Scotland is probably one of my favourite destinations so far. I love the unique Scottish accent (now officially my favourite accent, more so than the English Corkney one), the down-to-earth friendliness of the Scots, the quirky sarcasm and sense of identity in the newspapers, the signs in both English and Gallic, the regenerated beauty of Glasgow and the pristine, rugged landscape of the Highlands. And I still have two more destinations to visit: Aberdeen and Edinburgh!
The train ride along the West Highland Way was awe-inspiring and breathtaking. But I’ve already dedicated an entire post to that. If that was something I felt was missing as the train chugged through the landscape, it was not being actually in it. On a train, you’re just passing through, sheltered in the comfort of your cabin, eating a sandwich while beautiful scenes unfold before your eyes. I actually had a desire to be IN the landscape, walking and hiking in the wilderness.
And I got my wish in the past few days. Although they were just short walks of just 2 hours maximum each, I enjoyed them a lot.
First, the Circular Walk in the town of Mallaig, the terminus of the West Highland Way. I had a couple of hours to kill before the ferry to Skye, so went on this walk. I didn’t have great expectations of it, but wow, was I blown over. The first half took me through the hills, as I walked through a stunningly beautiful valley and climbed a short hill at the end of it. It was lovely, really. The weather was sunny and the skies were a clear blue, and it actually felt a little warm! My heart lifted (the same feeling you get after exams) as I just walked along, savouring every moment, snapping photographs, stopping at strategically-placed benches along the way to eat some sandwiches I brought along. The next part, going downhill along the coastline, afforded me brilliant views of the bay and the town of Mallaig. It was a perfect walk, only 1.5 hours and so well-marked and accessible from the town.I’d thought that Mallaig held little interest for the visitor, and that most of the scenery would be found on the Isle of Skye itself, but really, it was an amazing walk which didn’t disappoint.
Took the ferry across and transferred to a bus, then checked into Skye Backpackers, a hostel in the town of Kyleakin on the southeastern coast of the island. I like this hostel – its cheap (only 10 pounds a night, because they gave me a free upgrade from the caravan dorm to a normal dorm room), clean, the staff are friendly, it has a well-equipped kitchen with free tea, coffee and hot chocolate as well as a cabinet marked ‘free food’ where I found two 150g packets of chips, and I met some nice people. Well, I guess meeting new people comes with every hostel experience, but this time, it was fun to meet fellow Asians from the same part of the world – a Malaysian couple, and a Taiwanese girl, and they invited me to join in their dinner which consisted of heated/microwaved food like pizzas and pies. I was only too happy to oblige (free food! who cares whether its microwaved!) but most of all, glad to have a chance to speak Mandarin again, if only for a brief moment!
The next day I bought a one-day bus pass (6.70 pounds) and set out to explore the island. Took the bus to Portree, then transferred to Staffin. And you know what, this is officially the northernmost point I have been in my entire life. Of course, a lot of ‘northernmost points’ have been chartered since I arrived in Scotland, but after that I’d be going south again to continental Europe, and thus, the small community of Staffin on the Isle of Skye marks the northernmost point I’ve been thus far.
Took the Staffin Slipway walk and it was gorgeous. Although the weather isn’t great, cloud-covered sky, but at least it wasn’t raining. I enjoyed the walk down the coastline and there were signs that marked out fossilised large dinosaur footprints from 170 million years ago if I remember correctly, and iron age fort from a few thousand years ago, but the footprints were under water at high tide and I couldn’t identify which of the large boulders around were remnants of the iron age fort. Still, it felt cool to be ‘roaming’ a land where dinosaurs once roamed and ancient humans once settled. Nice coastal scenery, black beaches, sharp cliffs, huge rocks. Then I climbed up to the top of a hill that was nestled between the cliffs on a well-trodden path and got panaromic views of grassland leading up to the snow-capped mountains behind, craggy hillsides and the coast in front of me. As well as saw lots of lamb and sheep (shit, I can’t really differentiate between the two!).
Then got the bus back to Portree and did the Scorrybreac walk. Pretty coastal scenery and after rounding the bend up one of the hills, short highland trees and fields on the way down.
The bus rides themselves from town to town on the Isle of Skye are particularly scenic as well. Some buses were filled with high school kids as they double as transport for tourists as well as school buses – I don’t know whether the kids look out of the window and think how lucky they are to be seeing this, but I certainly did!
Left Isle of Skye earlier today and walked approximately 2 miles from the youth hostel to the train station at Kyle of Lochalsh on the mainland across the Skye Bridge. Once again, great views. This place is really such a beautiful corner of the world!