Sigur Ros’s newest album, Kveikur, was the soundtrack to our time on the Isle of Skye. It suited the Isle. The music, the wet air, the mountains — it all melded perfectly into one complete experience: gutteral, ancient, mystical.
Each piece of the island was stunning. We drove past every new vista with mouths agape. The word “beautiful” got heavier with each use, so that eventually we could only whisper it. The earth rose up from the sea in steep green mounds and rested in low grey clouds. To me, those mounds were giants from long ago. Not clumsy, stupid giants, but great warriors with young strength and wise hearts. Some sadness in the world had broken their hearts, and in an ancient age they stumbled to this high region of the world where they bent over, tears streaming through their fingers and down their hair and shoulders. There they stayed, until grass grew over their backs and their weeping carved tear-grooves down their sides. Skye became a world always green, watered with sorrow, lonely and desolate and always ancient.
When we entered Skye we escaped western civilization and rose above it into some otherly world. We drove down a single lane road, on the edge of picturesque views, to a self-catered cottage so far down the road no one ever drove past it. We lived there for three nights, eating our simple dinners after we put Bugaloo to bed in his travel cot and then going to sleep ourselves. It was quiet, and our view looked over towards some green giants and the sea.
From this outpost (near Carbost) we ventured forth. Every morning we’d pack lunches and snacks and diapers and then sit in the car and look at our map.
Faerie Glen was our very first stop. The name is all that is needed to describe what it was like.
Ambrose handled the whole trip better than could possibly be expected! He took his naps in the carseat during treks to the next site, but if he woke he amused himself in perfect silence or conversed quietly with the ceiling. He loved being in the baby carrier that Tyler wore, immediate excitement always ensued upon being lifted up that high. He was a wonder baby (this week.)
Skye felt untouched. A handful of houses spread across a hill constituted a town. And those houses were usually B&Bs, not residential homes. (I liked them because they were all white, like flocks tucked up in the hills to roost.) There was one two-lane road that circled the isle, other than that there were a couple of long, single-lane roads that accessed the remote corners. If people lived there, they didn’t belong; they could only pretend to live on Skye.
The second day we spent most of our day at Dunvegan Castle, which you can read about here. Then we went walking towards the coral beaches.
I asked God for a sunset our last night in Skye. The sky in the evenings had just always been grey and then dark. He gave me one. It lasted for a couple hours, finally sinking through the clouds at 10:45pm. (Aside: The owners of the cottage stay in an adjacent one, you can see their garden in the picture below, it had everything in it from lettuce to blueberries to corn!).
Our last day began with Ambrose sitting on the floor being really cute while watching Baby Einstein (so we could pack). Then we traveled to the Culluin mountains down south before saying goodbye to the isle. Ambrose was cute there, too.
Then we left. The Isle of Skye is unchanged for our brief trip — I feel like nothing will ever change it. Skye is ancient and green, and so it will ever be, for as long as there is sorrow in the world the giants will stay, weeping.
It was massive. I wanted to be a little girl again and run excitedly through the castle. The wheel staircase and the myriad of rooms leading to rooms, each decorated more fancifully than the one before it, begged to be run through excitedly. I wanted my cousins to be there so we could play lost orphans who hid in the tiny, wood panelled room at the top of the stairs and sneaked around the armoured guards and stole food from the kitchen.
But we were on a guided tour and I had a baby strapped to my chest. Plus I’m not 3 ft tall anymore (which makes everything seem bigger and more mysterious). Ah well. It didn’t surprise me when the guide told us in one of the victorian bedrooms that he once found six kids giggling underneath the bed.
Fyvie Castle is thought to have been founded in 1211 as a open air fortress, all of which is now gone or was reused to construct the current castle. It never really stayed in the hands of one family, but was passed around and sold off here and there, different owners building different pieces. The center of the castle is a wide “wheel stair” — exactly how it sounds: huge stone steps in a round tower that wheels upward in a great circle. In the middle ages when the stairs were built, the men raced horses up them. I felt I could hear echos of that mad clatter whenever we reentered the stairs to circle up to another off-shooting room.
Alexander Leith, a scot rich from the industrial movement, bought the castle in 1885 and made it what it is today — a colossal estate well suited to luxurious entertainment. He built the wing with the largest rooms, including a dining room with a striking, life-size painting of his wife dressed in white and an breathtaking room on the top floor with panelled walls housing cut-up tapestries of brave men and beautiful women in pastoral landscapes.
