Macleod’s Table Hike and a Michelin Lunch

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Ox Cheek starter at The Three Chimneys

It really looked gloomy this morning as we sipped tea in the kitchen, Radio nan Gael news in the background. But –  the forecast promised that the cloud would lift mid morning plus I was getting itchy feet about getting some sort of hillwalk in. Something short and sweet which would still let us enjoy the Three Chimneys lunch we’d booked for 1.30.It had been a few years since we’d been there, long before they won their Michelin star.Chris hadn’t been overly impressed last time. He’d had mussels to start and we’d just picked our own the day before out on North Uist and I suppose you can never match the sheer pleasure of finding and cooking your own ultra fresh ones – and, they cost nowt instead of £12 for a small bowl. So – some prejudice kicked in. But I so wanted to try it again.And it DID win the accolade of one of the world’s Top 50 restaurants, after  Anthony Bourdain made a visit.He was blown away (probably literally too) by the beautiful location, the pretty whitewashed crofthouse itself, the ultra fresh local seafood, some of it straight from Loch Dunvegan’s waters right outside their front door.I suspect the whole package was the thing.

I do love the occasional splurge on fine dining….. the sort of food you haven’t a hope in heck of reproducing at home. And lunch was a lot more affordable than dinner. So, C was persuaded – just.

So 10am found us parking the car off- road a few miles north of Dunvegan and me scrambling into my waterproofs at the start of the wet, boggy track up onto Healabhal Mor, one of the two distinctive flat – topped Macleod’s Tables which dominate the skyline of west Skye.They are volcanic and terraced, very green and on a clear day, give superb views across the Sea of the Hebrides to the Outer Isles and to the Black Cuillin.

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There was a light drizzle in the air but with any luck it would clear.Keep positive! The track started off dry, taking us past a beautifully restored stone house with landscaped gardens, almost incongruous in the wild surroundings.Very attractively done. A long – tailed bird flew past us towards a low hillock to our right  – a cuckoo chase by some smaller birds.They are very easily seen on the islands as there are so few trees for them to perch on, so they use telephone wires.In fact, we heard cuckoos constantly during this trip – May is prime time for them announcing their territory with their lovely distinctive call. By mid-summer, they go silent before heading south again towards Africa in August.A beautiful sound from a very aggressive and less than admirable bird; those poor wee meadow pipits that lose their own eggs and youngsters to the large baby cuckoo in their nest.No wonder the other birds mob it – it is a bird of prey in its own right.

The good track had now become a very soggy one as we crossed increasingly wet, boggy ground, then forded a small tinkling burn , very shallow in a delightful spot with young rowan trees growing, emerald ferns and everything very lush.On a sunny day it would make a beautiful picnic spot.

We started to head uphill, on quite a gentle incline at first then it steepened a bit as we headed over one of several lottle terraces in the hillside.The rain had stopped at least, it was quite cold and the cloud was so low I felt I could reach out and touch it.

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Occasionally we got a view of Loch Duvegan far below, silvery blue in the grey light, with its myriad green headlands and islets.The Coral Beaches were visible now, overlooked by their own mini Macleod’s Table.

It was a hard slog at times – the usual –  then the ground flattened suddenly and the summit stretched before us bigger than a football pitch, although exactly where its edges ended wasn’t clear in the mist.It had taken us just over an hour but oh the sense of achievement when you ‘summit’ , even onto a lowly one of only 1500 feet.

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Annoyingly, the cloud hadn’t cleared at all, despite the Met Office’s prediction – we can trust them to be wrong at least! Ah well, it was still grand to just wander around the enormous  plateau, all springy moorland grass with tantalising glimpses here and there of the landscape below. All was in shadow however, the sun well hidden by the extensive low cloud.Quite spectacular to watch heavy showers drenching the landscape to the south – at least they were missing us.It’s always disappointing not to get the views but I was glad we’d made the effort.Good exercise and got the lungs working a bit.On a good day the thing to do would be to walk round the big ridge to Healabhal Beag, actually the higher of the two, despite it’s name meaning ‘small'(the meaning of  beag,  pronounced ‘bake’).

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Found a sheltered spot out of the Arctic breeze and gulped down a small bottle of sparkling water and a netful of tangerines.Hot thirsty work, a hillwalk, even a wee one.

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It’s always difficult to leave a summit….the peace, the feeling of being up in the air itself , high above the everyday world. Much of life falls into true perspective on top of a hill, another reason I feel a need to climb them.They are magical places on many levels.

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We wandered round the whole perimeter of this Table, looking down upon its craggy terraces then finding our ascent route and making our way back down.

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In all we were less than three hours there and back including a long stop at the top. A quick change in the car, out of sweaty clothes and into some fresher stuff and we were ready to head to the restaurant.

Everything was cast in a dull flat light as we headed along the winding single track road to Colbost and the famed Three Chimneys.But even on a day like this, it is such a beautiful part of Skye. Quiet and off the beaten track.

