An Inspiring Holiday (Part Two)

So, I’ll continue from where I left off. Abject terror, eh?

Well, we began the day not knowing quite what to do, so whilst I was in the shower, my partner decided to look for a place to go. She knows I like a bit of an adventure so she suggested a place called Spar Cave. She hadn’t found much information beyond it being a cave, with some pretty impressive flowstone inside. The cave had been ransacked of stalagmites and stalactites by Victorian visitors and so the place seemed to have quite a bit of history.

We set off off for a place called Glasnakille, near Elgol, and we only knew that it was on a road out of Broadford. It soon became apparent that it was the *only* road that went in that direction. Settlements were few and the moody Cuillen Hills gained dominance on the horizon as we neared our destination. I’m sure many of you have driven on a single track road before. They can be quite quaint, with their passing places for meeting vehicles, generally desolate landscapes and of course a few rogue sheep claiming the road for themselves. It was a novelty at first, but let me tell you now that this road was a long one, something of an endurance test. The further we drove, the more treacherous the road became. The quality dropped, the passing places were fewer and those that did exist were merely muddy drops off the side of the road. The winding nature of the road meant that every corner and hill became a lottery of whether we would rush headfirst into another vehicle coming our way. We slowed to about 20mph, taking each corner like a timid animal. Sure enough, we only ever came across someone driving the opposite direction on a blind summit (often with a cliff and the sea below us), even when they weren’t visible on the straighter stretches prior to the hills. This lent further credence to my idea that we really are all living in a computer simulation, and the machine running our simulation is only able to spawn other people in when we are’t looking at them (it’d be weird if they just dropped down in front of us, no?). Leaving that tangent behind, all I can say is that for the majority of this road we were verging on a heart attack at every turn. The locals drove fast, and there seemed to be far more of them than there were houses in this seemingly uninhabited land.

After about 40 minutes on this road, we came to Elgol. The road to Glasnakille looked even less safe, if you can imagine that. Despite remaining a single carriageway, it was somehow thinner. Not too far from either side of the road lay a drop into a low field, pond, or better yet, the sea. The hills weren’t just simple rises, these were epic drops. The kind of hill that you’re going to need first gear to get back up. God forbid you’re required to do a hill start on one. Fortunately, the Glasnakille road was much shorter, and we had soon left that rollercoaster and arrived in Glasnakille. Glasnakille is about four or five houses. Given the time it took to reach it, I can’t imagine any of these guys leave the house to go to work any day, much less brave the roads in the treacherous weather that is known to brace the lands. We parked up at a telephone box and the most amazing thing happened: I had 3G signal on my phone for the first time on Skye. We were at the very South of the Island, so perhaps we’d encroached on the mainland’s signal. It was here that we did a little more research (yeah, we should have done this before), and found that the Spar Cave was a sea cave! It was almost directly below us, down an interesting route to the sea. It turned out that the tide was in and the cave was inaccessible. More than a little deflated, we decided that we couldn’t wait 8hrs for the tide to recede, but were also slightly glad that we found out about the tide situation in this way, and not whilst we were in the cave, trapped for at least 12hrs!

Alas, this meant we had to make the journey back. We’d only just had our pulses settle at 60-80 after taking the road to get here, but back we got in the car and made our way onto the road again. Straightaway we hit the “first gear” hill, and sure enough, even in first it was a struggle to make any progress on the hill. The road was so gritty that tyres spun and slipped getting up the hill. Behind us the road swerved to the right as there was a small garden then a cliff (which wouldn’t take much crossing after building up so much speed should we slip backwards). Just as we were about to crest the peak of the hill, the shadow of a much larger vehicle blanketed the car: a fuel lorry. A fuel lorry?! I couldn’t believe one would be risking this road, but he seemed so used to it he didn’t quite notice us creeping up the hill and only just managed to stop in front of us, leaning over the edge after a sharp blow of the horn. Handbrake on and in first, we waited for him to reverse. He just sat there, before looking at us and then shaking his head. Presumably he didn’t feel reversing on flatter land was easier for him than it would be for us to fall back down the hill. I shook my head back at the driver, and it seemed as though we were at an impasse. Eventually, he relented and slowly backed up. With a clammy hand, the handbrake was released, and although we tried to press forwards, the car instead slipped one the gravel as the rev was to strong. We must have slipped back only a few metres before gaining grip again, though it felt like miles. With several expletives we managed to force our way back up onto the top of the road, the smell of burning clutch thick in the air.

