By Roz Skinner
Locals and visitors to Waternish will soon be seeing something unexpected – the addition of a 24 foot yurt in the grounds of Skyeskyns.
The company, famed for its luxury sheepskins, will use the yurt as a pop-up tea tent. General Manager, Dave Till, explains: “We wanted something in keeping with Skyeskyns – something a bit quirky. The yurt tea room will be open April-October and will serve teas, coffees and home baking. Visitors can relax by the stove, take in our spectacular views and sample our Highland produce from the comfort of a sheepskin-clad chair!”
The past year saw Skyeskyns add a new storage facility, which means they have a dedicated space for storage and packing. “We really felt the benefits over the Christmas rush. It has made everything easier and Pete and Becky, our tanners, are delighted with the extra space for their raw materials too,” remarks Dave.
“Skyeskyns has been producing Highland sheepskins since 1983. The skins are obtained as a by-product of the meat industry and are usually sourced from Dingwall. After being stacked in the store, they are given an afternoon and an overnight soak to remove excess salts.”
Farquhar Macleod Funeral Directors was established on the Isle of Harris for many years. Thus, it is fitting that one of the quality coffins stocked is a Harris Tweed coffin - made of solid oak and overlaid with a strip of luxury Harris Tweed.
Now, though, owner Farquhar has relocated his independent, family-owned business to the Isle of Skye. Although he still returns to Harris when requested, Farquhar's business is now based in Broadford.
With his mother hailing from Harris and his father from Staffin, Farquhar is familiar with the funeral traditions on both islands and is able to accommodate his clients.
Farquhar devotes himself to customer care, saying that he finds satisfaction in giving the family of the deceased less to worry about. "They have so much on their minds and we are able to take some of that strain away from them," he points out. "Being independent, we can make our service more personal. If someone makes a request, we will do anything for them as long as it's legal."
Being independent also enables Farquhar to keep the expenses down, as much as possible, for his clients. "I'm always conscious of costs and try and keep them to a minimum for people," he explains. "When clients come into the office, we establish what their requirements are and then give them an estimate. They are not going to get hit down the line with a bill for double that estimate. However, if someone thinks they will struggle to pay, that initial meeting is the time to tell us, so we can work on reducing costs and helping them out as much as we can."
Farquhar Macleod Funeral Directors is the only member of the Society of Allied Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF) on Skye. "This is a guarantee of quality and uprightness," says Farquhar. "SAIF are like the VisitScotland of funerals - they inspect our premises and our paperwork to make sure we are doing things correctly. They are there
for the customer and that's a good thing."
Being a member of SAIF means that Farquhar Macleod Funeral Directorscan offer Golden Charter Funeral Plans. "They offer a combination of the best value and the best quality," Farquhar says.
Farquhar's top advice for the family of the deceased is to always have the correct paperwork to hand. "Know where the deceased's birth and marriage certificate is, as you will need them immediately," he advises. "The law has changed and now the death must be registered before the funeral can be arranged. So have all the paperwork in order and choose an independent funeral director who will take all the strain."
Skeabost House Hotel, located just outside Portree, now combines local history with contemporary luxury.
Bought last year by Anne Gracie and Ken Gunn, owners of the Sonas Hotel Group, Skeabost boasts lavish decorations, delightful ambience and relaxing comfort - the result of extensive renovations.
Anne has been involved in hospitality services for a number of years, originally running a guest-house, self-catering and ultimately Quality Grading holiday accommodation.
“The grading background gave me excellent training so that I could evaluate quality,” Anne explains. “Ken and I purchased Toravaig House Hotel in the south of Skye and it became the first hotel in our Sonas Hotel Group.
“Ken had been Captain of Hebridean Princess and he is very driven to provide top service for the guests. Later, Duisdale House Hotel, which is just up the road from Toravaig, came on the market and we bought it in 2007.”
After acquiring Skeabost last April, the team immediately started renovating the 146-year-old hotel.
Anne says: “Our most urgent task was to provide comfort and a welcoming ambience, in the first instance, to guests visiting the hotel before quickly embarking on the refurbishing of the whole hotel along with basic maintenance which had been overlooked.
“The Hotel has such happy memories for people over the years and it was disappointing to see it go into decline. It gives us a great deal of satisfaction to restore it back to its former glory.”
One of Skeabost’s main attractions is its golf course, perfect for a relaxed but active holiday. “We are looking to increase the membership and maximise the course,” Anne reveals.
“We are also promoting the salmon fishing on seven miles of the hotel’s own Skeabost river. Permits are available at the hotel reception or from Derek, the Ghillie, at the site office.”
Guests can also enjoy sailing trips on Anne and Ken’s 50 foot luxury yacht, Solus a Chuain (Light Of The Ocean.) based at Armadale. “The perfect gift for any celebration!” says Anne.
Exciting plans are in development, including improvements to the private road to the hotel. “At the moment, we hope to have the road open by the summer. The gardens have also been lovingly tended and, within the next few years, there should be a blaze of colour from the azaleas and ornamental rhododendrons, which have newly been planted around the gardens,” said Anne.
