Monday, July 05, 2004

The Scotland Report: Installment V 

We arrived in Portree on the Isle of Skye shortly before lunch on Saturday. The sleepy little town that I was expecting was brimming with activity! We had inadvertently arrived on the day of the 4th Annual Isle of Skye Pipe Band Festival.

We stopped by the tourist office, but the workers there were not optimistic about our chances of finding lodging in town for Saturday night. Apparently, almost every bed was taken up by folks who were in for the festival. We walked around town for a bit in the blustery weather and stopped in at a couple of places. One hotel that we stopped at was booked up, but the clerk called the Rosedale Hotel on our behalf and sent us over to look at what were probably the last 2 rooms left in town.

The Rosedale was our big splurge, but even so it proved to be quite reasonable under the circumstances. The normal charge was 40 pounds per person, but they only charged us 10 pounds for each of the kids for a total charge of 100 pounds for the night.

After we got the luggage into our rooms, we still had a few hours to kill before all the bands from the festival were due to come together in one location for an ensemble performance. Daddy and I went out and brought back fish and chips (and a hamburger for Annabelle) from the takeaway around the corner, and we enjoyed a quick lunch in the hotel lounge. Then we set out to do some exploring.

We walked through town for a bit and poked around in various shops. I was standing in line at a bookstore waiting to pay for my book (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time--very good book; I strongly recommend it!), when Dad called out excitedly from the sidewalk. He had spotted the pipe bands just up the road!

We walked up to the parking lot where they were performing individually and enjoyed quite a show. About an hour later, we wandered back down to the town square to wait for them to come together for the big performance. The wind was biting cold, but we were determined to stick it out. Finally, one after another the bands marched down the street, filed into the square, and lined up side by side. We forgot the cold in the excitement of standing so close to that many bagpipes. Here's one band as they marched into the square:

After the performance, I took pictures of the kids with pipers and drummers:

I even managed to get into one picture:

Finally we escaped the cold by ducking into an Indian restaurant for a hearty supper. After supper, we headed to the Skye Gathering Hall for a ceilidh, which seems to be the Scottish equivalent of a hoedown. This was not a professionally choreographed event put on for the benefit of tourists; this was the people of Portree getting together for a fun time on a Saturday night, and it was without a doubt the high point of the whole trip, at least for me. (Annabelle would disagree, as she suffered through the bagpipes with her fingers stuffed firmly in her ears.)

We sat at a table with an elderly couple from upstate New York who had come to watch their grandson performing in the festival. Families congregated at tables surrounding the dance floor, and one guitar and a couple of accordions provided much of the music. After about an hour, the local pipe band marched in unannounced, now wearing polos and T-shirts with their kilts. Their song? "When the Saints Go Marching In."

By 11:00 p.m., Annabelle was near tears from the blasting pipes and from sheer exhaustion. So we left much earlier than we would have liked, but Dad and I both heard bagpipes going strong at midnight.

I took some video shots, both of the pipe band performance and of the ceilidh. I had to shoot at a very low resolution, however, or I wouldn't have had enough room on my memory stick. So the video itself isn't very good, but it gives you a pretty good idea of what it sounded like along with a grainy view of the action. I've assembled them all into an album at Sony's Image Station, which you can access by clicking here. Make sure your speakers are turned up really, really loud.


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