Kyleakin and Kyle of Lochalsh

These two villages face each other from promontories on either side of the Kyle (or Gaelic ‘caol’) where Loch Alsh narrows to rush between Skye and the mainland. The Kyle Akin, is named after the thirteenth century King Haakon IV who was the last Norwegian King to rule the Western Isles and sailed down the Kyle to the Battle of Largs. After a ferry had run between the two places for nearly four centuries, the high bridge with a foot on Eilan Ban opened to controversy in 1995.

The villages are now linked by a shared head teacher who plies between the two primary schools over the Kyle, and also mythically by a chain which stopped ships to extract tolls. The children at Kyleakin were quick to seize upon the story of the chain and the Norwegian princess, ‘Saucy Mary’, who is said to have put it there. Supposedly she raised enough money from tolls to build the first Castle Dunakin. The children created out of the myth a constellation story with a moral in the tail, and a nod to more recent battles with tolls at the same location.

Saucy Mary and the Chain

One day a Norwegian Princess called Saucy Mary moved into Castle Moil. She had blonde hair and was really strong. She also had a white dress and a blue and silver crown. Saucy looked rich but she wasn’t. This castle was dark, smelly and was filled with bats and rats. She hated it there but she had a lovely husband who cared for her and visited her all the time.
Saucy Mary made her way over to the Haakon pub. She bought one pint and had a chat with her friends. She realised she had no money, how disappointing, so she went back to Castle Moil, which was near the loch, and thought hard. She saw lots of fishing boats passing and she decided what to do. ‘Mmm! Lots of money,’ she rubbed her hands together in delight.
She got a chain the next sunny morning and told her husband’s servants to put the chain across from Kyleakin to Kyle so she could ask all the boats for a toll and have a chat.
When the first boat came along a big smile spread across her face. Every time a boat went past and paid her, her grin got bigger and cheesier and the horns on her helmet got longer. After a while she got richer.
But what about the fishermen?
Three of them were raging. They were red with bitterness. They were so angry about Mary they lunged forward and grabbed the chain, nearly capsizing their boat. They heaved the chain out of the water with all their strength.
Mary stood by the end of the chain. She tried to pull it off them but she didn’t have a chance against them. Her horns drooped and her face saddened. The men hauled the chain onto the boat.
‘Now that’s what Mary gets!’ said the little chubby, fat one with a snarl.
‘Yeah that’s what Mary gets…………’
‘What does she get?’ said the man with long curly hair.
The chubby one hit him on the head. ‘Look over there, it’s a whirlpool.’
They started the engine and drove slowly over and threw the chain into the whirlpool, where they watched it spinning violently. The three fishermen grinned. It twisted round and round till the chain was not to be seen.
The chain fell down to the deepest trench where the evil sea -monster, Moil, lived. He was half octopus and half shark. He smelt like blood after all the people he had eaten.
Moil was sleeping soundly when suddenly he let out a huge sneeze. The chain was still covered in the perfume which Saucy Mary had put on the day she set the chain out. The perfume-covered chain had touched Moil’s nose. He had an allergy to perfume. The great monster sneezed the chain out of the water and out into the night sky where it became a constellation.
The constellation twinkled in the midnight sky. It was like one thousand cameras flashing in front of your face. It looked like the chain was never going to end. All of the stars were different. Some were big and some were small and some of them were not as bright as others.
Once the tolls were gone everyone was relieved. The people of Kyleakin were so pleased. The fishermen were feeling very proud for what they had done. Everyone was happy about what had happened. When people looked up at the constellation it reminded them that there should never be tolls again.

Things changed in 1995 when the bridge was built. The tolls were back. People remembered the story of the fishermen and were angry…

P5-7 Kyleakin Primary School

The Skye bridge tolls were abolished at the end of 2004 and so I soared freely back to the mainland. In Gaelic ‘Eilean A Cheo’ means Island of mist and it was certainly apt for Skye that day as low cloud and driving rain drew a blind across everything above head-height.

After two days of this weather, one of those west-coast miracles happened. Clouds evaporated and the temperature rose by ten degrees. In the days that followed, mountains were re-erected, and the landscape transformed. Turning a corner or mounting a rise as I travelled between schools, a jagged horizon, pale blue in silhouette would suddenly confront me. In the classroom at Kyle, I drew breath in the middle of an instruction as a glance through the window revealed the wooded bay below, formed by the ‘Plock of Kyle’, the hills of Skye beyond, and the bridge that arced between. Stretches of water glittered in layers between hills and islands.

