Postcards from Skye : Homage to Skye

Returning to the Isle of Skye after 17 years has proved that memories of sublime scenery and a sense of connection are sometimes just feeble recollections.

Everything on Skye is in constant change; weather, light, temperature, hills, cliffs, burns, lochs and lochans, tides … Except for the continuity of the white houses. Everywhere in their crofts, villages and isolation, they remain constant and beautiful.


The Sleat Peninsula


A view of the Cuillans, Skye’s main mountain range, from the Sleat Peninsula.


According to legend, warrior queen Sgathaich lived in Dun Scaith Castle, now ruined, and taught Chu Chulainn, an Irish folk hero from the 9th Century, the martial arts of war when he first arrived in Skye from Ireland.


Portree, Skye’s main village


My great-great grandparents and their children, including their 4 year old daughter, my great-grandmother, left Skye in 1837 as part of the exodus of Scottish Highlanders displaced from their lands by the Clearances, when sheep took priority over people.

In a world history of bad landlords, many Scottish landowners from the 19th Century deserve a major prize for being near the bottom of the cesspool of the worst.

In and around the village of Breakish (Breacais Àrd – Upper Breakish, Breacais Ìosal – Lower Breakish) are Neolithic finds from 3000BC, and a Holy Well from the 7th Century attributed to MaolRubha, who brought Christianity from Ireland to the Druid Picts of the Western Highlands and Islands. That era was followed by 400 years of rule by the Vikings, whose relics and shipbuilding sites have been found nearby.

One of my favourite Scottish bands – Capercaillie – sings about Scotland, its history and hope.


Karen Mathieson’s gorgeous vocals soar in Gaelic here:


Have Uke, will Travel

Portable music access while travelling has changed over the years. The Walkman replaced the tape player in the 1990s, and was in turn replaced by the ipod/mp3 player that has now been largely superseded by the mobile phone and tablet.

But, what if you crave the company of an instrument to play on your travels? Instruments haven’t generally been miniaturised, so the issue of size remains a problem.


For my current long trip, I had hoped to pack a small guitar. However, the nice compact guitar that appealed – the Cordoba Mini – is 77.47 cm (30.5 inches) long, and too long for cabin baggage allowed by most airlines, usually 55-56cm (about 22 inches).

My mandolin, at 68.6 cm (27 inches) long, is also too long to take as cabin luggage, and I fear the hazards inflicted on checked luggage too much to endanger one of my favourites. So, a change of plan was needed.

Few sounds are more annoying than listening to someone learning a new musical instrument. I therefore avoided the temptation to pick a totally foreign instrument in recognition of the danger of antagonising neighbours in holiday accommodation, however much the bagpipes, tabla, violin, electronic keyboard and other momentarily appealing alternatives came to mind.


This Kala soprano ukulele cost AU$86, and is better than a cheaper uke by keeping reasonably in tune, courtesy of the quality of its tuning pegs and strings. I chose it because of the price and good reviews. It’s 53.5cm (26.06 inches) in length, a little longer with its soft case, but qualifies as hand luggage. Ukulele phone apps make holiday playing easy as they include tuners, chord charts, how to play instructions, and song lyrics and chords (universal, of course, regardless of instrument).


It’s time for a strum.

A note for later trips

A fellow hotel guest in Bali brought his tenor ukulele (longer than a soprano at around 66 cm) from Australia as oversized baggage. Jetstar allows any baggage including a musical instrument that exceeds 1 metre (39 inches) in length to be carried as oversized baggage at AU$25 per flight. This option (also used for sporting items like surfboards) looks like a good method for travelling with a musical instrument internationally, particularly as it seems that the item is given greater care than the rough and tumble of normal checked baggage.