Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Mucking about on the Isle of Skye

"THE gruelling task of restoring power to thousands of homes could still take days, after storms caused some of the worst damage to the electricity network in 30 years."  The Scotsman

"Good morning Angel: Well, I think we are at the start of a mini ice age. There is a massive "High" to the north of Scotland that`s dragging in cold air from the east. We have been hit by heavy snow falls with drifting up to 10-15 feet deep with 20.000 homes in Scotland still without electricity for the third day. England has the same. I remember watching a debate on television where scientists were talking about the changing weather patterns and they all agreed we never really left they last ice age.............me, I blame the government.....lol."   My Scots friend, John Walker.

Poor Ruth and friends! They have been in Scotland for close to a week and perhaps they
were to be cruising now in the mailboat on Loch Lomond! In honor of their plight and dashed hopes,
I am offering one of my sojourns over the hills of the Isle of Skye. Fooh and I have met Angus, who
is just the size of Fooh--what fun for us!

Home Sweet Home

Ardvasar, southwest Skye, looking across Sleat to the mainland.

  Onward, another woman doesn’t want me, a single (I won’t tell her I am three), but suggests a lady in Broadford, ‘past the store, on the sea’.  I actually find the right place, Caberfeidh, and Peggy MacKenzie takes me in. A sweet single room, not big enough for yoga, but perfect for me, as I am not Yoga, I am Angel. Supplied with dinner, treats for all, tea and a TV, we are settled in for the night. I organize my housekeeping: small, light hand wash items get hung in my little half-height closet and thick wooly sox are on the radiator.
   I got very spoiled at my last pretty place, with lots of room, the pool, cats and good movies, but this feels like grandma’s house: Cozy, the heat on all night, and sometimes I think I must be a monk. I settle in my mind a lot better in a small space, with less options.
Broadford Bay

28 March: We wake up early, even with the one-hour-less time change. There are two couples at breakfast, though the women seem more inclined to talk. Then left alone, a husband and I chat and I tell him about the Fairy Pools, as they are returning to Skye soon, to walk the hills. I ask Peggy if I need to be gone during the day and she laughs: ‘Doon be daft!’
  The view over Broadford Bay makes me want to work on my novel, but it’s laundry time. Then after a latte at Saucy Mary’s and newspaper articles sent in, the weather has calmed, so next is a drive over the teeny road to Kylerhea. This is a settlement of about fifteen whitewashed homes roosted in protected nests among trees and scrub. The road ends where the ferry from Glenelg arrives during season.
  Kyle Rhea is the narrowest waterway to cross to the mainland from Skye and where the cattle used to swim to Glenelg at the opposite bank. From there, they were southward bound, toward towns like Falkirk and Linlithgow. There is a quaint self-catering house called The Old Inn, which is the original pre-1800 Kylerhea Old Inn, where the drovers slept.
  After Thomas Telford built the slipways here and at Glenelg, in 1821, they were used for funneling about three-hundred cattle a day. Both slipways are made of depressed whinstone blocks. This one is paved with stone setts and Telford utilized a natural cut in the rock for funneling. These same locations are an ancient route and were used for the passenger ferry as early as the sixteenth century.
  During the walk to the Otter Hide, Fooh and I meet a local Scot and he explains the tides of the narrows to us. They move at each other from north and south and at about 5 p.m., the otters know it is prime-time to fish. The water here at the narrows can run up to 8 knots—it really is a fast moving body of water today and clearly at odds with itself...but not really. I see movement is not as antagonistic as one would think—more an accommodating pact between the two bodies of water, the Sound of Sleat on the south and Loch Alsh north of the narrows at Kyle Rhea, both slipping silently aside to make room for the other. I wish I could find a Scotsman to talk to me about Skye and the Cuillin like this—to explain the names and shapes of the peaks.
  This is a precious walk, where an occasional tall ship or copy of a Viking longboat might slide by, with a shark alongside. I watch grey seals, which must also be aware that it is dinnertime, and white-tailed sea eagles soaring and dipping sideways to sight their own special sushi dish.
  The hide is a nicely hewn wooden structure, with stools and a high counter on which to lean my elbows and gaze through provided binoculars. Try as I might, I see no otters. A golden eagle may have just made a dive—I am very bad at identifying bird life, but I work at it. I do recognize the red grouse and here is a sea eagle, ruffling its neck feathers and casting a yellow-lidded eye downward. There are also black-backed gulls.
  I won’t embarrass myself by emphasizing my ignorance and will simply tell you birdwatchers what I am told. Besides being a wonderful walking area to sight whales and porpoises, you will see the very long-necked oystercatcher and peregrine, with its long orange beak and orange stick-legs. In the summer, you can enjoy the cuckoo, cormorants, willow and wood warblers, robins and chaffinches. We give up our watch and take the long walk back to the car, with the boys whispering that we are being followed by some orange-breasted stonechats—how did these guys get so smart?
  This road leading from Kylerhea was originally created for General Wade’s military road system, though it’s likely part of this was a dirt path used for centuries before that. He was sent to Scotland by George I, to ascertain how the disarmament of the Highlanders was progressing, after the Jacobite uprisings of 1689 and 1715. Wade constructed roads and barracks through the Highlands; his companies were called The Black Watch. Now the road winding around the hills has retaining walls, though I still feel a bit edgy driving along here. This was the principle route in and out of Skye, before the Skye Bridge was built in the early 21st century.
  At Caberfeidh, Peggy greets me with a small pitcher of milk for my afternoon tea. I settle into the sofa of the dining room and write happily for awhile. The stormy silvery bay mesmerizes me and I feel absolutely blissful.
Irishman's Point, Broadford