In those days, such views revealed themselves so casually, they were almost heart-stopping – the hills of Torridon to the north, or the distinctive twin-peaked table-top of Beinn Sgritheall to the south. And when I looked down at my feet, amongst the grasses of birchwoods on the shores, stitchwort blossomed, the star-of-Bethlehem.

‘Stars are not seen by sunshine’. So goes a Spanish proverb, and Midsummer is no time to look for stars in the sky. So at Kyle we looked for them on Earth. I told them Bea Ferguson’s version of an extended riddle[i] which involves a search for ‘a little red house with no windows and no doors and a star inside’. The children were mystified. When I sliced an apple in half across its girth, we found the answer – a perfect five-pointed star in pips and their cases. ‘That’s so cool,’ they chorused. A star on Earth. We wrote poems about finding other stars – in plankton, snowflakes, flowers.

My star in a bubble

The apple fell to the ground with a thud.
I sliced it open and the juice poured out.
The star was unleashed.
I slipped it onto a chain and wore it for the day.
It was beautiful but fading.
I locked it in a bubble and
blew on it, making it go further up.
Once it reached the atmosphere the bubble popped
but now the star twinkled more than ever.
From then on my star never moved even though others did.
My star still stood, shining, pointing North.
I named my star Polaris.

Shannon Ailin Campbell (11), Kyle of Lochalsh Primary School

The elm-tree star

Sitting under an old elm tree
I discovered a star-shaped leaf.
I took it home and went upstairs
to set it free.
I blew it up high in the sky
where it joined the tummy of a
long twisting dragon.

Christy Macrae (9), Kyle of Lochalsh Primary School

Guess what I found!

Guess what I found!
A star.
The star of all flowers
a daffodil.
I kept it in a box
then I blew it into the night
and whispered bye bye.
The roar of a dragon answered.

Eleanor Cumine (9), Kyle of Lochalsh Primary School

From the wriggling spine of Draco the dragon, the children of Kyleakin and Kyle had plucked Aldhibain to be ‘their’ star. At 88 light years from Earth, Aldhibain now witnesses one of the most tragic days in the history of the Western Isles, when men returning from the war and going home for Hogmanay, boarded the Iolaire (the Eagle) at Kyle of Lochalsh. In the early hours of 1st January 1919, the ship hit the ‘Beasts of Holm’ outside Stornoway Harbour and around two hundred of the ‘bravest and the best’ perished on the threshold of their homecoming. In both schools this history was embraced with passion, and at Kyle they re-told the story and gave the ship its own constellation so that the events of that night could never be forgotten.

Their story goes as follows:

Lewis, a 20-year-old lad returning from the war joins the celebrations in the pub in Kyle as the men wait for the ship to take them home. For some reason unknown to him, he feels nervous about the journey. He is a sensitive lad, fond of bird-watching, so when he sees the name of the ship, he feels reassured and boards it. During the storm he stays up on deck and using his binoculars, he sees how close they are getting to the Beasts of Holm. ‘Rocks!’ he shouts, but no-one hears him. He takes off his boots and jumps into the freezing sea just before the ship strikes them. He watches from the water the terrible chaos that follows, and finally the ship disappearing under the waves. But as he watches, he sees that a huge eagle rises from the wreck and soars into the night sky where it sets as stars. Today, every time people look up and see the eagle constellation, they remember the men lost that night.

Collaboratively we also wrote this poem about the sounds and sights of the cosmos.

The Sky at Night

The milky way floats
stars hiss
a comet whistles
this is our chirping galaxy
in the sky at night

A comet swings
stars jump
the moon glides around the earth,
in the sky at night

The sun howls around the planets
a satellite flies
space junk swims
a red giant lumbers
and Orion runs
in the sky at night

Saturn rumbles
a white dwarf screeches
Aldhibain howls
through the clouds
in the sky at night

Constellations flow
asteroids pound
a black hole stalks
across the Universe
in the sky that barks at night.

P5/6 Kyle of Lochalsh Primary School

We made origami stars with Rachel and the children wrote their own wishes onto them. I hope Philip’s comes true for him one day.

A green motorbike
going fast. A muddy track

Philip Hogshin (9),Kyle of Lochalsh Primary School

At a previous school, there had once been tears of frustration when the pieces of a paper star fell apart. This time, the tears were of sadness when a girl was asked to leave her star at school over the weekend. In the end she took the star, and her words, proudly home, and I was glad it had meant so much to her. But a lump had formed in my own throat, like the star in the throat of the boy in Alasdair Gray’s story. It was a reminder to me that wishing on a star is not just a game.

[i] Tales on the Tongue, Scottish Storytelling Centre

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