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August 20, 2010, Portree, Isle of Skye, Scotland
Portree is the capital and largest town on Skye - located in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. The population is around 9,000. Tourism is the major industry for Skye and we found the people we met and dealt with to be very friendly and welcoming.
There is no port to accommodate the MS Westerdam because of its size, so we took the ships' tenders - about a 15 minute ride. The harbor where we anchored is surrounded by steep green cliffs - beautiful scenery.
Our first stop was at the Dunvegan Castle in the town of Dunvegan, only 25 kilometers away, but a 45-minute ride. Dunvegan Castle is the home of the MacLeod Clan, and has been in their possession for over 800 years. It is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland.
The castle is built on a large rocky outcrop on the shores of Loch Dunvegan. There are five acres of formal gardens which include waterfalls, streams, small bridges and wooden benches scattered throughout.
It rained during our visit to the Castle, but we were able to enjoy the inside tour and even the gardens.
We thoroughly enjoyed hearing the story of the legendary "fairy flag" of Dunvegan, the remnants of which is on display inside the castle.
According to the legend, fairies gave the flag to the Clan chief in gratitude for the return of the chief's wife - a fairy. The flag possesses the charms to save the Clan from disasters three times. Two of the charms have been used - once in 1490 at the Battle of Glendale and the other in 1578 during the Battle of Trumpan. (If the flag ever has to be used again, I'm afraid it shall disintegrate, as it is now just a scrap of material, preserved in a frame enclosed in glass).
The flag's material has been examined by experts and it is believed to have originated in the Middle East over 1,400 years ago.
As we were driving back to Portree, our guide, who was wearing the full kilt ensemble, told us he had purchased his kilt, custom-made for him, 26 years ago. At that time, the kilt cost around $600 U.S. dollars. Today, the entire kilt outfit and accessories would be in excess of $2,500. U.S. dollars.
The kilt is made of six yards of wool fabric. Most tailors generally require four fittings before completion.
The history of the various Scottish clans is fascinating and our guide told us many stories about fighting between clans during the past many years. Some of them still have hostile attitudes toward one another, even today.
During our drive, our guide pointed out the various road signs - written in both Gaelic and English. About 27% of the population still speaks only Gaelic. However, the road signs are a farce, because when the government decided to produce them in both languages, they did not take into account the different dialects of the regions. So, many of them are unreadable to the residents in the various areas, so everyone just reads the English.
We arrived in Portree in pouring rain, but that didn't deter us from venturing into the city centre. First item on our agenda was to find a suitable place for lunch. And we totally lucked out. We found a very small, family run restaurant - seating for a maximum of 24.
We were given the last remaining table. Our lunches were delicious. John ordered mushroom soup, followed by seafood and he obviously enjoyed both as there wasn't anything left. I ordered a salad with mackerel. John kept saying to me he didn't think I would like it, but it was absolutely delicious. My plate was also cleaned.
As we finished eating, the sun came out so we were able to enjoy a walk around Portree.
John noticed the wind picking up and that the waves in the harbor were getting extremely choppy, and suggested we head back to the ship. By the time we walked down to the tender docking point, the crew was moving everyone to a different location due to very rough water and the inability of the tenders to get in close enough for people to board safely.
Normally, they load 120 people per tender. Due to the roughness, they were only taking 60 at a time, restricting seats where people could be bumped around or get wet. We were fortunate to be able to board the first tender. The ride was somewhat bouncy, but we've had worse.
Because the weather had deteriorated, all the afternoon tours were cancelled and at 1:30pm, no one was allowed to go ashore. At 2:45pm, the Captain announced there would be a delay in our scheduled 6pm departure as there were still 1,100 people on shore that had to be tendered back. The ship's crew certainly put in a long day today battling the seas while running the tenders.
The Captain also told us that the winds were around 50 knots (57.5 mph) and that later in the evening, as we were sailing, the winds were predicted to be hurricane force and waves could be as high as 30 feet. He cautioned everyone about using the handrails at all times and asked that the ladies not wear high heels.
Our dinner was served quite promptly. Not a wait at all between courses. I'm sure the dining crew was told to get everyone fed and out so they could secure everything in the case of high seas.
The Isle of Skye, as a part of the United Kingdom, uses the Pound. Today, $1.00 U.S. was worth 63.5 cents to the Pound.
We will sail overnight (hopefully in calm seas) to Invergordan, Scotland a small city not far from Inverness, which is where we shall head.
More info about Scotland
Northern Europe Trip Page... (including photos)
Note that there are two trip maps, as this journey include two (back-to-back) 12 day cruises. The map of Norway is found below the UK map.