There’s a certain feel to islands. I first realised this in 2013 when driving in Sicily and, somehow, I was reminded of Gozo, the ‘sister’ island of Malta. The sensation came back to me recently, this time on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. It’s the idea of being physically cut off from the mainland. There are many places that you can visit, but they are well contained in a relatively small area, which is convenient as the entire territory is within quick reach, available for exploration.
Since 1995, Skye is connected by bridge to mainland Scotland.
It connects Kyle of Lochalsh on the mainland to a tiny port village named Kyleakin. The latter boasts a pebbly beach, a ruined castle, which was inaccessible when I was there, due to the fact that even the access path was apparently in ruins, a couple of pizza-fish-and-chips pubs and hotels, and a lovely little harbour.
This is where my son Gianluca and I set up our base for what we had planned would be the highlight of our tour of Scotland: to explore the isle of Skye. Alas, days ahead my faithful Weather.com site had been warning that there was a 100% probability that on Wednesday it would be rainy. Our only full day there…
Lesson to be learned: if you really want to explore extensively a beautiful land like Iceland, Scotland or Montenegro, where you can expect to have bad weather on any given day, you need to set up house there and wait for favourable weather. Otherwise, you just have to take a raincoat and hope for the best.
We hoped in vain. On Wednesday morning, as we drove north towards the main town of Skye, Portree, it was raining buckets. But we did have raincoats, and bravely set out to visit one of the main attractions in the isle of Skye: the Old Man of Storr.
This is a large boulder, shaped like one the menhirs that Obelix used to carry around, but huge, and situated near the top of a hill. When we arrived, the side of the road was already lined on both sides by parked cars. Tourists. Normally, this is an annoying phenomenon, but today we felt encouraged by their presence, so we pulled on our rain jackets and trousers and set off for our rendezvous with the Old Man.
Our raincoats were doing their job. After 20 minutes or so of walking up the path, we came to the wooden gate pictured above, which opens into the rough and steep section of the path towards the Old Man. I asked Gianluca if he was feeling fine. He was. Shall we go for it? Let’s go for it! And further up we went.
Up, and further up, into the clouds.
Have a look again at the picture above. Can you see the tiny specks in the lower middle section? Those are hikers. That was us, a few minutes later. It gives you an idea of the sheer enormity of the rock formations.
You will also deduce that it was wet and cold. The clouds pretty much spoilt the panorama for us. But, just by looking at the pictures, you can have no idea how windy it was. There was a gale force wind up there. It was almost impossible even to hold the phone still to take a photo. Almost…
It was at the very top that Gianluca announced that we should better go back because he was feeling cold and wet. His raincoat was leaking! Oh dear. We were the furthest possible from the parked hired car far, far below, up in the clouds with a strong gale screaming around us. I had to rely on the reassurance provided by the presence of other intrepid hikers who had also come up all the way to where we were standing.
We hugged to warm each other up. Or rather to warm Gianluca up. I joked about my having accumulated lots of fat along the years, so I had a good enough reserve of energy to see us safely back. Following a group of hikers down the rocky, muddy path, kept us concentrated on each step. The momentary bout of panic quickly subsided and it became a matter of slugging it out until we were back in the warmth and safety of our car.
Lesson number 2 of the Idiot’s guide to adventure: if it’s raining, carry a change of clothes in a waterproof bag with you. I had to drive all the way back to our Airbnb in Kyleakin, close to the bridge – a full one and a half hours away – so that Gianluca could change into dry clothes again.
It was still early enough to enable us to save the day. We had lunch at Kyleakin and headed back north – another scenic 90 minutes, but much encouraged by the fact that the forecast was, finally, promising dry weather in the late afternoon…
… still (very) windy but good enough to drive all along the north coast road and stop at various panoramic spots to admire the dramatic coastline of Skye.
The following day, we had to leave the lovely Isle of Skye and begin our drive back to Edinburgh for the flight back home. Needless to say, it was calm, warm and sunny.