“The weather is shit. This just isn’t going to work.”
We’re a mere five days removed from our last adventure to the west of Scotland (see here) and once again we’ve breezed through Inverness on our way to wilder lands beyond. This time though we’re heading southwest on the A82, right along the shores of the world (in) famous Loch Ness and on our way to the Isle of Skye. The “shit” weather to which Steph is referring consists of bright, warm sunshine and deep blue skies. Not a cloud to be seen in any direction and it’s mid-day. Perfect for milling about on a sailboat and sipping fruity drinks with umbrellas, but absolute rubbish for photography, especially here.
“No worries, we’ll be back this way in a few days. Chances are it will be better then.”
And by better I mean cloudy, misty and windy: proper Scottish weather, the kind that has for centuries helped fuel – perhaps with a big assist from whisky – the myths and legends which surround this place.
Saddling back up in our silver steed Steph puts the hammer down and launches us at not-even-a-wee-twinge-of-neck-discomfort speed down the road. Our little Polo won’t get us anywhere fast, even when going downhill, but once again we’re in no particular hurry.
About ten minutes later and we spy a quick glance of Urquhart Castle, or what’s left of it anyway, along the loch shores. The free view is short lived and we soon pull into the visitors parking lot with the intention of paying the £7.40 (each) to have a proper look around. Chaos, however, is the order of the day as the place is entirely over-run with tourons, several of which have decided to drive the wrong way around the one-way car park. The rest are meandering aimlessly on foot, unconcerned with the laws of physics and the consequences of a human versus car collision.
“Uh, let’s just keep going and maybe stop on the way back.”
Before long we’ve turned away from the shores of Loch Ness and onto the A887, then the A87. Our pace slows as the scenery and weather become increasingly more interesting and photogenic. It seems we can’t go more than three minutes without having to pull over, get out and gawk. The landscape of Glen Shiel is particularly stunning, especially given the fast changing mix of sunlight, clouds and misty rain. It’s just what we’ve been looking for.
“Why are all these people just passing by? They’re not even slowing down, much less stopping.”
“Destination people: It’s all Point A to Point B for them. The in between doesn’t even exist, except as a burden to be borne, a price to be paid. Sad, really.”
On the other side of Glen Shiel sits one of the most iconic, most photographed sights in all of Scotland: Eilean Donan Castle. In truth I’m a bit nervous coming here, knowing as I do just how many thousands upon thousands of images have already been made of the place. Should I even bother making any photographs? Surely it’s all been done, right?
Two distinct thoughts break me away from this flawed, negative line of reasoning. First, I will at least snap a few “I was here” pics to have as memories and to share with friends and family. Would I go to Paris and not photograph the Eiffel Tower just because it’s been done a gazillion times? What about China and the Great Wall; Egypt and the Great Pyramid at Giza; or Brazil and some really hot chicks in thongs on a beach? No way dude, I’m taking snaps of all of that!
My second reason has something to do with quantum mechanics, infinite possibilities and the space time continuum or some shit, but I think the babes in Brazil example sealed my argument.
Long story short, we stop and pop. The light isn’t great, and there are a fair few people milling about, but sometimes you just have to take a few snap shots like everyone else. We’ll save the castle tour for the trip back.
I score a walking routes guide book to Skye and some fudge in the gift shop.
“Books and fudge baby, always makes me happy.”
Seven miles later and we’re crossing over the once controversial – and probably still in certain circles – Skye Bridge. Previously owned by private interests – Skye Bridge Ltd., aka Bank of America – the bridge is now owned by the Scottish Executive (essentially the Scottish government, although the details are a bit convoluted to an outsider such as myself). The extortionate tolls have been abolished (£11.40 for a round trip!), but somehow I still feel a bit lazy and dirty as we drive across. Maybe next time we’ll take the ferry.
The wee village of Kyleakin greets us on the other side and we pull off to take in a view of the bridge. I silently vow to be more judicious in my use of the word wee when describing Scottish things, perhaps even banning the word altogether as I have with quaint.
“We’re actually here, on Skye.”
We spend the next thirty or forty minutes just sitting by the water, taking it all in. A couple of French kids are skipping stones while their parents build a fire on the beach. Is there anything better than the smell of a real wood fire mixed with the sound of gently lapping water? Fair enough, a dram of Talisker would be great, but we’ll get to that later.
Nobody in their right mind would ever describe Kyleakin as a bustling metropolis (it’s wee if you will recall) but compared to what lay ahead one might be forgiven. Skye, even in relation to other areas of the Highlands and western Scotland, is eerie and otherworldly taken to another level. Barren and desolate as it appears on first inspection, I cannot imagine ever considering the place to be pretty.
Pretty is superficial, trivial even. Skye, rather, is raw beauty at its finest, the kind of beautiful that leaves you demoting past viewed landscapes to the mere rank of pretty. It’s landscapes like this which have the power to reach into a man’s deepest genetic lineage – what some call a soul – and trigger an unquenchable wanderlust.
(Full PC disclosure statement: In the above paragraph I stated “It’s landscapes like this which have the power to reach into a man’s deepest genetic lineage – what some call a soul – and trigger an unquenchable wanderlust.” I did not then nor do I now mean to exclude the female or our species. I am, however, incapable of experiencing life as, and thus commenting for, said females. In short, my penis precludes me from doing so. When reached for comment regarding the metaphysical attributes of Skye my wife – speaking for all human females – said “It’s fucking ace!” Thank you.)
Eventually we make our way to Portree, the largest town and hub of tourist activities on Skye. We are camping just outside of town at Torvaig. The campsite has nice toilets, wi-fi available, and an incredible view of the Cuillin Hills, all of which sounds like home to me.
Having pitched the tent (me) and freshened up (Steph) we’ve made our way into downtown Portree for a wander and some grub. The place is a veritable wee version of a quaint bustling metropolis.
Dear God what just happened!?
Per usual after road trippin’ we’re in the mood for some pub grub. The place we finally settle on is called The Caledonian, and/or The Caley Bar, and/or The Café. It says all three on the building. Eh, whatever. The fish ‘n’ chips is amazing, and I discovered a fantastic new beer: Hebridean Gold, from the Isle of Skye Brewery. Add in a bit of ice cream for dessert and I think we are both good to go for the night.
“Nope, just right.”
After a long day on the go it’s time to cozy up and get rested, as we have a date with a certain “Old Man” early in the morning.
A few more random pics from our journey.