The drive back to Broadford from there was silent. Every corner brought more panic, once again. I didn’t even take any photos at this point, as I was spending too much time clutching at various parts of the car. Arriving back in Broadford, we had a drink and calmed our nerves once again before deciding that a place with a name like “The Faery Pools” couldn’t be anything like as treacherous as Elgol and so we headed off in the direction of Glenbrittle Forest. This road was easy, fairly sedate and offered up some fantastic views of the mountains, rolling hills and the sea. We parked up, wrapped up, and set off on foot by a dodgy looking sign that claimed the fairy pools were in the direction of the eerie looking mountains in the distance.

The walk was fairly easy, albeit muddy. The pools were created by a river that flowed from the mountains. Even in this weather, the water was a brilliant blue, especially in the large pools that collected where the river changed direction. The closer we got to the mountains, the faster the river became, and the more river crossings we had to make by way of impromptu stepping stones. While the river and pools were meant to be the attraction here (and they were impressive), more astounding still were the mountains that surrounded the area. Chief among them was a pyramid like peak that took center stage, and was surround by a slightly taller semicircle of peaks. A large ridge ran down the middle of the triangular formation and it looked very much like a doorway to another world, as if reaching the source of the Faery Pools would take you somewhere magical.

Image

As we neared the mountains, a thick mist swirled around us and covered the peaks. It almost seemed to be on cue, and so taken in were we by the magical nature of the area, that half expected something very weird to happen indeed. As it happens, it was only hail! Very large, freezing stones of hail. Pulling up our hoods and facing away from the wind to shield ourselves, we huddled for a good five minutes before the stinging chunks became a softer rainfall. We had been at the pools for a couple of hours at this point and decided that now was the time to turn back. It was the same route back to the car. As we traipsed back, we bumped into several groups of people, and none were dressed appropriately. I wonder if they looked at us in surprise in the same way we did them. Our walking boots and trousers, all-weather coats and hats compared to their converse and expensive looking jeans, a light hoody and no head wear. Perhaps though, they were locals and were just double hard!

So that was that day pretty much done and dusted. I had a very Scottish meal of cullen skink and haggis, and we then packed for the next day, which was a trip out of Skye and over to Ballachulish, near Glencoe.

I’ll come to that day later as I’ve just thought up (what I think is, at least) a brilliant ending to the book I’m putting together. It sent chills down my spine to think of it, and I believe that might be a good thing. I think the best part of my holiday was yet to come, so hopefully I’ll get time to write of it soon – the wondrous sights of Inchree Falls, the sheer disgust of the Ballachulish Hotel (don’t stay there), and the otherworldly, lonely brilliance of Glencoe’s Lost Valley!

An Inspiring Holiday (Part One)

I’m not sure if anyone will ever come to read this (on purpose or by accident), but if nothing else it serves as a way for me to get the ideas I have floating around that I am trying to pull together into a story, novel, bin liner, whatever.

The previous post was where the idea began. An idea for a story about a young man named Wilbur who, having lived in relative confinement for all of his life, has decided that he wants to see what lies beyond the high walls of his home. Confinement is not a term that applies just to Wilbur here, but rather all of the inhabitants of Bleaken Keep. The keep is fairly large by building standards, high walled and protected well from whatever it is that dwells beyond the walls. Still, from the tops of the walls of the keep, the surrounding walls and structures can be seen stretching off as far as the eye can see: certainly a tantalising prospect for a young man who is aware that his roots lay beyond the walls he lives in. However, the only people that can ever leave the keep are the Hunters, a broad term that refers to a job that includes fending off anything that would approach and cause harm to the citizens of the keep as well as being charged with sourcing anything that the town can make use of, including but not limited to food, materials, weapons, livestock and so on.

So, I’m not going to give much more than that away yet, as I’m still piecing together various chapters and a flow, but suffice it to say, Wilbur leaves the keep on a lonely journey that will take him from the keep, through many hardships, discoveries and experiences to a destination further than he thought possible.

I was looking for more inspiration for this story, and I took a holiday with my girlfriend to the highlands and islands of Scotland, which despite being much more open than the claustrophobic nature of what I am writing, certainly gave me plenty food for thought with the remote places we visited…

Old Man of Storr

 

We began our holiday with a long drive to the Isle of Skye. Despite living in Fife, it was still a five hour drive from home to the heart of the Isle. The rain wasn’t “pleasant” as most people would put it, but I found the moody lighting, clouds and rain to be the perfect mixture for conjuring up ideas for what I wanted to write. The huge amount of rainfall was creating massive waterfalls in the mountains that we passed through, many cascading onto the road itself rather than running alongside or below. While the rain poured, there were still some impressive views on offer. It wasn’t until we reached the strikingly steep bridge over to the Isle that the weather caused an almost complete blackout in terms of visibility.

