Speed Bonny Boat

I’ve thought long and hard about how to write about Skye, and about that young girl, Marion, who left Breakish on Skye during the clearances 180 years ago, and the voices that I hear down by the stream of Maelrubha, the Irish red-headed bald monk who came to preach to the Picts in 671 and the healing water of his well. And about the Norwegian Viking princess who was buried, along with her servants, on top of a stark mull in the Cuillins, and of the warrior queen, Scáthach the Shadow, who lived in the Dunscaith castle on the edge of wild sea at Toravaig in Sleat. Legendary figures surround me, they seem to live and breathe.

Dunscaith Castle, Toravaig, Skye

I am struggling in my search for superlatives: none will do. My English language doesn’t fit this place: it’s too modern and limited and fails to describe what I see. Older words portray these land forms and features, some of them still in use today and if we say them aloud, we might hear our ancestors speak. This is a land of heather and bracken, of cairns, crags and tors, forges, braes, straths and burns. The colours of tartan are spread across rock cuttings and moors, colours mixed by rain and light: heather with burnt orange bracken and oat, scree with mustard seaweed drying at low tide, lichen on birch, black slate and rowan berry. Sometimes the heather is dun, sometimes purple and pink. These are the colours of hand dyed wool woven into the plaid of old.

Cuillins and colours
In need of Gaelic words. Skye
The colours of plaid, Breakish, Skye

When it rains, which is often, the Isle of Skye weeps from every cranny. In the mountains it floods with tears as waterfalls rip and carve great channels through these bald hills. The roadside verges gently seep. Black rock faces flash wet glint, the burns and creeks darkly rush. Tread lightly on the sodden machair, that deceptive verdant sponge by the sea, now solid grass, now  quagmire, now submerged. The sun appears in the late afternoon, a watery limpid glow that seeks out new colours of the evening. Rocky crags, hidden by morning mist, appear as if a new day. And then in late summer, that mystic light returns as the gloaming beckons, inviting exploration before the tide and the night come rushing in.

Dark burns rush after rain
Skye weeping
8 pm. Sky on Skye
Over the sea to Skye
A craggy mound near St Maelrubha’s well

Footnote: Mr Tranquillo’s post on Skye is here. His great- grandmother, Marion Grant, left Breakish on Skye as a young child during the Clearances, travelling to Australia and eventually marrying Alexander McKenzie from Ullapool in the Highlands. Their children never returned to Skye, but all their grandchildren and some of their great-grandchildren have. Speed Bonny Boat.

View from Breakish on Skye. Dreaming of Marion

Lists of English words with Scottish Gaelic origin.


The list of all lists: Gaelic words for hills:


43 thoughts on “Speed Bonny Boat”

  1. Francesca, you make the body ache for more of your talents! The images so capture the essence of space. Your lexical outpour sublime and just! All evoking the need just to be in the moment!
    Beautiful, provocative and moving. What a Skye-way to heaven.


  2. Such a glorious landscape, Francesca, and wonderful colours. It looks like a land of faeries and mysticism and i can’t imagine how the people who were ‘ cleared’ from that place would ever again have felt at home in this world. I loved your post on The Minster and a Song. I don’t have a faith in any God. I have friends who do and we have long and interesting conversations about religion and ritual and the ‘Sacred’ that a secular life doesn’t offer. Music, such as the piece you attached, does give a sense of the sacred and sublime. I enjoyed that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Like you Jan, I am also am a pagan and have no believe in God. Bit I love to pop in on any church, temple, pagoda or shrine and enjoy religious ritual. Sounds like a great evening of debate with your friends Jan. I’m glad you liked that music- it’s rather modern for such a church.


  3. “Loud the wind howls, loud the waves roar’ guess what is playing aloud . . . . methinks I am not the only one who dreams of Skye but has not been encompassed by the wonder . . . . your footsteps there have made it near irresistible . . .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh thanks Eha. It is irresistible, Here, in this gorgeous renovated stone cottage right on the sea, time becomes so different. The tide, the sky, the ever changing weather, Skye has seduced me. I can’t imagine leaving.


