Written Jan. 22 (lacked WiFi and cell service to post earlier)
I literally became Bilbo Baggins today and set off on an unexpected journey in Isle of Skye.
My pre-booked tour ended up falling through, but my guide still had the courtesy to come by and drive me to my first stop (Old Man Storr). I can’t place any blame on him, since the poor guy tweaked his knee a month ago, and just yesterday ended up injuring it massively again. He was an older Welsh guy, very friendly and lovely, so I felt awful that he was in immense pain even driving manual and getting out of the van just to show me where I was going.
Our conversation went a little something like this:
“So I can’t drive you today- and all our other guides are at church since it’s Sunday. I badly re-injured my knee and can barely drive, but here’s what’s going to happen. I’m going to drive you halfway through the north and drop you off at Old Man Storr – a 1.5 mile hike to the top. Then you’re going to hitchhike all the way around, from there to Kilt Rock, then hike Quairaing, then hitch a ride to Fairy Glen, then back to Portree. It’ll be your only option since no buses are running today either. That sound okay?”
Me: “Sure, it’ll have to work!”
In my head: “HITCHHIKE?!!!”
He reassured me that everyone hitchhiked on Skye and that there were so few residents on the island that I shouldn’t have a problem because there was only one road. And yes, everyone here is extremely friendly – but it’s in my nature to pride myself in being independent, and I always feel bad for burdening people (or asking for rides/a place to stay/etc.).
The positive: I saved about £50 on a tour. I would have gladly paid any amount for wisdom about the Isle of Skye to be imparted on me – and to have been properly guided around – but next time I’m booking a tour from Edinburgh and NOT just coming to Portree on my own without anything planned. Or I’ll just have to rent a car for a week next time. It turned out to be cheaper that way when asking people about it at the hostel, anyway.
I learned a little background about this beautiful place before I was basically abandoned. He briefly touched on how Isle of Skye means “Port of Kings” and how there are so few trees on the island because all of it is topsoil. Thus, even the small “waterfalls” or mini running streams running off the mountainsides are actually natural. Every year, Skye attracts about 500,000 tourists – versus its population of only 10,000. Right now, it’s hardly crowded (the skinny road is hardly ever busy), but in the spring and summer, it’s packed to the brim.
So this guy drops me off at the bottom of the hill for the Old Man Storr hike. It’s 719m and from the looks of it, a very steep trail once you get to the top bit. He lovingly toots his horn and waves as I’m scaling the first bit of the climb, and I realise that I’m stranded on this mountain completely alone.
… on the most beautiful island in Scotland. But with no cell reception and no way of getting anywhere else unless I really hitchhike. I knew everything would work out, but I couldn’t help but panic at the same time.
The view was stunning, don’t get me wrong. Clear views of the massive waters down below, bordered by a few trees and the golden landscapes. I could see the narrow road as I climbed higher and higher, thinking, “Man, I really hope I find some people on their way back down from the hike.”
Of course, I was the only one there who was hiking alone. Everyone else was in pairs – because the only idiot who hikes alone when abroad is me. I’m lucky there were quite a few hikers on a Sunday – if anything went wrong, I’m sure any of them would have helped me.
Midway up the climb, I started to really panic. I followed the trail exactly as he advised, but the fog was so thick that I couldn’t see my way back down anymore. Do I stop? Do I keep going like an idiot? I followed the rocks up to the main Storr rock structure (it looked like a towering Tolkien model) and realised way too late that this wasn’t a trail at all.
Let’s recapitulate here. Every time someone forewarns me not to go somewhere, I somehow UNINTENTIONALLY wind up in that very spot. Either I listen terribly, never pay attention, am extremely stupid, or a combination of all three. I think it’s the latter.
Abel Tasman- “Avoid the bogs near the riverbank, it’s like quicksand.” *walks straight into the bogs unknowingly and spend the next 30 min flailing trying to get out*
Southampton – “Don’t come here at night, it’s not the best area.” *later that evening – DAMN, this looks like the creepy park he said to avoid*
Isle of Skye- “There’s a path that goes directly up to the Storr – but I don’t recommend it at all, it’s very dangerous.” *winds up crawling on all fours to the steepest hill I’ve ever climbed in my history of hikes- DAMN, I don’t think this was the intended path*
Yeah, I made my own trail. I was literally climbing on all fours, trying to cling to the side of this hill that led up to this massive rock, and I seriously was Frodo and Sam climbing Mount Doom in this very moment. I was dying of sweat in my down jacket and was so close to reaching Storr – but when I looked down, I still only saw fog.
I had to crawl back down on all fours downhill since I knew this wasn’t the path I was supposed to take. This wouldn’t have happened if I had a proper tour guide, but it makes for a stupid story. It was only a 15-min detour, and the rest of the path up was fine (breathtaking views of the rock formations). The fog never lifted, though – so I never got the panoramic view of everything down below. Next time.
Miraculously, I reached the bottom of the hill at the same time as a friendly couple from China. I did what I always do when I need help – I ran up to ask questions. I’m literally ALWAYS doing that in every country – I’m probably so annoying.
They happened to be heading in the same direction north, and the girl (Fanny) said, “You come with us!” in broken English while her poor boyfriend (or husband, I never asked) was basically forced to oblige. My skills as a Foreign English Teacher came into play again, since I had to communicate using basic English or else they wouldn’t understand. Fanny kept trying to feed me their lunch, snacks, and always asked if I wanted to stop for any breaks or photos – I mean, the people you meet when travelling are just so full of kindness and generosity. It melts my heart.
For the next five hours, they drove me around and we took plenty of photos around the northern part of Isle of Skye. Kilt Rock/Mealt Falls, Quiraing (which I was told to climb, but after my Storr incident, I was done with hiking for the day), Fairy Glen, Dunvegan Castle (closed), Neist Point Lighthouse, Coral Beaches… and then they detoured just to drive me 20 min off their original route to get me BACK to Portree and refused to take my money. I will never be able to express my gratitude enough – the worst part is that we never exchanged contact info since they drove off as I kept trying to pay them. If we ever cross paths again, I do hope to pay it forward and show them around California – they were the sweetest couple ever and I really owe them everything for getting me to and fro safely.
Neist Point was my favourite. It was a combination of New Zealand and Hawaii – the green mountains curved around a beautiful ocean, and the sun came out right at this time (so perfect). I could have just stayed in that spot forever.
My evening ended with my first ever friends in a hostel during this trip (wow, I sound horribly antisocial). I’ve been alone in most other hostels or the only 20something (for the first time, most people in these hostels are 40+ yrs. old), so it was a nice change of social life. We played quite a few rounds of Swiss card games with their amazing German deck of cards (so much cooler than American ones), and they showed me a ton of card tricks which I was too daft to understand until they finally broke down and showed me the secrets. I really am blonde when it comes to this stuff. I wish I could use the “I can smell the roses and hear the bells ring on any of these cards!” trick on ships, but I’d need a German deck of cards. Another reason to visit Germany in the future.
As I reflect on a completely unexpected day, I still can’t believe how lucky I was that I got an even better experience than a tour of this stunning place. Iverness, I’m coming for ya tomorrow… and to Fanny and beau (how bad is it that I never got his name?!), thank you again. SO MUCH. xx