The Fairy Glen

Sometimes I wonder if I’m just hearing things. Despite the drumming rain and howling winds of last night, I found myself waking up to beautiful blue skies again today.

I had a couple of letters to send so I hopped in my car and drove West towards Uig, the nearest settlement with a Post Office.

As I rounded the top of the road at Duntulm I pulled over. Despite my address actually being ‘North Duntulm’ I’d never visited the old castle ruins that the area is known for. I wasn’t in a hurry so I walked along the cliff to have a wee snoop around.
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Duntulm Castle stands on an impressive cliff-like piece of basalt that juts out into the sea. It used to be the seat of the clan MacDonald but there’s not much left of it now (I’m not surprised now I know how fierce the weather can be here)
It was interesting enough but I didn’t stay long.

'Inside' Duntulm Castle

‘Inside’ Duntulm Castle. You can see the snow-covered mountains of the mainland in the distance

The road into Uig winds down from a high hill. I noticed some tourists taking pictures from a passing place halfway down and I stopped to join them. It’s a nice enough harbour/bay but I’ve never paid it any special attention. Today it looked quite lovely in the sunshine with the snowy hills behind.

Uig today.  Storms? What storms?

Uig today.
Storms? What storms?

After posting my letters I decided to check out the Fairy Glen (obviously in a dawdling, exploring kind of mood today!)

Yet another Fairy-centric feature on Skye, the Fairy Glen is a little place a couple of minutes South-East of Uig which is famous for it’s unusual landscape. I’ve never been before but it’s firmly on my To Do list.

The clear, green hills turn into snowy hillocks as I come into the glen. The road winds right through it and it’s instantly recognisable by these funny little cone-shaped, turf-stepped mounds. You can tell it’s got the same kind of strange geological makeup as the Quiraing; only in a kind of cutesy-miniature.

Driving into the Fairy Glen

Driving into the Fairy Glen

I’m the only person there and as I get out of the car the only sound I can hear is my sturdy Muck Boots crunching on the ice-hardened snow.
There are no other footprints here and everything is hushed. As I walk back along the road I find myself breathing extra softly and carefully so as not to disturb the peace.

Still calm. The flat-topped peak on the right is the Fairy Castle

Still calm. The flat-topped peak on the right is the Fairy Castle

I find myself at a lochan with a mirror-like surface. There’s an absolute stillness here, barely even a breeze.
I’m pleased that I’ve come here in winter whilst it’s like this; so that I can have it to myself before the tourist hordes descend.

Hello

Hello

From here I meander my way round the ponds and bushes up towards Castle Ewen, also known as the Fairy Castle. The tallest part of the glen, It’s the natural rock formation that stands proudly overlooking the pond in my pictures above.

Ambling up to the Fairy Castle

The Fairy Castle from the West

As I amble my way up I hear something other than the satisfying *crunch* *crunch* of snow under my feet.
It’s such a hushed sound that it’s almost inaudible, a mellow whooshing noise. The best way I can describe it is as an incredible softness.

As I turn to look down I see a heron gliding over the pond. As it nears the bank it follows the incline of the little hillocks, tracing the shape of the landscape. It swoops round, up, over another and another before following the road round the corner and out of the glen. It was mesmerising.

Behind the Fairy Castle

Behind the Fairy Castle. There are stone spirals all over the place here.

When I got up behind the fairy castle I wasn’t on my own.

Tiny bunnies darted this way and that leaving little dotty tracks in the snow. Blackbirds and a robin hopped from rock to rock eyeing me up curiously. A stranger on their patch!
Even with my new company it remained silent yet as I wandered further I recognised the sound of running water.

I followed it and found a little three-tiered waterfall.

Taking my gloves off I cupped my hands under the flow to take a drink. The water on Skye is such a treat, it’s sometimes worth scaling a massive hill for that alone (it must be high-up to limit the risk of contamination by run-off or dead sheep!)
This was amazing; the coldest, clearest water you could imagine. There really is nothing like it. I gulped it like someone who’s drunk far too much wine and woken up in the morning with a mouth like a desert. I should’ve bought my flask with me.