My initial impressions of Skye were somewhat muted. I didn’t actually realise that the reason for this land seeming so barren was actually down to the suffocating cloud cover that took away any landscape and vistas from view. Sadly for me, the five hours in the car left me with a somewhat full bladder, and although only twenty or so minutes away I couldn’t take it any longer and had to make a stop by the side of the road. It was only then that I came to discover just how strong the wind actually was. Not only could I barely stand, but there wasn’t much cover either, so I had to spend a few moments gauging which direction was going to be the best to let fly. It wasn’t a pretty sight, and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone, somewhere north of my location may have had some slightly polluted rain land on them – certainly nothing hit the floor. Of course, a car came around the corner and embarrassment got the better of me so I stepped back in the car, now realising that I was soaked to the skin after less than a minute. Shortly after, we made it to The Bosville Hotel where we were staying for the next few days. We took a quick walk around Portree, and I mean quick, as once again we were sodden within seconds. My supposedly waterproof coat failing miserably. Back in the hotel, we ate well and decided to spend the evening in our room with a couple of drinks. At that point, the storm reached a crescendo and the power went out. A cut so severe it transpired that it effected the whole of the Western Isles and had to be fixed with generators the following day. With darkness everywhere, we went to bed. Around 11pm, a woman tried to break into our room, thinking our door was hers…

The following morning saw the back of the storm, more or less. There were still showers hitting every now and again, but the breaks in the cloud prompted us to set out to find the Old Man of Storr. It turned out that that was not a particularly difficult task, as now the clouds had lifted, we were greeted with tremendous views all around. Raasey to our east, and the majestic Cuillen Hills to the South. The Old Man himself was sitting somberly on the Northern horizon and we made our way there.

Wrapping up and making sure our walking boots were tight, we trekked up the boggy path to a more solid approach that made up the hill to Storr. Upon reaching the pillars of rock, the mist swirled around the peaks and lent a dramatic, otherworldly presence to the location that was also used in the filming of Prometheus. It certainly felt like a place that immense discoveries could be made. The wind was the only sound around here, and the distinct lack of roads in the region meant that looking out from on high gave the impression that we were truly alone in the wilderness here (in reality we were twenty minutes from the hotel).

The illusion was somewhat broken by the arrival of four Chinese guys that wanted us to take a photo of them standing on a rock. I’m still wondering how on earth they fared after we met them. Not one of them was dressed for the occasion, wearing new looking white trainers, sweatpants and jumpers. Nothing to keep out the mud, chill, or indeed the rain and hail that was fast approaching us. As we made it back into the car, hail so large and heavy crashed down upon us that we actually checked for damage on the car afterwards.

Now a little warmed up, we took the road a little further north to Kilt Rock. The Rock is the top of an impressive waterfall that batters the seafront below it. The strong winds blew through the metal fencing that surrounded the edge of the cliff and created a fantastically magical soundtrack for the moment, whistling in and out of the various holes. I tried to record it but the wind itself drowned it out upon playing it back. If you have ever chanced upon watching a rather good anime called Mushishi, then you may know the sounds I speak of, as that whistling sound is used frequently throughout the series.

Kilt Rock

After peering gingerly over the edge, the stormy weather returned again and we were forced back into the car. It also seemed to get worse the further north we went, so we instead returned to the hotel for lunch. After eating and seeing the weather clear once again, we decided to take another walk along the Scorrybreac path that ran around the north of Portree, along the seafront and up through the wooded hills before winding back into the town. The path along the edge of the coast was unlike anything I had been on before, a twisting path, home to many sheep that didn’t seem too pleased to see us. A solitary seal swum along the shallow sea watching us and making us feel quite the invaders.

As the path along the water came to an end, it turned into grassy area and wound its way up some steep makeshift steps in the towering hills that now lay before us. Climbing was quite a trek for office-accustomed physique but we made it up and were certainly glad of wind on our backs when hit the top. At that point several buzzards began circling us, and we half wondered if the buzzards of Skye were actually a bit more opportunistic than the rodent loving ones that we were familiar with.

That walk largely ended day two for us. We ate in the local Cuillen Hills hotel (a feast, and my first taste of Cullen Skink, which I now have the recipe for). The next day held a mixture of abject terror, disappoinment, ¬†and amazement in that order, but I’ll come to that soon.