Glamour. It’s Marcello Mastroianni drinking negronis on the Via Veneto; it’s Audrey Hepburn, George Clooney, Sinatra on the Vegas Strip in ’59… and a composting toilet on the west coast of Scotland.
The latter was the only one available when I went glamping in Skye. Glamping is a neologism, an awkward portmanteau word that seeks to persuade us there really can be a satisfactory crossover between glamour and camping, even though most reasonable people have these two concepts pegged in different stratospheres.
You can ‘glamp’ all over the place these days, in everything from yurts to airstream caravans, but to do it in Skye you must head to Skye Eco Bells near Dunvegan. The ‘Bells’ are the tents, traditional canvas things with guy ropes and fabric bunting (a classic glamping signifier) that belie their squat appearance to reveal a commodious interior, complete with double bed, armchair and old travel trunks for tables.
There were three tents on the site, each with a fire pit and all served by the communal facilities. ‘The Hub’ was once, I think, a static caravan that has been transformed into a log cabin-style kitchen where glampers who can’t be doing with campfires can cook on gas hobs.
Behind it stood the composting toilet. I had been looking forward to this, perversely hoping it would be monstrous, or at least as foul as those holes you used to have to brave in French facilities, but it wasn’t at all. To call it glamorous would be a struggle, but it was fresh and not at all repellent, despite theshadowy glimpse of soil pile that meets an unguarded look down the pan. Regular dousing with hemp fibre keeps it fragrant.
Skye is an island ridiculously well furnished with both awesome landscape and the attendant tourists. Summer visitors should beware the convoys of motor homes that inch up to the bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh, but once on the island they quickly disperse. The Cuillins loom, famous, black and jagged, over southern Skye but in other areas there are great stretches of peaty moorland, sheltered bays and cliff-edged peninsulas.
I went to Trotternish in search of some dinosaur footprints. Taking the high, narrow road across the peninsula from Uig, I met a sudden and unexpected horde of vehicles and people. They had come to admire the Quiraing, a spectacular landform of cliffs and castle-like pinnacles of rock that had appeared as suddenly as its admirers.
Following the road below led me to the beach that allegedly hosts the dinoprints. This was a more underwhelming geological experience, the obscurity of the fossilized prints evident from the tourists peering blankly at the rock and taking speculative photos of potholes.
Walking across another peninsula back near the glampsite, I met a lady with two pet sheep, aged 19 and 17. She fretted about encroaching development, remarking ruefully on the 19 houses built locally in the past 35 years. I looked over the bay towards the bell tents. A pair of oyster catchers cried overhead, a grasshopper chafed beside the veteran sheep and across the boggy meadow, a thousand heads of dancing cotton grass were lit by the lowering sun. Not glamorous, I thought, but glorious.
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.