The waterfall

The waterfall

A bird of prey appeared out of the crags and swooped past me. Though it’s gone before I can identify it.

Then the silence is broken by some shouting and a buzz. A flurry of sheep, almost hidden against the snow, come trotting en-masse over the horizon followed by a farmer on a quad and a couple of collies.
I watch him in admiration as he artfully steers the sheep across the hillside (I tried to chase a single cat out of the house the other day and it was almost impossible) until he’s disappeared out of sight. The noise trailed off only to be replaced with a familiar baa-ing.

A marching baa-nd?

A marching baa-nd?

Sliding down a snowy slope on my backside (on purpose, great fun!) I noticed a procession of sheep making their way along the ridge in front of me.
They’re such funny animals… whenever I go walking on Skye I feel eyes on me, if I look around there always seems to be a sheep somewhere, watching. It would be quite creepy if they weren’t so characterful!
These ones hadn’t noticed me yet, they seemed quite preoccupied.

Counting sheep?

Counting sheep?

They were far too busy to bother with me today so I slipped past them and slowly made my way back towards the car. I made sure that the radio didn’t come on when I put the key in the ignition; I couldn’t bear it breaking the peace.

It’s a strange place, the Fairy Glen. I can see exactly why it’s called this. Obviously the solitude and snow was responsible for the exaggeratedly hushed, peaceful atmosphere but there’s definitely a magical feeling here -I can’t quite explain it.

If we get another blue-sky day this week I’m going to come back with a picnic and a book (If it’s still snowy I’ll just wear salopettes and bring a flask of soup). This feels like a wonderful place for contemplation.
With so much wildlife it also feels like one of those places that comes alive when you just sit for a while and look.

In places like this you might just start believing that magic does exist.

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Remembrance Day – A Solitary, Remote Memorial

I haven’t posted in a while because I have a couple of drafts to finish and I’ve been trying to keep the blog in neat chronological order.
However, today was a particularly meaningful day for me so I don’t mind waiving my rule to tell you about it.
It’s quite a long post (that may be a bit serious in parts) but hopefully it’s still a vaguely interesting thing to read…

Today I had planned to drive down to Portree where they hold a Remembrance Sunday service in the main square. Like most people, I always try to do something to acknowledge the day; it’s only a small amount of time to spend on reflection and it’s something that I think is important.
In the end I decided to pay my respects at a place closer to home that I’d heard of but never visited before.

Dawn on the Trotternish Peninsula by David Noten

Dawn on the Trotternish Peninsula by David Noten

I live on the Trotternish Peninsula and behind my house there stands a series of cliff-like rock formations that make up the Trotternish Ridge, a kind of backbone to this part of the island. The tallest part of this is Beinn Edra (a ‘Ben’ means a mountain peak. Like Ben Nevis, Ben Lomond and so on).

Towards the very end of WWII, on the 3rd March 1945, an American B-17 ‘Flying Fortress’ was flying over the Hebrides en-route from America to Italy. As it reached Skye it was caught in a thick fog and flew low to gain visibility. This is when it collided with the craggy rocks near the summit of Beinn Edra. All nine members of the crew were killed, eight of them instantly.

The remains of the plane have been left relatively untouched at the crash site on the slope of the hill facing towards Staffin. This is partly due to the fact that the area is only accessible via the East side over remote, boggy moorland.

I scoured the few blogs and websites that mentioned walking up to the site, saving their photos as location references. There are no paths and without an OS map or GPS co-ordinates I only half expected to find it. Also, as I left at 1pm (which only left me three or four hours of daylight to find it and get back) I didn’t have time to do much searching if I veered off-track.

A resident of Maligar

A resident of Maligar

I parked outside a farm in the hamlet of Maligar and began walking West across the heather.
The ascent was indeed as arduous as the websites had mentioned. Car-sized hillocks of peat were criss-crossed by wet bog. At some points the grass was solid but then with the next step it gave way to liquid and found myself in water past my knees. Heather covered holes which I slipped down often.

