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'No it isn't. There's no “I” in Cullen Skink.'
The waiter looks at the menu. 'No, it's Cuillin Skink.'
'I know that's what it says there,' I tell him patiently, 'but the dish is pronounced
“Kullin Skink”, not “Coolin Skink”, and there's no “i” in it. Look, it's an old East Coast
dish and I know how it's spelled. My aunt Peg makes the best Cullen Skink I've ever
tasted and I've seen it on dozens of different menus always spelled the same way. Trust
me; I'm a Fifer.' (I confess that's a line I've long wanted to use.)
'Okay, sir,' the waiter says, but I can tell he's not convinced. 'And will you be having
any wine with your dinner?'
I just smile. 'Yes, please …'
We're in the Cuillin Hills Hotel, Portree. This is a very pleasant hotel with beautifully
kept gardens, good food, and - aside from those of the waiting staff on matters of pro-
nunciation - brilliant views. We sit outside at a table on the lawn after dinner, drinking
Talisker and soaking up the view of the broad bay and the moored boats, watching the
lights of the town coming on while the dark distant mass of the Cuillins stands silhouetted
against the golden-blue glow of the southern sky.
The Cuillins are, as we sit here and look at them, for sale. John MacLeod, the
MacLeod of MacLeod, the 29th chieftain of the clan and the gent who owns the MacLeod
ancestral home of Dunvegan Castle and large tracts of land on the island, including the
Cuillins, has put the mountains up for sale. Ten million quid and they're yours. No takers
yet, and obviously what the vast majority of people locally and with any interest in the
island would like would be for the Scottish National Trust or a similar body to buy them.
But that's a hell of a lot of money for something you can't actually do anything with (you
suspect that Westminster would have a hard time forcing Edinburgh to let somebody start,
say, a quarry).
We shall see. These are interesting and progressive times in Scottish land ownership.
Thanks to the fact we have our own Parliament again, the last feudal country in Europe is
finally showing signs of joining, well, the nineteenth century; the people who live on and
make their living from the land are finally being given the right to own it. This has to be a
good idea. Even if you were undecided about the merits of this sort of change you could
tell it's a good thing just by the sort of people who're vehemently opposed to it: Peter de
Savary, Mohammed al Fayed and most of the big private land owners.
It's still only late April, and it gets cold after the sun goes down, leaving the Cuillins
stark against the glow, and black as their name, but it's worth staying for the midge-free
view and nipping in to get jackets and gloves.
Another belly-banger of a breakfast, then we head north into serious scenery under a glor-
ious blue sky edged with faint streaks of high cloud to the north. We're heading home
today but there's plenty of time for some fun driving first. The A885 heads up the Trot-
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