11 Nov 2014
“Eee, chips and curry sauce” David said sinking into his deepest darkest Lancashire accent. The smell of salted hot potato chips filled the air as we walked through the Main Street of Portree. It was midday and the village was alive with uniformed school kids out buying lunch. Baked potato with cheese; chips and tomato sauce; chips and mushy peas…
“Ooh chips and curry sauce!” David exclaimed under his breath as a pair of girls walked passed chattering away. “I want proper, traditional fish and chips before we leave the UK; I missed out last time.” It had been a slow start to the day this morning, and we’d only eaten breakfast a couple of hours ago. We weren’t hungry. But suddenly our heads were full of hot chips! Mmmm
Back in the village, we browsed through a tiny book store. I found a book of Wainwright’s drawings of the Scottish highlands; I had to buy it. We need to stop buying books, I told myself thinking of our suitcase weight restrictions.
“Where do we have to meet?” I asked to change the subject of my thoughts.
“At the Chippy”
Down on the harbour front we watched huge gulls sore around and dive into the water lapping on the stony beach. They were picking crabs out of the shallow water. They usually managed to get a leg off the crabs but occasionally they’d pull out a whole crab. This attracted the other gulls who immediately mobbed the gull with the payload. Meanwhile the little crab would frantically struggle for freedom, snapping its claws in every direction. They often managed to escape. It was gruesome to watch, and impossible to look away.
We registered a little early for the boat trip, down at the chippy.
“There’s time for chips” I caved as soon as I saw them.
“No, no,” he found his strength as I lost mine. “I’ll cook us a nice meal when we get back”
We walked away from the chippy to wait, but I could still smell chips and then vinegar appeared on the wind. Two young girls were huddled together on the harbour front, eating fish and chips.
Sniff-sniff-sniff: I sucked in the delicious smells; Warm, fried, salty potato, vinegar, and oily batter.
Sniff-sniff-sniff: David was eating them vicariously.
“Oh let’s get a grip!” I chuckled and we moved away from the girls, closer to the chippy, finding middle ground between to two.
I went back to watching the gulls. A robin redbreast hopped over to us and perched on the rail looking at us curiously.
“He wants to know if we have chips” Dave whispered in my ear.
“There’s still time to share some hot delicious chips” I reminded him
“Mmmm chiiipsss” he teased.
“We could buy them when we get back and I could cook fish” he suggested after a while.
“We can’t drive home with hot chips, they’ll go soggy.”
“We can’t eat them here, we’d lose a finger to the gulls!”
I eyed them. He’s right, they looked at us with greedy anticipation. Did they know we were considering chips?
Finally we watched as our boat cruised into the harbour. The Stardust. Cheesy name, but she looked like a good little boat. As we walked down to meet it, we realised that we were on our own. “Looks like you’ll have a private charter, then” said the skipper.
After some low key safety instructions we pulled out into the harbour heading for the Sea Eagle’s territory. They were almost extinct but since the 1980’s there has been a reintroductory scheme. Now there are reportedly around 20 pairs on Syke. It wasn’t long before our keen-eyed skipper spotted a pair perched on a cliff top. He stopped the boat and threw a big fish overboard.
“That’s the male” pointed out the skipper. “I hope he takes the fish, he hasn’t eaten for a while.”
We watched and waited. The huge eagle watched us watching him. And the gulls hovered around the fish waiting to see what the eagle would do. A few brave gulls took a swipe at the fish, but it was too big for them. Suddenly the eagle launched from the cliff top. His swooshed down on the gulls, all claws and talons. The gulls moved like the wind to get away. He turned in a huge arc and glided down skimming the water, and in a splash he had the fish clutched in one claw and retired to the hillside with his catch. His mate circled overhead on the look out for the rival pair. It was a sight to behold! We watched through binoculars as he ripped into the fish.
Further south along the sound, we found the humpback whale that has been hanging around for a few months. We followed it for a while watching the big tail swish gracefully into the air and disappear deep into the icy waters. A curious seal popped up to see what we were doing, looking like a friendly dog. He splashed around with us for a second then disappeared. He looked like he was following the whale. Further in the distance we spotted a pair of Minke whales dorsal fins.
By now the wind picked up, icy-cold off the North Sea, bringing with it a dramatic sky over Skye. The boat listed and rolled and we had to hold on to keep balance. The perfect time to take a selfie! Besides, we were reasonably warm in our new weather-proofs, and didn’t need to take shelter in the boat. In fact we climbed up to the top platform for a 360 degree view.
“The queen used to anchor the Royal Britannia Yaght over there and they would go ashore for a picnic. It was a sight, because the Yaght was always accompanied by a war ship. Apparently she loves this view of Skye.” The skipper pointed out towards the Cullins.
On the way back, we stopped at the ‘resident’ pair of sea eagle’s territory. The skipper waved the fish in the air to get her attention, and then threw the fish overboard, close to the boat. She swooped down, huge wingspan and claws out, and snatched the fish out of the water. She was so fast; so big; so graceful; so menacing.
“I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of those talons!” I exclaimed the obvious.
“No, you wouldn’t!” agreed the skipper with a patient smile.
There was no point trying to photograph any of the wildlife with our iPhones. I confess this was another day I longed for my Cannon.
That night Dave cooked a lite meal of salmon, broccoli pesto pasta. Without chips.