bert timmermans saskia van der loo
Question: what is photographic light? Answer: the light on the morning of Wednesday 11 September 2002, shining down on the most awesome landscape the Great Dufus In The Sky ever thought it fit to design on a lazy afternoon. Liz from the B&B had warned us that it would probably be very windy in and especially above the Quiraing, and the taxi driver had politely enquired whether we would like her to drive us straight to Duntulm. But we'd come here to do this trek and we would sure as hell finish it. As we drove north, the wind was routing the clouds, causing various holes to appear and vanish just as sudden, making light and shadow tumble over the hills and each other. She wished us luck as she dropped us off at the Quiraing car park, and as we put our feet on the track, we laid eyes on Skye's best known feature: the enormous and bizarre basalt structures that compose the wonder of the Quiraing (picture). Great was the temptation to follow the path, but in a dramatic break with tradition, we had to keep clear of it, since the trek led us up Maoladh Mor, and above the Quiraing, over Meall na Suiramach. Climbing in the raging wind, we looked back south over Skye and saw the thing you never forget, making words superfluous:
It happens once, and only once, when nature knocks you over the head with a hammer of pure light, and the brain fires away in an attempt to capture it all, finally resolving over a stutter into the absolute mute; leaving you to dissipate into being, with nothing but the chance - to touch the mindful Sublime.
But the wind was losing it now, coming in from the southwest, so we thought the sooner we'd be on the north side of the hill the better, for standing up was getting more difficult every minute. Unfortunately this made it, in contrast with the day before, very hard or at least unreasonably dangerous to approach the cliff edge - thus effectively keeping views of the Quiraing in the realm of sheer impossibilities. Crawling to the edge on hands, knees, and finally belly (the wind was coming in unpredictable gusts now), we were only able to look upon the edge of the apparently impressive Table (picture - it may seem small, but the basaltic outcrops stand for a huge ??m above the grassy meadow; to get a good picture of the Table and proportions, look at these folks' website, which has more wondrous pics - but, hey, they have the luck to live in Northumberland).
When we had crossed the highest point of Meall na Suiramach (543m), the wind was merely hard, so we were gently driven forward, towards the end of our journey. Looking back and to the east, we saw the peaks of the mainland as an unreal blue silhouette beneath the cloudy sky (picture above). Looking onward, the tip of Skye lay spread out (picture), and we could, for the first time, spot our next destination: Harris and Lewis, the greatest of the outer Hebrides. Little did we realise that the last part was not going to be a giveaway, beginning with a stretch of uneven and squelchy bog to cross to get to where the Trotternish Ridge ends abruptly, at the high point (492m) of Sgurr Mòr. When we got there, rain came down. Navigational directions were pretty precise for this walk, and especially now, this was going to come in handy.
Now, I don't care much for steepness, but there are limits, especially in slippery rainy weather. You can't just walk north from Sgurr Mòr, because it's a sheer drop; instead, we had to go WNW, since there the slope is more gradual. Maybe we didn't go far enough to the west, but in any case I hate it when you look down a slope and you can't see the end of it - for all you know it might be straight down somewhere down there. But, taken slowly, anything goes and after about 20 minutes of steep and wet descend our knees were positively ready for the scrap yard. And then followed such a marvelous stretch of heathery boggy moorland that you'd want to burst into tears at first sight. But wait - did I say heather? That's right! and no matter how high it reaches, you're always well off when you go rompin' and stompin' through the heather with the subtlety of a hippo wading through the sludge of the Nile in dry season - we set off (picture).
