Notes from The Skye Trail

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According to The Skye Trail website:

“The Skye Trail is a challenging, unofficial long distance route through the stunning landscapes of the Isle of Skye. The trail covers 128 km of tough terrain including spectacular mountain and coastal scenery…

It is not waymarked and some sections do not have paths. Excellent map reading skills are needed to complete the trail and this route is strictly for the experienced hillwalker. However the rewards as you walk south from the most northerly point on the island are many in terms of the diverse scenery passed, the small communities visited and the superb opportunities for watching wildlife.”

I went to Skye this August because I wanted to break down my body and built it back again. I wanted the flow of walking across an island, to its northern edge, and finding nothing but roaring fierce ocean. I wanted to do anything but think about flower arrangements, weddings, cheese platters. I wanted shifting light, sensation, floods of purple heather. To crawl into my tent on crashing headlands whipped by wind so loud I’d feel lost at sea, enveloped in a sail. I wanted ragged horned sheep so wild they’d be left with mohawks of wool where they’d ran, fleeing their summer shearing. I wanted mountains unleashed from their clouds. Oystercatchers pecking between rocks. Golden eagles and sea eagles. Bog cotton and tiny yellow flowers shaped like stars.

I wanted nature to be my Zen master, and it was. I wanted nature to not give a shit about me. And it didn’t. I wanted to know that I am nothing. I wanted a lot for seven days of walking. And I got it. I saw all that. I saw whole oceans swallowed by sky. Sky by oceans. I saw flints of white marble tossed over hills like bones and mountains of plastic strewn on the beaches. Dead sheep, mice, frogs. The liquid scatter of morning sun dispersed by clouds over sea. Mountains rising 3,000 feet above salt water. Rock shining black, slippery as seals.

When the winds and clouds were fast enough, I saw whole lochs transform. Water blacker than a pool of India ink shifted to a silver shimmer that melted into the clouds above, then to the green of the surrounding hills, to brilliant, Mediterranean blue. All in five seconds.

I saw faerie glens and bothies and black butterflies among the heather that, when you look closer, are dark brown with dotted stripes of orange. I imagined fights between the mountain ranges facing off each other as I hiked through Glen Sligachan. The Red Cuillins to the east, scalped of their green by the Black Cuillins to the west — themselves, when tipped in the sun, looked as if covered in shards of glinting glass, smashed over their heads by the Reds. A Glasgow fight.

I’ve felt the fear of still air. When the wind turns to silence, and the sea reflects the cloudy morning sky in a silver mirror, I knew the midges were coming. Millions of them. All at once. Biting and tickling and turning me into a pluck-ey mess.

I saw whole islands and mountains disappear in mist in a blink, and experienced $400 Made in Italy boots hold the water of every ocean. I walked paths that went nowhere and saw distances of 50 meters take twenty minutes to clear because of blinding bog. I saw horned sheep, perfectly spotted, black and white, as Jersey cows. “Are you really sheep?” I asked. They did not reply.

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