Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Isle of Skye - and of contrasts

The Isle of Skye is a place of amazing contrasts. Sunny one minute, raining and blowing a gale the next. Cloudy and grey and then the most beautiful sunshine sparkling on the water and hills. Nothing can more further from the truth, other by absorbing these contrasts through a leisurely promenade through the moors, fens and fells.

The walking tracks throughout Scotland are somewhat different to those found in England and Wales. The Scottish Natural Heritage has wisely opted to implement set walking trails to preserve the environment. However, serious wayfarers appear not to be deterred by this trend, and continue their pursuits into the highland wilderness. Albeit, I decided to test one of these new walking trails, by setting forth upon an adventure from the hamlet of Broadford.

The morning was teased by short appearances of sunshine amongst the encroaching grey and spasmodic drizzle. Driving the seven miles into Broadford I was provided with a preview of the day to come - trees bowing in supplication to a howling wind! By the time I arrived at the Broadford the wind appeared to have abated, somewhat.

So, donning my jacket, backpack, map, hat and camera I set a course across the Broadford Bridge and traversed down to the banks of the Broadford River. The rivers and streams of Scotland carry water which not only tinkles, but is crystal clear. If it were not for the rippling, and at times, boiling surface, one could be excused for assuming the river bed was devoid of water!

Referring to my map, I set off for a quarter mile trek along the river bank before exchanging the ever-so-soft walking surface for bitumen. Listening the river's concert, accompanied by the sweet scent of dampened daffodils and ground cover; this reverie was interrupted by a sudden onslaught of wind and rain.

The wind struck with a force, literally taking my breath away; whilst the accompanying rain pricked like needles. I assumed the gust would continue for most of the way to the junction of the B8083, where I was tread the artificial road surface for a mile. I assumed incorrectly of course: the wind and rain continued to cajole me on the road until I reached the crest, where I would find the gate leading onto the walking trail.
Whew! Wind and rain came to an end.

No obscure or camouflaged stiles here, the gateway opening onto the walking trial is unmistakable - branded with an 'Highland Access Project of Scotland' logo!
The trail is very comfortable to walk on, as it consists of fine compressed aggregate and following the natural contour of the land.

My promenade took me most of the day and 16 kms through some
harsh and spectacular country. The route occasionally rewards the wayfarer with evidence of past inhabitants, such as stone hut circles. One may shrug off these jewels with a mere glance; but alone and with consideration as to the conservation - the stone hut circles come to life. Who were the inhabitants; why would any people live in this barren landscape?

Ponder I may well do; however, after 3000 years and no other
person can provide a suitable answer - I am swayed by the beckoning highlands! I continue on my way amazed by the reeking bogs, the subtleties of the peat fens and the stark beauty of the gorse and heather. Indeed, the Scottish highland tapestry is clarified by the silver bunting which threads in soft caresses.

The surface of these rivers, streams and lochs change from silver to a turquoise or a bleak, gun-barrel blue. Such is the nature of the Scottish moors.

The trail continues to decline, whereby the moorish wind once again trumpets its presence in an ever increasing crescendo. The ancient gods whisper and bellow, and herald the appearance of clouds to block out the sunlight. More rain - torrential in force, jeering in its sting and proffering an ancient riddle: "Tell us the difference between a walk in the heather and a kiss in the dark?" Well, if you can work that one out - let me know!
Albeit, I push onwards through the wind and rain in a retort to these Gog Magog's' jibes. However, when I reach the gully the trail turns suddenly to the right and leads towards a modest hillock.

I stop - open mouthed, and just stare at the hillock and in
particular - its summit. A standing stone; no, a marker stone signifying a cairn... a chambered cairn. Scurrying toward the rise, (undeterred by the windthrust jibes,) and racing along a well worn path towards the cairns' top; my haste is rewarded by evidence of a stone circle's remains. No matter how many cairns, standing stones, stone circles and Brochs I may find - I can never lose that wonderment of discovery. One day, dear reader, I hope you may experience a similar wonderment - through discovery, Pagan or another persuasion.

The rain and wind cease altogether; so, I ponder awhile at this ancient tomb. Such a singular and splendorous view is laid out before me, atop together with this sentry in stone. In the far distance can be seen the iridescent red and yellow livery of fellow walkers, paying homage to this most ancient land.

My visit to the cairn is ended as I resume my travel along the
gravel trail. I ford small streams and cross wider torrents (aided by wooden bridges), and stroll through the sod of the gorse covered peat fens. The sky has remained overcast, and once more.... rain! Although, this precipitation is fortunately in the form of a gentle drizzle, which caresses the heather to release its distinct bouquet. As the trail turns a bend I cross a threshold onto a moor; and much to my amazement, the distant peaks are crowned by the most splendid of rainbows!

My travels are slowly coming to an end as I come across the
remains of an old chapel and cemetery - Cill Chriosd. The original chapel was build during the 13 century, destroyed and rebuilt during the 14th century. The existing ruins and cemetery are now protected under the National Trust of Scotland.

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