We met Mitch Partridge, aka Syke Ghillie, in the car park outside Portree Tourist Information Centre, before heading out in his vehicle for an afternoon of foraging and fun. Mitch offers a respected ghillie service for the experienced angler, offering tuition for individuals and groups, but also turns his hand to other outdoor activities such as wild walks, wilderness camping and wild swimming, each time tailoring the experience to the needs and abilities of his customers. After driving to a secret location along farm tracks and passing throgh various gates, we got out and walked with Mitch as he chatted about Scotland‘s history and the history of the island of Skye, from the Vikings right through to the present day which felt particularly apt given that we are a time when the Scottish government now hopes to write another chapter in Scotland’s history. Thanks in no small part to the movie ‘Braveheart’ – which was a Hollywood blockbuster – the Scottish wars of independence that were fought between the late 13th and early 14th centuries have become known all of the world, but we heard from Mitch about the rise of the clans, the Batle of Culloden and Flora Macdonald (who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape capture), and the context of Skye within all of this. We also enjoyed hearing Mitch telling us the tale of Hugh (Uisdean MacGillespig Chleirich) who tried to overthrow his uncle, Donald Gorm Mor, who was the chief of the clan in the area in the sixteenth century. He wrote two letters – one inviting his uncle to dinner (whereupon he planned to kill him) and one to his accomplice, detailing the intricacies of his plan. Unfortunately for Hugh, he got the letters mixed up and, when caught, he was imprisoned and fed dried salted fish and meat (and no water) so died a slow, agonising death through thirst. Skye Ghillie also told us all about Skyes abundant flora and fauna, pointing out the heath spotted orchid along the way. Skye is home to some very unusual plants, including a variety of orchids, as well as saxifrages, spurges, bog asphodel, ragged robin, thrift and monkey flower. Mitch’s military background (serving in the RAF Regiment and the Royal Marines) adds another dimension to his walks with ad-hoc Bushcraft and survival skills providing an unusual and interesting twist to his excursions. We gathered water, picked up dried tufts (discarded by sheep that were great kindling), collected dried sticks, and foraged for mussels. We then found a spot on the shoreline where we steamed the mussels. The mussels tasted particularly good – very succulent and different to mussels that are rope farmed. We also some tried some seaweed which was perfectly edible but nothing to get too excited about! Finally, we tried a hot drink made from bog myrtle (also known as sweet gale), a plant which is native to Scotland and one that was well known to the Vikings. They used to drink a brew with this before going into battle as they believed it gave them extra strength, but it’s probable that their recklessness on the battlefield was down to other factors. Just as we were starting to gather our things and return to the vehicle, we were lucky enough to spot something Id never previously seen in the wild an otter. Quite how Mitch spotted her, I’m not sure – if you look at the second picture below (a close-up of the first), you might just see two black specks in the sea at about half way up on the left hand side. This is the head and tail of an otter, as she lies on her back. Albeit rather distant, we could just about make her out from time to time as her head occasionally bobbed above the water surface. Keeping as quiet as we could, we dashed across the hillside each time the otter went underwater and then remained still whenever the otter broke to the surface again, in order to gain a better vantage point where we could observe from behind some rocks. She was still quite a distance from us but you could make her out a little more clearly now, but I’m sorry to say this is about the best picture I managed to get before she disappeared into the rocks close to the shoreline. Regardless, it was an exciting way to end a very enjoyable afternoon. Disclosure: The above formed part of a luxury Scotland mountain bike trip sponsored by Caledonian MacBrayne, Ridgeback and Madison.
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