Friday, September 4, 2015

Day 18 - The Best of Skye Tour

The good impression of our accommodation continues over breakfast as does my porridge research project. This time the conclusion is that this one too is made with water, but it is a bit thicker with oats. No-one has topped The Tufted Duck and their light milk based porridge.
We arrive in Broadford at five to nine and head back to Café Sia where we need to meet our tour today. We figured it would be good to get the commentary and the ride and give Hubby a day off driving. Unfortunately the weather isn’t cooperating by the look. We are relying on four seasons in one day.
Well. What do I say about this tour and this day? I’m going to make this as quick as possible so I can get on with my day and my life. I’m not enjoying thinking about it. I wouldn’t do it again. What was good about it? Our guide for the day was born and raised on Skye and has been around long enough to have snowy white hair. Consequently we do learn some interesting things only an insider would know and I would be happy to spend a day with her on a bespoke tour on a different contract basis.
Why am I so deeply unimpressed with this company?
  1. Booking and customer service was shambolic. We aren’t on their collection list when we arrived at the designated pick up point. Assertions were made as to why this was (our fault apparently) but in fact I followed their instructions for booking when I got an email from them saying when their new online booking arrangements were up and running. Either way, I paid them money using the system they established and they had no record of it. We weren’t the only stuff up on the day either. Another couple of ladies got a right run around too. And let’s not be under any misapprehension that it might not be all the customer’s fault once again. The pick up left without them then we spent some time later, with another driver, collecting them from one of our sightseeing stops. Despite the company requesting contact phone numbers no attempt we could see was being made to contact the ladies to see what had gone wrong. We got to listen to the ensuing argument as the host of the two young ladies tried to sort it out once the young ladies themselves were getting nowhere. Hearing only one side of the conversation I felt the attitude towards the two missing guests was patronising, aggressive and offensive. Our pick up driver, who appeared to run the company, told us they had been a pain in the arse from the start. He said to them that if they didn’t understand the (alleged) email they were sent they should get their host to read it to them. I was very unimpressed by the tone he used when he said that, but the impression worsened when we spoke to these young ladies later in Portree for quite a while. They have been living and studying in Glasgow for a year and they speak English perfectly well. They told us that they and their host had double checked arrangements for pick up the night before.  It was clear that the host felt that a refund was in order. No joy there and she ended up driving the young women from Broadford to Old Man of Storr to reconnect them with their itinerary for the rest of their day.  That is a big chunk out of her day.
  2. The pick up driver, Hubby and I both agree, was nothing short of unprofessional. To add to the above, on the way back to Broadford in the evening we stopped sharply to pick up three hitchhikers who instantly became the celebrity guests, or rather an audience for a series of bragging stories. They were nice young men whom we didn’t mind having on board, but hello, we’re the ones here who’ve paid you money. We didn’t exist once the audience had arrived. He bragged to our hitch-hikers about giving one set of customers, whose race was apparently relevant to the story, a white knuckle ride to Armadale on another occasion and laughing about whether perhaps they might leave a review on TripAdvisor. He said he looked back and noticed their fingers were white hanging on in silent fear but that was just funny apparently.  He was looking as much at his front seat passengers as the road with predictable results. He veered over the centre line regularly, on one occasion to an alarming extent. He turned the music up without any sort of by your leave which he also bragged about doing on the occasion of the white knuckle ride. I was left wondering whether the race of the frightened passengers in the story and the race of the two young women left behind today being the same was not just a coincidence.
  3. Our return time to Broadford was advertised as 6 pm. Despite our tour concluding more than half an hour early, we didn’t get back to Broadford until 6.45. Even after the shuttle turned up in Portree for us, we were left sitting in the car for quite a while, during which time the driver conducted a business meeting to “catch up with his drivers” (his explanation).
  4. Looking at the website again in preparation for writing this, they say the tour cost £39. They were charging people £40 on the day
  5. Without explanation our tour did not go where it said it does on the website. We did not stop at a dinosaur museum and we did not go to Neist Point – at least not that we are aware. We certainly saw no famous lighthouse and were not given any directions how we could do so. We DID have an hour and a half at Dunvegan Castle, which was NOT on the itinerary and which we had noted was a possibility for us to do the following day when we need to be in that area, so that’s rather thrown out our itinerary, but at least it was something we thought we MIGHT do. Tough if you weren’t interested and no, the tour tariff does not include Castle entry, though we did get a tour group discount. We were not told to ask for it when paying.  We seem to have been there just to get some lunch. Our tour was basically a drive around the main roads of the islands with stops along the way at obvious viewing places and a bit of commentary. We didn’t have any kind of guiding outside the bus at each stop.
  6. The visibility out of the windows of the tour bus was not good and for most of the day they were fogged up. In any case they were quite dirty so photography from inside the bus was pointless. We would have seen more from our car.
So yeah. Not a good experience overall. The company was Tour Skye and we were supposed to be doing The Best of Skye tour option. Not good.
I guess I should report back on our actual stops! We grabbed take away sandwiches from the onsite café and went into the castle with an hour and a half to spend before we had to be back at the bus. It was JUST enough for us in the Castle.  Dunvegan castle has some fascinating things to see. The Fairy Flag is very interesting, as is the original dungeon. They have some information on the mass emigration in the 1850s and have provided multiple laminated copies for visitors to read. I spend a while reading and taking notes. There are excellent artefacts, from all time periods on display. We didn’t explore the gardens beyond what was incidental to getting into the castle. I did spend a fair bit of time look at things in detail in many of the rooms and writing notes. The advice from the ticket office was that 1 and half hours should be about enough to do both castle and gardens.
We didn’t see Old Man of Storr, I would have been up for it but no-one else on the bus (including Hubby) wanted to walk up there in the mist with the many other people doing so. The car park was very full and cars parked way up the road. We pressed on.
The Quiraing was good, but I was the only person who walked out along the muddy wet track. This gave me a taste of what it might be like on a clear day when the Cuillins are visible - incredible and must do. Today they aren’t and it wasn’t really necessary to walk out but still I enjoyed it.
We also saw Kilt Rock and had views back to the mainland.