The tract of moorland was fine as long as the heather was there. Going was rugged, and slow, but who cares? Slowly but surely we were progressing and the rain had stopped altogether. From the point on from where the picture on the left was taken, the heather started to disappear, making way for amphibious land as shown on the picture on the right. And that was only the nice bit. Soon swampy but sturdy bog was replaced by mossy tracts of watery sponge of a kind we hadn't yet encountered - I mean: no way of making it dry-shod at all, not even with all our amateur bog-medicine-man like pieces of knowledge displayed above. When we finally managed to newt ourselves to the Kilmaluag River, we met with another fine piece of optical illusion. Some rivers/burns, when peered at from some distance, or even but a few yards away, seem entirely crossable at almost any place. It is not until you actually approach the thing and you're standing on its bank that it appears suddenly to have transformed in a roaring water mass threatening to drown you in a mere ten inches of water. Well, maybe not drowning, but when you've almost finished the trek, you feel no need of wetting your butt. Anyway, we got across and had some more fun waiting for us which included rusty barb-wired fences, some of which had a considerable voltage on them, as my girlfriend found out. Again, these fences were of the chickenwire-in-an-aquarium variety, so plenty of entertainment there.
After a km or so we stumbled onto the track which rounded Cnoc Roll on both sides and led straight to Duntulm. However, since this would definitely be the last stretch and since the directions suggested it, we climbed the little hillock (a mere 121m) to get a last good view of the surroundings. As we climbed the rabbit-infested hill, I happened to photograph a couple of rabbit-holes which looked to me like a little Rabbiton village, and which everyone thinks look like huge caves, while they were pretty average in size - there's pictures for you. The climb proved worth the effort, for the views were good, especially across Score Bay to more basalt-cliffy coast, with the Waternish peninsula in the far distance (picture below left). But the absolute apotheosis of it all was laying eyes on the final destination - the end of the trek - Duntulm Hotel, sheltered in the pastoral beauty of Tulm Bay (picture below right).
Whatever your taste, Duntulm rules. While only the end of an island, it feels like the end of the world, especially when you've spent a week walking the island from south to north. And now there just isn't land to walk anymore. I know it has been photographed myriads of times, and almost always from about the same angle, but I think we had some particularly intense colours, as the pic above shows. And here, too, is the blessing of non-preparedness (which you, reading this, will not have anymore) - topping Cnoc Roll and looking down, not on harsh moorland, but on peaceful soft greenery makes the fireworks go off in your head, and dizzy from your mind's own champagne bubbles you let yourself down to the Hotel, passing some of the animals roaming the grounds - horses, goats, some Border Collies, loads of different kinds of sheep and rabbits hopping about; like all Scottish animals we saw, they look pristine, almost glimmering, which I'm sure has a lot to do with the rain (picture).
In the hotel we got a first floor room with splendid view on the ruins of Duntulm Castle (picture with sun and camera flash light in one window). A bit of a rest and a shower later, we were guinnessing in the lobby, which, though not that fancy, has simply astonishing views on the bay (picture - notice the still crispy red ears). Just one small minus here: a busload of Americans. Now, I don't have anything a priori against US Citizens (in fact, I have, but I've made a vow never to act it out or let it interfere with my daily routine), but sometimes they can get so stereotypical you'd want to slap each one on the head. First of all, they feel the utter need to talk, even when there's nothing to say, whether what they say is relevant or not. This is probably because when their lips stop moving their brains start working, but that's true of all homo sapiens, albeit especially so for the homo sapiens eloquentians, aka Uncle Sammies. Imagine a busload of people looking like ex-aerobic teachers and ex-baseball players, each one of them trying to look as self assured as possible, standing relaxed but firm, legs apart, pelvis thrust forward, looking and sounding like they're explaining to each other how to operate this new type of Black&Decker Workmate which comes with Extras if you buy it Now by dialling This Number, all this, pint firmly held in front of the slightly but not well enough trained belly. Right - you got it. This type of American swarms over the Duntulm ruins chatting away and, when upon leaving they notice that some people haven't been spoken to on the premises, suddenly ask you, the silent sunset-watcher, "so, where are you from?" In the ridiculous assumption that this is an attempt to start a conversation you answer "Belgium," to which the response is "cool" - exeunt.
They were pretty calm though and just had a few drinks outside, which, in all honesty, I thought they were entitled to. The USS Baseballcap gone, we could watch the horizon in silence from the ruins, hoping in vain for a clear sunset, but what the heck - it was more beautiful than anything there, and we had done the trek. Skye was ours - at least partly.
the trek done, we spent one more day on Skye before we headed off to our next destination
weather on this day (midnight before the walk) : 850hPa temperature / pressure