I cursed myself for not fuelling-up properly before I set out; I’d only had a couple of cups of tea and I felt noticeably weaker for it. A silly mistake, especially when I didn’t have time to take a break and catch my breath.
But as I stumbled over the bogs I thought of the crofters back in 1945 who had raced up the moor to try to help the crew of the B-17. Then I thought of the other people of WWII who were fighting on foot across wet ground that may have not been dissimilar to this.
With that, the attempt to get to the Beinn Edra crash site gained a little bit of meaning in itself; the physical effort I put in became a kind of small personal thank you.

Rough moorland

Rough moorland

Eventually I neared the craggy top of the hill and I started seeing the formations that matched those in the pictures saved on my phone. I scanned the hill but only saw rocks.
Still, this was definitely the right place, I just needed to get higher. I forgot about my tiredness and shortness of breath as I concentrated on getting to the site.
Suddenly, right in front of me there was (something which I now know to be) an engine supercharger; a corroded but generally intact part of plane machinery.

The first piece of wreckage, an engine supercharger (I think)

The first piece of wreckage, an engine supercharger, underneath the crags where the plane hit

I crouched down and put out my hand to touch it. As my fingers touched the cold metal I burst into tears.
I don’t know why, it’s only a lump of scrap, after all. Maybe it had something to do with the way it had been misshapen by obvious force. Maybe it was its unnaturalness on the hillside. But it was almost instinctive and I know for certain that I wont have been the only visitor to have responded in this way.

From there I began to see the other fragments. Everywhere.
Huge bits and tiny pieces. Initially camouflaged amidst the rocks they now appeared in all shapes and sizes. I now understand the officials you see on the news wandering aimlessly through crash sites; here is no centre to pick through, the remains are literally scattered everywhere.
With this, a kind of sicky feeling dawns on you as you realise the level of violence an impact must have to do this. The only mercy here is that such a massive impact would have meant death was swift.

Scattered wreckage

Scattered wreckage

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Most of us have only, thankfully, experienced crash sites on tv. Reporters and eye-witnesses seem to always describe the wreckage as ‘crumpled’ or ‘twisted’. Today I learnt that this is entirely accurate.
The remnants are unsettling, I think, because their odd shapes are a visual memento of savage force overpowering a familiarly strong material. Their crushed and bent bodies reminded me of those soft metallic pie/tart cases which you can scrunch in your fist when you’re finished with them.

Crumpled wreckage

Crumpled wreckage

All in all, it was a moving place to visit, moreso than I had anticipated. Somehow the age of the incident had not softened the power of the crash site. Perhaps it’s because there was so much of the wreckage still there. Perhaps it was something to do seeing it on Remembrance Day…

There’s also a memorial plaque up there, simple but smart. I’m glad that there is something other than twisted metal as a reminder of the aircraft and its crew. I put my paper poppy through a hole on the post to show that someone had been up to pay their respects.

The memorial plaque

The memorial plaque

Pieces of other poppies alongside the weathering metal

Pieces of other Remembrance poppies alongside the weathering metal

I noticed a few other poppy remnants as I climbed up to an engine just under the rock face.
As I got closer I saw that someone had attached a small wooden cross to it. It was greying with age and whatever had been tied to the middle had weathered away leaving only string. I wondered who had left it and what it had said.
Reaching for my notepad I wrote out a few appropriate lines of one of the few Remembrance poems I know, one by Dylan Thomas called ‘Death Shall Have No Dominion’, and tucked it in behind the cross. Being on paper it would quickly disintegrate but for the moment it was my little tribute.

