It’s good to be home…

 

rehab

Rehabbing and retoxing in luxury at Kinloch Lodge back on the Isle of Skye -from one extreme to another! (And check out those mega roots!)

Aaaaand… she’s back!

As a couple of eagle-eyed readers have noticed, I’ve spent the last year living off-grid in the wilds of Scotland as part of the Channel 4 Eden programme (see more here).
It was a hell of a ride… There were soaring highs, unbearable lows and everything in-between. I’ve learnt a lot: good, bad, muddy…

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Who’s that funny face there in the middle?! 

It’s been a crazy, surreal 12 months away and I’m now spending the next few weeks gently readjusting back to ‘normal’ life. After such a long period of time away from family, friends, technology and the media the ‘outside world’ feels pretty overwhelming!
Because of that, I’m trying to limit screen time whilst I ease back into things. I can’t say much about the programme until it’s all finished but I’ll write a bit about my real-world rehab/readjustment on here once I’m a bit more settled.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a handful of mini-insights into what it’s been like over the last week…

  • My reaction on seeing a child for the first time in a year: “That person over there is really small!”
  • …first horse: “That thing is huuuuge! Have they always been that big?!”
  • First time seeing Skye Bridge again: It was overwhelming to see home again. Got misty eyes for my Misty Isle!

Oh, and a couple more things….

1. Always take things with a wee crunch of sea salt.

2. To that question that everyone keeps asking… Yes, I did bring home a special souvenir from Eden. He seems to be fitting into Skye life rather well 😉

lord

Hmm…

 

A photo journey from Fort William to Skye…. Inverlochy Castle, the Commando Memorial & some characterful wildlife

Warning: this is quite a long post as I didn’t want to leave too much out. My apologies if it’s a bit tedious!
(Written on Monday, the day after my ski trip to Nevis)

‘Time you enjoy wasting is not time wasted’

If you asked me what my perfect day here might be like, I might say a day something like today. A day of ambling, exploring, stopping and pausing. And maybe some cake.

I’ve just got home from a walk around the bay. It’s a still evening and the snow is reflecting the light of the full moon so that everything is illuminated in black and white. No need for a torch.

Moon face

I waded out to one of the big rocks and sat there for a while with my hipflask and music until my bum hurt from the cold. I got up and wandered along the road to warm up. It was so peaceful, if I didn’t have to be up early tomorrow to start back at the gallery I could’ve walked all night.

Sitting on the rock in the bay…

So that’s how my day is ending, I’m getting this the wrong way round… I’ll begin again…

I stayed at the SYHA Glen Nevis hostel for a second night last night. There was no way I was going to risk getting caught in a blizzard in the dark again. Now I’ve tried it, four-wheel ice skating isn’t something I particularly enjoy.

Inverlochy Castle hotel

A quick wash and dress and I was away. No wellies and scruffs this morning though, I had to pop into Inverlochy Castle Hotel to sort out a reservation.

I visited the restaurant at Inverlochy on my Scottish tour in 2013. Of all the Michelin starred places I ate at, I felt there was something extra special at this place. Apparently Queen Victoria said it was the most romantic place she’s ever visited. I can certainly see why she liked it, it is old-fashioned but also warm and charming.

Crackling fires and cosy cushions

Crackling fires and cosy cushions

Anyway, spending a night there has been on my bucket list ever since and last year my parents kindly gave me a voucher to stay for more than just one meal.

I popped in to book my weekend but I couldn’t resist ordering a cup of tea and a slice of Dundee cake whilst I was there. If only every morning could begin like this!

You know you’re somewhere special when your cake is served with three other baked goodies on the side!

It wasn’t easy to leave the crackling fire and impossibly comfy sofas but however much I tried I couldn’t justify staying all day. Not sure I could afford it much either…

Back on the road I had to put my sunglasses on, perfect white snow dazzled against the blue sky; a perfect day.

The commando memorial sign with Ben nevis in the background

Just outside of Fort William is the Commando Memorial. It’s a place I’ve passed many times but never stopped at.

The memorial sculpture by Scott Sutherland with ben nevis behind

As I pulled into the car park it struck me how beautiful the monument looked as it was silhouetted in the sun against the snow. It reminded me of the bomber crash site that I wrote about on Remembrance Day; that weird juxtaposition of sadness and prettiness all at once.

A tribute to the commandos of WWII

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Brushing the snow off the wreaths at the foot of the statue I thought how striking the red of the poppies looks against the purity of the snow. Again, a kind of sorrowful loveliness.

