Wednesday, 10 August 2011
When fire and water are not opposites.
Four of us set off westwards, having only met a short time before. Mountains danced circles around us in the daylight, and when the evenings came on we searched for dry, even land, for trees, and sheepless places. We hoped to sleep beside water. One night the tiny strip of woods between the road and a loch gave us shelter and firewood and wild mushrooms for breakfast. And water as smooth as a looking glass, until the rain came.
On our little journey we learned a lot about the moods of mountains.
It turns that on Skye you never pass the same scenery twice, and sometimes maybe you don't pass by anything at all... except clouds and fog and mist!
We turned up on the Isle of Skye on a bright blue-skied day. Some mountains wore tiny cloud hats. Looking up at them, I felt filled with a longing to climb up and experience the pleasure of temporarily having a tiny palace of mists and vapours to roam about in.
Though, in the end there was no need. We sat on a hill and cooked fish on a barbecue, enjoying the sun, watching the cows a little beyond us, looking far out across the sea. Though there had not been anything but a hint of cloud at the very edge of the world when we sat down, before the food was cooked it was clear that something had altered.
The temperature for one thing. Even once we had put on jackets and scarves, it was no longer warm enough to enjoy the sweet, summery picnic we had been waiting for all day. (I've been taking my breakfast with Moomins the past few days... so please permit me to say that it was a little like a Groke had passed by).
Soon there were no more hills or mountains, only the damp grass at our feet and a world of grey and shadows. So it happens that we passed some of the most scenic spots on the island, without getting any idea of how they look.
We made up for it in other ways though. Eating a homemade dinner and homebaked cake that had flown with our friend all the way from Poland on the first morning of our trip. Another night, scrambling eggs by the sea, with an audience of many sea gulls, we even spotted a whale passing by. There was also some collecting of firewood from recent clear cuts, and then fitting it into every possible space in the overfull car, so we could sit around a fireside in the rain. In fact, I am not sure there has ever been so much outdoor cooking under such rainy conditions. Perhaps it was the buffalo grass vodka that flew in from Poland too?
Fires and vodka you say? Please don't think we wrecked the place... only the flattened grass from under our tents would have indicated where we set up camp. Promise.
We became spoiled for waterfalls. At the start of the trip we called out excitedly at each new discovery of water crashing down a cliff or mountain. By the end of it these cries were being qualified: "oh, only a small waterfall over there". The place was just too beautiful.
And even on the way to and from the island, there were wonders.
Like the famous Eilean Donan castle, beneath which the king of the otters is said to lie buried in a coat of silver.
And inside of which we found a nest of swallows, with all the chicks sitting in a row. We had unwittingly stumbled in on their feeding time, and scared away their mother, so they were probably a bit peeved when this photo was taken.
One of my favourite parts of the trip was the part of the journey where we wound our way past the mountains called The Five Sisters of Kintail, though I was too awestruck to take any photos.
The road home followed the long sides of Loch Ness with a special stop in at Fort Augustus to sneak onto the grounds of the old monastery there. It's all private residences now, so we really did have sneak, past the wealthy families playing catch on the expansive and empty lawns, past the post restaurant. My husband's school was founded by Benedictine monks that came from Fort Augustus. The monks who taught him ate lunch every day under murals of the founding school. So we snuck.
And then it was all over too soon, and we were home again, minds full and sparkling from days so packed with goodness, and our campfire smoky smell suddenly seeming so brash in the closed up apartment.