DAY 10 - Tarbert / Ferry to Uig / Skye / Portree

As all the locals know, summer ends in the Highlands when the English holidays begin and this summer has been no different, the stunning scenery of Skye has been largely concealed under a dank blanket. It’s not called Eilean a’Cheao – the island of mist – for nothing, but were are not depressed about it, even if the constant rain is tiresome. You need to have different expectations about cycling on this island in the summer. Up here barbecues are normally reserved for blustery days on the beach so as to escape the midges, and heavy rain is welcomed as it means dramatic waterfalls. But how much more can we take? So it was that again the dominant feature on our trip was the weather, this time - heavy showers.

Uig Harbour - starting up a very hard long climb.

We had decided that on our arrival at the weather beaten harbour of Uig that it was not going to stop us from taking the longer scenic route around Skye. So instead of the quicker, shorter route south we went north and followed the east coast of Skye around the Tornish Peninsula. The showers did not stop our enjoyment of it – this was a classic cyclist’s route and was well worth the extra effort. We managed to be at bus shelters for most of the showers and as the day went by the weather kindly relented and there was occasionally a glimpse of blue sky.

A few hours into the journey we reached a significant memorial – Flora McDonald’s grave. This meant that not only had we been to the place of her birth but now also that of her death. Unlike the South Uist end of this tale, this time there was a Visitors Centre, museum and café. We did not go in. Her story however, is worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster. Flora’s moment of glory came in the aftermath to the 1745-46 Jacobite uprising in Scotland.

In June the Prince found himself on South Uist but the army was closing in and it was necessary to ship him over to the Isle of Skye. Flora MacDonald agreed to be in charge of the operation. And so it was that a large boat with an eight-man-crew took him over to Skye. Apparently on the trip over the big man dressed as a female, Betty Burke, annoyed everyone to death by constantly singing ‘The Skye Boat Song’ (well … alright …… I made that bit up). It was very clever of the Visitors Centre though to arrange for visitors to experience the exact same weather as mention in verse two. And verse three tells of him resting his head on Flora’s lap (the dirty old git), when he was tired - probably exhausted from searching for his cutlery pack.

Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing,
Onward! the sailors cry;
Carry the lad that’s born to be King
Over the sea to Skye
Loud the winds howl, loud the waves roar,
Thunderclaps rend the air;
Baffled, our foes stand by the shore,
Follow they will not dare.
Though the waves leap, soft shall ye sleep,
Ocean’s a royal bed.
Rocked in the deep, Flora will keep
Watch by your weary head.

Flora was later arrested and brought to London for trial, but by then she was considered a big celebrity by the tabloid press of the time, the woman who had rescued the life of the heralded Prince.

Flora's birthplace. And the old girl herself.

In July 1747 Flora was freed, together with many other Jacobites. Ladies in London had collected £1,500 for her, a large sum in those days, and she returned to Scotland. But the story does not end there. In 1750 she got married and had seven children. In 1774, the family had fallen on hard times and the family emigrated to North Carolina. In the War of Independence her husband fought on King George’s side, (oops!) once again leaving the family without home and money when the war finished.

First Flora and then her husband, Allan, returned to Skye. In 1790 both died, Flora in March and Allan in September. Her death was at time of renewed Scottish pride and Flora’s funeral was well attended as people recognised the end of an era in Scottish history. Hundreds of pipers came from all over Scotland and lined the route from her cottage to the graveside (all 14 miles) and played the lament as the hearse passed by. It was a magnificent sight, enough to stir the most hardened of Scottish hearts. And just to prove how much we want to believe in this I made the last bit up – there is no evidence at all that her funeral was recognised – but it’s the way Hollywood would portray it (as well as all the mourners having painted blue faces). Why let the truth get in the way of a good story?

So it was that we eventually left the Flora McDonald trail and continued on a blustery journey to Portree. It was hard cycling, one uphill section was at least two miles long. We had a brief stop at Staffin and a welcomed hot soup went down a treat. The Tornish road eventually joins the main road south to Portree but it wasn’t too bad to cycle traffic wise. By mid-afternoon we had reached the camp site just outside Portree and after a quick shower we hit the bright lights of the capital of Skye. By now, we had both realised that our calorie intake was nowhere near enough for the physical exertions we were doing. Hence the basic errors I was making on Harris. Cyclist, burn up 5,000 calories a day roughly: four times what the average shiftless 55-year-old office worker needs to sustain himself for 24 hrs of domestic pottering. So we quite deliberately decided to eat has much as we could while in Portree. It is a pleasant enough town and was quite busy with tourists adding to the back-to-civilisation feeling we were getting. We sat in a café and scoffed an enormous cream cake before later heading to the local Chinese for a full blown banquet, finishing up with the now statutory single malt