bert timmermans saskia van der loo
What a night, weather- and feet-wise. Me, I never have blisters, not one, not in dry boots, not in wet boots. Some parts of my feet get a bit sore and a bit of skin might get irritated, but that's it. My girlfriend is a blister-propagator. She can't help it, but no matter how good/expensive the footwear is, she gets blisters. Add to this the fact that for the past two days she had walked with wet feet... During the torrentuous night one of her blisters suddenly hurt like hell and the question was: what to do? Just taking the fluid out didn't help, and before applying the Compeed plasters, all loose skin had to be removed. So she took the risk and cut the dead skin away. The blister was pretty deep and what showed can only be described as... meat. Some antiseptic cream at night and a Compeed plaster in the morning did their job however and the decision proved right: although in pain, she was able to walk, her feet looking like a piece of Compeed-art. A full Scottish breakfast with blackpudding later we were picked up by Peter at about 9:30. Apparently there had been quite a bit of a storm during the night - fortunately now the weather was calm.
Some fifteen minutes later we arrived in Heaste, laying eyes on the opposite shore of Loch Eisort where we had walked the day before. The weather was cloudy, and (as Peter said) it would stay that way for most of the day, with later (as Peter predicted) a bit of rain as well. We set out, only to find the first burn, just past Heaste, uncrossable dry-shod. In the end I was able to get at least my girlfriend dry to the other shore, and we were off. The description read "follow the coastline and gradually climb up to find a track of sorts." This is the kind of description which can lead to various interpretations, not to mention the fact that in a country where a decent "path" can hardly be made out, a "track of sorts" is more subject to conceptual ambiguity than a piece of modern sculpture. Combined with the night's heavy rainfall, it amounted to us ploughing through the bog once more. After a while we got pretty tired of it and descended towards the coastline, where we found... a track of sorts! When this ended, we decided that because of the conditions of the soil, it'd be wiser to walk along the coast, its pebbles providing some solid ground. (Note that in fact the 'track of sorts' we were supposed to be on is a path which descends into Boreraig from over Torr Mor; afterwards we read in Paterson's book that it can be more easily found by crossing the Heaste river a bit higher up, where it's supposed to have a footbridge - read this bit of description before you do this one.)
Now, before you consider us to be a disastrously lazy couple of walkers, let me point out another distinct quality of bog, which can make walking across it particularly arduous: holes. We'd noticed this already when we were exploring the valley floor on the first day: you're hopping from one lump of heathery or grassy ground to the next, and suddenly you miss a leg. This leg has abruptly sunken through a gap in the ground, which might be dry but which is more often wet. It's a sudden blow to the muscles, but getting the leg out, you feel a relief that you were able to retract it from a potentially fossile destiny.
So, we looked forward to finally having a path to walk on, and this prospect was coming into view when we approached the ruins of the cleared village of Boreraig (picture). From there on, it would be a path until we got to Torrin. Admittedly, it's a bit less adventurous, but at least you can have a good look at the landscape, without having to watch where you put your feet every second of the way. It was at this point that we could make out, in the distance on the path, the first walkers other than ourselves since the beginning of the trek. We did not meet.
Boreraig (pictures) is one of the villages that sadly fell victim to the clearances, but nevertheless a peaceful little spot, with lovely views across Eishort. We looked forward to the walk under the cliffs that followed, since the day before we had seen several waterfalls on this shore (see picture above) and we were unable to make out where the path lay. The path takes you right below these marvelous waterfalls, staining the rocks pitch black with iron (picture).
After a while the path climbs against the face of the cliffs, and broad views of Loch Eishort open up and present themselves on a plate (picture). As we climbed steadily, the sky got pretty grim, and after a while we were contemplating some serious rainfall. Wear enough synthetics, and none of this will be worrying. My pants, even when completely soaked, dry in no more than five (5!) minutes - The North Face rules. All of this constituted some distraction, and before we knew it, the path had rounded the Carn Dearg, and Loch Eishort, and with it Sleat, lay behind.