The engine with the cross

The engine with the cross

With the sun dipping behind the hills it was time to turn back; I couldn’t risk trying to cross the boggy moor in the dark.
Just before I left I took some pictures of the wreckage against the backdrop of the rosy, sun-tinted landscape. There was something strange, wrong almost, about the juxtaposition of something so sad and tragic against something so pretty. It’s a cruel outcome where the crew never even saw it, they only experienced its savagery.
But still, there’s a peace up here that I hope does the airmen justice. The entire crash site is a memorial that today had a tranquility which belied it’s tragic history. It was a special, heartbreaking place to visit and the men who lost their lives there will certainly be remembered in my mind for many years to come.

A panorama over the crash site looking out over Staffin towards the mainland

A panorama over the crash site looking out over Staffin towards the mainland

A beautiful view with tragic memories

A beautiful view with tragic memories

In Memory Of:

Paul M. Overfield (pilot)

Leroy E. Cagle (co-pilot)

Charles K. Jeanblanc (navigator)

Arthur W. Kopp (radio operator)

Harold D. Blue (engineer)

John H. Vaughan (gunner)

Harold A. Fahselt (gunner)

George S. Aldrich (gunner)

Carter D. Wilkinson (gunner)

The upper part of the debris field

The upper part of the debris field

To anyone who would like to know more about the accident and the people who tried to help please take a look at this archive page from Remembering Scotland At War:
(Beinn Edra accounts start about halfway down the page with the first article titled: ‘Tubaist Bheinn Eadra/This Terrible Accident Happened’)
http://www.rememberingscotlandatwar.org.uk/Accessible/Exhibition/209/War-comes-to-the-crofters-3-Buaidh-a-chogaidh-air-na-croitearan-3-

Red moor

Red moor

Just a final note: As I walked back down to the car I crossed a section of the moor covered with rusty-looking grass. Under the deep pink of the sky the whole landscape looked a deep red colour; a Remembrance poppy field red. As I stopped to find my camera a flock of tiny songbirds swooped over me and followed the curve of the slope behind towards the crash site. A fitting, fleeting memorial I thought to the men who lived and died in the skies.

Death Shall Have No Dominion -Dylan Thomas

Death Shall Have No Dominion -Dylan Thomas

A nomad in Portree

It’s late when I first get to Portree and I just manage to get to the Information Office before they close. Despite it being October it’s still busy in town and there’s no room at most inns. I roll into the main hostel on the square with the aim to sort out better accommodation in the morning.
As I open the door to the bright yellow townhouse I’m met by a familiar smile and, “Katie!”
“Pat!” I reply as I grin back at the man who ran the Glenbrittle climbing lodge I stayed at last year. Pat was a wealth of information and he guided me to all the best places on the island. It was partly down to his recommendations that I fell in love with Skye and decided to move here.

Bumping into pretty much my only friend here within 10 minutes of getting out of the car is pretty indicative of Skye life. It’s not a small island but everyone seems interconnected in some way here. Saying “it’s a small world” doesn’t quite cover it.

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The colourful cottages of Portree Harbour

Let’s have adventures!

A couple of days ago I left my family, friends and friendly village to travel North and try a simpler life on the Isle of Skye.
I don’t know how long I’ll be here, it may be for days or it may be for years, but I don’t want my loved ones to feel too far away which is why I’ve decided to record my journey.

Skye is full of dreamers from all over the world who have settled here for a better life. Still, everyone I meet has asked why I decided to come to this particular place.
I could give a hundred answers, starting with my first visit to Skye last September, the beauty of the landscape, the wildness of the weather, the clarity of the air, etc etc.

But if I were to put it in one simple sentence it would be this: life is too short to live somewhere that doesn’t make your heart beat a little faster. I know that sounds saccharine but it’s true; we’re not here for long and we need to try to experience beautiful things at every chance we can.

I’m very lucky to have a job where I work from home, I’m not tied to a property and I’m not in a serious relationship. This affords me the freedom have an adventure and the opportunity to follow a (maybe) crazy idea wherever it takes me. In this case it took me back to Skye…

Skye Fairy Pools at sunset (no colour editing!)

The Skye Fairy Pools at sunset, September 2013 (taken on my phone with no colour editing!)