Towns / Cities Visited: 123
Countries Visited: 20
Steps Taken Today: 19,518
Steps Taken Around the World: 3,153,096
We awoke after a less than average sleep courtesy of our dorm mates deciding that stomping round in the early hours, flicking on lights while half of us were clearly still trying to sleep, and sweeping aside the curtains at their own whim was the best way to start the day. Reasoning that we were awake, albeit unwillingly, we decided to start the day’s activities. As poor as our night’s rest had been, nature had decided to make it up to us by gifting us something we hadn’t had so far in Scotland; a beautiful sunny day. With the morning rays warming our weary souls we began our journey towards Portree, the largest town on this small island. Taking a wrong turn, we were soon heading along the west coast on one of the smaller roads, instead of the main highway we had intended to traverse. With both roads looping back to our desired destination though, we decided to carry on; besides, the road was quieter, and the views just as stunning. The journey weaved alongside stretches of glistening blue lochs, rolling hills of the most unnaturally vibrant green, and a speckle of sheep lazily munching as their tails playfully flicked behind them.
Eventually we pulled into the quaint little village that is Portree, where it sits perched picturesquely beside a loch of the same name, which feeds out into the Sound of Raasay. Its brightly coloured waterside residences almost gave the impression of a beachside town, even if that beach is actually the bank of a lake and made entirely of stones and dirt. We took a short while to wander the town, that consists mainly of locally owned independent businesses offering small town hospitality and homewares to the countless visitors who pass through here so fleetingly. The fact that we had skipped breakfast soon caught up with us, and before long we were bundling into one of the pubs in search of a meal. As it wasn’t quite noon we hunkered down in a corner and chatted over scones and a pot of tea until the kitchen opened for lunch service. A decent pub meal later, and we were refuelled enough to continue onto the more physically demanding adventures for the day.
Our journey continued north, this time along the east coast, and we stopped several times to snap photos and bask in the landscape before us. One of these stops saw use pulling up, alongside countless others in the carpark, at a site known as The Storr. This is probably one of the most famous and busiest hikes on the island, and although we hadn’t planned on stopping here, we were inspired when we saw ‘The Old Man of Storr’ highlighted by nature’s perfectly timed parting of the clouds. The Old Man of Storr, is a pinnacle of rock which sits prominently apart from the Trotternish Ridge from which it originated. The ridge itself is the result of an ancient landslip which carved the striking outline you can see today.
We joined all the others heading over the fence at the makeshift stile, and scurried up the winding path. We figured that it would probably end at a small lookout at the base of the hill, but we soon found that it, in fact, wound all the way up to the ‘Old Man’ itself. In hindsight it seems insane, but we began walking up the mildly muddy, slippery, rocky, and steep path. It was about a third of the way up that we realised how tired we really were. However, we’d already come this far, and as serial completionists, it was the niggling need to finish what we started that pushed us the rest of the way up, even if it was through ragged puffing, and whilst peeling off our somewhat redundantly warm jackets when the sunlight and exertion left us dripping in sweat. The track may have continued onwards over the ridge, but we were satisfied to stop our journey at the site most visitors were here to see; that solitary pillar of stone. As we turned back the way we had come, we were floored by the surreal beauty of the sun drenched panorama out efforts had gifted us with. An explanation could never do it justice, so I will simply leave you to marvel in the thousands of words these images convey.
As can be expected, the journey back was much less physically strenuous, even if it was a little more dangerous as we tried to make our way down the slick rocks sitting undried in the shadows. Pleased with ourselves, we jumped back in the car and continued on our way. Our next stop was much less taxing, and finding one of the very few available park spots, we tumbled out of the car to enjoy the views of this clifftop lookout. As you approach the fence at the cliffs edge and look to the left, you are given an amazing view of Mealt Falls, a plunging waterfall which occurs where Mealt Loch overflows down 100m to the rocky shores below. In the background you can see what most come here for; Kilt Rock. This towering collection of basalt columns which makes up the cliff face look rather strikingly similar to the pleats of a kilt, and if you use a little imagination, the colouring of the stone almost appears as tartan. As if this viewpoint could get any more Scottish, the air was filled with the haunting sounds of a fully kitted out bagpiper, who played traditional folk tunes on this country’s most iconic instrument. Understandably, we enjoyed a long moment of admiration before moving on.
