Pools are so popular now we thought the best time for us to visit was when you have to break the ice to get in the water. However, we underestimated the keenness of Skye’s hardy visitors and the car park was full when we arrived (again). This beauty spot has become such a huge attraction on Skye that the locals have decided to raise funds for better parking facilities (and, hopefully, toilets). I don’t blame them for taking things into their own hands; it’s hard to get to your home down a single-track road when there is a convoy of campervans in the way. It’s amazing how busy it gets in high season; things came to a head this summer when the national press told the world that Skye was so full it was officially closed. As yet I haven’t noticed gates blocking the Skye bridge, so it might just have been a bit of media nonsense.
We’ve been venturing up ever-steepening hills with the boys. You can picture the resigned looks on their faces when we gleefully announce another Sunday outing in winter. We’re spoilt for choice when it comes to walking routes. Beinn na Cro is a favourite when we have a few hours (a proper wee mountain in miniature). The Quiraing is another airy walk – good for blowing away the cobwebs. In March, Martin and I decided to don the old crampons and head up Blaven. Spring had definitely not arrived at that point and it took careful planning not to miss the kids coming home from school.
By the end of March, the mountains were clear of snow and the roads were dry enough for some proper cycling. There’s news afoot about a new cycle path that folk are hoping to create between the Skye Bridge and Broadford, which would be fantastic. In the meantime, the road down to Sleat continues to be our favourite training run. I know it’s best not to mention Brexit, but my eyes mist over every time we pass the little blue sign with the stars on it that announces this lovely smooth road was built with EC funding. Oh well, there’s plenty of enterprising folk around despite the economic gloom. Two new whisky distilleries have popped recently, one down at Sleat and the other on our neighbouring island of Raasay. We’re not adverse to a spot of uisge beatha so this is exciting news.
Spring brought more visitors; including Vanessa’s dad, back up from England again on his vintage motorcycle, and two of her uncles with with a fancy-looking Morgan. Skye gets quite a few folk dropping by on their way up to do the famous NC500 around the north of Scotland. This seems to have started a national trend and we now have the Skye200, the SW300 and the NorthEast250!
When things start getting busy with the B&B we’re lucky to have a whole range of local activities our boys can participate in. This year they got involved in the Fèis an Earraich, a Gaelic arts festival for young people in Skye and Lochalsh. It’s part of a big movement in Scotland to promote and develop Gaelic song, dance, drama, and traditional music. For Ewan, it was an opportunity to develop his skills on the chanter, which he learns in a class each week at school as a precursor to playing the bagpipes. Unluckily for Darach, the trumpet isn’t generally recognised as a traditionally Gaelic instrument, although it’s loud enough to give the pipes a run for their money.
Summer kept us busy as ever. Undeterred, Vanessa bunked of in the middle of August for Seasearch marine survey course (it was all meticulously planned back in the winter). This was much anticipated, as passing the course means that we can now carry out bone fide scientific surveys of the seas around Skye and Lochalsh. Scuba Diving has become a major passion in our lives now and we have to constantly remember that our B&B guests are maybe not as fascinated with sea cucumbers as we are. But watch this space as we’re hoping to continue our explorations around the coast of Skye. Who knows what exciting new critters we might discover?
In September we were still pretty busy with the B&B, so we took time out with a few visits to the local pool. This inspired Vanessa to enter the famous K2K swim, an open water race between Kyleakin on Skye and Kyle of Lochalsh on the mainland. It was the twentieth year of the swim and Vanessa had been thinking about participating since coming to Skye. It only took a few weeks of regular swimming to give her the confidence to try – with only a swimsuit and a smile. This approach seemed rather foolhardy when she turned up to find most of the other participants wearing wetsuits. Still, it was a successful crossing with only low-level hypothermia.
The long summer evenings bring regular sea kayaking sessions with the local club. Even after five years of living here it still amazes us that we can just pop out on a weekday and paddle around Eilean Donan Castle or under the Skye bridge. Conversely, our kids are so totally used to living in stunning surroundings it takes a trip to a shopping centre or an amusement park to really impress them.
At the end of a busy season sometimes you have to just consciously stop working, rather than wait for folk to stop coming. This was certainly the case in 2017 when we had enquiries for rooms right through into November. As we’re open in the winter, the two-week school break in October has become our most important family holiday time. This year we thought it would be extra nice to go somewhere warm… so we took the boys down to Norfolk. Fortunately for them, we’d also arranged a flight out to Cyprus for a week in the sun.
While the boys were being properly spoilt by Vanessa’s parents, we spent several days in the Midlands refining our scuba skills with a qualified cave diver. We’re unlikely to go anywhere near a cave in the near future, but the instructor is probably one of the safest divers in the business. We were signed up for a course run by Global Underwater Explorers called The Fundamentals – affectionately known by divers as ‘Fundies’. Sounds like a beginners course, but it sure ain’t. It’s not quite a case of breaking you down to build you up again, but it does thoroughly dismantle all your bad habits before getting back to the basics of making you a safer diver. If scuba diving is your kind of thing, you can find out more about our course here.
After a fairly full-on week’s training we collected the boys and zoomed off to Cyprus for a week. This trip had added significance as it was the first time our boys had ever properly travelled abroad. This kind of thing is a watershed moment in a family’s life: once you make that shift to sunshine and warm seas a week in Oban never feels the same way again.
Back on home turf, we returned to immersing ourselves in cold water and serving full Scottish breakfasts. As the weather has become more wintry we’ve swapped the road bikes for mountain bikes. This is quite novel for us; whereas Darach has been keen on muddy cycling for years now. He’s a useful source of tips, although we tend to avoid the big jumps he likes to set up.
Peace has descended on Skye now. The campervans have been mostly replaced by road gritters and there are only a few professional photographers left hanging around the Old Man of Storr. We’re all in fine fettle, and we hope you are too. Thanks, as always, to all our guests who have stayed throughout the year. Here’s to a happy, healthy and adventurous 2018.