The Isle of Skye looms more spectacularly in the Gaelic imagination than the 500 million years of earth history it took to shape it. It is more than a commingling of wild moors and mountains, darkly deep fjords, serrated coastlines and sea stacks, fertile glens, and silent tarns illuminated by the stark burnished Northern light. Risen up from eons of volcanic geology, Eileann a Cheo, Scotland's legendary "Isle of Mist" in the Hebridean Sea has broken hearts, inspired musicians, poets and painters and captivated tourists for centuries. In the heyday of the cult of the tartan, Victorians took the steamer from Glasgow "Over the sea to Skye" to gape at Britain's most awesome mountains, the Cuillins. Their steep jagged ledges and pinnacles, which Alfred Lord Tennyson described as circled with wreaths of dangling water-smoke, enraptured these genteel bustled ladies and tweed-clad gents. They climbed the foothills and Iron Age hillforts, explored the chambered cairns, birdwatched, fished for salmon and feasted from wicker picnic baskets, collected fossil ammonites and pressed wildflowers. They stayed for a whole month to take in Skye's bewitching atmosphere and diverse geological splendors. Reluctant to leave they were, and lines of a poem by Rev. J. F. Marshall lamented those predawn departures:
O misty isle, it seems as if
No time to leave thee could be found
More fitting than the hour in which men turn from sleeping,
And reluctant, lose their dreams.
From time immemorial there have been stories of phantom kilted armies on Skye...in the vicinity of Harta Corrie, celebrated in the history of the island for the Bloody Stone that marks the scene of a bitter battle between the MacDonalds and the MacLeods some three hundred years ago....The island also has a phantom car that travels at great speed along the hill road from Sligachan. All witnesses agree that the car is a 1934 Austin with lights blazing but no driver. The soundless form vanishes suddenly. —-GAZETEER OF SCOTTISH GHOSTS, © Peter Underwood,Fontana/Collins, 1973
Mrs Mackinnon told me that last year when the ship sailed from Portree for America, the people on shore were almost distracted when they saw their relations go off; they lay down on the ground and tumbled, and tore the grass with their teeth. This year there was not a tear shed. The people on shore seemed to think they would soon follow. This is a mortal sign. —-James Boswell Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson © 1773 (1785)
Portree lived once, when Prince Charlie came there with that impossible price on his head. The local people did not cash in then but they have since. What happened in the middle of the eighteenth century has forever since sustained them. —-SCOTLAND: THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE © Donald Cowie, 1973 by A.S. Barnes and Company, Cranbury, NJ and London: Thomas Yoseloff Ltd., London ISBN 0-498-01169-0