Back on our way, after coming to a standstill behind the plethora of tourist buses trying to navigate their way back onto the main road, we were soon passing through the tiny town of Staffin, of which we would be returning to spend the night, and up a tiny winding mountain road which was more than mildly terrifying in it precarious placement. Eventually we arrived unscathed at the car park for our last dabble into the gorgeous surrounds which blanket this island; Quiraing Rocks, the northernmost tip of the Trotternish Ridge. Interestingly this is the only part of the massive landslip that created the ridge, which is still moving to this day, leaving the road at its base requiring repair annually. For those interested in linguistics, the name Quiraing comes from the old Norse ‘Kví Rand’ which means ‘round fold’, and refers to the folds in the landscape which surround ‘The Table’; a small plateau tucked away amongst the pillars of rock here, and believed to have been used as a hiding spot for local cattle during viking raids in centuries past.
Much like at Storr, there is a well trodden dirt track which winds its way along the ridge, if you are brave enough to follow it. Somehow managing to gather enough energy, we made our way past the groups of tourists taking quick snaps before jumping back on their buses, and began to tottle our way along the path which was largely void of visitors, save for a few eager hikers. As we meandered we couldn’t help but stare in awe at a view which seems so akin to the landscapes of Middle Earth that I half expected Frodo and the rest of the fellowship to pop out from behind the rocks. The light cloud cover helped to cut the heat from our trek, but the slight openings which came and went, seemed only to highlight certain features with a glow that made me wonder whether there would be an elf with a side quest on offer if we were to scurry over.
Eventually we reached an outcrop of rocks, which provided a gorgeous view down over the village below, and we decided that this would be the end of our venture, although the path continued on. The day was growing older, and as I sat looking out, an inexplicable wave of depression swept over me. With nothing else for it, I simply took a moment to sit and breathe, allowing the feeling to wash over me, my partner’s hand enveloping mine, and wordlessly we paused in the knowing silence of two who both understand this illness and its disregard for sense or sanity. We did not try to reason with it, justify it, or explain it; we simply did as many like us do, and tried our best to ride it out.
The walk back was quiet, but not unpleasant, and we were soon in Staffin once more. We checked into our Airbnb, with hosts so country casual that they openly admit to not locking their house or car with the explanation that ‘If anyone can be bothered coming all the way out here to steal their things, then good luck to them’. To be fair, as we looked out from their home, to a town so small that its only restaurant is more of laid back café in the community centre, and the nearest grocery store is a drive away and only open until 5pm, we were wont to agree with them. This is a town with almost more churches than shops, and only because they seemingly couldn’t agree on which version of christianity they wanted so they kept building other churches, and yet a place so religious that our less than orthodox hosts admit to being scolded by the local priest for mowing their lawn on a Sunday.
Dumping our bags in our room, we scurried off to the aforementioned restaurant to ensure we managed an evening meal before the whole sleepy town shut down for the day. Despite the lack of ambience and slight cafeteria feel, the steak and pork dishes that we had were actually surprisingly good, and we were back in the comfort of our room, warm and satiated, before too long.
As I internally reviewed our day, I couldn’t help still feel the tideline of the wave of depression that had hit me at Quiraing. It seemed absurd to feel such sadness in a place of such unquestionable beauty, and yet there I was; a dark mass on a sunny day, in the middle of fulfilling my lifelong dream and yet with heart wrapped in the binds of an illness which had been following me for over fifteen years. I remember when I was first diagnosed being told by the doctor, the same things you see in the comment section of almost every post about depression; ‘you should try exercising’, ‘you just need more sunlight’, ‘you should spend some time in nature’ or ‘maybe you should go on a holiday’. Well I’m sorry to break it to any of you who are unaware, but I sat there after spending an entire day of my holiday hiking through nature in the warm autumn sunlight and my heart was just as heavy as its ever been wrapped in a blanket on the couch between fifteen hour shifts of work. Mental illness cares little for rationality, and although some of these suggestions may help others, there is no ‘one size fits all’ cure. Just as it does not always need a trigger, depression often does not respond to treatment. It is a wanton sickness, and it becomes both a reckless enemy and a comfortable friend to those who live with it.
I’m here to remind all of you who sit with the black dog at your feet, as I do, that its okay not to be okay. Its okay not to be okay in beautiful places, or to feel isolated and lonely surrounded by people who love you. Its okay to feel ugly when you lead a blessed and successful existence, and to feel broken when your life is full. It’s okay if you feel like crawling into a hole half way into your mile run, and its okay to feel cold in the warmth of the sun. It’s okay to be anxious about what life has in store for you when the road ahead seems drenched in darkness. It’s okay if the only constructive thing you did today was breathe, even if you never got out of bed to do it. It’s okay, you’re okay, and although it doesn’t feel like it, it is going to be okay. Sadness is just as valid of an emotion as happiness, and you are just as valid as the happy ones.