27 September 2009

Over the Sea to Skye

A much-belated revisitation of our trip to the Highlands, also discussed here, here and here.

The Isle of Skye is a much-romanticized part of the Highlands due to its role in the '45 uprising (what, weren't you paying attention to Justin's post? He worked hard on that!). Flora Macdonald, a Highland Jacobite lady, was engaged to help Bonnie Prince Charlie escape from Scotland by taking him in a boat "over the sea to Skye," as described in the famous Skye Boat Song.

(You can get more insight into the romanticism of the '45 if you click on the video, which is "dedicated to Jacobites everywhere." What does that even mean? How can you be a Jacobite these days? Are you going to go get Franz, Duke of Bavaria and try to put him on the throne - over his own indifference? I get that in many cases, Jacobitism is conflated with Scottish nationalism or Scottish patriotism, but it's just not correct. As Justin pointed out in his post, more Scots fought against Charlie than for him. Anyway, if, like me, you're not a fan of historical whitewashing, just try to concentrate on the fact that Charlie made his escape in drag, as Flora's Irish maid Betty Burke. Surely one of the great examples of monarchical transvestitism.)

Ahem. Focus.

Skye is a four-hour round-trip day-trip from Inverness and allowed us to see some beautiful scenery on the way. It was also a day in which the winds were so heavy that the ferries to Skye were cancelled (we took the bridge, fortunately) which explains our hair in this, and subsequent, pictures:

Once on the island, we visited the Clan Macdonald center, the Armadale Castle Gardens and Museum of the Isles. My only complaint about this day trip was that with Justin and my penchant for nerding, we spent so much time in the museum that we didn't actually have time to eat any lunch on Skye. Fortunately, we brought granola. We're like hardcore hikers, but for museums.

Armadale Castle ruins (that's me in the pink hat)

I strongly recommend the museum. It had very interesting regional history exhibits, often in both Scottish Gaelic and English. Gaelic (pronounced "Gallic" for the Scottish version; same root as "Gaul" for France) was the indigenous Celtic language of Scotland. It's closely related to Irish Gaelic and more distantly related to Welsh, which is the only Celtic language to be very widely spoken. There are 50,000-odd speakers of Scots Gaelic today, contrasted with about 1/2 million for Welsh. These speakers are disproportionately concentrated in the northwest of Scotland and the islands, where their isolation has helped shield them from English. Skye is the island about 1/3 of the way down that map, with a bright purple top tip. The Scottish Gaelic Language College is on Skye, as is a new Gaelic elementary school. Another new one just opened in Inverness. Since regaining some parliamentary powers in 1999, Scotland has been able to leverage some protection for Scots Gaelic, including a broadcast channel in Gaelic on the BBC; however, 50,000 speakers is right on the cusp of the number needed to prevent language extinction. Nobody can say for sure if Gaelic will survive.

Educational trivia about Skye: There is only one high school, Portree High School. It can be so far from students' homes that the students commute to school on Monday and stay in a hostel for the rest of the week.

Pet peeve rant: I have been endlessly amused by the usage across Scotland of what I perceive as schlocky faux-Celtic fonts like the ones on the Portree web site. In the US, it's the sort of thing you'd see at cheesy Irish pubs like Molly Brannigan's. I have NOT been amused by the omnipresence of the font Papyrus. I see it probably every other block. There is not, nor has there ever been, widespread use of papyrus to make paper anywhere in the British Isles. Get a new font.

Skye has some typical Highland scenery, down to the little white dots of sheep:

But it also has massively damp, lush areas straight out of Jurassic Park:

Other events of the afternoon involved whisky tasting. The MacNamaras are from Skye; Justin is part MacNamara.


We also visited a beach....

... the ruined castle shown the TV series Highlander...

... and a lovely scenic bridge. Justin looks odd because he's trying to talk the photographer into stepping out of traffic. But wait! What's that in the background? Click to zoom!

The photographer said, "I hope that's your wife." Some days, Justin probably hopes it's not!


  1. I'm not sure I totally understand the animosity stirred up by the use of Papyrus. Is it simply that it's overused and therefore unoriginal? Or should its use be properly limited to Egyptian things? I mean, it's only called Papyrus, right? Or do typographers actually consider it to be an ugly font?

  2. Graphic designers definitely consider it ugly - witness http://www.luredesigninc.com/pledge/, or http://modernl.com/article/5-terrible-fonts-that-you-should-not-use-in-print-design. I don't find it "beautiful," but my main objection is to its omnipresence. It's actually not that versatile, but people think it is. I used it - for teaching the 6th grade class on Egypt. It's a novelty font that's chosen to be novel but lost its novelty, and I just can't respect a graphic designer who doesn't know the market well enough to realize that.

    For both sides see here: http://nomiddleroad.blogspot.com/ It's the blog of the actual designer.

  3. Is that a Y bridge? Or what? How did she get there?