The Escape

Earlier this year I wrote a blog post about a solo Girl Friday/Castaway adventure that I’ve been thinking about for years.

On 31st March I waved goodbye to Skye and set sail for the Outer Hebrides.
The next day I was on a RIB speeding towards the silhouette of three dramatic uninhabited islands.

The next six weeks gave me some of the most extraordinary moments of my life.

Not everything went as planned, there were deep lows as well as soaring highs, but I found something in the disconnection from human contact that I’ve never experienced before… an almost-spiritual clarity and peace.

I’ve got so much to talk about in relation to my time there… from the wildlife I saw and the environmental observations I made to the dwelling I built and what it feels like to be removed from modern life.
I’ll follow up with further posts (please leave any questions below)

I owe thanks to Tom Nicolson for the use of his islands and Dòl Eoin MacKinnon for putting together this brilliant video.
Most of all I’m thankful to Stornoway RNLI and the staff at Stornoway Hospital for looking after me when I suffered from concussion part-way through the trip. I hope that I can help to repay a tiny fraction of your kindnesses but I’ll still be forever indebted to you for your help (and for putting up with me being stinky!)

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Difficult decisions in Duntulm (and an amazing little cafe)

A couple of minutes drive from the first house I viewed in Duntulm I stumbled upon an intriguing little cafe. Wood cladded and grass roofed, it was strikingly modern and it sat as a little baby building next to a larger one which appeared to be a private home.
I swung in for a cup of tea and to calm down after catching a glimpse of what may have been my new life (eek!)

What I hadn’t expected to find was a warm little cafe with a hissing coffee machine, shelves stacked with artists materials and a counter piled high with baked goodies. Two smiling ladies stood behind the plates of cakes and as I sat down we got chatting.
One of the ladies, Indi, built the structures with her partner Bec, who wasn’t there but whose art hung on the walls (beautiful blue, misty, abstract paintings, I had to remind myself that I couldn’t afford any now but I made a mental shopping list for later). I later learned from another customer that this was a Grand Designs build. Not surprising when you see how stylish and sensitively done the buildings are.

The view over An Aird and Kilmaluag Bay from the Single Track cafe. Indi and Bec's Grand Designs house is the building to the left and the top white speck next to it in the distance is Aird House.

The view over Kilmaluag Bay from inside the Single Track cafe.

Here I experienced a little example of how much of a small world Skye can be…

There were a handful of customers that came into this tiny little cafe whilst I was there (note that this is in the remote North of the island, not busy Portree town). The first two were a couple who I’d sat next to the previous evening at the Edinbane Inn, about 45 mins Southwest. They joined in the chat and told us about their home-laid duck eggs. Then came a chap called Matt, I recognised him as one of the St Kilda to Skye rowers whose charity ball I was going to the next night. He also happened to be the co-founder of Skye Adventure, a fellow Surfers Against Sewage supporter who I’d been emailing for weeks about a beach clean but whom I’d not met yet. Lastly, as I asked Indi about her partner’s artwork I found that Bec had painted with my talented Skyeworks colleague, Marion.

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Inside the Single Track cafe with tea by Eteaket, Moleskine stationary and artworks by co-owner, Rebecca Waterstone

Everyone here seems to know everyone else. I was chatting to Liza, my boss at the gallery about it and she told me a story about her mother who is relatively new to the island. She said that her mother used to find it frustrating that she couldn’t pop to the shops without spending half an hour in conversation but she then came to realise that, unlike in other places, here you are somebody to people and not just another person on the street. It really resonated with me and I think that might be part of what makes this a special place to live. Of course there are people who keep themselves to themselves but the people who I have met so far are overwhelmingly friendly.

Another exceptionally warm and kind person is Lorraine, the other lady working at the Single Track cafe yesterday. Not only does she make the most delicious brownies (delivered by bus!) but she also happened to have a house available to rent in the area and it was so close that she could point it out through the cafe window.
Lorraine kindly lent me the keys and I pootled off to have a look at her property, the charmingly-named Willie Macleods house. It’s a nicely-sized crofters cottage and the first thing that hit me was the colour, that same Farrow & Ball green that most of our village doors seem to be painted in in Chiddingfold -I felt quite at home! The house was as lovely as it’s owner with nice decor and everything I might need.

I returned the keys to the cafe and left with my mind in a muddle. Not even a muddle, a big buzzy scribble. How on earth do I choose between the two completely different North End cottages? Lorraine and Indi had certainly sold the location to me, through their friendliness as much as their explanations of what the area has to offer. I had another viewing to do the next day. Hopefully this one will make up my mind but it’s going to have a hard job catching my heart as strongly as this place.

Duntulm Castle, Northern Skye by Heike Hameister

Duntulm Castle, Northern Skye by Heike Hameister

The Hunt for a Home…

Settled in a lovely B&B (thanks to Nat & Emma) it’s now time to start looking for a more permanent place to stay. With peace, quiet and proper wifi I can take my time and look for somewhere really special. I’ll be working from home for most of the week so it’s important to me to find somewhere just right, however long it takes.

I have three requirements for my new home:
1. It must have a real fire (for those long winter nights).
2. It must be relatively secluded.
3. It must have a view over water.

Okay, the third one might seem pretty hopeful but on Skye a view over the sea or a loch is the norm, not an expensive luxury.

I had a bundle of offers to work through after putting an ad out in the West Highland Free Press. One that stuck out most was one offered by a lady called Patsy who was so friendly on the phone that I wanted to live in her house just to have her as my neighbour!
Her house in the remote North End area house ticked all my boxes so today I agreed to drive over for a viewing.

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The drive into Duntulm, the Northernmost point on Skye

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Coming into Duntulm

The drive up the left hand side of Skye along the Trotternish Peninsula was spectacular. It’s the kind of scenery that you couldn’t even imagine exists in the UK. With landslipped cliffs on one side and a vast expanse of ocean on the other it was almost impossible to keep my eyes on the wiggly, winding tarmac.

As I neared the far North the coastal side of the landscape flattened and the trees started to peter out (an indicator of very high winds!) Next came the inevitable sheep, dotted on precipitous rock faces, sitting hidden in bushes and trotting down the middle of the road. Very Skye.

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An Aird/Duntulm

Patsy met me at the house and she was even more lovely in person than I’d imagined (she even put out a tea set for me to have a cuppa whilst I looked around!).
The house was old fashioned but had lots of little rooms where I could close the doors and get cosy. There’s no phone or internet. The carpets were thick and fuzzy, the main one being a dark brown shaggy number. But, you know what, that didn’t matter. There was something about this place, a charm.
I have no doubt that a lot of that charm was to do with the view from almost every window. It may often be grey and drizzly on Skye but when the sun comes out can you imagine waking up to this every day….

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A sea view

When I left I was buzzing, literally shaking. At some point during the viewing it had hit me. I’ve left everything at home and come up to a wild, remote place that’s completely new. But it wasn’t, isn’t scary. It’s adrenaline and excitement and… adventure.
With being busy with accommodation and gallery work in Portree I hadn’t had a chance to feel the enormity of my move. So it arrived, and it’s still kind of here this evening. I’m just so EXCITED!

This wasn’t the end of my house viewings today but this’ll do for now. Just down the road from Patsy’s house I stumbled upon the Single Track cafe and gallery and a couple of wonderful women, Lorraine and Indi. But that’s a story for tomorrow….

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

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.

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!)