All girls (the big and small cats) have a fantasy dwelling that to do with a Scottish castle of any kind.
Romances have been immortalized against these backdrops in Bollywood and Hollywood can safely call it its second home. And, I am just another girl, that has similar fantasies. So, when we were mid-way into our visit to Scotland, it went without any back-lash conversations that a trip up the mountains of the Western Highlands was a must in our itinerary. That was way back in 2007.
Circa 2012, and ‘Skyfall’ releases in India as the 23rd 007 James Bond movie. Many called it the best of Bond offerings, and claimed that Bond had matured, beyond his chases, women and rollicks in the bedroom. The movie also highlights Bond’s Scottish origin, weaves it into the plot of the main story, even providing it with the opportunity of the climax. It beautifully showcases Bond’s ancestral property of ‘Skyfall’ what I believe is actually the Duntrune Castle, along the western highland coast. I went to watch the movie like a ‘fan’ would.
Two last tickets in the front row of the movie theatre were all we were destined for, and so be it! Movie over, I came back home only to find myself containing racy dreams and thrilling escapades in my sub-conscious for several nights to follow.
Images where I get lost in an old castle, with goons aiming guns at me, visuals of car chases in a narrow road, sandwiched by two parallel train-tracks; getting lost in a highway between the New Jersey and New York interstate, having being mugged earlier and left without a penny nor my cell phone in my pocket!
And then back to old, musty smelling castles where I would be tucking myself behind cobweb laced chandeliers and duck underneath moss smeared kitchen counter, while wiggling as slow as I can to a secret door, leading to a secret cellar, that leads into a tunnel, that opens up beyond the next Loch! You think these were scary dreams?
No way! I was enjoying my thriller dreams, often nudging myself to sleep for a bit more, lest my dreams end without a befitting and deserving climax!
I wanted to soon revisit Scotland. And till I do that in person, I will continue harbouring this dire urge to re-visit the land of the lochs, the straits and the mountains and feeling as heavenly and elevated as it was experiencing it, real time, the first time…
The name is Skye..the Isle of Skye..!
One bright vibrant day in Edinburgh, in the May of 2007 we rented a cute Skoda and drove towards the Highlands. Driving north of Edinburgh towards Portree, on the A9 past Perth along meandering lochs, was one of the most mesmerizing drives I have ever had.
The highest point on this highway was the Pass of Drumochter. “Fàilte don Ghàidhealtachd”- it says, which translates to “Welcome to the Highlands’! The Pass of Drumochter is the main mountain pass between the northern and southern central Scottish Highlands. Quick tete-a-tete’s with Gary and Eric(Lochs being their surnames!) led us on towards the most dramatic contours of geography I have ever witnessed: rugged, green, serene, mysterious and unpredictable…all at once.
By the time we had reached Loch Laggan, we had officially entered the Highlands. And how excited we were, seeing the signboard! A little bit of India, a whiff of its essence, thousands of miles away from her, in Laggan! For those who are uninitiated, Lagaan was a very popular Bollywood movie, directed by Ashutosh Gowarikar.
The Isle of Skye or Eilean a’Cheo (misty isle in Scottish Gaelic) is the largest island of the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. The Cullins hills command a majestic presence in this island. With a dramatic coastline like that and the rich greenery, a lover of anything unpredictable and yet beautiful would feel at home here.
A lover of that nature with a penchant for tales, stories and legends would never want to turn around and leave this quaint little island. As we passed the Eileen Donan castle, it struck me that this was the very castle that appears and is ‘used’ by the global film fraternity. Bond has been here before, with The World is Not Enough, and back home, so has Karan Johar with Kuch Kuch Hota Hain.
We had no reservation for the night, and since it was ‘season’ time, we didn’t want to take a chance. We stopped at Kyle of Lochalsh, just at the nape of the famous and immensely pretty Skye Bridge. The Skye Bridge is a road bridge over Loch Alsh, connecting mainland Highland with the Isle of Skye. The streets were uncomplicated and each of them had at least two bed & breakfasts! We decided on the first one we found vacant. A quaint Victorian style cottage, aptly names ‘ Victoria’ and run by the elderly Mrs Morris and her husband.
That night, after supper, all we did was stand in the middle of the Skye Bridge, staring at the halo of the full moon, pleasantly disturbed every now and then by the fishermen cleaning their catch, the movement on the dock and twinkling lights on the other side of the bridge.
The next morning,after a clean, unhurried breakfast of sausages, eggs, mushroom and tomatoes, that got washed with lazy conversations with the hostess and the lovely tea she made for us, Skye was on our mind. To reach the largest town in the Isle of Skye, Portree, we drove past the rocky landscape of the Storr Mountains, and several lochs (lakes) and glens (valleys). We stopped at Broadford, just past the bridge, where portly Clive McLeod in the TI Booth told us all about the McKahani of Scotland!
The net conclusion was that other than MacDonalds, all other Macs of the world, have made Scotland proud! Magnets in hand, we drove further towards Sligachan, and after the town of Luib, we took a tiny half road to Moll. This little village, with hardly 5-6 houses had the most spectacular view of the Cullins Range.
En route Portree, just a little further down from Sligachan, we spotted them: the cutest most animals born on earth: the Highland Cow, fondly christened as Shaggy, by yours truly! And in all their wondrous shagginess, they were chewing grass from a patch of green. The yellow hair completely covering their eyes, only the good Lord knows how they see anything at all! But their shagginess be blessed…they are oh-so-touchable and mmmmmessable!
The strenuous hike on the rugged mountain trails off Sligachan had whipped up our appetite. On reaching Portree we entered a tiny restaurant called The Isles Pub. A befitting poster greeted us:
We sat down across the bar counter, and consumed the warm, comforting goat cheese and cauliflower soup, served with rye bread and olive butter. It was early evening , and time for us to head back to Victoria. And what could be more apt, than a glass each of the locally made single malt- Talisker, to bring in the purple mountain dusk. Brilliant, smoky, smooth like honey and lovely! What complimented the sun-downer was the lively barman McCallum, who told us several stories and legends of elves, brownies and hobgoblins that we heard in awe, as we sipped!
Lights had started twinkling in Portree. Portree has a picturesque harbour and a row of colourful houses. Apparently, it also has the only Secondary school in all the Isle. Tiny, it indeed was.
The next morning we were heading out of the Highlands. With every new place we visited over the next few days, the beauty of the Highlands became more mesmerizing, only to be emphasized more by Scottish tale-telling. So, if you ever plan a visit to Scotland, forget the castles, ruins, lochs and Scotch trails.
Find a Scottish Mac instead…who can spin a good yarn!
Image Source of film shot: Hindustan Times