THE scenery is so ridiculously idyllic that it could easily adorn the cover of an album written by one of the more earnest bands of the 1970s. So it is quite fitting that as I stand on the pebble beach a few yards from a sea so still you would swear it was glass, with snow-capped mountains looking down upon on us, I am offered some grass.
The grass in question is the kind you find on lawns, and it’s supplied by the rather wonderful Mitchell, a ghillie attached to the Kinloch Lodge Hotel on Skye, who is leading our foraging experience. It’s great fun.
The blades of shore grass we are chewing on are genuinely delicious. We dine on wood sorrel, and that along with sugar kelp, scurvy grass, serrated wrack and spaghetti seaweed can all be eaten. Honest.
But before you go all Ray Mears, who Mitchell appeared on the telly with don’t you know, please do not pick up the nearest thing on the ground. We also forage for mushroom. Pick the wrong one and it’s good night. Put Amanita phalloides (Death Cap) in a soup and it’s the last meal you will have, Mitchell tells us. So we don’t. At one point he gestures at an innocuous fungus and declares it “will turn your insides into mush”. But we do eat nettles in a forest. They were ace.
This is perhaps the 20th time I have been on Skye and every time it surprises, and in a good way. I’ve climbed mountains, cycled and dined out. There are few better places to do all three, but this foraging malarkey is as much fun as I’ve had on my favourite island.
Fly fishing is also on offer through the hotel during the season. You can stalk deer which, if you are that way inclined, could end with you shooting a deer. Not for me, but I would imagine it could be a thrill.
Skye is coming up in the world, and the good people who live there have cottoned onto the fact that these days, visitors expect a bit more than a decent chippy and a B&B.
The island has Michelin-starred restaurants – Glasgow doesn’t. There is climbing, some of the best walking in Europe, kayaking, diving, and at the end of all that activity in stunning settings there is the option of staying somewhere seriously nice.
Kinloch Lodge is such a place. It is at the high end of the price range but you pay for what you get. And what you get is what you want.
We are staying in the “new” building in that it appeared in 1998 although if “1889” was carved above the door, nobody would be any the wiser. There are real fires, plural, and they are always lit. An unlit fire is, of course, one of the great crimes of modern life.
There is an honesty bar – and we are honest – and after dinner there is the chance to take off your shoes, lie on the couch, and try out a local gin or whisky. We had the lounge to ourselves, staring into the flames and imagining ourselves as lord and lady of the manor. It’s how I want to go.
And you will need a lie down after the meal. Wow. The menus alone make this a destination place.
The kitchen is led by Marcello Tully. We indulged in the tasting menu on the first evening and a five-course meal the following night, which turned out to be seven courses, including little extras such as the mouth-watering pastry amuse bouche, salty home-made bread and after-dinner petits fours.
The family home of Lord and Lady Macdonald of Macdonald, the Kinloch Lodge became a hotel 40 years ago and is now run by their daughter Isabella. The building dates back to the early 1600s and was at one time a hunting lodge for nearby Armadale Castle, the ancestral seat of Clan Donald.
The lodge is well situated for some easy and great walks that include taking a drover’s path over the hills to the abandoned village of Leitir Fura with stunning views over the Sound of Sleat. The village is a great spot for a picnic and the vista includes Sandaig Island, the setting of Gavin Maxwell’s Ring of Bright Water. On our first evening, we wander down to the shoreline as the sun is setting.
Our room is so stylish and yet comfortable, it’s hard to leave. Again, the extra touches really lift the experience, including underfloor heating in the bathroom, walk-in shower and enormous tub and luxurious toiletries. With views over the lawn down to the water, you can throw open the curtains and soak up the sun-dazzled beauty of Skye.
Which leads us to the award-winning breakfast. Simply exquisite. Armadale eggs Florentine, eggs with buttered soldiers, unbelievable porridge and the full Scottish – although we are still too full for that mouth-watering plateful.
You can still do Skye on a budget. If the weather is kind, then drive around the island, stopping wherever you want for a wander or stare. There is a lot to stare at. Scotland is incredible and Skye is the jewel in our crown.
Oh, and more thing: mushrooms, the good ones, can be used as a substitute for chewing gum.
Neil Cameron was a guest of Kinloch Lodge hotel on the Isle of Skye.
The hotel is just off the A851 and approximately a 20-minute drive from the island side of the Skye Bridge.
For booking and information visit http://kinloch-lodge.co.uk/ or call 01471 833333
Group Foraging Days at Kinloch Lodge area available on Saturdays 10am-3.30pm at £125 per person including a four-course lunch and a cocktail (or mocktail). Private foraging experiences can be arranged on request, subject to availability. The cost (including a cocktail – or mocktail – each) is £220 for up to two people and £60 per each additional person (maximum 10 persons).
Room rates start at £190 per person per night until March 25 2018, rates are discounted, starting from £140 per person per night. All prices include a hearty Scottish breakfast and a spectacular 5-course dinner in the Michelin starred dining room each day of the stay.
FIVE THINGS TO DO ON SKYE
Fossil-hunting on the beach
Take a short walk down to the coastline at Flodigarry, one of the best spots on Skye for hunting fossils. The walk passes near to the cottage of Flora MacDonald, the Jacobite heroine and offers views of the stunning Torridon mountains across the sea, while offshore sits Flodigarry Island, the home for several years of a Second World War conscientious objector who hid there, thanks to supplies from the locals.
An activity for the brave: the deep blue Fairy Pools are filled with water from the Cuillin – so not warm! This spot is among the best for wild swimming in the UK. You’ll find it at the end of a single track path that leaves Carbost. Pack hiking boots for the walk and a wetsuit if you’re planning more than a dook. Beaches suitable for swimming include Camas Daraich at the Point of Sleat and Coral Beach near Dunvegan. On the coastline, look out for seals and sea eagles, or watch gannets dive with amazing precision.
Wander into the UK’s version of Middle Earth
The landscape of the island has a magical, mythical and mysterious quality that at times can feel otherworldly. Experienced climbers can tackle the Cuillin – and experienced guides are available for hire to negotiate some of the more challenging parts of the range.
The spectacular Quiraing forms part of the Trotternish ridge and consists of a massive landslip that has created stark cliffs, plateaus and pinnacles. Again you’ll need to be confident with heights. For an easier walk that ends in wonderful views, head to the wonderfully named Old Man of Storr.
One of Scotland’s most beautiful villages lies a short drive from the Skye Bridge on the mainland side. An overnight stay is advised because it’s one of the nicest places to potter around before treating yourself to food and a drink while looking at the sea. Go on Callum’s boat for some seal spotting and on a good day you’ll even see a whale.
Attack the Cuillin
Even the most experienced climber will book a guide to get them up and down Skye’s famous mountains. However, it is possible to go yourself as long as you keep in mind that the rock makes compass-reading tricky. The Inaccessible Pinnacle is something of a Graceland for Munro-baggers and you do need someone to lead you. It’s scary but worth it.
Source : HeraldScotland