Monday, May 18, 2020

Talisker House - A look Back

The last post on a virtual visit to the Viking Canal made me wish I was really on Skye. So I dug through my journals looking for entries about the island. As I did I came a cross a Skye walk I'd never written about - one made twenty years ago. 

It was June of 2000. After a long stay on Rum (book 1, chapter 28), my wife were on Skye, driving the single track to Talisker House. I'd booked a room there for one night to break up our journey to North Uist. Oh how I regret my thinking back then, in just booking for one night - one night in a historic place that deserved a week at least.

It was a beautiful, cloudless day, as we made the 50-mile drive across Skye from Armadale. We found Talisker House at the end of a long single-track road, where we were graciously greeted by Jon and Ros Wathen (I believe the Talisker Estate was owned by their family). We were fortunate in our timing. Talisker would not operate as a B&B for very long, as in a few years the Walthens would leave to run a guest house in Australia.

Talisker House was built in 1717 for the Macleods of Talisker, and hosted Boswell and Johnson for two nights in 1773. Dr Johnson did not think much of the place, reporting that it is The place beyond all that I have seen from which the gay and the jovial seem utterly excluded.

Talisker is an interesting name. So much so that the Carbost distillery, which lies four miles away on the shore of Loch Harport, took it as a name. I have come across two translations of Talisker. The first is 'house at the rock', the second is 'echo-rock' (the Gaelic for 'echo' is MacTalla, the son of the hall). The aforementioned rock is Preshal Mor, which you can see in the previous photo looming 1000 feet above the house.

We had booked for dinner at the house. That's something I don't usually like to do as it limits your options for a long walk. But there were no other places for a meal in the area. With only two hours to explore I decided to walk some of the Talisker Horseshoe and see if there was an echo at Echo Rock. 

The Talisker Horsehoe is a five mile circuit from the house up to Preshal More (1050 ft.), then around the upper reaches of Glen Sleadale to Preshal Beg (1130 ft), and then back down to Talisker. With only two hours I'd just have time to reach the head of the glen.

From Talisker House Preshal More looks like the Devil's Tower, a massive stack of rock. But as I climbed to the southeast it became a giant wall of stone that reminded me of the Sgurr of Eigg. As I approached I could hear the echos of baa'ing sheep.

It had been a long day of travel, and it was very hot. I was so tired after climbing 500 feet in the heat that I decided not to climb to the top. After finding a place to sit and catch my breath I started to yell, listening as the echos washed down into the glen.

I carried on south along the route of the horseshoe. An hour into the walk I came to the turnaround point at the head of Glen Sleadale. It was a beautiful spot, and in the late afternoon haze one of Macleod's Maidens could be seen rising from the sea off Idrigill Point.

If I hadn't had to be back by 7:30 I'd have kept on going. But the wife would not be very happy if I missed dinner, so I started back. The walk down the glen, along the banks of the Sleadale Burn, was stunning. And as I rounded a knoll the policies of Talisker House came into view, an oasis of pines surrounded by fields of abandoned lazybeds.

I was back just in time for dinner. I don't remember what was on the menu, but I do remember that my wife and I felt a little under-dressed in our jeans, as everyone else was smartly attired. But we travel light, and jeans are all we bring on vacation. After the 'Full Scottish' the next morning we set off to Uig to catch the ferry to Lochmaddy.  

I regret that all-too-short stay, and so a return to Talisker is high on the to-do list. But the closest I'll get this year is by enjoying a smoky dram with a splash of highland spring water. 


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