Neale is a cool guy. He plays the drum set; he hikes; he rock climbs; and he’s just really, really nice. He picked me up in front of the rail station in a suburb of Edinburgh after I had spent half the day on bus and train. When we arrived at his home, he offered me dinner. I had my own bed in my own bedroom. But what was going to make this weekend particularly epic was our trip to the Isle of Skye.
Friday morning, Neale and I began our five-hour drive from Edinburgh to Skye. Scotland is a beautiful country. As we left Edinburgh, fields and forests dominated the low, rolling hills. As we moved north, the low hills became rocky cliffs. Even further north, we were in the mountains, driving at the bases of high peaks overlooking deep blue lochs. By 1:00 p.m. we were parked on Skye and on the trail toward Am Basteir, one of Scotland’s Munroe peaks (peaks over 3000 ft). With the blessing of good weather, we made good time and summited without incident. The day was so perfect, and our spirits so high, we decided to summit another nearby Munroe – Bruach na Frithe. While we were hiking on these rocky sentinels we encountered a seasoned hiker, who proceeded to inform us that he had been visiting this place for 40 years and had never seen a day as warm and as clear as this. Once again, Bryson brings the California sunshine to a sun-deprived corner of the globe.
After a five-hour sojourn we returned to the car, Neale and I were in dire need of rehydration, so we ducked into the nearby Sligachan Hotel for a pint of Scottish ale (well, ale for me; juice for Neale). We still had a half-hour drive ahead of us to reach Glenbrittle campground, where we were to meet Neale’s climbing friends. After rendezvousing with Tom, Zarek, and Seany, and spending an hour or so trying to erect one of the guys’ new tents, Neale and I returned to the nearby hostel, where Neale was staying. I opted to do some wild camping, just up the hill a couple hundred yards. I found a perfect campsite; my tent, pitched just feet from the edge of a small gorge with a creek running through it, had a million-dollar view of the nearby mountains and, off in the distance, Loch Brittle (a huge sea loch). This was to be my home for the next three nights. The only problem I had was the midge population. These nasty little things just won’t leave you alone and can make a man miserable; I awoke the next morning with little red welts all over my body. Worst of all, they began to itch, especially the ones on my feet, and other places we won’t mention.
Day two on Skye was another perfect day. While Neale and the others went rock climing, I went out exploring on my own. I managed to scramble over some serious cliffs and make my way over to Loch Coire Lagan, where I took a much-needed bath. Afterward I happily busied myself with eating lunch and puffing on my pipe while overlooking Loch Brittle and watching the rock climbers crawl on the mountainsides like ants. This about sums up the day: hiking, scrambling, sitting on high promontories, feeling epic…
I just have to recount this anecdote. I recorded it in my journal on Night Two. Besides being somewhat entertaining, it will give the reader a general idea of the situation of my campsite. Plus, this story makes me look sensitive and caring.
From the Journal of Bryson Marks:
“8 June, 11:00 p.m. – I’ve just had a most memorable experience, and have done my good deed for the day. Immediately east of my tent, some ten feet away (edit: later observed to be only four feet), is a sheer cliff dropping into a shallow gorge through which flows a creek. This gorge bends around just to the south of my camp, so the creek flows east-west. For the past three hours I have been in my tent to escape the swarms of midges that come out when the air is still. I’ve been reading and dozing, and at some point noticed incessant bleating on behalf of some sheep. Looking out the tent window I saw a lamb nearby my camp crying out to its mother on the other side of the gorge, with its mother making a fair amount of noise as well. I thought they would be able to work through this little problem, but as time pased and the crying continued I realized these animals don’t have that mental capacity. As earplugs were insufficient to block out the noise, I reluctantly clothed myself and herded the lost lamb some 200 yards down the hill to the road, where it was able to cross the bridge and run up the correct side of the gorge. It took some time, but once it heard its mother the lamb ran at full speed to find her. I daresay the poor thing was terrified, and certainly hungry. As soon as the two were reunited the lamb immediately began suckling. I must admit at feeling a sense of pride and paternity. Now, at 11:20, it is still light out, though I am ready for some much-needed rest.”
Aren’t I sweet?
The next couple days were much the same, with fine weather and highlands exploration. Allow me to publish another excerpt from the journal:
“10 June 2013 – Yeseterday was another beautiful day on Skye. I took a long walk along the coastal trail, and found a nice overlook on a flat hilltop to eat my lunch and take a nap in the sun. Last night, after returning to my tent, I took a pleasant walk along the gorge, watching the sun set and listening to the creek down below. As the midges started to come out I hurried back to my tent, and when I was just a few yards away I twisted my right ankle with a loud POP. What pain! I hobbled into the tent and propped up my foot, and after half an hour or so I limped down to the creek to soak my foot in the cool water. The ankle is quite swollen, and I’m spending today in and around the tent waiting for Neale to return from his hike. We drive back to Edinburgh this afernoon.”
Well, lucky for me, I was able to walk well enough the next day. I spent that day exploring Edinburgh city centre. There’s a fair amount to see in Edinburgh but it’s all fairly concentrated, so it really doesn’t take too long to walk by all the sights. I started my morning off with a hike up to Arthur’s Seat, a high hill overlooking Edinburgh with a sweet view. As I summited the hill the clouds decended on the city, and my commanding view was quickly reduced to a damp, misty haze. Over the course of the day I visited the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the “official residence of the Monarch of the United Kingdom in Scotland;” Salisbury Crags (awesome rocky cliffs on the side of Arthur’s Seat); The Museum of Edinburgh; Scott Memorial; National Gallery of Scotland; Edinburgh Castle; National Museum of Scotland; Nelson Monument; and the National Monument. Yeah, I know lists are boring to read, but there’s not much to tell. I came, I saw, I sprained my ankle, and I left. And I made at least one new friend in the process: Neale!
The next day I was to leave Edinburgh, and Scotland altogether, for I had purchased a ticket to London. I had a ten-hour bus ride ahead of me. Oh boy…