If I thought the Skye Bridge was impressive, then I hadn’t really applied any thought at all it would seem. Coming on to the Island at first seems quite a contrast from the towering cliffs that precede Kyle of Lochalsh, but a short drive taking me in a loop south and then east reveals a road that is etched in time, inscribed even, yet full of drama and grandeur.
The narrow road – more of a twisting, winding track – to Kylerhea (Caol Reithe)- pronounced ‘kyle-ray’ – is steeped in history. Part of the old drovers road where cattle were once driven towards the mainland for sale, this single track road twists and meanders its way through quiet, unspoilt glens until it reaches Bealach Udal (a bealach being a narrow mountain pass). A high vantage point nestled between Beinn Bheag and Sgùrr na Coinnach, where the track then drops to the shore and jetty revealing views of the magnificent mountains of Knoydart and Kintail.
Just along the road (I park in a small lay-by and have to search for these) etched in the very rocks that stood proud and jagged alongside this well trodden drovers road all those years ago, are the carvings of early 20th century drovers, their names with dates marking time forever. Right in this very place, these very men rested themselves and guarded their cattle overnight following the long walk across the Isle of Skye to wait for the ferry to cross Kyle Rhea; a narrow, treacherous strait between Skye and the mainland. From there they would continue the even longer and more dangerous, onward trek down through the Highlands to the Falkirk Tryst (cattle market).
Kylerhea itself, is a small township, straggling the shores of Kyle Rhea. In times past, a fishing and crofting community, evidenced by the remains of a jetty/pier along the beach near the ruined crofts and level meadows of the original township. The Old Inn which sits just a few hundred yards from the jetty would have played a focal part in this townships history and its transient drovers. Although still standing, it is now used as a holiday let.
Also at Kylerhea is the Otter Haven. There are now two hides, a new one, manned during the season, located immediately off the carpark overlooking the ferry crossing and another, further along the forest track where, if I remember my binoculars, I can watch seals, all manner of wading birds, Herons & even Otters – if I’m sharp-eyed. Moreover, and if my timing is good – and IF I am really in luck, a White-tailed Eagle called Victor can be seen, as he swoops through, fishing from the shoals of fish that cut through the Kyle, north to Raasay Sound and beyond.
The views as I meander back to the main road from this peaceful, picturesque township open out to reveal the Cuillin. It’s strange, when driving to Kylerhea, my focus was totally on the winding track, its twists and turns that revealed small waterfalls leading in to Allt Mor, the river coursing far below the road, crashing over rocks and cascading along its self-made path. You see, Glen Arroch is tucked between steep mountains that seem to fold and obscure any views except of themselves so it’s hardly surprising I missed what now turns out to be the most magical views.
By now it’s late afternoon – my latest trip is in mid October – and the sun is going down. My line of sight from the car, begins to reveal views of Blà Bheinn and the Black Cuillin range that simply take my breath away. Layers of mountains anchored in time, partly shaded in mist, tinged with the suns rays are a sight to behold and savour! I have to stop, what choice do I have, to look and wonder at the magnificent beauty before me.
Beauty that was carved by huge glaciers over millions of years, like a painting created over much time with considered brush strokes. Drama quite simply gouged by ice. If I think about it, the views are almost identical to those the drovers would have cast their eyes over a hundred years ago. It’s a thought that grounds me. I would have to be made of the stone that I am beholding, not to be moved.
But what about that turntable ferry – The Glenachulish – that crosses the straits between Kylerhea and Glenelg? Surely that is worth a mention? Well of course! Especially for me, as it plays an important role in my extraordinary love affair with Skye – so we’ll explore that tale in my next blog.