  4. Your words and images are hauntingly beautiful Francesca. I love Skye too in fact the “highlands” bowled me over with their stark beauty. You have to visit to get a true sense of the place. Experiencing places like Skye is good reason to travel…


    1. This is our second trip to Skye-( last was in 2000) and I love it even more this time, if that is possible, On that last trip we also went to Barra, Lewis, Harris and Uist- also wild and beautiful places, and now I have a desire to go to the Shetlands, Orkey and St Kilda. Here for only a week in a renovated stone house, I can’t ever imagine leaving, but we must.


  5. Beautiful Francesca, I’ve never been further in the UK than the south of England, so the colours and textures on Skye are so different to Australia, or anywhere I’ve been, it’s like a different planet – I can’t imagine what all those people must have made of Australia when they first arrived…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Beck – stay with us and be one of us and learn . . . we in Australia are very much the same as you . . . we are people reaching out to touch and join . . .

      Liked by 2 people

    2. True Beck. I often think of that young Marion. she left as a little girl and would have only known a wet place with different words, colours and climate. Then going to Australia on a boat to become a farmer near Melbourne. Things were so different, so harsh and dry but they farmed successfully and had 13 children.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. My eyes got damp reading this post Francesca .. such a beautiful place! It comes to life and more in your post. I can almost feel what you do. I too did as Stuart did. My Dad left Wales as a youngster and he and his family never returned. I did. Thank you so much for sharing this ..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is so stunning here and now, today, we must leave, and I’m feeling sad. Imagine how much greater that was for those who were forcibly evicted during the clearances, with a bundle of possessions tied up, along with a few children, with no where to go. Or those whose houses were burnt down to make way for sheep.
      Did your Dad speak Welsh? Did he have a lovely accent? Did he remember his home place?


  7. I visited Skye, August 2017. I was particularly interested in the Dunvegan area and Orbost as my home town is Orbost, Victoria, Australia. I loved your photos.


  8. Reblogged this on ALMOST ITALIAN and commented:

    On rare occasions, an old travel post reappears on my daily statistics page. When a blog reader visits an old post, I am reminded of it and often revisit it too. I relive the day, but also feel the tug and emotional connection to that place, as well as the drain experienced in writing it. I know that recipe posts are far more popular and have an ongoing life of their own. It is not unusual for one single recipe post to re-emerge in the daily statistics with a reader run of 1000 or more per month. Meanwhile, my well researched travel posts get read once and often get lost in the pile. For those who don’t blog, the world of daily and monthly statistics on WordPress is one tool that fascinates me- I’m sure this is true for most bloggers. I know that approximately 5000 people visit my blog per month, and most readers come from English speaking countries with India in 5th position. If I take June as a typical month, there were 4871 visitors, with only 78 travel post visitors.  So it’s time to recategorise my travel posts, and give them a new airing.
    This week I’m picking my 5 favourite travel posts. You may have already read these, but if not, come along on the journey. The following post was written in 2017 when staying for some time in a lovely old stone cottage on the Isle of Skye. 


  9. Beautiful post. Skye appears through your lens as old as time. I imagine that’s how it feels, and cold. It’s one of those things that never having observed it until someone points it out I’ll never unsee it.. of course the hand dyed wool, plaid and tartan colours reflect those of the landscape. It took your words, photography and the light of Skye to open my eyes. People of earlier times, particularly those of remote places really do embody the wine term terrior… existences so entrenched as to remain palpable today, as you have so wonderfully conveyed.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I just find the colours and textures so alien – absolutely beautiful, but alien…the wet green vegetation, and peat, and leaf mold, and sea and dripping rocks…it might as well be Mars! Though Mars is almost more similar to this bit of Australia than Skye is! 🙂
    I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to visit, but thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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