Now that the Old Chapel, which was used as a billiard room, has been transformed into a small wedding venue and private dining room, the next plan is to install a treatment room this season.
“Together with our offering of sailing, fishing and golfing, a treatment room seemed the next obvious offering,” Anne says. “We will always be developing every year – it seems to be what Ken and I thrive on!
“In this industry, you have to look ahead and be aware of emerging trends. We have visitors from all over the world and we want them to enjoy attention to detail and top quality service levels. This philosophy has enabled us to win many awards with our other two hotels in the south of the island, Duisdale and Toravaig House Hotels.”
Whether you are a visitor looking for an exciting holiday or, if you live locally, Duisdale, Toravaig and Skeabost House Hotels are splendid countryside getaways.
An expert on minority languages will present a free lecture at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig UHI next month.
Conchúr Ó Giollagáin, (pictured above) Gaelic Research Professor at the University of the Highlands and Islands, will explore the local and global challenges faced by minority languages.
He will discuss how features of modern life are threatening the survival of minority language groups and will argue that a new approach is required to address the challenges they face.
Professor Ó Giollagáin explains: “Much of the current debate on minority language diversity is irrelevant and insincere. We need to set out a clear diagnosis of what is happening to Gaelic and to other minority languages as a first step to proposing alternative approaches to our current condition.
"If we are to give communities hope, we need to set out a vision and a strategy that people can believe in.”
Professor Ó Giollagáin’s inaugural professorial lecture ‘Rethinking Our Condition: Language Minorities in Globalised Modernity’ will take place from 5.15pm to 7.15pm on Tuesday 19 April at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig UHI.
The lecture will be presented in a bilingual Gaelic/English format and facilities will be available for those wishing to hear an English interpretation of the Gaelic sections of the lecture.
Hopes for a new local marketing strategy were outlined at a major tourism industry event for the Isle of Skye held at Skeabost Hotel near Portree on Saturday.
The hotel's conservatory was packed with people involved in all aspects of the local tourism - from artists to hoteliers, from shop owners to landowners, from restaurateurs to photographers.
The meeting formed part of the Scottish Tourism Alliances' plan to increase overall earnings from tourism by £1 billion by 2020.
A number of official speakers lauded the Outer Hebrides for the way the Outer Hebrides Tourism group - an industry-led body - had multiplied its membership tenfold and had just been instrumental in the launch of Hebridean Way cycle route from the Butt of Lewis to the Isle of Barra and the Eat Drink Hebrides food trail. The launch had taken place at the new Harris Distillery in Tarbert, itself a major addition to the Outer Hebrides range of attractions.
Marc Crothall, the chief executive officer at the Scottish Tourism Alliance said the Skeabost event was one of a host of local events under the banner Connecting 2020 - the aim is to have at least 2,020 conversations with local businesses although probably 4,000 will take place. He pointed out that the tourism industry employed 220,000 people and involved around 27,000 businesses. This region has highest growth of tourism employment inn the whole country.
The Scottish Tourism Alliance is the tourism industry’s voice and direct link with Government and has a seat on the UK-wide tourism body. The STA 'On The Road' tour, of which the Skeabost event was part, is intent upon connecting with as many small businesses as possible during Tourism Week in the run-up to the two-day Signature Conference in Edinburgh, along with the Thistle Awards, Scotland’s national celebration of top tourism businesses from every region.
The leadership of the local tourism body Destination Skye & Lochalsh - with the slogan Developing All-round Excellence – is changing, the meeting heard, and a new group of tourism businesses is taking the lead with a new venture, which will have a much wider focus upon marketing the area and planning a future strategy.
Among those contributing towards making these changes is Donald MacDonald, Manager of Aros in Portree, who said before the meeting: “This is a real opportunity for everyone in Skye to work together to strengthen the local economy which, as everyone knows, is driven by tourism.
"We need to collectively capture a new spirit of engagement, partnership and drive that will see this iconic destination reach its real potential. This will be the time to look at new initiatives, find effective solutions and help to develop the tourism product on Skye through a quality focused approach. Tourism is not just about beds and food, it engages every other service that is being offered on Skye.”
Shirley Spear, of the Three Chimneys Restaurant, who is also involved in a variety of other national promotional groups, said the new group, including Anne Gracie, of Skeabost Hotel, Donald MacDonald and Rob Ware from Sleat, wanted to create a "brand new conversation" about the future of the tourism industry in Skye and Lochalsh. She outlined the way the structures of the industry had changed over the years, from local tourist boards onwards, to the present model of local industry bodies or DMO's.
However, she said, this area had "not been very successful in pulling together a collaborative working group" and unlike all other parts of Scotland "in recent years…we don't seem to have made a great deal of progress in building a cohesive strategy for our local industry." DSL started its life with a big flourish but "did not develop as many of us had hoped" because it had not been widely enough supported, she said. She praised the work of Neil and Rosemary Colquohoun, who along with Clive Pearson, had been the DSL driving force and had enabled it to achieve the progress which it had made. But the group could not succeed in the future without developing a strategy and a business plan, winning external funding and involving everyone in the industry in Skye and Lochalsh.
(More information about STA, Tourism Week and the Roadshow, can be found here