I went to the Isle of Skye last Wednesday. It should have taken just under two hours from the Abbey, but it took me around four instead. The joy of traveling in the off season is that you have places, which are normally packed to the gills with tourists, entirely to yourself. The other is that the local people have more time chat and tell you about things that you shouldn't miss but the guide books don't tell you about. Every corner I rounded was breathtaking, and because there was no traffic, I was able to pull over at will. The workers in the stores all shared really interesting things with me as well.
I saw a deer by the side of the road, so I pulled over into one of the many parking/pull off points that they have throughout Scotland. I was so intent on the one deer, that I was startled to see one immediately on my right watching me photograph his friend! He just stood there and chewed on the grass from the side of the road.
Can anyone tell me why the deer in Scotland eat the grass, but the deer in Illinois only eat my roses and any other lovely flower I plant, yet leave the grass? I would love for them to eat the lawn, then I wouldn't have to spend hours going up and down the hill mowing it all summer long! Of course if I didn't scale the hill many times a day, then I wouldn't be able to scale the Scottish hills and dale with ease, so I guess it's all good.
As I neared Eilean Donan Castle, I came across a really beautiful cemetery with a ruined crofter's cottage in the middle of it. I've always liked the peacefulness and the ornateness of old cemeteries, so I stopped and explored it for a while. Plus, I watched Buffy, so I know what to do if there's any undead issues. It seemed that this cemetery was both old and new. It had really old stones that were falling over and the engraving worn off, but the majority of them were from the late 1800's to about 1985.
Two interesting things about this cemetery were the cracked stone slab that reminded me of Aslan's table from 'The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe' and the McCrae World War I monument on top of the hill overlooking the cemetery. The memorial plate at Eilean Donan was also dedicated to the McCrae's lost at Flanders, so it would seem that the town around Eilean Donan must be the McCrae clan land.
Another bonus of Scotland in January was that I had Eilean Donan Castle to myself, which is not something that happens in the summer. Thanks to it's impressive structure and setting, as well as being featured in such movies as 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail' and 'Highlander', it is a very, very popular tourist destination, which is why I've never gone to see it before now.
The inside exhibits were closed for refurbishment, but I've seen the inside of many castles and they are all pretty similar, so I didn't really feel I was missing much. As I turned to go back to the car, I heard a sound that took me by surprise, a really loud airplane. I turned and there was a fighter jet passing behind Eilean Donan! The juxtaposition of a modern fighter jet passing an ancient stronghold was really striking. I didn't get the camera out of my pocket fast enough to capture the jet and castle in the same photo, but I did get it over the loch.
Once I finally reached Skye, I stopped in a couple of shops and had lunch in a pub that was recommended by the girl in one of the shops. She and I were chatting and she mentioned that they do a lot of training for the military in the Highlands. She then told me that she met an elderly friend of her grandfather back in the 90's who he knew from his time in the armed forces, and it ends up that her grandfather's friend was actually the basis for James Bond!! He was a spy for England in his day, and he consulted with Ian Flemming on the original James Bond books!! How cool is that?
I drove around Skye until the sun started to fade, then started home. Again, I love the castles best when they are all lit up at night, so I stopped to take some more pics on the way home.
One of the things that's important to remember about travel is that you are there to experience things that are different from what you do daily. Don't be afraid to veer off of the path or your plan for the day, because that's when the most memorable things happen.