Isle of Skye

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The Road to the Cuillins

I recently returned from a two week break on Skye with the family and have been asked on more than one occasion: “two weeks on Skye? What did you find to do in all that time?”.

It was this implied preconception and misconception that a small Island of the North West coast of Scotland couldn’t provide enough to occupy a family of five for two weeks that prompted me to write this Blog post.

The first thing to say is really stating the obvious I suppose. If you enjoy wide open soft sandy beaches, siting by a pool, consistent 12 hours of sunshine etc then this is not the place for you and I suspect Skye would not even appear on your radar as a potential destination.

If, like me, you enjoy stunning scenery, lochs, mountains, climbing, walking, wildlife, sea life, great food and drink, rock pools, relaxing by a log fire, weather that can have you in a t-shirt in the morning and wrapped up in a rain coat and woolly hat by lunchtime and to top it all wonderfully warm and welcoming people then Skye is certainly for you.

Dunparkhouse

The Cottage at Dunpark

This year was our second visit. We fell in love with the cottage we stayed in last Easter – Dunpark –  and were lucky enough to be able to book it again for this year. The cottage is comfortable with all the amenities you could want apart from a dishwasher  – we brought one with us in the shape of our 13 year old daughter.

One of the main appeals of the cottage is it’s location. It is situated on the Sleat peninsula around a 10 minute drive from Armadale ferry port and overlooks the Sound with the mountains of mainland Scotland (including Knoydart) across the water providing a constant picturesque backdrop. There is a great garden for the children to play in and access to the rocky coastline that borders the land.

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Sunrise at Dunpark

Ishbel and Angus MacDonald own and manage the cottage and a friendly and helpful. All in all you have a great almost get a way from it all holiday home at an extremely reasonable price. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

From the cottage exploring the stunning Sleat peninsular is straightforward with a main road that runs the length of the peninsular. There is everything here from great restaurants, wildlife in the shape of otters and seals to spot, deer are quite common and there are great beaches where rockpools abound.

You could probably spend a week or so discovering all the nooks and crannies of Sleat but there are other amazing things to do and see within an hour or so in the car.

On top of the incredible scenery to discover there is also the art trails to explore. Skye is home to some supremely talented artists and photographers. We have visited many of them and they have all been very welcoming and open about their work and influences.

Be sure to visit photographers Russell Sherwood, Tim Wilcock and Alan Campbell for some inspiration. Artists such as John Bathgate and Diane Mackie have some beautiful work to see and purchase in their galleries.

Here are just a few of my other recommendations:

Ellishadder Art Cafe

Eliishadder

We all fell in love with this little cafe in the North East of the Island. It is owned and run by the amazingly friendly and talented Stuart and Maggie Quigley. Stuart is a very talented artist and Maggie cooks delicious vegetarian food – if you are a died in the wool meat eater don’t let this put you off. One visit to the cafe almost turned me vegetarian the food is that good. Save room for some fantastic desserts too! Maggie is also a weaver and both Stuart and Maggie’s work is for sale at the cafe.

Dunvegan Bakery

The oldest bakery on the Island. It is also a cafe too serving simple but delicious meals. Their scones are to die for and the best that we have ever tasted – we always ensure that we leave with a couple of bags full. The owners are also really friendly and make you feel welcome.

The Quiraing

Quiraing

The Quiraing is a geological phenomenon with towering spires of rock thrusting from the earth in a myriad of different shapes and sizes. It really has to be seen to be believed. The views from all areas is sublime and worth the effort to get here.

Dunvegan Castle

Set in beautiful gardens this is similar to Eilean Donan Castle (see below) and again well kept with excellent facilities. The history of the castle is fascinating and there is plenty to keep the children occupied.

Faerie Glen

Close to Uig this is not the most straightforward place to find. Ask a local and they will give you directions. It is all worth the effort though when you get there. The landscape is otherworldly and you have the feeling that you have stepped onto another planet. Unusual rock formations abound with plenty to explore. It is easy to imagine a settlement of fairies living there.

Eilean Donan Castle

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Okay, this is not on the Island but a short 20 minute drive from the Kyle of Lochalsh. Of all the castles we have visited this one is easily the best. Why? For a start it has been beautifully restored with an eye for detail unusual, in my experience. The guides are extremely knowledgable and helpful and went out of their way to ensure our visit was interesting and interactive. The views from the castle are also spectacular. It is no wonder that the location has been used in so many blockbusters – Highlander being the obvious one.

