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Notes from the Isles

An Island Journal by Kate Francis

We were booked onto the 6 p.m. ferry from Skye across to the Outer Isles, to be in the old house to join the rest of the family for a late supper two days before Christmas. It was a beautiful day and over breakfast, my husband, our oldest daughter and I agreed that we would take our usual route to Skye from our house on the Black Isle, anti-clockwise north and west via Achnasheen, rather than the more frequented main route clockwise south and west via Loch Ness. Both are very beautiful but our preferred way is quicker. We had plenty of time, so we agreed to leave after an early lunch and maybe stop off for a cup of tea in Portree before catching the ferry.

I am the chauffeur these days but we traveled in my husband's car because it is much bigger than mine; he says it is more comfortable and we had a great deal of luggage. I drove slowly, enjoying the feeling of leisure and no rush. At 3 p.m., when we were well over half way there, we came to a sign saying: "Road Blocked Ahead. Landslide." Our daughter dashed into the local hotel to check. Yes, indeed, they assured her, the cliff had come down and there was absolutely no way through.

"No hope," I said. "We'll have to go back home and catch the ferry tomorrow."

"Nonsense," cried my passengers. "Turn the car, put your foot down, and go for it. We could just make it." You are supposed to book in an hour before sailing, but even if we rang and asked them to keep a place for us, this gave me three hours to retrace our route and take the other way round...at least 150 miles, some of it on very minor roads. It would be getting dark in half an hour and the clear sky had given way to clouds with already a few flurries of snow. But my blood was up and I turned the car and put my foot down. I don't like driving my husband's car; it is large and heavy and unwieldy, but I have to admit that it is ideal in a situation like this -- it holds the road and accelerates well. I only did one risky thing, and got away with it, but now and again I heard a little gasp from the seat behind me -- "Ooops, Mum!" -- and then a controlled silence.

We were in constant touch by mobile telephone with the ferry office, with the family already in the house, and with our son and family who were also late for the ferry on the road from the south. We reached the Skye Bridge at 5:30 p.m. with another hour's drive. On we sped. "Hold the ferry, hold the ferry, we're almost there," we pleaded to our son, who had just gotten there. We still had half an hour to go. Finally, over the line, we heard the ominous wail of the hooter and, "We're sailing." We missed the boat by 20 minutes.

So, there we were at the terminal, in swirling snow with all accommodations closed for the winter. Next ferry 9 a.m. on Christmas Eve. We returned to Portree, half an hour south, and cast our nets for somewhere to stay.

The full text of this column is available in the Summer 2012 issue of Scottish Life.

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