Caledonia calling: A Skye escape at the Three Chimneys

The Three Chimneys lies in one of the most isolated areas of Great Britain. Around the croft-like restaurant and hotel, the scree and heather fall away to the ocean; in the distance the sharp spires of the Cuillins threaten overhead. The sea laps like paint around the crevices in the cliffs and on this Sunday morning the water is a startling stained-glass blue.

Yesterday saw a long journey from the city through the moors and glens, passing over the thin bridge to the isles. Five hours in a car, sponging off scenery and stupid songs, is amusing payment for a birthday gift: a night in the world-renowned eatery and bedrooms. Looking more like a siamese of friendly Highland crofts than a hotel, the smiling receptionist presents a pale expanse of bedroom where doors open onto the loch.

Some cynics of the online reviewing community deem the decor as “simplistic” and “basic” – perhaps they expect foam white carpets and gold-encrusted toilet paper for the £295 B&B price tag. However the simplicity of tone, tartan textures and two-level design, splitting the seating and sleeping areas, are cosy rather than cold. Sink into the couch and wait for freshly brewed tea and a sugar-topped blueberry muffin to knock at the door.

Throw your imagination outside the calm walls and into the scenery. Skye is an astounding place. Punctuated with sheep and scored with cattle grid, the Colbost single track road leads to Glendale, what islanders call a ‘village’ but what city folk may deem ‘a sporadic arrangement of houses.’ The white squares dot across the rolling, sharp swerves of green; the lighter shade leads to the shore and a line of cliffs. The weather is not perfect; perfectly Scottish rather, the sky a blotted grey with the horizon flirting pink. We watch the sky turn and a sharply dressed waiter takes our coats at the restaurant entrance.

The Sunday Times’ Top 100 Restaurants. 5 Star Gold from Visit Scotland and the AA. 3 AA Rosettes. Twice featured in ‘The World’s 50 Best Restaurants.’ And finally, in 2014, a Michelin star… No pressure then.

The atmosphere is far from stuffy or pretentious, we think, as we curl up against the warm fire. Stone juts from the walls, wooden beams frame the booths and the layout permits privacy. A brew and a burger would do well in this setting, but we gasp at the lavish menu the waiter presents. Featuring the best of Scottish seafood, local trimmings and opulent additions, it can be intimidating for the uninitiated foodie. Yet the young staff are patient and acquiescent – and the taste is just amazing.

Tiny pastry sticks and dips, a further prelude of miniature bowls of game soup, button bread rolls and the starters arrive. Gigha halibut, mussels and mackerel are adorned with fennel and purslane; the shoulder of goat melts, a downward swirl of rich jus. One course in and it’s wondrous. Stomachs are saturated in smells and seasons; Sconser scallops and monkfish approach and are lit with bacon and velouté.

For those with a sweet tooth, patience is rewarded. Dessert proves the toughest choice: almond tart and chocolate soufflée are the eventual winners. The tart melts the partnering blackcurrant sorbet; a waitress gently taps an opening in the airy sponge to pour chocolate sauce. It is a complete departure from the ‘good’ Glasgow grubberies, even more so from the late night kebab haunts. ‘Food’ doesn’t even merit the description.

To sit on and appreciate the calmness, to rest bottoms in chairs of celebrities (‘Stella McCartney was in that seat last week!’ a waiter divulges) and to use the rather palatial ‘facilities’ is to get lucky. The waiter begins chatting and happily takes us on a tour of the kitchen. He leads a path through the fodder-coloured floors to a steel countered area; the same grey that flickers the crest of a wave, in which half a dozen youths in white coats float around. These chefs are of student age and banter merrily, explaining their tasks while topping up tumblers or arranging tarts. Seeing the youth and zeal adds an extra layer to our previous gluttony which settles itself under a balmy bedspread.

Sunday curtains, sunshine ripples and more grub. Fresh scones, unlimited fruit, porridge clothed in whisky and cream, black pudding cradling a poached egg. It’s a generous and justified start to the second and last day in Skye. Past the intermittent crofts of Glendale, the tarmac snail trail edges to the sea, dodging bays and buoyant tourists, rolling until it reaches the slashed cliffs of Neist Point. Stuck to the western edge of Skye, peering onto the hills of Benbecula, the lighthouse that perches amidst the rocks is deserted and rather ominous. The steep path that leads to it renders even the fittest Europeans a sweaty mess; several pause on the ascent to swallow sea air. Yet the scenery is jaw-dropping; the cliffs slanting to the skies; the water beating blue; a basking shark rotating riotously in the curved waves.

It feels like the edge of the horizon. The Outer Hebrides wink back, suggesting they hide a further secret; another unknowable Scottish parcel yet unopened. So much of this green place is discounted by those who fancy a more glittery, garish escape on the continent. In Scotland, the weather is never guaranteed – but with the mountainous edges revealing this culinary gem, you’d be crazy not to visit this organic, orgastic island.

This article was first published in the Journal on Wednesday 16 October 2013. Reviewed 27 October 2014.

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