Neist Point Lighthouse

Not for the faint hearted or the unfit. The steps down to the lighthouse seem easy but coming back is a real challenge. It is more than worth it though with some stunning views of the coastline and of course the lighthouse itself. A short walk from the small carpark affords a magnificent view of Neist Point too.

There are many, many other places I can recommend  including the MacDonald visitor centre near Armadale, Kilt Rock, Coral Beach near Dunvegan and Elgol to name but a few but visiting but one of the pleasures of Skye is getting out and exploring the many nooks and crannies of an Island steeped in history.

Whenever we have been to Skye we never want to go home and try and think of ways of us setting up home there at some point. It is the kind of place that captures your heart and inspires yours soul. We could not imagine not making an annual pilgrimage to Skye to visit old favourites and discover new.

Links

http://www.skye.co.uk

http://www.dunpark-skye.co.uk

http://www.ellishadderartcafe.co.uk

http://www.eileandonancastle.com

http://www.dunveganbakery.com

http://www.glendaleskye.com/neistpoint.php

http://skyescapegallery.zenfolio.com

http://www.timwilcock.com

http://www.art-skye.co.uk

Harbeth P3ESR Review

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Harbeth P3ESR on Stands

I can honestly say that I have lost count of the number of speakers that I have owned over the last 20 years. Of all the elements of my hifi system they seem to be the part that has changed the most.

What I do know is that I have owned, including the P3ESR’s, four different pairs of Harbeth Speakers: P3ES, Compact 7ES and Super HL5. I loved the each of them but, for various reasons which have nothing to do with sound quality I had to move them on.

In the meantime I have owned several mini-monitor speakers from Proac, Totem, Sonus Faber, Gamut and Reference 3A to name but a few. A few months ago an opportunity to acquire a pair of the P3ESR’s came up and despite me loving the musical capabilities of the Reference 3A Dulcet I just knew that I had to get my hands on the Harbeths and so the Dulcets were quickly moved on.

The change in speakers also coincided with a system overhaul. I decided that it was time to downgrade my system to something much more simple and affordable and out went the Consonance CD Player and Amplifier for a Rega CD and Ampliffier pairing of the Apollo R and Brio R.

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Rega Brio R and Apollo R

Both are unassuming half width components and despite their budget price tag of £500 per unit they certainly punch above their weight and would offer an excellent foundation for the Harbeth’s to show what they could do. Their build quality is excellent and have operated flawlessly since the day I bought them.

So, how do the Harbeth’s sound?

Well putting to one side the limitations of their size and the fact that they are never going to defy the laws of physics and produce lower registers they are captivating, drawing you into the music like few other speakers I have heard. They are warm but with enough bite to strings for example to retain a realism that makes you want to keep listening long into the night. They can project large scale music better than they have a right to but really score well on smaller scale acoustic music where they just carry you away communicating the emotion of the music.

Listening becomes a more interactive experience with little subtleties and details drawing you further into the music.From classical to rock and folk to blues they seem to be equally at home in any genre.

Alan Shaw will not thank me for saying this but I always felt with the bigger speakers – and this was very subtle and possibly a psychological effect of the size of these speakers – that there was a slight hollow sound to the reproduction. It was if you could “sense” those large, thin walled boxes adding something to the sound.

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The Beautiful Grain of the Eucalyptus Veneer

Maybe it was also the fact that the other larger Harbeth speakers are ported unlike the P3ESR’s. I don’t know. Magical as the C7’s and Super HL5’s sounded their smaller cousin just has the edge for me. And that is, I guess all that matters.

The bottom line with the P3ESR’s is that they seem to take the best bits of all of my favourite small speakers – the Reference 3A Dulcets and Totem Model One – and roll them into a perfectly sized box that would fit into any environment bar an aircraft hanger sized lounge. Much as I loved the bigger Harbeth speakers I feel that the P3ESR’s are perfectly balanced soundwise.

I don’t know enough about the company to really comment but from reading posts written on the Harbeth website Alan Shaw is clearly a dedicated and passionate designer of loudspeakers. He should be congratulated on designing a mini masterpiece. A number of people have suggested that the P3ESR’s will be their last speaker upgrade – I can honestly say that they will be for me.

