Tuesday, May 22, 2018
The guest house arrangement here in Skye is very communal. Everyone fixes their own breakfast in a common kitchen, then shares a common table. We did so with 3 other couples, one from Canada and two from Germany. English seems to be the default common language, and everyone spoke it, some more than others.
We consider options for the day and decide on general sightseeing. Although we spied the Shorr hiking site yesterday we didn’t stop due to the wind, chill, and cloud cover. But today the sun is shining.
It’s an hour’s drive and we start wondering what thicket of tourist buses and selfie-takers might already be there. The Old Man of Storr is one of the more popular tourist destinations on the island. It’s actually surprising to find only a modest parking lot with no buses. Parking spills down both sides of the road on heavily puddled shoulders. We find a muddy opening and are soon afoot.
Up up and up we go. This is a moderately difficult hike that starts out graded but midway turns to large boulders and steep steps. Soon enough our car is a speck below. The Island and Sound of Raasay are spread out before us. Rising to our left is Storr and its ‘Old Man’ crags, surrounded by lush green carpet, tourists, and sheep. The mountain itself is around 2300′ and it takes us an hour to reach the top viewing point, probably around 2000′. Only a fraction of the hikers make it up as high as we do – it is a pretty good workout.
The viewing is phenomenal and worth the effort. We spend 20 minutes taking it all in and snapping a few photos, then take another 40 for the descent. The dogs are barking and our stomachs are growling. Time for fuel.
We head north to the nearby Skye Pie Cafe, again assuming it will be swamped with patrons. Afterall, relative to the number of tourists, there are not too many places to eat around here. Once again, we are surprised to park and get an outside table right away. Sweet! Two lattes, a goat cheese tart, and a chicken mushroom pie – just what the doctor ordered.
The Neist Point Lighthouse seems like a cool possibility for this afternoon, but we decide to postpone it until sunset. Instead we roll south for 45 minutes to a place called the Fairy Pools. We weren’t exactly expecting it, but it involves another 2 miles hike down and then up along a river gorge, ending in a series of cascading pools and rock crevasses. Very peaceful and scenic.
We test out the water and it’s really cold, probably in the 40s. A few tourists are getting their feet wet. A challenge arises between us. If either one of us will fully submerse his/her body in a pool, two entire match points will be awarded towards our golf competition. Two points is a lot. We’re ill-equipped to do it but we both consider it at length. Nah.
We roll back to Dunvegan, making an aborted detour to the closed Dunvegan Hotel bar for happy hour. Instead we veg in the room for a while and ready ourselves for tonight’s endeavor. Linda manages to welcome several guest parties in to the Brae Cottage and figures she ought to be earning some compensation as hostess.
Tonight we’re booked at The Three Chimneys, a reknowned remote restaurant here on the island. In fact, this place received the “UK Restaurant of the Year 2018” – a pretty fantastic achievement when you consider how many restaurants there are in the UK. MP Linda has even secured us coveted seats at the kitchen table, something we have loved doing at other restaurants.
We start in a ‘waiting’ room with GT cocktails, eyeing the others wondering who else will be at the kitchen table. The staff makes it sort of a parade as we are led like VIPs through the ‘commoners’ dining room through the kitchen doors. Dining with us this evening will be Dave and [we couldn’t recall] from York UK, and Jasmine and Robert from Victoria BC. As fate would have it, all are celebrating wedding anniversaries!
What we soon figure out is the The Three Chimneys takes extreme care to coax extraordinary flavor out of only local Isle of Skye ingredients. The lengths that are taken are truly amazing. Consider a duck course. It starts with a stock that is literally years in the making. The stock is saved (and re-energized with seasonings) and reused every day! So, first, the duck meat goes into this veteran stock every night for 16 straight days to steep and marinate. Then, on the day of serving, it is cooked in the same stock to a precise 52C to perfection. And this is just one element of the course! Even the salt crystals are from the nearby waters.
Our table is located directly inside the kitchen, only a few feet from the main ranges and counters. We expect frenetic activity but incredibly find none. It is the most orderly, the most quiet, the most efficient process we’ve ever seen. In fact, the chefs rarely even speak, all unhurriedly doing their tasks.
Our chef-server explains that this is not a Gordon Ramsey episode. To the contrary, this is a special remote and exquisite restaurant where chefs come to learn and hone their skills and become great. It’s quality not quantity. The Scottish spirit of friendliness is ingrained in the kitchen. If someone were to yell at or disparage another, how can you expect to get their best?
The six of us at the table get along very well in spite of (and because of) our differences. The Canadians are yuppies that remind us a little of ourselves many years ago. The Brits are quieter but jump in with many stories of their own. At one point, Linda and I described the rolling hills while bicycling on Rathlin Island. The Brit lady pipes up, “Oh, mamils.” I asked, “Oh is that another word for rolling hills?” and she replied, “No, mamils are Middle Aged Men In Lycra.” I may never wear lycra again.
The Brits also discussed with us some of the finer points of how to make Yorkshire pudding. This is something I must try.
[Later, Linda worked hard to come up with the name of the type of pastry dough used things like cream puffs and Yorkshire puddings. She triumphantly came up with ‘profiterole,’ which is impressively close. The dough itself is called choux or pâte à choux, and a profiterole is a cousin of a Yorkshire pudding.]
A different delicious wine was served with each of seven courses, five of them whites. We loved every one of them, including an odd-ball plum-infused sake that was fantastic with the Sconser scallop course.
We’d hoped to make it to the lighthouse after dinner, but after 7 glasses of wine and over five hours at the table, well, we were lacking both daylight and energy. It was well after midnight when we arrived back at Brae Cottage.