29 March: Scottish porridge alone this morning. Did I scare everyone into eating early? I try not to be a chatterbox, though I am always so grateful to have anyone to talk to, but usually interrogate my meal companions about themselves, simply because I am interested—who knows? Today is our walk around Irishman’s Point in Broadford. Fooh and Angus say they are ready for an adventure...little do we know...
   With Fooh and Angus leaning out of the backpack, I happily tread past the hostel, which has a prime location looking out over the bay. Fooh is impressed that I recognize the oystercatchers, with their bills even longer than their long legs which end in big chicken feet. Photo-taking of blackish, brackish seaweed turns on my artistic soul, then over a stile, around the point, along the edge of the water—when all goes haywire.
  It is a mucking mess, if I may say so. The rocks and basalt are slippery, so it is too difficult and no fun to walk close to the edge of the water. Up a bit is the deep sloshy grassy muck. I become discouraged and decide to head up the hill and along a fence. The view is magnificent, with the isles of Crowlin far off in the distance, and closer up, Pabay and Longay. The going is just as tough here and I plan to move right up over the hill to the road on the far side of the conifers. No messing around.
  Uh-huh. Right.
  The fence is un-crossable here, so we follow it around the corner and keep climbing. I have to go pee, but decide to wait, then it gets worse, because I have to go poo. Oh dear. This happens to me every time I go into a bookstore! But why here? Okay, so it could be readily taken care of, except there is nowhere to step except on my bit of patchy grass. So my task is to squat in my own bed, so to speak, find bits of dried leafy vegetation to use and move on, hoping the troops aren’t close behind me—I can hear them now...'oh yuck, what the...?'
  Up a ways there is no trekking onward, too much vegetation, so I climb the fence and double-over to move under bushes—Fooh and Angus yelp occasionally when a twig snaps in their faces. As I creep along, hunched and slipping and sliding, I feel like Hyacinth in a comic sketch, but it gets worse while it starts sprinkling. I am now looking across a vast stretch of clear-cutting on the hill. To the left, way up and over, is a long forest-like stand of fir trees. As I begin stepping into the mess of stumps and piled branches, it becomes immensely—I say immensely because my mind has just exploded with the realization—immensely obvious that this is going to be a nightmare. With each step is the possibility of dropping down into several feet of water and rotting, stinking-of-sewage vegetation. I am going to royally get paid back for my soiling in my bed antics. Fooh keeps saying we could or should go back the way we came, but the optimist in me says this can’t last forever and I hate to go back to the muck. After about an hour, I pause to take a self portrait of my plight, in case I never get out. They will have a last- moments-of-my-life illumination to give to my daughter Woo. Oh boy, now it is snowing.
Self-portrait before death by sinking in stinking mudholes.