Specifications:

Transducer system 2-way: Harbeth 110mm RADIAL2� mid/bass; 19mm Ferro-cooled tweeter with HexGrille.
Freq. response 75Hz – 20kHz +/-3dB free space, 1m with grille on with smooth off-axis response.
Impedance 6 ohms – easy to drive.
Sensitivity 83.5dB/1W/1m
Amp. suggestion Works with a wide range of amplifiers, ideally from 15W/channel.
Power handling 50W programme
Connector Two 4mm gold-plated binding posts for wires or plugs
Dimensions (hxwxd) 306 x 189 x 202 mm (inl. grille and terminals)
Finish Cherry, black ash, maple, rosewood, eucalyptus, gun grey, arctic white, jet black.
Space needs Ideally > 0.30m from rear wall
Stands Typically 24+ inches
Weight 6.3kg each (without packing)
Packing One matched pair per protective carton

Jungfraujoch, A Journey to the Top of the World

Train on the way back from the “Top of the World”

Other then cuckoo clocks, Toblerone and world class efficiency I had no solid preconceptions about what to expect of Switzerland. Looking for somewhere to go for a short break in October last year I researched the area on the internet, however, nothing could have prepared me for the breathtaking beauty of the Jungfrau region and the sights and experiences it has to offer.

We arrived in Geneva via a short Easyjet flight from Liverpool. Once we had picked up our bags from the carousel we made our way to the train station and purchased our rail tickets to Interlaken. Children under 6 travel free on the Swiss Rail network although this doesn’t make the £100 one way adult fare any more palatable.

After the two hour journey to Bern we changed trains for the 45 minute hop to Interlaken we found ourselves standing at Interlaken West rail station bags in hand and ready for the hotel and food.

As an aside whilst the train tickets may have been expensive they arrived and left each station on time and were very clean.

The train station in Interlaken

Surprisingly, it was warmer in Interlaken than it was back home and we suddenly wondered whether the winter coats we came armed with would get much use. After a 5 minute walk down the main street we found ourselves at our chosen hotel and before long checked in and tucking into a family sized lasagne and salad at the hotel’s restaurant.

After a short stroll to walk some of the food off we were back to our simple and clean room at the hotel to get some rest in preparation for our early start the next morning to go and venture to the “Top of the Europe”: Jungfraujoch.

We awoke the next morning to ominous low cloud on the surrounding mountains – at least we assumed there was a mountain range behind the clouds as we had seen nothing having a arrived in the dark the previous night. Mountain weather is infamously changeable over a short period and we set hoping that the cloud would lift and we would be presented with a spectacular vista.

The hotel and restaurant in Interlaken

Having bought our tickets we tentatively boarded the first train that would take us to Grindelwald where we would have to change for the next leg of the three part journey to the “Top of Europe”. Still the clouds clung to the surrounding mountains frustratingly obscuring our view.

Before long we were on the next part of our journey and slowly but surely chinks of blue were staring to appear above us . As we climbed it became brighter and brighter until eventually we arrived at Kleine Scheidigge station through the cloud and looking up at the Eiger in all it’s breathtaking glory. By this time you could see back down the mountain and into the valley with a huge layer of cloud sitting above Interlaken.

Above us towered the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau. The story goes that the Monk (Monch) is protecting the Young Girl (Jungfrau) from the Ogre (Eiger)

Breathtaking view from Kleine Scheidegg

So, it was back on the train. After a couple of stops along the track to take in the glacial vistas in all their glory we found ourselves at the top of the Jungfrau.

What struck me first was what I huge complex of buildings we were in. There is an ice palace carved into the glacier, a number of restaurants, several viewing platforms, etc.

It was hard at times to get a proper perspective on how high we were. When looking back down the mountain all you could see were, well, mountains as far as the eye could see. Then you made out a tiny reflective speck in the distance and realised that it was a town or village you were looking at which brought some perspective to the lofty perch you were standing on.

I can only liken it to the Grand Canyon where what surrounds you is such an immense scale that you struggle to take it all in.

We spent the next couple of days almost permanently on the trains and cable cars that criss cross the area assuming that the views couldn’t get any better. They invariably did.

The downsides? Just the one: price. It is, like the rest of Switzerland, extremely expensive but, as a once (or maybe twice) in a lifetime destination it is a bargain.