“Trip to Bountiful” – part 10


What I learned looking at Skye

After a dodgy night playing at sleep, I woke up Jonesing for coffee. Something I’d not considered was the amount of light this far north at 3:00 am. Its insistence had done its work keeping me at the edges of REM. Hence, without the final plunge that gifts a person with an actual readiness for anything resembling wakefulness, I make plans for the day. They included much walking.

Ever since first learning to play Skye Boat Song on bagpipes many years ago, I’ve wanted to see what kind of place could inspire such a fetching melody. Sir Harold Boulton’s stirring lyrics:

Speed, bonny boat, like a bird on the wing,

onward the sailors cry.

Carry the lad who’s born to be king

over the sea to Skye.


Wait, they take a bit of a turn.


Loud the winds howl, loud the waves roar,

thunderclaps rend the air,

baffled, our foes stand by the shore,

follow they will not dare.


Phew. And, we’re back.

Though the waves leap, so soft shall ye sleep,

ocean’s a royal bed.

Rock’d in the deep, dear Flora will keep

watch o’er your weary head.


Spoke too soon.


Burnt are our homes, exile and death,

scattered, the loyal man.

Yet ere the sword, cool in the sheath,

Charlie will come again.


And for the win…


Speed, bonny boat, like a bird on the wing,

onward the sailors cry.

Carry the lad who’s born to be king

over the sea to Skye.

Abundantly evident in these overly nostalgic, clamoring lyrics is the kind of sentiment one finds at times of great national upheaval. The song tells how Bonnie Prince Charlie, disguised as a serving maid, escaped in a small boat after his defeat in the Jacobite uprising of 1746, with the aid of Flora MacDonald. Read here and here for more.

But, for all her beauty, Skye holds many secrets close to the vest. She can be coy, and her best ones you work for. Cars get parked. Hats, water, whistle (I of course didn’t have one), and walking canes come out of retirement. If you’re wise, a bit of stretching, and away. For me, however, it was to be further complicated by the fact that I’d be doing so with my bagpipes strapped to my back.

Piping my way through the Highlands and now Skye was always part of the plan for me. If I was to regenerate all that Scots-Canadian blood, it would be done loudly and frequently. On the way here I had already stopped at every other layby, handing my phone to some unsuspecting, wide-eyed bugger already trying to get pictures of something other than me. But they always obliged, adding their thanks for letting them take further photos of their own. Oh vanity, vanity…

I sopped up the last of my inordinately large, complicated breakfast, belched happily and donned my rental chariot for the ride cross island to Portree.

Portree 5.jpg
The picturesque harbor town of Portree

A short sixteen miles later and I let Skye’s largest town play with me a bit. I happily took in the smell of old sea and sound of fat gulls together with the obligatory tourist stops. A final morning coffee was enough to convince me that, today, the north road would be mine.

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Skye, the northern route. Heading east from Edinbane on Loch Greshornish to Portree, then northward and back home again.

Skye did not disappoint. The sky on Skye was uncommitted. It opened enough to allow fingers of warmth from early summer sun, brightly cheerful. But, it was also shy, at times hovering low above the higher peaks, building a rather impressive palette of hued shadow.

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Ubiquitous travel companions

Gentle, sloping meadows donned liberally with grazing sheep, farm equipment, and B ‘n Bs reach out into endless lochs and inlets. They are surprised by the often immediate, multi-colored, volcanic cliffs busting out of the earth in random protrusions. It is a land that veritably tumbles over itself in complex shades of purple-shadowed greens.

I battled tiny roads, a gutless car, crappy Internet (Siri was forever confused or non-existent), and literally dozens of cyclists on the way to my first port o’ call, a rocky outcropping called simply, The Storr. It is on the Trotternish peninsula facing the Sound of Raasay. My particular interest was to see “The Old Man of Storr.” Impressive in itself although one of the ugliest old men vaguely pictured in rock!

The Old Man of Storr
The Storr, and it’s Old Man
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Piping by the road that heads to the Old Man of Storr

It was exhilarating as it was inspiring. Alas, in true tourist fashion, I huffed my way, bagpipes in tow, back down the mountain to the car and continued north to my next destination, Kilt Rock. Dramatic, vertical striations of rock, the clawed back of ancient volcanic activity, rise up dramatically from the sea, offering an imaginative view – God’s mesolithic kilt.

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Kilt Rock
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Shear drop-offs make for good waterfalls onto rocky beaches

I tossed my bagpipes into the backseat, where they stayed most of the trip, and continued north. I was feeling good, even a bit feisty and adventurous. This feeling acted as preparation for or omen against what was to come. 

In full obedience to the tourist parade who, along with me, dutifully pulled their cars off the road at all the same stops. Just north of the town of Flodigarry, my eye caught a sign beckoning me into the hills. I had apparently come upon the eastern entrance to The Quiraing Ridge, from the Norse Kvi Rand meaning ’round fold.’

As part of the Trotternish ridge it has been formed by a massive landslip which has created high cliffs, hidden plateaus and pinnacles of rock. Possessing numerous features with titillating names such as The Needle, The Table, and The Prison it acts a bit like the palm of a hand or fold in which cattle could be concealed from Viking raiders. As I would soon discover it had other ‘magical’ properties. It is sly and can quickly subsume unthinking walkers into its spongy loom.

It starts unassumingly in gentle turns on well-worn dirt paths that wind their way around tiny inland lakes. I took hungrily to the task of making them my own, the snaking trail gradually pulling me upward toward the more dramatic features to come. I had started at an ambitious pace, excited to discover what lay ahead. 

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Into the Quiraing Ridge
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One of numerous, small inland lochs
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Sheer granite walls

Skye 43.jpgFor the better part of an hour I continued like this, letting the way unfold before me and the scenery embed itself in my memory. After what I could only guess was perhaps four or five miles I began to wonder, in the absence of any further signage or any other human being (or even sheep for that matter), whether or not I should continue or perhaps turn back. My buoyant mood made the decision for me and I puttered on, proud of my positive outlook, and equally glad for the perfectly cool weather.

Skye 47.jpgSkye 46.jpg

Finally, after another half hour or so, I began to bump into numerous other hikers. Danes, Dutch, Japanese, Somalis, Canadians, Germans, Americans, and many Aussies who, as their sheer numbers suggest, love it here apparently. Brief conversations with some of them encouraged me to continue onward to what would be some of the most jaw-dropping sights I’ve yet seen. From the highest point one can see the entire north-western shore of the island and out to the Hebrides beyond. It was spellbinding. I planted myself on a rock wall and simply let it happen.

At this point I had a decision to make. I had walked for hours to get to this place and, looking way down to my right, could barely make out a parking lot. I was almost across the island! Although there was no concern either for loss of daylight or weather since both were cooperating fully, I decided to go back the way I came and do the trek from the west side the day after. It would be a simple matter of retracing my steps.

Or so I thought…



3 thoughts on ““Trip to Bountiful” – part 10

  1. Pingback: “Trip to Bountiful” – part 11 – innerwoven

  2. Pingback: “Trip to Bountiful” – part 10 — innerwoven | Operating invisibly

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