When the Sun Shines on the Misty Isle: A photoessay

The Isle of Skye is the largest island in the Inner Hebrides. The island’s peninsula radiates from a mountainous centre dominated by the Cuillins, the bare rocky edges of which provides some of the most dramatic scenery in Scotland.

It has been suggested that the island’s name comes from its winged shape (skitis in Celtic). It was also referred to by the Norse as Skuy (misty isle). Its poetic name in Gaelic translates to Island of the Mist, and on an average day, as it is throughout most of the year, Skye rests beneath a layer of mist.


Kyleakin
June 8, 2016
21:00

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I arrive at Saucy Mary’s Lodge, meet my roommates and end up having dinner with them on the floor. Later, I join them on the ‘walk’ that somehow needs at least 10 women.

The midges are out and abundant and they are absolutely awful. Still, we flash our bras to the sea. I learn they’re all from a group tour. We visit the pub and spend the evening listening to how their tour guide had been making stories up and how he got them all fooled.

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The Skye Bridge at Sunset, Kyleakin.

Kyleakin
June 9, 2016
9:15

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I wanted to leave early, unfortunately (and fortunately too as I got extra hours of sleep), the first and only bus to Elgol departs at 9:30 and it was late. I am learning the art of small talk in Scotland. It’s so easy here and at the same time so difficult because Scottish accent has always been almost impossible to get for me. I talk to a man from Inverness waiting for his bus. His sister is running the Half Marathon on Saturday. I was getting worried as to whether the bus was coming or not but it came after all. Throughout the 40-minute drive to Elgol, there’s just me and one other passenger. So Skye.

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The empty landscape of Skye

Elgol
11:00

Elgol is a village on the shores of Loch Scavaig with a population of 150, majority of which speak Gaelic. It’s the perfect vantage point for the Black Cuillin. Due to the area’s scenic beauty, most of the properties here are holiday homes and are not occupied year-round.

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Boat trips to Loch Coruisk and the Small Isles depart at Elgol Harbour
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The Black Cuillin across
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Elgol

It was a fine day, one of the finest for Skye I’d say. The sea was a mirror surface, the sky almost entirely cloudless, and the midges only in the shade. IMG_0065.CR2

I wanted to go up the Sgurr na Stri but as I had a half marathon two days away, didn’t want to kill my legs with the long hike all the way from Sligachan so I decided to cheat and take one of the boats from Elgol.

It was a short boat trip as the sea was so calm, and along the way we listened to stories about the surrounding islands and their wee population.

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The Isle of Soay, permanent population: 1

 

The Isle of Soay was bought by author Gavin Maxwell who then established a factory to process shark oil from basking sharks. It was unsuccessful and was closed within 3 years. Most of the residents were resettled to Mull.

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Seals basking in the summer sun

We got to see some of the wildlife too: seals and seabirds and eagles and gigantic jellyfish gliding so beautifully just beneath the water surface.

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The boat stops by the mouth of the Scavaig River (also known as Coruisk River), which at just a few hundred meters long, is one of the shortest in the UK. Only one other river may be shorter.

Loch Coruisk is an inland freshwater loch that lies at the foothills of the Black Cuillin. It can be reached either by a 7-8 mile hike from Sligachan, a long hike from Elgol involving The Bad Step, or a short boat trip from Elgol to the mouth of the River Scavaig.

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Loch Coruisk and the Cuillin

The Cuillin (Black Cuillin to distinguish it from the smaller hills found across Sligachan) is a range of rocky mountains on the Isle of Skye. Its summits are bare rock, jagged and with steep cliffs and deep cut gullies, and they are absolutely beautiful.

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“Rarely human eye has known
A scene so stern as that dread lake,
With its dark ledge of barren stone…”

Sir Walter Scott

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The shores of Loch Coruisk

According to local lore, the loch is home to a kelpie. Kelpies are space-shifting water spirits that inhabit the lochs and pools of Scotland. They are usually described as horses that can take the form of humans.

I wanted to hike up the Sgurr na Stri all the way to Sligachan but having decided there was a fine line between adventure and stupidity, decided to leave it for another time. I was empty-handed: alone with 1 protein bar, no map, and no mobile connectivity.

