Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Over the Sea to Skye

Tonight sees a chastened yet happy me sit before my keyboard with dilligent fingers, listening to KT Tunstall's new CD and slowly (oh so slowly) digesting a big fat Chinese meal from the Leuchars local. It wasn't good, but I ate it anyway, and now I feel sick.

Quelle surprise.

Anyway ... "Why, Seshat," I hear you ask "are you so chastened yet happy? Do tell!" (At this point my readership has inexplicably turned into the audience from The Beggar's Opera). Well, I shall tell you.

I have returned from a somewhat epic trip to Skye with the lay-deez and, for a brief period, Spartan (not, alas, acompanied by his wife but just as welcome without her!) where we camped to within an inch of our lives and walked our soggy little socks off - in some of the worst weather I have ever encountered in Scotland.

But let me not get ahead of myself. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin ...

The holiday began on Thursday evening with the crunching of wheels on the gravel of HC, and out of Phid's little blue car tumbled Koios, Janus and Phid herself, all beaming merrily and keen to start the adventure. We partook of chicken, ham and leek pie made by my fair hand, and a very restrained quantity of red wine, before turning in. We wanted to be fresh as daisies for the long trip in the morning.

On Friday we woke with glee and embarked on the first task: packing Keith the Land Rover with all our gear while leaving space for 5 women and 2 dogs. To both my and Fisher's secret delight, a new roof-box had arrived the day before and was now - thanks to Fisher - perched jauntily on Keith's head awaiting filling. Without this addition it simply wouldn't have been possible to take everything we needed, and as it was, it was a bloody tight squeeze. Naturally, as the driver, I fared better than everyone else - but even I had to be an inch or so closer to the wheel than usual.

Eventually, only about an hour behind schedule, we were ready to depart. Of we roared in a freshly washed, shiny Keith, only to stop 15 minutes later at the nearest Tesco to stock up on camp food (which consisted of an alarming amount of chocolate, cheese and ham - and not much else). By the time we were fully underway the morning was all but over, and we were chafing at the bit to be Skye-wards.

At last we set off in earnest, and Keith chugged along steadily, as the landscape changed from the rolling farmland of Fife, to the rising hills of Perth, and on into glowering mountains of the Western highlands. We stopped for sustenance at a nice little café in Catlodge, near Dalwhinnie, then onwards, onwards we drove.

At last we slid between the mountains of Glen Shiel and over the Skye Bridge - no longer encumbered by a hefty toll - and turned Keith to our first destination: a quick stroll to ruined Dun Scaith castle, perched on the edge of Sleat's Tokavaig Bay. It was a glorious evening: the sun gleamed off the water, the mountains jagged the skyline, and the castle made a striking silhouette as we headed across boggy ground towards it. We were somewhat peturbed to find just how much we squelched, considering Janus's Skye Walks guide gave it a bog rating of 1. My heart sank to think what the harder walks would entail. Should I have invested in waders? Perhaps a small boat of some kind? I thrust such concerns from my mind and enjoyed the late evening sunshine instead.

Janus and Fisher explored the landward side of the castle while Phid entered the ruin itself via the remnants of a bridge. All that remained of said bridge was a thin ridge attached to a sturdy, low wall. The drop beneath was only seven or eight feet, but it would have made a painful fall onto rocks had my great clodhoppers slipped, and after six hours of driving I had no confidence in my aching wrist when it came to supporting my weight, even by lightly holding a wall. This caused Phid no small amount of scorn, but I decided to live with her disappointment in me and enjoyed the milder challenge of picking my way over the rocks at the base of the castle, in search of an 'easy scramble' (according to Phid's walking book) to the summit. The only possible scramble looked a little more challenging than the book implied (something that would become a common theme) so I simply wound my way around the base, slithering on some pungent seaweed and getting my feet wet in rock pools, until emerging on the other side of the bridge and meeting up with the others again.

Once we'd drunk our fill of Dun Scaith, we headed back to Keith - encountering a feisty little Border Terrier and his equally feisty old lady owner on our way - and set off in search of our first camp site: Glen Brittle.

The drive was stunning. Valley floors pitched and rolled beneath the wheels, and we swooped down into Glen Brittle as if diving for prey. Janus managed not to be sick, although I have a sneaking suspicion it was a close run thing ... and not just for her, either. Fisher was pretty green about the gills, and Phid wore an expression of intense concentration by the end, which only left Koios and myself internally whooping at each lurch.

I have a pathological loathing of campsites. All too often they are made up of clusters of hearty caravanners, whose fat, white, grub-like vehicles bear stickers like "The Cray-zee Caravanners Consortium! You don't have to be cray-zee to join, but it helps!" Each plot rests a mere metre or so from the next, and you feel like you're sleeping in some vast, open-air dormitory, listening to the neighbouring farts and whistles of Old Bob and Fat Marge from Dorking, as they sleep off their vats of camp-fire scrumpy. The stench of disinfectant from the nearby loo block, the squalls of outraged children as they realise just how duped they've been by their cray-zee parents, sulky teenage girls moping in the showers, the faint roar of traffic from the nearby road, the glare of headlights as late arrivals weave their way back from the pub ... all these things lead me to view campsites with horror.

Glen Brittle, then, was a bit of an epiphany. For a start, the plots were a reasonable distance apart; secondly, it was pretty sparsely populated; thirdly, the nearest 'main' road was about 9 miles away; fourthly, there wasn't a child - duped or otherwise - to be seen in the entire place; fifthly, the two teenage girls I did see both smiled winningly and appeared to be there on their own, of their own volition; sixthly, Old Bob and Fat Marge had decided to park their caravan right outside the loo block, and were therefore sufficiently far away from our chosen plot to keep their farts and whistles to themselves. Lastly, the only late arrivals sweeping the campsite with obnoxious headlights ... were us! So that was all right, then.

The position of the campsite was spectacular: set in a bright green field, with ridges and hollows in which to nestle your tents (or, as we chose, to set up on the most exposed, highest point), it sat back from an ash-coloured beach, with beautiful views out to the headlands of Rubh an Dùnain - where we would later walk - and Geodha Daraich, to the north west.

Relieved and delighted with the site, we began setting up camp. I had an infuriating moment of Phid-aided idiocy where I stuck the long tent poles which form the frame through the inner lining loops, when actually they were meant to go through the outer canvas. Starting again was not an aid to good humour, but Fisher came to my rescue and together we were able to erect a passable imitation of shelter. We'd decided to go all-out for luxury, and brought along the inflatable matress we use for extra guests. Why go to the trouble of bringing a Drover if you're not going to stuff it full of luxury items, eh? Eh??

Anway, it's really late and I've just mistyped the last line three times, so I'll have to close here and continue tomorrow. Oh what thrills await you, gentle reader ...


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