Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Autumn Skye

The longer we live here, the more certain I am that the most atmospheric and spiritual period of time on Skye is the early autumn. The natural vegetation noticably begins to change colour in late September and just sometimes, the weather settles to a gentle calm. Many of the tourists have gone home, so with there being fewer people about, if you hold your breath, you can hear nothing at all. The silence is deafening!

The last few days, the weather has been just perfect. The clouds and light have given us the most spectacular displays of shapes, patterns and colour. And when it comes to sunsets... well, here's just four of my recent photos... (click on a picture to view full-size)

Monday - Skye on Fire!
Monday again - from The Barn front garden
Tuesday - Summer Cottage is in this one, just right of centre
Tuesday - The Misty Isle

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Owning Self Catering Cottages on Skye

There’s hundreds of self-catering rental properties on Skye. Many are the sole rental property owned by a crofter or householder who has been able to build a cottage on their own land. Some are holiday homes owned by absentee landlords, who may come and visit a couple of times a year, and a few are owned and run as small businesses – as is the case with our ‘SkyeHolidays’.

We bought Rowan Cottage - our first cottage on Skye - some ten years ago, soon afterwards adding a second to our ‘portfolio’, which we have since sold in order to buy Summer Cottage, which is located conveniently close to our home. Eight years ago, we bought the Barn, which was then arranged as two separate flats, which we also let for a year or so before moving here to live in one of the flats ourselves, and then letting the other as our successful ‘Bed and Breakfast With a Difference’. More recently, we bought a third rental cottage, Loch View. I also market and handle bookings for a couple of cottages which we don’t own. These (below) are our own cottages (clicking on the cottage name will open the individual cottage website) -

Rowan Cottage
Loch View
Summer Cottage
These are our 'partner cottages' -

Trotternish Cottage
Bothan Aonghais
We operate our little business entirely ourselves, coping with all the enquiries and bookings, turn-rounds and gardening, as well as occasional decorating and maintenance. We only employ outside help for very occasional tasks that we are not able to do ourselves. Additionally – we use the services of a professional accountant to handle our annual tax returns.

So, in ten years of trading, we have amassed a fair bit of experience as self-catering rental operators, and in that time, have not had to face too many unexpected hardships or surprises. Initially, we were told to expect 12 to 15 weeks of bookings in a year, though we easily exceeded that – possibly partly thanks to my fortunate purchase of the website domain name, which has always performed well in internet searches. We used to be anxious in the early part of each season, when bookings would come in slowly, but we have learned to be relaxed about it, as the weeks will mostly fill eventually. We have moved with the times, and now offer short breaks at two of our own cottages, as these prove very popular. Today, we generally reckon to be pretty much full from April to the end of October, and also get occasional winter bookings.

We have also started using an international booking agent for one cottage – you will find Summer Cottage on This involves us paying quite a steep commission on their bookings, and we have raised the rental price for the cottage to partially cover this cost. Although new to the rental market this season, the cottage has been full all summer, and has future bookings into November as well as some for next year already, so using a booking agent has paid off in this case.

At the outset, we heard occasional horror stories about the damage some visitors can do to a property, but thankfully, we have never suffered major damage ourselves – and I quickly learned I needed to fix things like door handles, towel rails or shower screens very securely…! In your own home, you will know of any loose fittings, and will handle with care, but in a holiday let, everything has to be ‘bomb-proof’! All the same, we consider our rather expensive accidental damage insurance to be a wise back-up, in case the worst should ever happen.

For the first few years, just about all of our visitors came from the UK, and many of our visitors were retired couples looking for a ‘home from home’ for a week in new surroundings. In the last couple of years though, more and more younger people are staying in our cottages, and we are seeing a big increase in overseas visitors. Obviously, using exposes Summer Cottage to a world-wide market, and the majority of our Summer Cottage visitors are from overseas.

Our varied and changing clientele has shown up some interesting trends in the way people treat the cottages. Our earlier older visitors were very respectful of everything, and looked after everything just as they would in their own home, leaving the cottage neat and tidy on their departure. Younger visitors seem to have rather less respect, and it is not unusual to arrive at a cottage to do a turn round after a youthful group have been in residence to find the place very untidy. Most European visitors, however, are wonderful and clearly clean and tidy the cottage very thoroughly before they leave. Also, as they often only stay three or four nights, they tend to eat out at least a couple of times, so the hob and oven stays cleaner!  In our experience, it is thankfully very rare to find a cottage left in a really filthy state.

So, would I recommend being a holiday cottage landlord? Yes, I would. The initial capital outlay is considerable, and after maintenance and running costs, the net income from just one cottage would not make you rich. But the workload is certainly less demanding that that for the B&B operator, and you can sit back with a fair degree of certainty that the value of your property will gradually increase while it is providing you with a useful income.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Back home on Skye

I returned to Skye yesterday evening from a short break in England, visiting friends and family. The usually spectacular road journey through Scotland was somewhat spoiled this time by finding myself driving amid long convoys of cars, camper vans, coaches and the occasional lorry. Late season holidays are clearly becoming more popular!

However, once home, Skye put on a perfect sunset light show to welcome me back, and this morning dawned with a lovely temperate inversion trapping a thick a layer of mist over Roag.

Evening from Roskhill, 18 Sept 2015
Morning mist over Roag, 19 Sept, 2015