The Skye Boat Song is one of the most popular of all Scottish folk songs. It’s also known as Over the Sea to Skye from one of the lines in the song. The sea, in our case, was the strait of Kyle Rhea — also called the Kyle Rhea narrows and only about 500 yards wide — and our short voyage from Glenelg on the mainland to Kylerhea on Skye took all of six minutes.
There are three ways to get to Skye by car from the Scottish mainland: the Skye bridge on Highway A87 (completed in 1995), the ferry at Mallaig (you can also take the train to Mallaig, walk on board the ferry, and then grab a bus on the other side), and the wee ferry named Glenachulish at Glenelg. We took the third choice. We were told that it is the last manually operated turntable ferry in Scotland and possibly in the world.
We did not have any time to explore Glenelg or its environs. The ruins of the Bernera barracks, built in the 18th century and the reason why there is any road at all to Glenelg, are nearby. So are a couple of Pictish buildings called brochs that have been around for about 2,000 years. And down the road from Glenelg near the village of Sandaig is where Gavin Maxwell lived when he wrote his book Ring of Bright Water. The wildlife on both sides of the Kyle Rhea narrows include otters, sea eagles and seals but we didn’t see any of these during our short stay.
A lady named Anne MacLeod heard the Gaelic rowing song Cuachag nan Craobh (“The Cuckoo in the Grove”) while on a boat ride to Skye in the 1870s. She put the song to music and Sir Harold Boulton wrote some lyrics about Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Battle of Culloden which took place in 1746. You can listen to this version of the song by the Corries and read the lyrics here.
Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a poem called Sing Me a Song of a Lad That Is Gone in 1892 and it was most likely written to be sung to the tune of The Skye Boat Song. Both Stevenson’s and the original versions of the song contain the line “Over the sea to Skye.” Bear McCreary took Stevenson’s song and changed a few words here and there — mostly gender, e.g. “lass” instead of “lad” — and the song does not ponder about Bonnie Prince Charlie anymore but rather it’s all about Claire, a character in the popular TV series Outlander. You can hear Bear’s wife Rhea Yarbrough sing this version of the song here.
The first road we came across in Skye was no better than the old military road to Glenelg. It took about a half-hour to reach the A87 main road and about another 20 minutes to reach Portree, the largest town on Skye where we would be spending the next two nights. I’ll show some photos of Portree in my next posting.
We left Glasgow in our Rabbie’s mini-bus at 9am one Wednesday morning and finally arrived at our B & B on Skye at 6pm — nine hours and seven postings later!
What is that you ask? You would like to hear a pipes and drums version of The Skye Boat Song? All right, here it is, if you insist.