Broadford, Skye. In the 70s and 80s a proper island. A river of the same name meanders shallow into the bay across the north end of the village. We all thought that was were the ford had been, the crossing point before the small bridge was built. But that’s not where the name came from. The Norse called it ‘Broad Fjord’ - Wide Bay.
Ancient history was all around us but we kids were prepossed of our own little worlds and didn’t think or travel much beyond our houses. The TV was black and white with two channels and after Champion the Wonder Horse or The Dukes of Hazzard we were outside knocking around the hills, the shore or playing football. A trip to the pier from the south end of the strung out village was a long jaunt for a wee boy but we were all addicted to the mayhem of the mackerel fishing so we slogged up anyway, on foot or tiny BMXs.
The pier was built some time after 1807 by Lord MacDonald and was used to ship in coal and take out marble which was being quarried below Beinn Suardal. I was around just early enough to remember the long timber extention of the pier before it was demolished.
Broadford Pier in the late 19th century. Pic coutesy of http://www.ambaile.org.uk
Beyond that is Irishman’s Point. A popular walkers trail goes along there now but probably few people wonder about the name. Most likely so called after a paddle steamer that came to grief off Scalpay in 1862; or possibly after a visiting wrestler famously defeated. But my father told me a different story which is the one I like best. It must be true of course!
Some time in the mid nineteenth century an itinerant Irish farm worker was lodging with crofters at Old Corrie by the Broadford pier. Times were hard then in the Hebrides and the couple were desperately short of food. They had a goat, a scraggy old billy, coincidentally called ‘The Irishman’. One black and storm wracked night their lodger staggered back to the house. At the doorway he overheard an anxious discussion. The crofter and his wife were trying to work out how to feed their family, one said to the other “it’s no good” and referring to the goat said “we’ll have to eat the Irishman!” The lodger fled into the night where he went over the rocks of the headland and was dashed to pieces. From then on it has been ‘Irishman’s Point’. You can decide for yourself which you prefer!
Broadford bay from Irishman's Point.
Before the age of ten or so this was about the northern most limit of my exploration. To the South is Waterloo and as per usual in those days we thought nothing of the name, but my dad told me the story again, this time truthfully. Veterans of the Napoleanic wars were granted land there after their service in Wellington’s army by Norman McDonald 4th of Scalpay who’s sons had fought at Waterloo.
Being that age most things are pretty magical, everything was an opportuntiy for adventure but as I grew up I became more restless and ventured further away from home. I started to become interested in what the tops of hills and mountains would look like. I was fascinated when they turned out to be such different places, stunted growth and barren rocks, I loved it! I also began to look forward to any time spent off the island, especially in winter which was often unbearably bleak.
Into my mid to late teens my mountain escapism was accompanied by Friday night carnage in the Anvil Bar to a soundtrack of The Eagles, Dire Straits and AC/DC. Remeniscent of the saturday morning westerns I used watch was my witness to a bar stool sailing through a bay window amid a huge punch up. In typical wild west coast style everyone was soon pals again with more Heavy and Canadian Club going down the hatch.
I had grown up and it was absolutely time to leave Skye (by the ferry). I’d had my childhood. It was abruptly over and off I went off to a very different and very serious but equally adventurous new life.
The island population has expanded since I was a kid. There are people from all over, of all types, many seeking small communities and solitude, beauty and a quiet way of life; a complete change of lifestyle. Lots of little artisan businesses have sprung up, spead out to the fingers of this lengthy isle, surrounded by hills and sea.
Me, I couldn’t live there again, I’ve done my time and enjoy visiting as an outsider for work or climbing with friends. And then I can escape before ‘Island Fever’ sets in!
The Taureg people say that the desert cleanses the soul, but lots of places do that too, not least Skye.