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The boat back managed to arrive at just after 14:00 and running all the way up the hill to the bus stop, I managed to run after the bus, slam my hand against its rear and the driver pulled up. I was the only passenger to Broadford.

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The Red Cuillin

I wanted to go to Portree as I had ample time and daylight left but then I would have only a few hours to be there as the last bus out was at 17:40. This is the reality of public transport in Skye and the reason a car is definitely handy. Life moves endearingly slow here and transport is run by three different companies: the local Stagecoach, the Highland Citylink, and the school buses.

I spent a few minutes at a café in Broadford and managed to sneak in a much-needed grocery too while waiting for the bus that would take me back to Kyleakin. It had been a perfect day, and it wasn’t even over yet. I hadn’t wished for summer. My first encounter with Skye taught me to not expect anything from the weather, and yet it was such a sunny day that I got dark without having realised it. Yes, I got a tan in Scotland. 

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Broadford, Isle of Skye

The Road to Skye

There are only 2 buses a day from Glasgow Airport that go directly to the Isle of Skye. Luckily for me, my flight was on time and I had an hour to have coffee and wait for the 915.

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Skye is the largest island of the Inner Hebrides in the northwest of Scotland. Before the opening of the Skye Bridge in 1995, people had to take ferries from Kyle of Lochalsh to Kyleakin to cross the 500m sound in between.

It’s a 200 mile drive from Glasgow to Skye, but the scenery is spectacular.

IMG_0028After leaving Glasgow on the A82, you drive along the bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond, Britain’s largest freshwater loch, and the Trossachs, a region of pristine lochs, small glens, crumpled hills and forests. Sir Walter Scott was so enthralled by this scenery that he wrote a poem (‘The Lady of the Lake’) about a girl who lived there.

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The Bonnie Banks O’ Loch Lomond

By the time we got to Tyndrum, the summer sky had dissipated into the moody weather Scotland is notorious for.

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Tyndrum by the Way

The bus drove through wetlands and gradually fell into silence as passengers either fell asleep or slipped into the same silent reverie I was in. One thing that always strikes me about Scotland is how empty it is: just miles upon miles of land covered in heather.

I stared at the landscape that had captivated me so much almost two years ago, with the same, if not even more, reverence for the land. I had not thought about how much attention I had paid in my previous road trip until I realised how well I remembered the route and the scenery. The only difference was this time, the landscape was green.

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Glencoe

By the time we entered Glencoe, the conversations completely died out. Glencoe is unarguably Scotland’s most famous and most beautiful glen. It is one of those places that demand silent reverence. There was something so serene in that moment. Glencoe is, for all its beauty, the site of an infamous massacre.

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Glencoe

Fittingly, the clouds cleared up when we left Glencoe.

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Traffic in the highlands depends on the season. In the summer, when the roads are busier, the 915 takes around 6 hours all the way to Portree and around 5.5 hours to Kyleakin, with a 20 minute break at Fort William.

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Fort William sits on the shore of Loch Linnhe and at the foot of Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain. It is the second largest settlement in the Highlands and is a major tourist center (UK’s Outdoor Capital). It is both the start/end of the Great Glen Way and the West Highland Way, and the terminus for the Caledonian Sleeper all the way from London Euston. It’s a good place to stock up on supplies and outdoor gear.

IMG_0035Onwards along the A82, then a change to the A87 by Invergarry. This is the stretch I like to dub ‘The Road to the Isles’. The A87 wounds its way along lochs some seriously stunning glen scenery. The Lochalsh is a picturesque area and merits a few days of exploration. Many times, I wished I drove my own car and could stop and just pick up one of the hike trails along the way.

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Eilean Donan Castle

The final stop before Skye is Kyle of Lochalsh, a village that serves as a transport and shopping centre for the area. It is the terminus of the Kyle of Lochalsh railway line (built in 1897) that connects to Inverness. Before the Skye Bridge was opened, it used to be the port for the ferries across to Kyleakin.

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Kyle

I arrived in Kyleakin at around 9pm, feeling like I had already seen so much in this trip although the real deal had not even started yet. On my first trip to Skye (back in 2014), I was so annoyed by the lack of overnight buses to Portree as I wanted to spend as much time as possible to explore Scotland and didn’t want to ‘waste’ a day traveling. take my word for it: a day spent driving along the Highlands is a day never wasted.

