Skye, and the Road to the Isles
The Road to the Isles begins at everyone’s door. I leave mine in Edinburgh early on a sunny May morning and head against the traffic (always a good sign) towards the road bridge over the Forth and the way that leads north. As ever the roads soon decrease in size. At Perth, I leave the motorway network behind at it’s most northerly point. Dunkeld, Pitlochry, Blair Atholl are quickly passed before the road rises higher before careering over the Drumochter Summit and down towards Dalwhinnie. Here I say goodbye to the treacherous yet beautiful A9 as it hurls on toward Inverness and beyond. I head into the west where the roads twist and the country grows wild. Spean Bridge spins me off toward Loch Lochy before it too slowly recedes in my rear-view mirror, soon to be replaced by other Lochs; Oich, Garry, Loyne and Cluanie.
Then, hemmed in on both sides, I pass through Glen Shiel where in 1719 a battle took place between those old sparring partners, the Jacobites and the Government Army. Rob Roy, canny as ever, sensed which way the battle was going and withdrew, hurt, from the fight. A detachment of Spanish troops, fighting with the Jacobites, ensured this battle would be the last to take place in Great Britain where British and foreign troops fought in close engagement. The Jacobites lost and the resentment would simmer on before bursting into life again with the arrival of Bonnie Prince Charlie at Glenfinnan over a quarter of a century later.
West out of Glen Shiel and along Loch Duart before Eilean Donan castle comes into view. Truly a place that must have been constructed with the future industry of shortbread tins in mind, Eilean Donan is however a remarkable structure and a little bit of populism never hurt anybody.
Then, finally, into view comes my destination. Skye. As fabled in myth and legend and story as anywhere on the planet I get my first view of the island through low mist and rain. It seems a perfect first introduction. Although the old ferry from the mainland still runs in the summer months I am keen to get onto the island as quickly as I can and am soon heading over the graceful arc of the Skye Bridge onto Skye itself.
Skye, however, is in no hurry and has no desire to reveal itself to me. Vague, enormous shapes can be glimpsed through the gloom and the low clouds. There is a looming presence hidden in the rain and dark mist that is felt rather than seen, like some crawling night creature that inhabits the deep and disturbed frontierlands of consciousness. The dream-horizons of Skye close in tightly and reveal only the barest flashes of what lies beyond. There is no doubt this is the best of dreams though. Even half-glimpsed and half-imagined, the Cuillins, the mighty backbone of Skye are breath-taking. I am given only the most fleeting, stolen view of the skirts of these ancient and ragged old ladies but it is enough to know that what remains just out of reach is timeless, majestic and without equal for thousands of miles.
And though the wind howled in from the north, and the rain cut like the herring knives that once flashed and slashed and gutted all along the north end of the island, I felt that Skye in this raw and elemental state was how it truly was. The sun will come out and Skye will no doubt shine but I am glad that on this, my first visit, I was kept at arms length. An unworthy acolyte to the little gods of Skye I was sent homeward, to think again.