Saturday, 19 June 2010

Over The Sea To Skye

Day 27: (Published Day 28 due to lack of mobile internet connection)

After the chaos of yesterday, I was looking forward to some plain sailing today, and that's exactly what I got.

Admittedly, there were a few chewed fingernails first thing when the taxi I'd booked to take me the mile and a half to the bus station didn't arrive, but it proved only to be delayed and we were soon on our way.

My Shiel Buses service to Mallaig left on time... well, nearly on time as the driver had to pop into Morrison's for bottles of water. Anyway, it was a comfortable midi-sized coach and we were soon barrelling effortlessly along the 47-mile long Road to the Isles.

It was a clear day so the views from nearby Corpach back towards Fort William afforded some spectacular views of Ben Nevis on one of those rare days when you can actually see the summit. Despite being the middle of June there was still plenty of snow in evidence but it wasn't the snow fields that made the sight so impressive – it was the sheer scale of the mountain as viewed from almost sea level.

We were soon running along the picturesque shores of Loch Eil before climbing up and over into Glen Finnan and one of the most photographed views in all Scotland, the Glenfinnan Monument at the head of Loch Sheil . The monument commemorates the moment when Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard to formally rally the clans to his cause, effectively firing the starting pistol to the whole Jacobite Rebellion.

Up and over once again, past lochs speckled with tiny islands, down deep and empty glens, through a gorgeous landscape which looks for all the world like a film set on a remake of 'Rob Roy'. A little further on and we pass Morar with its beaches fringed with astonishingly white sand. By now we are beginning to get distant views of the Hebrides, with the mountains of Rhum and Skye beginning to show.

The bus pulls into Mallaig, a busy little port complete with boatyards, an ice works and a Fisherman's Mission. There's not much that is pretty in the conventional sense here, but it has energy and purpose and by the time I've worked around the seafront my ferry is about due to leave.

It's a short 35 minute crossing to Armadale on the Isle of Skye and I'm reassured to see a bus waiting in the car park. I bought a day rider ticket with the intention of changing at Broadford and visiting Kyleakin before doubling back and heading on to Portree. However, a careful inspection of a timetable picked up on the ferry showed that this wouldn't be possible, so instead I made straight for Portree and dropped off my rucksack at the guest house.

I had a bit of time to spare, so I spent an hour or so exploring Portree before catching a bus which would take me north past the mighty Storr Ridge, across the island to Uig and then back again. That that this was also a school bus gave it a little added spice!

The bus duly left the Market Place and then queued with some eight other buses in the grounds of Portree High School, slowly filling with a group of remarkably well-behaved and polite teenagers. Then we set off up the eastern coast of Skye where the roads runs between the sea and a dramatic wall of charred rock called the Storr Ridge. This is a daunting and extraordinary natural rock formation which bears testament to the island's violent and volcanic past. Layer upon layer of black twisted lava are piled up into huge cliffs hundreds of feet high, watched over initially by a single bizarre spike of rock called The Old Man of Storr. If a flight of Pterodactyls were to sail into view over the ridge I doubt if anyone would be surprised, as this looks for all the world like a primeval landscape. But the ridge goes on and on and never really peters out until the island itself starts to disappear into the sea.

The bus driver begins dropping off youngsters at the ends of roads, at farm gates and at the ends of their drives. He seems to know where everyone lives and invariably pulls up without anyone having to ring the bell. The bus is almost empty by the time we leave Staffin, which is 17 miles from Portree, showing just how far some kids have to travel to and from school every day.

We continue up the evermore deserted coast of Skye then cross over the tops to the dropdown into the tiny port of Uig. Its principal claim to fame is its regular ferry service to the Outer Hebrides, a relatively short crossing which seems popular with lorry drivers.

The run back to Portree is relatively short but passes through yet more deserted mountain and moorland scenery dotted with crofts and cottages. It's been a two hour journey which has brought us round in a complete circle – and I can safely say that, although it never actually got me anywhere but back to square one, it has been probably the finest and most stimulating bus journey of the entire trip so far.

Tomorrow is my penultimate day on the road and will see me cross from the West Coast of Scotland to the east, by way of some more incredible mountain scenery.

No comments:

Post a Comment