The path led onto a good track at the cleared village of Suisnish, and after a few minutes we rounded yet another hillock and behold - there was the supreme beauty of Loch Slapin, and we finally faced part of the Cuillins, who had coaxed us for the past two days, appearing ever nearer across the vast tracts of moorland (picture). It is impossible, as others have pointed out, to look on parts of Skye's landscape and not to think of any Baggins-relative making his way across Middle Earth. A bit closer to the truth, is that at a certain point awe and astonished perplexity at omnipresent beauty develop into a sort of happiness that sticks to you like toffee pudding. In fact, it doesn't qualify as happiness in the usual sense at all. Just, day after day, the mere high density of happy moments makes place for a simple monolithic feeling of good being. This concurs with the way you put down your feet - on the first days, you don't walk right, you just progress asymmetrically and your hip joints hurt from putting heavy boots in every which way but straight. In short, you walk. After two days, you are able to stride. After that, it becomes more and more like stepping lightly, fitting in any place you choose to put your soles; in just the same way that the images start to sink in, as your mind begins to fit with the scene, accommodating the synapses to the constant view of open space and the sound of the land and the sky.
Coming into Kilbride, the water was coming off the overflowing soaked land, giving rise to conceptual ambiguity about a road versus a river (picture). But about twenty minutes later, we entered Torrin, phoned Julie (picture), and drank a nice hot cup of it in the small tearoom with a grand view on the menu of the next day: the sharp features of the Cuillin Hills.
As Julie picked us up, it was the last we would see of her during our journey. The next morning, Peter would pick us up at the B&B at the outskirts of Elgol and take us to Kilmarie, the start of the next day's walk. After a short ride, we came to Mary's B&B, Cnoc-ban (picture). Yet another unbelievable spot, with the wonderfully oldfashionly friendly Mary. We were completely exhausted after three days and slept. When we awoke, the sun was beginning to set and we hurried out to get a glimpse of it. Rum was displaying its grim silhouette in the distance (picture) and the air was cool. Reservations had been made at Coruisk House, the local seafood restaurant, and after having postponed it a bit, we were able not to get to Elgol, but at least to get in one picture what Scotland is all about: golden rays of a sleepy sun setting fire to the heathery grass under a speck of clear blue, threatened by low clouds covering the most gloomy of all mountain ranges - the Black Cuillins (picture). When under a steadily growing dusk we set for the restaurant, we saw three deer and were pretty excited, until, at the restaurant, there appeared to be a whole herd of more than twenty roaming about the place. According to Mary, they're a real nuisance since the island's last wolf had been killed a long time ago. They're constantly eating all the saplings and fresh buds, making it a harsh task to grow anything new there. Well, us city birds were simply astonished.
Coruisk House forever gainsaid anyone claiming that one cannot eat decently in Scotland. I'm a seafood lover, and this was prime stuff. The setting was very nice as well, but the fish soup, the scallops and my girlfriend's salmon were perfect: prepared without too much fuss/sauce, giving the tongue what it's there for - taste. Especially the salmon was superbly cooked: it seemed to be just a tiny bit under-cooked in the center, giving it a most distinct consistency and flavour - don't know if it was done on purpose, but it works. Give all this some white wine and a Laphroaig to top it all off, and my visa-card had been given a good spanking. Especially with the expensive pound, expect to pay duly for about anything on the British Isles. But sometimes it's worth it. When we got back it was dark and so cold that we wondered whether our sleeping bags would be warm enough in the weeks to come (they're comfortable only to zero C), but Mary had put on the electric blanket so the bed was warm. Sleep came in half a nanosecond.
on the fourth day we traversed the Cuillins, from Kilmarie (near Elgol) to Sligachan
weather on this day (midnight before the walk) : 850hPa temperature / pressure