Aug 10, 2022

Scotland Roadtrip

Part III: Isle of Skye

I Wrote This Whole Post Without Using The Word "Rugged" Once

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Scotland

Entering Skye

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Isle of Skye is one of those places that is dramatic when you’re there but totally doesn’t photograph well. You are surrounded by these ultra-tapered grassy hills with shifting layers of moderately ominous clouds.

I have never been anywhere like it. A couple valleys we entered I involuntarily said “holy shit” and craned my neck wildly around.

The good part about it photographing poorly is that it’s hard for me to spoil what it’s like for you.

Luib

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Map by me, made with marceloprates/prettymaps. Data © OpenStreetMap contributors.

The whole island was pretty booked up. I think there are more people going these days than the infrastructure is made for (see also last post re: trying to find places to eat). So we ended up staying in the smallest named location I’ve ever been in my life: the town of Luib. I think there were literally fewer than a dozen homes.

We stayed in a caravan.[1] Honestly, it was bigger and nicer than several places we’ve crashed in the trip. The best feature was the pair of Shetland ponies and herd of sheep roaming around the property. We woke up every day to the domesticated mammal circus getting up to various shenanigans.

You really realize how much you're city kids when you can't feed the sheep and don't know whether you can pet the pony.

While we were out in the boonies, creature comforts like 20 Imperial fl oz craft IPAs were only a ~10m drive down the highway.

Old Man of Storr

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This is a famous rock.

In the approach (first photo), we turned around to witness pockets of sun blasting through the storm and onto the sea.

During the hike, fog completely blanketed out everything past a fixed distance. All vistas, framed by milky white, emerged creepy and hollow.

Just Driving Around

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Provisions @ Portree

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After getting very very very wet hiking, we bought some additional rain coverings and waterproofing spray at a technical outfitter in Portree, one of the larger towns in Skye.

Do those waterproofing things really work? We spent a bunch of time cleaning our gear, wetting them, spraying them, and then trying to arrange them for drying outside on a makeshift array of chairs outside. (The spray is suffocatingly chemically indoors.) After, water seemed to bead up a bit more in some places, maybe? I don’t know.[2] Maybe there’s only so much you can do against serious rain.

The Quiraing

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Oh yeah, mud. I forgot to talk about the mud. Rain + dirt hiking trails = lots of mud. This hike was fun because eventually we got so wet and muddy we just didn’t care any more, and then you feel like a kid stomping in puddles again.

Sheep are everywhere, just hanging out in the hills and fields. I now understood why we make clothing out of sheep's wool. They just hang out in the cold rain, night and day, no problem.

Melted. That’s a good word for it. The hills look like godzilla took a torch to them for a while and then it rained for a hundred years.

Hairy Cows?

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We drove here to look at special Scottish Highland cattle. We did not find any. (But you should Google them they’re v cute.)

Fairy Glen??

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Another thing you’re supposed to look at here are these spiral paths with rocks laid out in them. The place you do so is called the Fairy Glen. The Internet says:

The Fairy Glen … has no real legends or stories involving fairys [sic] that can be traced. The simple fact that the location is unusual so it has been given the nickname Fairy Glen.

In recent years’ [sic] visitors have started to move the rocks to create spirals on the ground. We have been told that some of the bus tour guides have made up and encouraged some rituals involving walking the spirals then leaving a coin or token in the centre as an offering to the fairies for good luck. The locals on Skye have repeatedly removed these stone spirals in an attempt to keep the Glen in its natural state.

source

Good news is cloudy (diffuse?) lighting, while leaving the landscapes obscured, seems to be able to produce better photos of people than bright midday sun.

Inexperienced readers of Julie's expressions may not be able to distinguish (1) thinly-veiled rage at being forced to walk in the rain and mud to look at the umpteenth thing you're supposed to look at, and (2) dorking around. Luckily for me this was the latter.

Other good news is the micro-terraced hilly landscape, plus sprinkled uniformly white homes, actually leads to some really neat views.

Camasunary

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John Muir, legendary outdoor man and namesake of the John Muir Trail[3] in California, was Scottish. So he’s got some trust funds doing nature stuff over here, too. I forget now exactly how that’s relevant to this hike except they had a bunch of signs up with his name on it.

At this point, you get the general idea: lots of grass, walk along rolling hills, it’s cool but pleasant, rain is always threatening you. Had to be there.

Got a lot of practice going BAAAAA at the sheep and seeing if they'd respond or acknowledge my existence. They chose to do neither.

Harry Potter

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If you recognize this, you know what's coming.

There turns out to be a mecca of Harry Potter filming locations in a surprisingly condensed area as you exit Isle of Skye to the south.

This + CGI is Dumbledore’s tomb (I think):

Also apparently elsewhere on the lake is where Hagrid skips stones as he laments Buckbeak's poor trial outcome.

And then the old Hogwarts Express, esp. episode II:

Not pictured (somehow) is LITERALLY HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE who wait on every possible hill surrounding this overpass for the couple times a day the train goes by. You have to park a mile or two away and walk in because of the crowds. Yes, we did that. No, I don't know whether it was worth it.

To boot, the whole area is freaking gorgeous. If you leave your scheduled train observing and happen to take the hilly trail walk out rather than the road, you will be rewarded with, ahem, panoramic views.[4]

Saying goodbye to the forbidden fruit of cancelled nostalgia, we headed down to our penultimate stop, the port town of Oban.

Epilogue: Julie Wins Over Sheep With Digestives

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Footnotes


  1. Getting a caravan from country folks with a mildly confounding accent I could not stop thinking about a handful of scenes from Fight Club. If you know you know. ↩︎

  2. I also tried the wash-in stuff years back and had similarly mediocre results. ↩︎

  3. My friend Woody, while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, encouraged me to go try hiking the John Muir Trail sometime. He did this by telling me “it’s only 200 miles!” and then immediately developed a stress fracture in his foot from walking too much. ↩︎

  4. The reason I felt silly typing panoramic views is because I’m pretty sure Google maps contains that exact bigram in the description of every lookout we’ve been to in the last year. ↩︎