  I choose a path, climb over stumps and realize that it is safest to try to follow the line of the tree roots. One path after another; guessing games of this way or that leading to the hill over there, or perhaps a road up there, end only in disappointment and frustration. I discover various trails made by tractors and follow up and down, and they lead to nowhere. Each step is tentative and I barely move five feet per minute. When finally we reach the line of trees at the top and think okay, we can go through the forest to the road, it only gets more treacherous. That is not a viable solution.
  I decide to move along the edge of the forest and by this time, I can barely move without falling into a bog or one leg dropping down into a hole under the delicate, rotting branches. Now, the terrain gets more lumpish and trenchy. Streams are moving under everything and I climb down and then up. This all strikes me as ludicrous, because I can’t be far away from anything.
  But I see no one—just rolling brown trenches and steep water-filled ravines and stumps and clumps of high grass--this Angus suggests I concentrate my weight on, which turns out to be my saving grace. Then my feet turn every which way, my ankles twist, my new fleece pants and good boots are filled with smelly water, mud and crap. On I stumble, wanting to cry, but why? What good will it do? It becomes almost impossible to move in any direction. The good news is, it's stopped snowing.
  After hours of this, I see some buildings. It turns out to be the company that is cutting these trees. Now the final hour—of acres of bog, six-foot piles of Christmas tree branches with no bottom, and all intermingled with—oh, la, what a surprise—berry vines! Acres of berry vines—wrapped around, trailing through, tangled in all of the above. I have fallen from grace with the gods and have been plunged into a dark hellhole. So close and yet, so far, far from any place I would choose to be rather than here. I want to shout out for help, but am too mortified. How embarrassing and how could I betray my country by revealing my stupidity to these Scots?
  No, I bumble on, tumble down; scratched, grabbed at by every nasty prickly bit of berry vine. My legs and hands bleed, each step catches me, digs at me, I pull and pull and pull the vines away and each step is another imprisonment. I can actually hear the men shouting to each other over there but they ignore me. For this I am grateful—once they heard my American dialect, I’d be a laughing stock. I practice my London dialect, thinking if they do notice me, I can convince them I’m an idiot from 'where they eat babies' as the Scots refer to the English.
  By the time I break free and find my way through a junkyard of planks that want to flip and tip each time I tentatively put my foot on them, and climb over the fence, it has been four and a half hours since we left the water’s edge. When I step onto the blacktop of the road across the street from the Highland Free Press, I feel I have never been so happy to walk with a road under my feet and the boys cheer me on. I am exhausted.
  At Caberfeidh, I leave my boots on the porch, toss the guys onto the bed and walk straight into the shower, clothes and all. Afterwards, somehow refreshed, I take a walk to the Co-op to replace the candies in my room. By the time I get ready for bed, I have eaten half of the chocolates and am sick of myself. My last fading thought before sleep is, ‘Spare me from pigging out tomorrow.’

Tonight, my dreams are filled with tomorrow and they come true--blue skies, drives to Trotternish and Waternish, peninsulas (all of Skye is peninsulas) that reach out to welcome the waves and wild creatures and gratify humans like me with history of Norsemen, tales of faeries, and walks and talks with the wind.

Beautiful croft house at Stein.

So-called oldest inn on the island, Stein Inn on Waternish.

Proof of the "Gulf Stream" in this western area known as the Hebrides.

1 comment:

  1. Oh dear,peeing and pooing on our sacred soil,bad form tut tut,I thought Angels were special.