I am not sentimental but I am glad it was a dreek day for our last view of the croft, making departure less regretful.
In amongst sorting out boxes of household stuff, I have been able to reflect on our 12 years there and ownership of the croft for almost 8 years. The flippant answer to why we left Skye is to move south to be closer to Waitrose. The metaphor works surprisingly well. The trigger for our departure was another speed camera (this time in Roy Bridge on a quiet Sunday morning) and the risk of loss of my driving licence in consequence. Fortunately I did not lose the licence but the potential penalty of what one could do without being able to drive on Skye brought into sharp focus our status. Skye is remote and without being able to drive, Skye would be just about impossible. Public transport is woeful, and just getting to Broadford, 6 miles away, there and back in a morning, is just about unachievable. Getting further afield is even more challenging. Health services are being transferred to Fort William 70 miles away whilst anything serious has to be dealt with in Glasgow, another world away (well, 6 hours by bus). Not a place for the old and infirm.
Skye is not a wealthy area and the services available reflect that situation. A small example is that a car with a 15 or 64 year registration will be a rental, (and should be given a wide berth, because of unpredictable driving). Most of the island is dependent on tourism, but this employment dominance goes unrecognized because there are a myriad of micro businesses employing ones and twos, but no large employers and no lobbyists to get in the ear of government for help and investment.
Infrastructure development to bring in more, wealthier, tourists on short breaks, maybe in the winter has been ignored. Despite a campaign led by the highly respected owner of the Three Chimneys, arguably the best restaurant on Skye, to get the government to fund upgrade of the airstrip at Lusa to allow commercial flights at a maximum cost of £12m, the response has been a flat 'no'. Yet oddly Dundee can get support of at least this amount and more for a copy of the London V and A museum, (a white elephant in the making). Access to the Highlands has not changed in the 12 years we have been there (except for the removal of tolls on the Skye Bridge). The A82 from Glasgow past Loch Lomond is dangerous and slow, the A9 dual carriageway project was shelved in favour of average speed cameras. There are no marina developments. Broadband speeds are a joke, so no chance of attracting anything remotely high tech. As for local services there is no butcher, no fishmonger, no clothes shop; not even a Pound shop. Two Coop supermarkets and the Tesco vans from Inverness keep everyone going. Yet the possibilities for developing a tourist infrastructure based on its stunning topography is immense, if only...
The Highlands and Islands are not a government priority unless it is a windfarm development or a fish farm but these have little or no impact on local wealth. Windfarms create environmental damage and impact adversely on tourism, with the benefit of only a few construction jobs. Others elsewhere get a lot more benefit: power to the central belt, profits that flow overseas to the owners of power companies save a token for the community. The same is true of fish farms - environmental damage to Skye, fish to China profits to Norway.
Without question though I will miss the opportunities for enviable wildlife experiences and the distinctive culture:
- Otters almost on demand
- Dolphins, to give unexpected pleasure
- Orchids and bluebells - reliable yet spectacular
- Excellent events featuring local musicians in concert at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig or maybe Aros Portree
I have some regrets of things not achieved in the 12 years. Here are a few examples:
- Failing to get to the top of Glamaig, which I could see from the kitchen window (I was beaten back by a blizzard and fading light some years ago, and never got round to going back at a more sensible time)
- Not even attempting the Cuillin ridge
- Not making the most of the almost unique geology such as visiting the Spar cave near Elgol
- Not finding some of the more interesting plants such as bog orchid despite several forays to likely places and not seeing the narrow leaved helleborine near Storr Lochs.
However I shall not miss:
- Winter storms with winds which can reach speeds beyond 70mph with the potential to lift the roof, take down trees, damage outbuildings and almost certainly cut off power.
- Highland midges - the destroyers of hope. I have still to understand what ecological remit they have and why legions of bats have not moved in. Midges turn every pleasant summer evening into a disappointment, and make a midge jacket a fashion item.
- And those other destroyers of hope, the Scot Gnats; more recently evolved than midges but another species whose ecological niche is difficult to fathom. Where midges thrive in damp peaty heathland the Scot Gnats are to be found gathering abundantly around oil and gas unless it is fracked, with their screeching 'Yes' a constant background noise. Blaming others for the ills of Scotland, and taking a highly selective and prejudiced view of Scottish history they do virtually nothing with the tools they have already to make lives better, worrying more about how to distribute wealth rather than create it in the first place.