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There’s a little memorial garden nearby to remember those who have fallen in more recent conflicts. The remembrance plaques are low to the ground so most are covered or partly covered by snow. Little gaps revealed engraved messages or peeks of photos; smiling young men in stiff uniforms.

A plaque in the memorial garden

A number of the plaques had been adorned with rubber wristbands emblazoned with charity names like Help For Heroes or Walking With The Wounded. Wristbands similar to the ones I’ve been given by my friends in the army.

Wristbands around a cross in the memorial garden

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I suddenly found it quite overwhelming. I don’t think it was from worry about my friends; I’m not sure what it was. Maybe it’s because it felt like such a ‘relevant’ form of mourning, in which I mean it’s very current, somehow more accessible than a carved stone that could have been made yesterday or thirty years ago.
Despite the peace I couldn’t linger for too long.

The Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge

The Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge

*Just a note to any of my military friends who may be reading this (or their friends/family): If you have a connection to the memorial and want me to place a wreath, wristband, note or whatever here just let me know. It’s a meaningful place but I know it’s far away for most people. I don’t pass here often but I’m more than willing to place something for you.

The shores of Loch Cluanie

Back on the road I was soon distracted from my melancholy by the scenery. It was a landscape that doesn’t seem to suit the UK and round each corner it was slightly different. On one side it looked like the Swiss Alps, on the other it looked like Lapland as imagined in Elf.

A simplified snowscape

A simplified snowscape

Loch Cluanie

At the Cluanie Inn I slowed down to see if my old deer pas were about. Sure enough there they were, hanging out around the red telephone box and bins like a gang of misplaced teenagers.

I stopped and said hello, took some photos and let them sniff me. When a clang announced the sound of a back kitchen door opening they turned and trotted over to the back of the Inn.

Hanging around at the Cluanie Inn

That answered my question about whether they were tame because they’ve been fed scraps. I suppose it’s better than if they had lost their natural fear because they’re starving.
A brief conversation with one of the ladies at the Inn revealed that they even have names! The hinds are Florence, Flossie, Clicky and little Muddy. The young male doesn’t have a name and isn’t fed because it can cause aggression. But he’s got a lovely harem so I don’t think he’s doing too badly!

A handsome young man

Leaving Cluanie I passed through Glen Shiel. I’ve never stopped there but the brown crossed-sword signs indicate that it will be an interesting place to explore in future.

As I came to the sea lochs around Lochalsh I noticed how still the waters were. The mirrored surface reflected the hills and clouds so clearly that they looked like nature’s more detailed answer to a Rorschach test.
I parked up outside Kintail Lodge (closed for winter) and picked my way along the rocky shore. The water was so still that I could see every fragment of shell and frond of seaweed under the water. The only ripples on the surface were made by me and my boots.

The calm waters of Loch Duich

Old modules

There was a fishing boat nearby with it’s name hand-painted in fading reds and oranges like the letters on an old fairground carousel. I couldn’t get a nice picture with my phone but there was something particularly charming about this mouldy old vessel, quietly retired on this peaceful shore.

An old fishing boat

Lovely old paintwork

I skated my way along a slippery jetty and sat down on my jacket at the end. The water beneath my feet was a metre or two deep now but I could still see right down to the grains of silt on the bottom. It might be the clearest water I’ve ever seen, it almost seemed easier to look through than air.

Sitting on the dock of the bay… Popping bubbles!

I sat and watched the little grey trout darting between rocks at my feet. As I did so I fiddled with the bladder wrack seaweed I sat next to and I found that I could pop the little air pockets in the ‘leaves’ …like a natural kind of stress-busting bubble wrap. Not that there was any stress to be found in a place as calm and serene as this.
An hour or maybe two passed before I realised it was probably time to be on my way.

A place to while away the hours

I didn’t get far down the road before I noticed the horns of a large feral goat waggling around in some heather down next to the shore.
I’m not sure what it is about these creatures but I find them endlessly fascinating; it must be something about their strange, wild character.

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I turned off the main road and crept up a nearby dirt track still in the car. Because the goats tend to feed next to the roadside they seem to be much less afraid of people in cars than of humans on foot.

More appeared as I inched closer. This was the biggest group I’ve seen so far and they were much less nervy than the others I’ve come across. I got out and softly made my way towards them.

