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Skye: The Island and Its Legends

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11th July 2011, 02:26 PM



I have been going up to Skye nearly every year for about 18 years now. I absolutely love every inch of the island and I can't really go a year without at least one visit to recharge. There are lots of places on Skye that are named after fairies and at Dunvegan Castle there is a treasured fairy flag. I didn't really think much about all the history of the island at first but it slowly starts to pull at your mind. So a couple of visits ago, I bought this book, and finally read it on this trip.


Otta Swire lived with her family on Skye, after holidaying there throughout her childhood, from 1946 till her death in 1973. This book was published in the 50s, and therefore her account of the island ends around 1949, and was intended to be a record for her family of all the tales and myths told to her by her grandparents. Therefore, you get a kind of conversational read, not scholarly or accurate, but amusing and quaint.


Swire begins at Kyleakin in the South East of the island and moves anti-clockwise around the island, which made it very easy for me to keep the geography right in my head. In telling the myths and landscape of the island, she covers a lot of the history and clan wars between the MacLeods and the MacDonalds.


Most interesting tales:


Trumpan Church in the north, where the MacDonalds secured the church door and set fire to the thatched church killing 300 MacLeods inside. One girl escaped through a window, slicing her breast off in the process, then ran to Dunvegan to get more MacLoeds to fight the MacDonalds. I have been to the ruin of Trumpan Church and first of all, it's hard to believe you could fit 300 people in it, and second, it's the windiest place I have ever been to which must have really helped the fire.


The Fairy Bridge before Stein which is signposted but is quite unremarkable has a history of being inhabited by fairies who stopped horses from crossing. Otta herself didn't believe this tale until a visitor who didn't know of the legend went out for a ride and reported back that he couldn't get his horse to cross a particular bridge. Otta goes on to note that it is now a bus-stop - and is still is to this day!


In Ord, a MacLeod crofter lived next door to a MacDonald crofter and in a moment of goodwill and reconciliation he offered his eldest daughter in marriage to MacDonald's eldest son. They went on to be married much to the anger of the MacLeod girl and she ended up have 2 boys. One night when her husband and fathers-in law went out hunting, she served them a huge pie on return which they gobbled up with relish. When they were done, she revealed that she had cooked both her children in the pie and therefore there was "no heir for MacLeod and no heir for MacDonald".


What surprised me most about this book, knowing that it's time ended around 1949, was how much of Skye hasn't changed. Lodges and hotels that were around then are still around now, notably the Sligachan Hotel. Many of the landscape features are still there like the Fairy Bridge, cairns and brochs. Buildings are still there though they may be put to a different purpose now. Skye's weather ensures that the views change every day, and it's a cliche you hear all the time up there, but in many ways it hasn't changed for 60+ years.


One thing that Otta says in her opening definitely range true "Those who visit it, whether from choice or birth, either hate it wholeheartedly or else love it so dearly that they remain homesick for it until they die". I am absolutely the latter.



#2 7th August 2011, 05:39 AM



Skye is indeed beautiful. When I was emigrating, I flew from Edinburgh to London and then on to Los Angeles. The LA flight double backed up the UK and over Scotland - my last view of Scotland was Moidart and Skye; it was so beautiful I wanted to cry. I never really knew Skye well - it was somewhere to pass through (infuriatingly slowly) when driving between Stornoway and Edinburgh but I did make time to stop off at Talisker Distillery one time where the manager of the visitor centre is a good friend. The distillery alone justifies a visit to the former island.



#3 8th August 2011, 01:28 PM



I did make time to stop off at Talisker Distillery one time where the manager of the visitor centre is a good friend. The distillery alone justifies a visit to the former island.
Hmmm. Except that they don't let under 8s visit which makes it difficult for families.


I went to the Talisker Distillery before I had kids and yes, it was a wonderful visit, but last year when I wanted to take the kids, they wouldn't let my youngest in. Bit silly really, you are so far away from any machinery during the tour that youngsters don't pose a risk.

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