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Kyleakin, Isle of Skye

 

13.1 Miles: Stepping Back in my Shoes

At the end of March, I did something I hadn’t done in a very long time. I put on my running shoes and went for a run; and on June 11, I ran my first half marathon: The Isle of Skye Half Marathon.

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Pre-run selfie with Emilie

It was a registration made on a whim. I learned about the Isle of Skye Half Marathon from Emilie and decided I had to go back to Scotland. At that point, I had never run more than 10k in one go.

I used to run – never long distances and never that seriously, but I used to run religiously at one point. I have a complicated history with running. In Philippines, where the sun is merciless, it meant getting up at dawn to commute to the starting point. Cebu was definitely not like Berlin where you can find a park for running anywhere within walking distance of where you are.

And then there was the time from when I entered university to when I dropped out, a phase of my life I rarely talk about. Nobody likes talking about mental disorders.

All my life, I was constantly aware of my weight. I had a mother obsessed with skinniness and everyone around me was always telling me how fat I was. I never was that big, but in a family so exposed to airbrushed models, I seemed so. When I was sixteen, I decided I was tired of being called fat and succumbed to the craze on skinniness.

I started running and not long after, obsessively counting my calories. I lost weight, fast. I reached what I could be but I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t stop counting the calories and wanting to see how much skinnier I could still be. Better legs. Thinner arms. I had anorexia, and in a culture where psychologists are  generally unheard of, I was never given professional help. When I started running, I was a healthy 48kg. But that was too fat for the ladies in my family. At my worst, I was 37.5kg at 152cm. I didn’t menstruate for a whole 6 months and wouldn’t have until I went to see a gynecologist who started me on the pill so I would eventually get back to regular cycles. I was very depressed and I kept running. One day, the anorexia turned to binge eating and I struggled with it for a few months until I moved to Berlin.

I stopped running and for a good two years went about life without it. Then I met somebody who loved it, and I was so jealous. I wanted to get back on track, but it was constantly a mental fight with the memories of that awful stage with every tread.

Somehow, I did it. Silenced the voices, just like that.

I trained with Nike+ but my job made it impossible to completely follow the program. I was mostly just preparing according to my own pace. I was also constantly running with my trail running shoes which had very good grip but was awful on asphalt. It was also a little too tight for me so I (in a panic) bought new shoes just a week before my run. I had to break into them and I ended up doing that by running a 20k because I was feeling so good I didn’t want to stop.

On the day of the run, I had to wake up early to get to Portree two hours before because that was the only public bus in. Despite my carbo load, I was famished by the time I got there. So 90 minutes before the start, I succumbed and ate the fattest bacon I’ve ever had. (I normally hate bacon).

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On hindsight I could say that the hilly Isle of Skye Half Marathon was not the smartest pick for a first, but as I finished it in a good time (for me) 2:10:20, I won’t. It’s a beautiful route that wounds through open fields. And hats up to being marched to the starting point by a bagpipe band.  How Scottish can it get from here?

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A lot of people are still asking ‘Who the fuck put that hill on the starting point?’

It was such a humid day that I had a little too much to drink at the first water station, skipped the second and had the much-needed Powerade boost at mile 6. By the halfway point I was feeling amazing, still pacing off this senior man who maintained his tempo throughout the whole run. That’s when I started wondering how long a half marathon is in miles… (True story). By the 9th mile, I was really pushing myself and had to take a walking break. I spent almost 10 minutes walking in total. I was looking at finishing it at slightly under 3 hours as I hadn’t run for almost two weeks before that but it turns out I underestimated my Volkspark Prenzlauer Berg training.

I would have done better and actually pushed myself had I studied the route before and had the mind to turn my Nike+ on. Then again, the goal was to try.

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So there, you can hike and run your first half marathon the day after with an okay time. It must have been the much needed bacon I had for breakfast. I ended up at The Isles Inn after the run and had a beer and haggis for this accomplishment. I only ran 21k right?

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Life’s a sair fecht for a hauf loaf.