The Isle of Skye is a voluminous splatter that sticks to the west coast of Scotland like a prize-winning tomato dropped from a bell-tower. It is larger than you’d expect - 639 square miles of never-horizontal terrain house around 10,000 inhabitants (the recorded population was double this in the early 19th century).
We rolled into Portree (the largest town) in the late afternoon, and after a leisurely dinner repaired to our hostel for an early night. The next morning my companions were participating in the Skye Sportive - 48 miles around the northern peninsula of the island (with an option for a further 47 miles). So there wasn’t much frivolity in the hostel. As a matter of fact there wasn’t a lot going on at all - the next day’s travail hung in the air, unspoken.
I traded a few words with a kilted man with a marvellous perm who said he was a tour guide. “I know why you’re not biking tomorrow,” he confided, with a knowing leer. “You’re a smoker!” And later, as I lay in bed and read some F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Isn’t it marvellous how they have a light by each bed so you can read without keeping everyone awake?” I concurred torpidly.
If you are not on some kind of energetic mission, Portree has little to offer in the way of time-wasting. I breakfasted alone in a hotel with only a nervous waitress for company. When I’d strung this out as far as it would go, I made my way down to the car and spent the rest of the morning reading a newspaper and listening to the rain pinging off the roof. My companions returned from their labours, and after massages (these took an age) and showers they were ready to storm the town.
Few extraordinary moments from the night are etched in my recollection of that night. A mediocre Indian meal (served by waiters who finished every sentence with the word “please”: “Chicken Tikka Massala, please… Peshawari Naan, please.” Exquisitely courteous chaps) preceded drinks in the first pub, which was hosting an Accordion and Fiddle Festival (excruciating and brutal). Relocation to another pub improved the mood, despite the uninspired live band (what looked like a father-daughter act). It was around this time I began bellowing “Freebird!” at the conclusion of every song, and the bellicose tenor of the night was decided. We were harangued by a bleary-eyed drunk in a t-shirt that read “jellyfish are free,” which he had purchased in Manly, Australia, from a man called Wayne. “Do you know what’s in Manly?” he asked us. We shook our heads dumbly. “Nothing! But do you know what else is in Manly? AWESOME! Manly is made of awesome!” He had promise, I felt, but we tired of him quickly when it became apparent he was stuck in a loop and could only reiterate the same conversation over and over again.
One of my comrades established a rapport with a hungry-eyed woman still in the denial phase of middle-age, and this yielded information on the hip-spot-to-be on a Saturday night in Portree, for which we made. Bumbling up some stairs from the main street to an upper room, we burst into an extremely weird scene. Wall-to-wall bodies swayed and jigged lustily to the usual cover songs (as executed by a collection of reprobates with instruments in the corner). It took a good 5 minutes to make it to the bar through musky adolescents and wild-eyed pensioners and everything in-between. It took a good deal longer to get served. After my compadres talked reverently to Dougie Vipond, (formerly of Deacon Blue, currently of BBC Scotland) and I talked to what I assumed to be his camera man, kicking-out time had arrived.
Outside, in the street, we followed the scent of a ” pairty”, investigating possibilities with varying techniques. My companion continued working on the lady from the other pub, and I experimented with more direct tactics. The rest of our group were more interested in their beds, and eventually (after it became apparent that the older female was only interested in a 2-person party - to which I was not invited - “Big D doesn’t go anywhere without Big D!” my companion bawled nonsensically, but she would hear none of it) we bailed to the hostel, where the evening drew to a close with more inept strumming and ballad-butchery, this time from a group of pensionable hippies.
Do you know what’s in Portree? Nothing. But do you know what else is in Portree?
Published on June 1st, 2010