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Thursday, July 27, 2006

FEATURE: Skye green

I can't believe it's nearly two months since we returned from our little holiday in Skye, and the whole time I've been meaning to write about a couple of things we did whilst up there. We were extremely fortunate with the weather and my boyfriend had a rude awakening to the pleasures of midgies. Whilst not everything we did in Skye was 'green', here are a couple of things you might like to do:

If you have Freeview, you have UKTV Bright Ideas, full of gardening, cooking and home programmes. Every so often they show a series called Changing Lives, about people who have moved up to Skye, and it was here that we found out about Rubha Phoil. It's a lovely garden/woodland walk/shop/collection of eco-houses right by the pier in Armadale. The TV programme (a couple of years old) has a focus on the eco-house, as this is someone's home it's not open to look round but there are a fair few buildings you can see from the outside. Rubha Phoil had changed ownership recently, which may be why the website looks as though it hasn't been updated for ages. I was almost expecting it to be closed because of this.

We spent at least an hour wandering around the woodland walk, which has lots of surprises like sea views, a bird/seal watching hut, lots of recycled materials, a boat in the middle of the woods and a swing that we just had to have a shot on. There are lots of warnings that you should wear good sturdy shoes and keep a close eye on children at all times. I was fine in trainers, even if I did need to skip over a few muddy bits. Some of the pathways are a little perilously close to the edge for comfort, so definitely be careful with kids.

The shop wasn't open, but there was an honesty box for buying herbs. I was very tempted with the lemon verbena, but I would have had to carry it around all day, on the bus and then on the train home.

This was a great find. We stayed in Broadford, Skye's second biggest village, which isn't known for it's fine cuisine. I thought it was going to be a few days of vegetarian lasagne and chips (you can't expect all the choice of Edinburgh in a small village), when we had a look in the window of the Harbour Restaurant. It looked very unassuming from the outside but the menu sounded fantastic.

Returning the following night (it was only open a few evenings a week) we discovered that the food lived up to our expectations - and more. I had a delicious homemade spicy hummous and salad for starters. I could have just eaten a plate of the cherry tomatoes that came with it, the sweetness burst into your mouth. Next I had pasta with a creamy wild mushroom sauce, which again, was gorgeous. The restaurant is run by a couple who do all the cooking themselves (and the serving, although I expect at this time of year they have a bit of help). It's really lovely to be able to hear and smell your food being made, and knowing it's all fresh and not from a plastic container in the freezer.

You are charged £15 for three courses, it's a set menu with three options per course, keeping it simple. I wasn't sure I could manage pudding but as I was going to pay for it anyway I thought I'd give it a go, and I was glad I did. A scrummy cheesecake arrived, very cakey, and I still dream about it. My boyfriend enjoyed his food too, unfortunately he can't recall what he had but he thinks there was definitely some salmon involved (we rely on him for the non-veggie perspective). Fairtrade coffee and wine was available, as was local beer. All food was locally sourced and fairtrade where possible. The owners are lovely and we had a good chat with them after closing time (9pm, you're on Highland time now).

One of the things that struck me was the 'normality' of the restaurant. It was aiming to be fairtrade and organic yet didn't have a 'hippy' vibe about it. Then I realised that being fairtrade should be 'normal'. We adored this restaurant and recommend everyone visits. They also open for lunch at the end of the week/weekend.

Last time we came up we discovered the Isle of Skye Soap Company just off the main square in Portree, Skye's capital. It's a lovely wee gem of a shop, and this time we stocked up on goodies. The lavender scrubby soap is divine, and my boyfriend loves the sandalwood and cedar version. I've just been using rosemary and nettle and also have some geranium and rose waiting for me. You can also buy toiletries made using essential oils and a variety of gifts. They sell some great natural plant wax candles too, at very reasonable prices, by Amphora Aromatics. It's not always easy to find such candles but these are great. Isle of Skye soaps are available at other shops throughout Scotland, but for the biggest variety (and no mark-up) head for the home store.

SKYE is a great place for a holiday, and reasonably easy to get to and around on public transport (buses aren't frequent and don't run late but it's possible to see many places using them). There are loads more things to do than we could cover here, go and see for yourself!


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