By Roz Skinner
What do whisky, seaweed and nettles have in common?
They are all ingredients in the beautiful soaps lovingly handcrafted by Fiona Meiklejohn, founder of the Isle of Skye Soap Company.
Fiona's shop, tucked in at the northeast corner of Somerled Square, Portree, opened in 2001 and is crammed full of scented soaps, bath bombs and gifts.
Fiona remembers creating soap during her high school years and although she went on to work in IT, her love of crafts and chemistry never left her. Her soap-making skills resurfaced when she became a mother as she sought a purely natural product – one that would be soothing for her children, who suffered from eczema and asthma.
“My son had especially bad asthma and I found that the less chemicals we used, the better,” explains Fiona. “I began to look into aromatherapy and discover what plants and herbs worked best to soothe the skin. I started selling the soap at craft fairs and the business took off.”
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.