The fairy pools of Skye

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“There was a drought in Skye recently,” said Donald Nicolson. “It didn’t rain for 6 hours.”

Donald and his wife Claire run Skye Scenic Tours and we were in Donald’s van for their popular one-day tour (30 GBP as of September 2015) around Skye. Aside from my sister and me, there were two sisters from Canada who’d recently finished their Masters in Glasgow; a recently wed couple — the guy Irish, the girl American — who had just settled in Ireland; plus the latter’s mom and cousin who’d come from the US to visit the newlyweds and took in a tour of Scotland along the way. Donald picked us up first — the Canadian sisters were also staying at the Portree Independent Hostel — and then we drove down to the Harbour where the others were staying. Donald cheerfully ushered the family of four into the van, introduced us, then said to the Americans in a mock whisper, “You won’t believe what they’ve been saying about Americans.” The four of us laughed — we’d done nothing of the sort, of course — but the cousin good-naturedly said, “Oh, we’re not too proud of ourselves at the moment too.” (We didn’t ask why.)

The skies were gloomy by the time all eight of us were in the van and it was forecast to rain later in the day. Skye Scenic Tours has both a dry-weather itinerary and a wet-weather itinerary — so the tour never gets canceled no matter the weather, explained Claire — and one of the major differences is that the Fairy Pools is only part of the dry weather tour. Once we’d all settled in, Donald turned to us and said, “Okay, what is the one place that you absolutely must see?”

We all hesitated for a moment, looked at each other, and then as if by pre-arrangement we all answered, “The fairy pools?”

I was afraid Donald would remind us that it was going to be a wet day and that we’d have to follow the wet-weather itinerary but he merely grinned and said, “Then we better go there first.”

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I don’t know if our Fairy Pools experience would have been different if we’d gone there on a sunny day. I think back on the landscape now and I suppose…if it had been a sunny day, I would have thought the Fairy Pools would be a nice place for a picnic, with its grass and flowers and trickling streams. If one had a horse, it would be a nice place for a trot, and a gallop every now and then.

But it wasn’t a sunny day — the drizzle that had begun even before we reached the area turned into bigger, faster drops as we descended into the valley. And in the rain and the mist and the bracing cold, the Fairy Pools was more than a nice place. It was a place where adventures could happen — could even be happening right then, as we skipped across stones, past gold and purple blooms, and walked upstream in search of the pools. Who knows who would come down to meet us from those mountains covered in cloud? Who knows what sight awaited us as we ascended those rocky steps? All those stories of warriors and brave ladies and people with the Sight — for some reason, they all seemed to come more alive in the rain.

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If we didn’t have many more places to visit that day, it would have been nice to linger at the Fairy Pools: to walk, and feel, and imagine.

But reality beckoned.

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The Fairy Pools of Skye | © Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. 

Midges and mountains and Scotland’s Skye

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“I am being eaten alive!” cried Pippin. “Midgewater! There are more midges than water!”

“What do they live on when they can’t get hobbit?” asked Sam, scratching his neck.


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Well, Master Gamgee, they live on me, for one — at least that day we went traipsing ’round Skye on a wet, windless, beautifully gloomy day. Multiple websites warned me of midges, but like many other bad stuff, you don’t really think midges will happen to you until they do. And besides it isn’t really fun going on a tour of Skye dressed like this:

And by "this" I mean the two sensible people coming up in full anti-midge protective gear.

And by “this” I mean the two sensible people coming up in full anti-midge protective gear, not the one in red. Though my sister paused less often for pictures so she didn’t get bitten as much.

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Not that a swarm of midges covering your face is too fun, either, but…you know…when you think of going to see the Fairy Pools, you don’t really think: Oooh! I’m going to the Fairy Pools! I’m going to wear protective clothing and put a net over my face like a keeper of radioactive bees! (Though if you have thought that, I can tell you you’ve got your priorities straight and that I wish to emulate your sensibility in future. Or at least I will bring bug spray.)

According to Donald Nicolson, our guide, midges tend to congregate near bodies of water and they’re most active when there’s no wind. They don’t bother you when you’re walking but when you stop — to take photos, for instance — they instantly descend upon every exposed part of your body. I thought midges would be like mosquitoes — which we have a lot of in the Philippines, that’s why I thought I could handle midges easily — but they look more like flies and they bite more like fleas. And it wasn’t even the midge bites that bothered me so much; it was that they were all over my face and I nearly inhaled a few of them a couple of times! Inhaling midges = so not fun.

Still, all those midge bites and near inhalations were worth it. I’d gladly play midge meal again if it meant going back to views such as these:

The Cuillins of Sligachan

The Cuillins of Sligachan

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Sligachan bridge

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Mountains in Scotland that are over 3,000 feet are called Munros. There are 282 Munros and some people make it a mission to climb all of them — these people are called Munro baggers (a term that rolls off the tongue so satisfyingly, probably because it reminds me of Bungo Baggins). Anyway, I could be mistaken but I believe that ragged tooth-like structure in the last photo above is the Inaccessible Pinnacle (referred to fondly as the In-Pin or In Pinn) which is notorious among Munro baggers as the only Munro that needs to be ascended by rock climbing.

Sligachan, above, was our first stop (and my first encounter with midges). I’ll post in greater detail about some of the other stops later, but here’s a quick look.

The Fairy Pools

Fairy Pools

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The Fairy Glen

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The Quiraing

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Kilt Rock

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Lealt Falls

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And the Old Man of Storr

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Sigh. Scotland. So worth a few midge bites.

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O flower of Scotland / When will we see / Your like again

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