Towns / Cities Visited: 121
Countries Visited: 20
Steps Taken Today: 11,939
Steps Taken Around the World: 3,133,578
As many of you may well know, Scotland is blessed by being surrounded by many beautiful and enchanting islands. Unfortunately we would not have time to visit the majority of them on this leg of our journey, but the day had come for us to visit one of the most breathtaking that this country has to offer; the Isle of Skye. Now I don’t mean to skite, but if you have never had the pleasure of venturing to this corner of the earth, then your life is certainly poorer for it, and I hope with all my heart that you might find your way here on life’s journey.
Now, we’d had grand plans to take a magical journey before heading to Skye, however, even with planning a couple of months prior, we had seemingly left booking far too late to secure a seat on the coveted Jacobite Steam Train. This fact was made particularly irritating when during the booking process we were informed that they hold back a few tickets for sale on the day, but if we wanted the chance to maybe attain one we would have to arrive several hours before departure that morning. As a serial planner I find it incredibly frustrating to think that although we were looking to book months ahead, we would be denied a seat so that those who don’t plan might have a chance at snagging one on the day. Anyway, it was what it was and we chose not to gamble hours of our time on a slim possibility.
Moving right along, the Jacobite Steam Train has been running the scenic tourist route from Fort William to Mallaig and back since 1984, but the line that it runs on, the West Highland Railway, was opened way back in 1901. Despite the line’s age and the undeniable scenic beauty of the route, there is one more noteworthy reason it is so popular amongst visitors to these parts; it was used at the ‘Hogwart’s Express’ in the Harry Potter film franchise. Although we may not having being taking up one of the rather pricey seats on its interior, that didn’t mean we had to miss out on all of the fun, and we did as many other equally as thrifty or unfortunate visitors do and headed to Glenfinnan to watch it pass over the famed Glenfinnan Viaduct, just as it does in its iconic role.
As can only be expected, the two carparks near the visitor centre fill up almost as quickly as the train itself, and despite arriving almost an hour early, we were lucky to snag one of the last few spots. Pleased, we popped into the centre to grab a map to the viewing location and headed on out. Before long we caught our first glimpse of the curving viaduct, and its huge ageing stone arches which sit so plainly juxtaposed to the lush green and subtle golden hues of the grass and ferns which blanket the valley and surrounding mountains. We may have arrived half an hour early to the muddy hill which provides the best view of the trains passing, but it was already dotted with countless other tourists, many bearing expensive cameras, and perching them atop precariously lodged tripods. Still we managed to find a fine spot all of our own, and thus we stood and waited.
The train crosses the viaduct around 30–40 minutes after it departs Fort William, and as the time drew nigh, the faint sound of chugging was carried to us on the breeze. Moments later the train emerged from behind the ridge of the mountain. My heart skipped a beat as I watched it shuffle along the tracks; my imagination filling it not with picture snapping tourists, but excited young witches and wizards heading off for another year of an education we who grew up with JK Rowling’s novels yearned for. As it reached the outer arc of the viaduct the conductor sounded the familiar whistle, and began what we all longed to see. Wisps of crisp white steam rose from the trains funnel and as it made its slow pass before us, the steam trailed behind it like an ethereal veil. It was in this moment I realised that, had we actually made it on the train, we would have missed this most picture perfect of visions.
Satisfied, if not a little chilled by the overcast weather and light mist of rain, we headed back to the car; adventure still awaited us. A three hour drive through yet more indescribably stunning scenery, and across the bridge which spans from the mainland to the Isle of Skye, and we were soon nearing our other venture for the day; the Fairy Pools. The closer we drew, the narrower the roads became, until we were driving along a potholed and largely questionable track wide enough for naught but one vehicle, except in the intermittent and quite sporadically positioned shouldered areas; each aptly name a ‘passing place’. It was then that, within the confines of our car, a very impassioned discussion began about how much better ‘the passing place’ sounds than ‘purgatory’, or how if souls move to an alternate dimension after death that it should be known simply as ‘the passing place’. This, of course, steamrolled off onto a tangent about how awesome a horror movie based on this premise would be. Anyway, I digress once more.