We came to Fyvie with my parents, so it follows that we visited the tea room. (We did have 45 minutes to spend before the tour began. But we undoubtedly would have taken tea anyway.) Ambrose sat in a highchair and banged spoons and fingered Grannie’s bracelets.
Fyvie was what a little girl pictures when “castle” is said during story time. Something grand. Something fortressy looking. Something mysterious and made of stone. The knight and princess ideal rests in Fyvie’s walls.
A noonday sun is a sword that slays veiling mists to reveal the face of everything. It tends to make everything a bit plain, though in a bold way that demands it to show its true quality. The castle at Crathes stood up to the sun well. It wasn’t frilly, but it didn’t claim to be.
The sun kept everything bright and warm (by comparison to other days) and gave us all a nice day out. Tyler’s parents were with us, which was great fun! His dad livened up the day for the history-explainers stationed throughout the castle and his mom was a good partner for me in appreciating the decor of the castle. We love them dearly.
The castle itself was, for the most part, one staunch tower from the 14th century. Wings had been built by owners in the victorian era as living quarters, but they’ve since burnt down. The layout of the tower was fairly basic, up one spiral staircase to view rooms on each floor and then down a second spiral staircase. The best info was about the low doorways meant to slow down attacking soldiers flaunting high helmets and also the 11th stair that was built too deep to further add to their injury by tripping them up. Any windows that aren’t large enough for a man to climb through are the original windows. Back in its day, this was a tricksy, no nonsense kind of a castle.
Ambrose and I loved the mirrors scattered throughout the castle, they were our favorite. I was wearing him facing out, so I’d be wandering through a room and there his little face would appear in the wall, grinning right at me. Grinning, because he could see mommy. We’d do little dances in front of each mirror.
Though the castle held no frills, its gardens did hold the promise of mystery and faerie once spring touches it and dusk-time comes. I should like to go back and catch it at that moment someday. I enjoyed the gardens for their potential.
The greenhouse inside the gardens, the place where all the green and growth was stuffed away from the grey, was where the magic lay at Crathes castle. The air in it was sticky and humming, bright and hot. Everything was waiting in there, waiting with the comfortable knowledge that it was worth waiting for and that when its plump ripeness rolls out into the garden it will dazzle the rest of the lanky plants and draw true crowds to the castle. I liked it in there, even if the plants were snooty.
With our new membership to the National Trust of Scotland, I hope to go back to these grounds for a family picnic someday. The gardens need to be enjoyed in full bloom.
Our first castle hunting expedition as a family was spontaneous. This is incontrovertible evidence that we’re ready to explore Scotland with a baby on our hip without it being stressful. (First-time parent predicaments.)
I live in the middle of a city. I had forgotten how quiet the world is. When we stepped out of the car, the silence greeted me as an old friend and said, “Remember?” Remember that green things rest in silence and bloom as slowly as the day is long. Remember that when a bird sings, it’s not to disrupt the silence but to enter into its breathings.
The mountains that bordered the sky sat calmly, dignified in their blue sweaters, and the air watched everything with an introverted twinkle in its eye. The fact that a castle waited behind the hill, turreted and real as the wet dirt, felt fitting, despite the other fact that in my mind this kind of castle only exists in fairy tales.
Silence makes anything seem possible.
Even though Castle Fraser withstood a siege from an army that the city of Aberdeen fell to, in the calm sunlight it felt more like a castle in which Prince Humperdink might try to wed Princess Buttercup. It had rich carpets, victorian beds, spy holes onto the great hall, and a myriad of windowed enclaves that would be perfect reading nooks. Tyler enjoyed the library with its collection of aging books. I liked the excitement of all the staircases that spiraled up towers with such tight energy they had to be leading to wonder. Ambrose liked the chandelier in the great hall.
I wore the baby and he behaved like a champ. The silence outside must have inspired him, for he was silent and staring the whole time. Except in the library. He does have a penchant for shouting happily in libraries.
Castle Fraser: A z-plan castle. Construction began in 1575 and was finished in 1636. Evidence suggests that there was a 15th century tower that it was built around. A lot of reworking was done in the Victorian Era so the interior smacks of posh 1800s aristocracy.
When inside you almost think yourself in a small cottage on account of the thick walls and the small rooms. It is only the string of room after room that proves you are in a castle. (Cameras not allowed inside.) I want to pitch a tent on the platform of the tower and spend nights up there watching the stars sink behind the mountains. The view up there quieted both me and Tyler.