It looks calm and peaceful but there’s a great clattering of horns as they push each other out of the way to feed

If you can get close enough to them the smell of feral goats is amazing. It probably sounds incredibly weird to say it but they’ve got this satisfyingly warm, livestock-y smell (a bit like healthy cattle) but it’s so… goaty.
I suppose the only way I can describe it is to say it’s like the most expensive, well-aged French goats cheese you’ve ever tried. Those ones rolled in grey ash and licked by monks who live in caves, you know the kind. I know it sounds horrendous but somehow it’s really nice too. Just trust me on this one!

Wild looking beasties

As I got closer I noticed something small and dark nearby, on the other side of the road.
A cat maybe?

Something small and dark in the distance

No, not a cat, a tiny kid goat!
Cute can’t even describe this tiny thing. It’s was as adorable as a lamb but smaller and with more character.

The kid rejoins it’s mother on the brow of the ridge above the road

I watched them until I was joined by an ex-forestry ranger walking his dog. We discussed the pros and cons of goats, beachcombing, otters and forest fires before parting ways.

The sky was stunning as I neared Skye Bridge. Despite the fact that there are a million photos of Eilean Donan Castle out there I couldn’t resist getting one quick snap whilst it was looking so lovely (and a million isn’t an exaggeration by any means).

Eilean Donan Castle, the most photographed castle in Scotland after Edinburgh (I think it’s earned it though)

Eilean Donan Castle, the most photographed castle in Scotland after Edinburgh (I think it’s earned it though)

I always feel a barely-perceptible swelling of happiness inside my chest when I cross the bridge; a feeling of coming home. I get it even when it’s dull and drizzly so crossing on an evening like this feels extra special.

Skye Bridge and the lighthouse on Eilean Bàn

I had a couple of things to do before heading home but both had been cancelled. With the extra time to spare I treated myself to some mussels and chips in the pub before meandering home through the twilight.

The sun setting as I drive North

My wandering mood hadn’t gone by the time I reached home. I threw on some more warm clothes and grabbed a torch then set out for the shore.
Which brings us back to the start of the story 🙂

Up, Up and Away!

The week before I planned to leave for Skye was probably the busiest I’ve had all year. A multitude of family birthdays, work meetings and social events meant that some days were literally planned down to the hour. Getting everything done and everyone seen before I left meant that packing was pushed to the wayside until the day before I was due to go.
Luckily, not knowing where I’d be or what I needed meant that it didn’t take long to pack up the car. Anything I’d forgotten could be sent on or bought later.

I planned two days for driving as I can barely drive for an hour without getting sleepy:
Leg 1: Chiddingfold to New Lanark, 7 /12 hours.
Leg 2: New Lanark to Skye via Fort William, 5 1/2 hours.

There’s something quite satisfying about driving straight North, an easy route, no map, but really there’s nothing exciting to say about a 7 hour journey up the M6…
Apart from one moment when I passed through the Lake District and the sun began to set. Some characteristically moody song by London Grammar came on the radio as the pelting rain began to let up. A deep amber light washed across the landscape and a rainbow appeared above the carriageway. It was a bit silly but it was a beautiful moment. It hadn’t hit me until then that I was embarking on quite a big adventure.

It was dark by the time I got to my overnight stop, the working village of New Lanark. It’s an incredible place, an old cotton mill settlement that’s now a UNESCO Heritage Site.
I was booked into the New Lanark youth hostel, one of many fantastic places run by the SYHA. When I travelled across Scotland last September I chose to stay in hostels so that I could afford to splash out on Michelin meals and special experiences. I may have paid pennies for a bed but many of these hostels were simply amazing buildings to stay in; an old schoolhouse, a hunting lodge and a climbers cabin are just a few of the properties they run. New Lanark is definitely up there with their most interesting:

New Lanark Youth Hostel (photo courtesy of SYHA)

New Lanark Youth Hostel (photo courtesy of SYHA website)

 

I was up early the next day to travel through the Trossachs to Fort William. Yesterday’s drive was dull and grey but this one took me through dramatic scenery, along lochs and through glens. I had to work hard to concentrate on the road when my eyes wanted to follow the sweeping slopes of the hills up into the clouds. Driving through Glencoe and then the Great Glen is surely the most wonderful way to be introduced to the Highlands and Islands.

 

Glencoe (photo courtesy of Glencoe Mountain Rescue website)

Glencoe (photo courtesy of Glencoe Mountain Rescue website)

 
After a couple of hours I’m driving over the bridge to Skye from the Kyle of Lochalsh. The island welcomes me with characteristic grey drizzle, a moody hello. It takes an hour to drive to the main town of Portree and I scope out every business and road sign in case it comes in handy later. The signposts and caravans gradually give way to greenery and rocky coastlines as I push further North until I arrive at the harbour. So, this is home.