Some smallish waterfalls

And some heilan coos which sent our young ladies into a fit of excitement that was more amusing and engaging than the beasties, though the calves really were very very cute with their long fringes over their faces. It was so funny. One of the girls was jumping around waving her arm. At first the calves looked at her like they weren't sure what they'd struck with this crazy human who was behaving so far differently from what is expected. They thought about it for a bit then figured they'd better get away from them just in case. Which was disappointing for the girls of course.

Oh, and we stopped on the road beyond Dunvegan for an excellent view of the castle and grey seals out on the islands in the bay. 

Being so late back to Broadford, we opted to just stop in at Red Skye Restaurant and see if we could bring our dinner reservation forward. No problem. The lovely young women on front of house did a lot to restore my good humour after a hellish trip back from Portree. They were friendly and competent although they said they were on a steep learning curve. That may be so but they did well as far as we could tell.  Our food was very nice too.
Hubby: Cullen Skink to start (Glamis Castle still wears the crown) followed by Oven roast duck breast, spiced red cabbage, fondant potatoes and bramble jus 15.00
Moi: Kiln smoked salmon salad, shaved fennel, citrus segments and honey vinaigrette followed by oven roast lamb rump, garlic mash, roast root veg, juniper reduction, carrot puree, the two courses a deal tonight at 25.00
Hubby enjoyed his Skye Ale which he commented was very good. And the bread course was spectacularly good. We really enjoyed the little roll and slice of bread with butter or oil and balsamic. The balsamic was thick and treacley and tangy sweet. Absolutely divine.
Dessert we did something almost unheard of and both got the same thing. We saw it going past and it looked great. We got the last two slices of Salted caramel and praline cheesecake which though described as being served with berry compote came with fresh berries of high quality and actually I think were a better combination for this dessert, so no complaints from us.

Hubby finished with a Gaelic coffee which he really enjoyed a lot. It was good coffee with Talisker whisky added. The flavours of the coffee and the whisky complemented each other very well indeed. A good end to a mixed bag of a day. One other thing I liked about this restaurant portion sizes were ample without being ridiculous. We were able to have the three courses without feeling uncomfortably overfull at the end or wasting part of each course. If you like bigger portions, the beer battered haddock looked pretty substantial as it went past!

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