It was July 1999 when I had my first experience of multi-day solo travel. Before that, there were day trips that took me to Fort William, Inverness, Oban and Loch Lomond. There were other excursions too with regular university science meetings taking me to the shores of Loch Tay and a conference in Aberdeen. All laid the foundations for a trip with my brother that took in Fort William, Glen Nevis, Oban, the Isle of Mull and Loch Lomond before he went home via Stanraer. That allowed me a chance for a weekend in Ireland too.
That first multi-day trip of my own took me to Skye for the first time. It came after the oral exam for my Ph.D. so there was an element of celebration after a successful outcome. That July had been dull in the main so it was a change to have a sunny day for the exam though it clouded over by evening time.
The prospect of some more sunshine later in the week was such that I managed to plan the trip away. This was a largely spontaneous escapade that commenced after a late night going through the phone bill for the flat to work out how much each of us had to pay. My pay as you go dial-up internet usage made the task more laborious but the job got done regardless of this.
Any lack of sleep made for a more bleary-eyed journey to Edinburgh’s St. Andrew’s Bus Station to catch a Scottish Citylink coach to Fort William. This was to be my second time going that way and the sunshine ensured that I was looking our the window at the passing scenery instead of catching up on any sleep. After all, both Rannoch Moor and Glen Coe are captivating places for anyone’s attention.
After a break, it was time to catch another Scottish Citylink coach to get the rest of the way to Portree. This was to show me new scenic delights as it passed the Commando Memorial, Glen Cluanie, Eilean Donan Castle, the Skye bridge and the Red Hills (some call these the Red Cuillin while others disagree) of the island itself.
Once in Portree, it was time to seek out a bed for the night. Nowadays, I do this ahead of time but I took a chance and tried the Portree Independent Hostel and was in luck. The naivety of the act now astounds me and I later got to going to a tourist office if I arrived anywhere without a pre-booking. Even that is out of my favour now.
With accommodation sorted, I pottered about the place in the evening sunshine. There was time for getting something to eat too and I found somewhere simple that did what I needed. Otherwise, there was no wastage of the weather and lack of prior research meant that I got to see as far as the Cuillin without realising what I was seeing. The lack of a detailed map could be blamed and so could a certain gap in experience but I think it also was a certain scepticism.
After rising and getting breakfast the next morning, I found a place where I could hire out a bike for the day. Duly equipped and with my few belongings in a bag on the back, I set off to cross the island. Doing so, I followed the main road for Uig and turned to continue to Dunvegan. Lots of little place like Edinbane were passed and Macleod’s Tables were there to be seen in heat haze too.
Once in Dunvegan, I headed to the castle and gardens with the sort of sunburn that I avoid these days. It was a hot sunny day so a rest under the shelter of trees and shrubs was in order. For the entry, I seem to have stuck with the gardens because I did not enter the castle itself. Instead, I found a quite place by the sea with view of the building where I lingered a little while.
All the while, I was making photos with my compact camera and realised that my film supply was low. Since there was shop around Dunvegan that sold any, rationing was the only option. When I left Dunvegan, I decided to return to Portree by a different way for a spot of variety. The was evening glorious as I plied the west coast of the island and the Cuillin lay ahead of me too since the road I was travelled lead to Sligachan. However, I crossed to Portree on a minor road that I joined after Struan.
Initially, it was a scary affair with a drop at one side that was as steep as the initial ascent. Sharp ups and downs awaited as I continued my crossing. If there was any regret, it was that my film supply was by now exhausted. This was before I had any sense of how much film you would need on a day away from home. Even so, that was forgotten when I found another hostel where I could stay for the night. Again, I took a chance and it worked out for the best.
The bike was stored and food sought before I made for bed in a more amenable spot than where I was the night before. Once I sorted myself the next morning and handed back the bike after the agreed 24 hours, it was time to head for home.
Given the fame of Eilean Donan Castle, there was to be a stop at Dornie. However, I did not realise that I needed to tell the driver of my plans so we had a job to found my bag under all the luggage of Glasgow-bound passengers. He hardly was impressed but we got it sorted. It was yet another lesson for the future.
Eilean Donan looked well and I did go inside to see this castle. Film supplies had been replenished before leaving Portree and it might have been then that sunscreen and after-sun soother were acquired for I did need these. There was plenty of use of the newly acquired items as I pottered about the castle and what lay around it in the time available before the next coach came.
Not much can be recalled of the journey back to Edinburgh but there must have been changes of coach at Fort William and Glasgow. After the trip, there were photos to get developed and some have yet to be bettered. Nowadays, getting all this for around £100 could appear an unbelievable bargain but it left my financial reserves in need of parental replenishment. Quite what my father really thought of this is unknown to me but it was good to get away for a while and set in motion a series of explorations of Scotland that has continued since then.