After what seemed like barely a couple of hour sleep I was woken by Skye’s dawn Chorus. Quite why birds feel like getting up so early and chirruping a repetitive tune is beyond me, no other animal feels the need to! In fact, the last thing I want to do when I wake is to chant the repetitive chorus of a Katie Perry or Miley Cyrus song to everyone in the vicinity. The first thing I actually want to do is have coffee. With this mission in mind it was a question of finding the matches, coffee, cups, milk, sugar etc. Something achieved in ones own kitchen with a totally sub-conscious lack attention. It is a different matter when out in the wilds, rummaging through the various boxes and bags that were accompanying us. I think this is the appeal of undertaking such adventures. A large part of the enjoyment for me is the reward you get from the effort you have to put in. After 15 minutes of searching for the various components of a cup of coffee I then needed to trek down to the Loch for a pan of water. It then took 5 minutes and 20 spent matches to light the gas and a further 20 minutes for the water to boil. The resulting beverage was a luke-warm, sludge filled, slightly metallic tasting cup of coffee. It was one of the best I have ever had!!. Primarily because of the effort required to make it. Suitabily revived it was time to break camp as our guide for the day, Lee, was due with us at 8:00am
With bags packed, sandwiches made and water bladders filled we were ready for the off. We were pleased to be joined for the day by one of the Talisker team, Lesley. Making up our party was Lee, our guide. I was greatly relieved to see that our guide looked like a guide, wiry and fit with a home made haircut and full beard. Like so many people we met on the island Lee was not a native of Skye, he had moved up from Devon several years ago and really taken to the Isle, this is a story we heard repeated throughout our trip. Our mission for the day was to walk the length of the majestic Trotternish Ridge starting from Loch Hasco and finishing in the car park near the iconic Old Man of Storr . This fault line of rocks that make up the Trotternish Ridge surge up from the land a short way in from the coast. On one side steep craggy foreboding cliffs and on the other gentle blanket like heath tapering off into the distance At over 30km in length with 13 named summits and a high point of 719m it is not tackled lightly. We were to navigate our way along the edge of the bluffs, keeping close (but not too close to the edge) of the undulating escarpment. The weather forecast was for sun in the morning, clouding later in the afternoon with the possible chance of rain and poor visibility. Following a comprehensive stretch class and a quick navigation overview we were finally away. A somewhat worn path ascended from the Loch and we quickly fell into a steady plod. The ground was un-even and in places sodden from the previous nights downpour. Conversation was limited to the person in front or behind as the path only allowed for single file traffic. Adopting a steady pace was essential given the distance we would had to cover and given Sebastian’s exertions the day before we knew it would do him no good to set of at a blistering rate. Besides, slowing things down allowed time for the eyes to wander over this precious rugged landscape. Details that a quicker pace would not allow time for swam into vision. It is amazing when you take your time how much the macro becomes micro and you notice the tiniest of things, beetle, fling insects, tiny wild flowers etc.
After 45 minutes we passed under the Quirang, a natural rock formation that consists of such aptly named features as; the table, the needle and the prison. It is easy to understand the human need to tame these harsh features by naming them. Rocks that have been hewn from an eroded landscape millennia old wanting to be claimed and tamed by all those that pass under their shadow.
Pausing for photographs we collectively looked up to the horizon and before us we could see the undulating landscape we would have
Onwards and upwards.. then downwards and upwards many more times. With the weather closing in we donned our waterproofs and continued our relentless march across the grass. The weather was playing tricks with us, which I am assured it is prone to do in Skye. One minute we could barely see 20 metres ahead of us and it was raining, the next we had a view as far as the horizon with sun gently cooking us in our Gore-Tex. It is on a walk like this that you get beyond basic chit chat, you have time to enter lengthy conversations knowing that the only interruption might be in order to navigate to the next ridge or to pause whilst you catch your breath. With every step taken your body and mind go with it, you move progressively towards an kind of inner peace. With no phones, no television, no media or eternal influences you find yourself just being in the moment. The only goal you have to set is ensuring you and your group make it to the end. With this goal foremost in our minds we paused at regular intervals to take on board water and to get a few mouthfuls of fuel. it is surprising just how many calories you burn when walking these unrelenting hills. 10 hours into the walk and heads were sagging and feet dragging a little. The “just one more hill” enthusiastic calls aimed at Sebastian were wearing a bit thin. I can only heap credit upon him as he continued to push himself to the end.
Then there it was, The Old Man of Storr, a monolithic column of basalt rock type gyrolite and is a prime example of the Trotternish landslip, standing like a rocky thumbs up to the world. We paused for photos then picked up the pace down to the carpark and the awaiting van. 26 miles covered in a little over 10 hours. There was little time to rest and reflect as we had a 15 mile bike ride to get to our next overnight destination.
It was off with the hiking gear and back on with the lycra. Sebastian was genuinely struggling with his muscles from the previous days exertions, compounded by the long walk. The correct and sensible decision was taken for him to follow us in the van to our next destination. Onto the bikes we had a relatively level 15 miles to cover. So it was head down and tuck in, it was good to be able to spin the legs and get the blood pumping after our pedestrian slog. Time was marching on and I was becoming a little concerned over the hours we would have remaining in the day to make camp and get some much needed food down us. In truth the last thing I wanted to do was to sleep in a muddy field somewhere with another bowl of pasta being the only thing to look forward to!
We met up with Sebastian a few miles out of Portree and entered this picture postcard port together. On my way in I noticed a number of signs for bed and breakfasts. Was it itme to break ranks? where was my credit card? tempted as I was to knock on the door of potential sanctuary I resisted and willingly threw myself at the feet of my fate. With the light rapidly diminishing I was assured by Alex that we were nearly there, we rounded a corner and before us was a large building that looked very much like a luxury boutique hotel. I turned to Alex and Al with a questioning look “Really?” Alex replied quick as a flash that we were going to sleep on the front lawn of the hotel but we could use their facilities. Well, this at least was better than I had thought. Within a second or two he broke into a grin. “here is your room key” said Al with a childlike grin. Meet back here at 8:30 for dinner. The contrast between myself and that room could not have been more stark. I felt somewhat guilty entering it, covered as I was in a layer of grime, a combinatrion of 12 hours sweating, walking in mud and rain and not having had a proper wash for 3 days. We had a quick turn around so it was a quick shower, a change of clothes and a stroll down to a local restaurant. The atmosphere around the meal table was heady. We were all suitably refreshed and had plenty of time to recount the day safe in the knowledge that we had a comfortable bed for the night. The only downside would be the early start the next day. We were setting sail from Portree and heading under the Isle of Skye Bridge, this was to be followed by a 25 mile bike ride to our next camping spot, Ord beach. It had been a tough day, achieved on little sleep. However, the good company and excellent guiding made it a fantastic one that will stay in my memory for a long time.