stories of life & wanderlust

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Scotland: Skye I - The Quiraing


If there’s only thing I’m going to remember from our travel to Scotland, it’s the disaster experience we had at the Isle of Skye. Located just a stone’s throw from the Scottish Mainland, Skye is the biggest island of the Inner Hebrides and it is everything that you would imagine Scotland to be: Luscious green hills, mist creeping up the valleys, rain surprising you when you least expect it and the feeling that you’re the only person left in the world – even though Skye is one of Scotland’s biggest tourist attraction. 

We arrived by ferry from the Isle of Harris and then took the bus south. When it comes to traveling, I’m plan-zilla. I like to know exactly what to do, where to do it and how to get there and therefore I usually have detailed itineries. Aside from pre-booking a hostel, I didn’t do a whole lot of planning for Skye, though, which turned out to be our down-fall inconvenient.  

Our first mistake was to arrive on a weekend without a car or some other form of individual transportation. For the most part, public transportation in Scotland is pretty good, but it gets tricky when you’re on the islands on the weekend. There are some buses on Saturday, but almost none on Sundays, so keep this in mind when you’re planning a trip to Scotland. However, we had checked the time-tables and were convinced that we had plenty of time to do some exploring. Yeah, right.


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We wanted to go hiking in the Quiraing, an area in the North of Skye with famous mythical-looking rock formations and asked the bus drivers where the best place to get off the bus would be. He told us he would let us off at the junction of the street leading to the Quiraing and from there it would by another half-mile by foot. Sure, we thought, we can do that.

What we didn’t know back then was that half-mile seems to mean everything from 200m to 10km and we eagerly walked up the street… and quickly realized that there was no way in the world that it would only be half a mile. Instead we saw nothing but a street leading up into the mountains. We should have stopped right then and there, but I was feeling optimistic and told my BF to keep on walking. 


 photo 06_zps524d42c9.jpgSomewhere behind the hill in the middle of the picture is the beginning of the street. Don’t tell me this is half a mile.   

I got a bit annoyed, but all in all it was okay. The sun was still shining, we still had energy and were full of anticipation for what was to come.

After what felt like forever, we made it to the parking lot that is the starting point for hikes in the Quinraig. Looking back now, we should have called it quits right then and there and just enjoyed the view, but we spotted a sign indicating that there was a path leading back to the valley and thought that this way we would surely manage to catch our bus.

I love hiking and – I’m not going to lie – I was sort of excited when I saw the path that was barely two-foot wide. My bf didn’t think it was such a good idea, considering we were carrying heavy backpacks, were sort of short on time and that falling down the hill was a realistic possibility. I urged him on, anyway, because… well, because.
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The first part of the hike was really fun. We were greeted by spectacular views, our timing was good and the hike went smoothly. I could concentrate on enjoying the landscape, the fresh air and the utter joy that sometimes comes up when you have been walking for a long time. 



The pictures above already hint at it, but before we knew we were walking in the rain. Not that it came very surprising, after all the weather in Scotland can change in 5 seconds. I was too stuborn to turn around, though, and worried we would miss our bus if we did. So I urged my bf to keep on going. Big mistake. 
 
The path turned into a big muddy mess and at some point I feared I would fall down the mountain on my next step. I was already starting to doubt our decision when we encountered a more pressing problem: The fact that there suddenly was no path anymore. We were standing in front of a fence going up the mountain and the only way was up the slope. Yeah, right, climbing up a mountain in the rain while wearing heavy backpacks seems to be a really good idea for someone who can’t hike five miles without starting to complain. So we decided to go back.


On our way back we met a Scottish couple that was also hiking and asked them if they knew what was going with that path. Being far more experienced than we were and actually being equipped with a map of the area, they told us that we not only had been on the wrong path, but also that the actual path was only going over the mountain and not where we thought it was. Well, at least we learned that next time we would look at a map.

At this point, we knew that there was no way we were going to catch our bus and when we told them of our dilemma, they suggested we would probably have an easy time hitching a ride with someone to the next town where we were scheduled to take another bus and they offered that even in the improbable event that we wouldn’t fine anyone, they would come eventually and take us.
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As live goes we made it to the parking lot and where there had been plenty of cars when we first arrived, there now were… two. And not a person in sight. We figured that just hanging around there wasn’t going to get us anywhere, so we started walking back to the bus stop. We did manage to get a ride to the main road, but once we were there, it was just waiting. We knew there was one more bus a couple of hours later at night that would get us somewhere (though not where we wanted to go), but I was starting to feel pretty miserable. There weren’t a whole lot of cars coming and those which did stop, weren’t going where we wanted to go. The only thing that made me not lose it completely was knowing that there still was the Scottish couple.

As life goes we made it to the parking lot and where there had been plenty of cars when we first arrived, there now were… two. And not a person in sight. We figured that just hanging around there wasn’t going to get us anywhere, so we started walking back to the bus stop. We did manage to get a ride to the main road, but once we were there, it was just waiting. We knew there was one more bus a couple of hours later at night that would get us somewhere (though not where we wanted to go), but I was starting to feel pretty miserable. There weren’t a whole lot of cars coming and those which did stop, weren’t going where we wanted to go. The only thing that made me not lose it completely was knowing that there still was the Scottish couple.


This experience has definitely made me realize I’m not made for hitch-hiking. We probably waited for an hour at the most and that already was too much for me. I have heard of people who have waited for a ride all day – if not a couple of days – (fine, not in Scotland, but in Australia), so I shouldn’t have been complaining, but I’m a bit impatient and feeling kind of distressed because I didn’t want to sit in the middle of nowhere all night.

When I saw the car of the couple coming down the street, all I did was feel relieved. Scottish people are known to be particular hospitable, but what they did for us was just so incredibly nice and saved my nerves.  The original plan was that they would take us to Portree where we would try to get the last bus to Broadford where we had booked a room in a hostel, but we quickly realized that we wouldn’t make that one either. Portree is one of the bigger towns on Skye (not that that really means big), so we probably would have been okay there, but they immediately decided they would just drive us to Broadford.

Just to put things into perspective: Broadford is about 25 miles farther down the road than Portree and wasn’t even on their way and it still seemed to be a matter of course for them to take us there. Needless to say we were beyond grateful and I’m sure I will remember their act of kindness for a long, long time.



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Here’s the moral of the story: First, if you’re relying on public transportation while traveling make sure you do your research, especially when you go to remote places. You don’t want to be stranded in the middle of nowhere. Secondly, don’t go hiking without a proper plan of where you want to go. Know where the paths are going and especially how long they are, so you can plan accordingly. And thirdly: Even if you think everything has failed, it is probably not as bad as you think it might be. At least now, you have got a story to tell afterwards!

 
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