The restaurant is a whitewashed converted croft house, very pretty and a stone’s throw from the shore.Inside, it looked quite different to how I remembered it……clearly a major makeover had happened.It was now a mixutre of soft white walls and some exposed original stone. A very clean, unfussy look – modern yet making the most of the old building itself. Very attractive.The tiny windows  – the walls must be a foot thick – give views onto the sea and shore, just beautiful.

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There were only a couple of other tables occupied in our room (there is another small room), a very attractive French lady on her own and two older women.So it was quiet, just muffled chat.

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The young waiter was from Skye, a student, very professional but friendly.The menu is quite limited at lunchtime, given its set price of £37 (ouch).2/3 choices per course I recall.We both had the Ox Cheek to start with, something that I admit didn’t immediately appeal but it was sensational.The flavours! One of the finest starters I’ve ever had.Chris agreed. My husband always enjoys wine with his meal though I don’t drink that much but I always get a sip of what he’s ordered  to try it.He’s not a red man so to speak so it was a  sauvignon.Pretty ordinary , we both agreed. I often feel that even in the best places, the wine quality never matches that of the food, despite its eye watering price.

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Ox Cheek starter

Great start to the meal though.We were just waiting for the next offering and admiring the view from our table right by the window,when I saw a large bird being mobbed offshore.Grabbed the binoculars and  – yes, it was an eagle! Wow! No time to do anything other than zoom in on it through the glass. A poorest result but we reckoned it was a sea-eagle – no white tail but probably a sub-adult.Difficult to tell them at that distance from golden eagles, which also hunt by the shore on the islands.Told the waiter when he returned with our mains and he recounted the tale of the manager who – last year – had been astonished when two eagles had what looked like a bit of a cat-fight above his car. They appeared out of nowhere grappling each other with their talons and one plummeted so fast he thought it was going to hit the bonnet.Incredible – one of these stories that you just couldn’t make up.It could have been part of their mating ritual of course,  albeit a love match which nearly ended in disaster.

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We’d both chosen the same main too – how could we NOT choose monkfish wrapped in bacon with scallops? And wonderful it was too. Flavours which were intense yet subtle and a delight.I was also fairly getting through the various home-made breads on offer –  my usual trick.I love good bread – could make a meal of it alone.Or a big pile of mashed tatties. Chris says its my peasant, island blood.Probably right.

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We heard the French lady querying what ‘monkfish’ was – but the poor waiter couldn’t translate it into French.Hubby to the rescue – he knew the word , being pretty fluent in the language (yes, another one.Three to his bow including English)Her face lit up – ah..mais oui! D’accord.And she ordered it. I basked in the glow of association, being married to the man who had come to the rescue.

Pannacotta and their famous Marmalade Pudding were our sweet choices. Actually, Chris never touched his  – he orders it for me to try and it was part of the ‘meal deal’ anyway. The first was a beautiful though a little bit bland for me.The marmalade offering however was right up my street though – a good old fashioned  steamed pudding.Ye canny whack a sponge puddin’ – I’d take that over a fancy artistic concoction any day.

Over 25 years ago, when the Three Chimneys was just a lovely wee cafe/bistro, I popped in for coffee and cake and it was this pudding which was on offer. If anything it was stronger in flavour then, than the more refined taste of today  – and I had it with cream, which I prefer. Still going strong as a staple on the menu though the price has changed ‘a tad’ to put it mildly.

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Puddings!

What a meal. Superb. The cooking is far, far superior than I ever remember it being.I asked the waiter if the chef had changed but he said, no, he’d been there for twenty years but it was only last year that they got a Michelin star, out of the blue.In fact, they were a bit bemused as to why it should come when it did.

My only suprise was that there were none of the lovely wee additional courses that are part of a Michelin type meal…..amuse bouche etc. Maybe just as well though because we were well and truly stuffed.

Headed back to the house but couldn’t resist a stop at Jann’s Cakes in Dunvegan.It’s a tiny shop with an amazing array of homemade chocolates and gateaux. All prepared by the lady herself, African Caribbean and helped by her English husband.Not cheap…..£5 per cake though the portions are big.I’d tried the chocolate cake once but it was too sweet.The Meringue however, with a dollop of cream and fresh fruit,  was the thing so we bought one.Pure greed. Last time it had easily done the three of  us but Jann herself wasn’t serving and the local lady who packaged it up was very light on the cream and fruit, unfortunately.Felt a bit cheated later when I opened it up and peered in. My own meringues were long gone but this had that great homemade taste, nothing like the hard, chalky tasteless  things that pass for meringues in shops.

Had a very light tea later. Mum- in- law had had a hot lunch in her wee centre so it was biscuits and cheese all round and then The Sweet. Magico.

Tomorrow  –  off over the Bealach na Ba and round the coast to  Torridon, our base for 3 days.Skye to Torridon via the Bealach na Ba

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