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Spotting John Coe and Aquarius during Sustainable Stay on the Isle of Skye

With this being our fourth trip to the Isle of Skye - we knew exactly what we were looking for. Having previously stayed in the South, or closer to the main town of Portree, here is why I will tell anyone visiting Skye to look a little further afield - especially if you are wildlife lovers like us.

The best wildlife sightings happen in the more remote places, and the location that has proved the most fruitful to us in the past was Neist Point Lighthouse, hence why we chose to stay in the Glendale Studio Pods which are conveniently located just 15 minutes away. The evening we got there, we rushed out to try and spot some wildlife, and boy were we rewarded. After 21 years of trying to spot killer whales off the coast of Scotland, a feat that sometimes eludes seasoned whale-watchers their whole lives, we were rewarded with a sighting of the infamous John Coe and Aquarius, the last two surviving male killer whales of the functionally extinct West Coast Community of orca.

A sighting of any orca in Scotland is incredibly rare, but to spot these two old men of the sea was nothing short of magical. The sight of the two tall dorsal fins cutting through the water as they swam towards the headland had my heart pounding, and when we realized who it was? Tears sprang to my eyes. The last female in this population, Lulu, washed up on a Tiree beach in 2017 and was found to have had record levels of PCB toxicity in her blood. Dubbed 'the world's most toxic whale' it gave scientists insight into why the West Coast community of orca hadn't been sighted with a calf in more than a decade. Since Lulu died, only these two males have been spotted together - meaning that once they eventually pass away, the West Coast Community of orca, who have their own individual physiology, feeding habits, and behaviour (which separates them from visiting Icelandic or Northern Isles Community), will be no more.

We later found out that the two whales swam into Loch Pooltiel which I wish we had known that night because the loch is located at the end of the street from the Moonrise pod where we were staying! With these whales roaming all around the coast of Scotland and even Ireland, we had to content ourselves with such a lucky sighting. Nevertheless, orca weren't to be our only sighting of the evening. We were also lucky enough to spot several harbour porpoise, a couple of minke whales, grey seal, and a pod of hunting common dolphin - all off Neist point. The two of us joked that we had chosen our accommodation well because we might as well just keep going back to the same location every day!

Of course, we visited more places than just Neist Point, but we still stayed a little more 'off the beaten track' than we had in the past. Avoiding Portree, Sconser and Broadford, instead we sought out secluded beaches and picturesque hikes and were rewarded with more marine mammal sightings, as well as a pair of golden eagle! If we had wanted to escape the crush of tourists in Portree entirely, we could have booked a boat trip from the Millovaig pier which is only five minutes from the pod.

But we needn't have ventured away from our bnb to spot wildlife at all. With an owl box visible from the window of the studio, we were content to try and spot the local barn owls roosting, as well as the bats that swept in come twilight. The pod itself was the perfect place to cozy up with a book, either on the patio with the generously provided bottle of prosecco from our hosts, or on the loveseat when the rain paid a visit. Although I must say we got lucky with the weather and only had a few showers on this trip!

With our sighting of John Coe and Aquarius reminding us of how much human activity and pollution has affected marine life off the coast of my Scottish home, it made me incredibly grateful that we had chosen to stay in accommodation that put sustainability at the forefront of our visit. The Glendale studio pods (Blue Skye and Moonrise) were constructed by hand by our host, Richard. This was evident in the beautiful attention to detail with the carved thistles on the supports, and the wooden divots between the beams. He later informed us that he had felled the trees himself and the labour of love was evident in every nook and cranny.

Not only was the entire studio lovingly hand crafted, the whole concept has been created with sustainability in mind. With multiple bins to make separating recycling and composting simple, solar panels that will eventually make the whole place carbon neutral, and charging stations for electric cars (one of very few on the entire island), the Glendale Studio Pods have really provided the opportunity for sustainable and thoughtful eco-tourism.

As much as we enjoyed hiking around Skye and seeing the wildlife, we also made sure to take time to relax at the bnb and not over-exert ourselves. Thankfully, the Moonrise pod offered us plenty of opportunities to chill out and enjoy our stay. With a sauna on site to help us unwind (and if you visit in the winter - to thaw out), Paul enjoyed setting up the hammock after building an outdoor fire (with the pre-cut firewood that was helpfully provided for us) and reading his book as the sun set.

My personal favourite location was the hand-crafted bench seated at the top of the hill which provided spectacular views across the lush valley, as well as a distant view of the sea. The bench was perfectly placed for watching the sunset, which we did every night that we were there. Simply sitting there and watching the sun go down in a place that feels like it could be a replica of the Shire from Lord of the Rings, truly makes you feel at peace. While we were staying there we did have an alert for the Northern Lights, which is incredible given that it was the height of summer, but in the winter you would have incredible views across the sky of the aurora should you be so lucky to stay in this location.

If you are looking for a bit more of an active visit then you can enjoy a refreshing dip in the river which is just at the bottom of the property, or even talk to the hosts about borrowing a couple of kayaks! Even though I am Scottish, I clearly have lost my thick skin when it comes to taking a dip in the Hebridean waters. No sooner was I in the river than I was heading straight back to the banks to get out and in search of a fluffy towel. Perhaps another way that the sauna might come in handy!

It's no secret that we love visiting the Scottish Hebrides, and in particular the Isle of Skye. We had our mini moon on Skye and shot wedding photos at the Quiraing after all! But trust me when I say that our stay at the Glendale Studio Pods was our favourite by a long shot, and not just because it was the trip where we finally spotted orca. We both crave an escape to nature, and staying in Glendale (which isn't too far from civilization being only a 20 minute drive to Dunvegan) gave us exactly what we were looking for. Add in the sustainable nature of the pods, and the close proximity to wildlife? It's pretty obvious that we will be staying here again!




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