Now before we could think to stop for our afternoon ramble, we were understandably craving a bite to eat and an answer to nature’s call, thus we passed our destination and continued on down the road to the tiny town of Glenbrittle. Eventually we came to the literal end of the road, and the caravan park which plays host to the only open cafe around these parts. As bad luck would have it, we arrived to find that they were currently in the middle of a power outage, and were struggling to get the back up generators to co-operate. As a result, our choice for food was literally muffin or nothing, as no power meant a hot meal, or even a hot drink, was off the cards. Luckily we had a few extra snacks to bolster our appetites, and after a phone flashlight illuminated bathroom trip, we made our way back to the point of adventure.
As we arrived, we realised that the designated parking lot came at a cost of £5 and, as such, we did as most others did and parked somewhat precariously on the soft verges of the roadside. Satisfied that our vehicle was not likely to topple down the embankment or sink into the soil, we locked it, wrapped our coats tightly around us and followed the path down the hill, across the stepping stones of the river, and towards the famed Fairy Pools. This series of seemingly otherworldly waterfalls sits in the embrace of the Cuillin Mountains, and sport water so crystal clear you can see the detail of every pebble in the base of the pools, and such a delicate shade of blue green that they must surely have been created by something magical.
We spent a good hour or so clambering in and amongst the rocks, endeavouring, but ultimately failing, to capture in freeze-frame even a fraction of the real life beauty this place delivers. Of course, we did so whilst simultaneously attempting not to tumble into the frigid waters. I could have sat beside these pools for an eternity, listening to the rush of water, breathing in the unmarred air of a place as pure as the day Mother Nature carved it into the earth.
Reluctantly we wandered back to the car, not because we cared to, but because we neither wanted to drive these suffocatingly narrow roads by the hazy light of dusk, nor did we want to miss the small window that was the opening hours of the only tiny local store on the way to our accommodation from which we would source our evening meal. Luckily we tumbled in the through the shop door in time, and gathering a few ingredients from the scant selection, we walked out with enough provisions to cobble together a meagre curry. We had also managed to leave with a small bag of what we would soon discover to be our favourite fudge thus far; Isle of Skye Scottish Tablet. Funnily enough this one was flavoured with a local but world famous tipple; Talisker Whisky. In fact, Talisker is so local that their distillery is quite literally next door to the very store we bought it from.
A short drive, and we were soon arriving at our punnily named hostel for the evening ‘Skyewalker Hostel’, and finding them to have a surprisingly well equipped kitchen, we were soon settling in to eat dinner and relax for the evening. As I looked through the day’s photos I couldn’t help but ponder how often these images fail to do justice to the wonders we have seen, especially today’s venture to the Fairy Pools. Photographs capture things simply as they appear through the lens, but they can never truly ensnare the full sense of the scene they immortalise. They cannot capture the way the light filters through the peripherals of the human eye, or the warmth that sunlight bestows on the skin of the hand as it presses the shutter release. Their colour perception is rarely identical to that of the person holding the camera, and leaves the vivid colours of places such as this muted. They do not encapsulate the true way the water swirled and eddied in the pools, or the intimidating grandeur of the towering mountains behind, which may only be felt by placing ones own comparatively small stature in such a wide open space. Photographs can evoke emotions and memories, but they cannot playback the calming trickle of the river, or the thundering roar of the waterfall; they cannot waft before us the crisp fresh air of a cool afternoon in the highlands, or evoke the peaceful emotion of being one with nature as you perch on a rock beside the flowing waters, far from phone reception and disingenuous smalltalk. To do this, one must go out into the world and experience these things themselves. I’m not saying you shouldn’t take the photos to feed your need to reminisce at a later date, but remember to see the world without the lens as well. Life is not meant to be lived vicariously through still images of far off places and distant events, life is not a third person adventure game, its a first person experience, and its the only one we get.