Grey clouds roll overhead. To the north a rail squall over the sea smudges the horizon, backlit a shade of pink by the last of the setting sun. Behind me are the mountains we will tackle tomorrow. But tomorrow can wait. Before then I want to savour the peace of this grassy bank beside the small loch where we have pitched camp. Because the day did not begin as tranquil and contented as this.
What felt like an age ago, but was actually only this morning, we paddled up the sea loch, heading north on the first leg of our adventure around the Isle of Skye. The plan is simple, like all good adventures: to tackle the different elements of Skye on a journey around the entire island. Over the course of the next five days we plan to kayak, cycle, trek, sail, row, mountain bike and climb our way around the wild island. We are a team of ordinary men, who have come together as strangers linked only by an appetite for adventure in wild places. We come from Scotland and England, Belgium and Germany. And we are all ridiculously excited to be taking on this challenge.
We began in high spirits, kayaking with a sweet tailwind up the narrow sea loch.
All was calm until we turned the corner at the lighthouse and faced the sea for the first time. An enormous, slender waterfall cascaded in slow motion down the face of a gigantic sea cliff. I cheered and whooped as our kayaks cut through the rising swell. I live for this feeling of being out somewhere wild and raw.
Our sea kayaks rose on crests and fell out of sight. The wind was rising fast and the sea water was mottled and flecked with white horses. Things happen so quickly at sea. One moment it was fun and exciting. The next moment Tomas was upside down, flipped over by a wave, and the atmosphere changed in an instant. When you pit yourself against wild elements, you do so knowing that they have the power to humble you in an instant. Capsize at sea is frightening.
We righted the kayak and Tomas climbed back in, cold and shaken, but otherwise fine. We altered course and headed through the rising waves back to the sanctuary of land.
If you’re cold, I reckon that a good way to warm up is to jump onto a bike and ride through the hills for a few hours. So Tomas was soon warm and in high spirits as we continued towards the north of Skye by bike. The road twists and climbs. And the wind that had caused us such problems on the sea was now our friend, blowing us from behind – a rare treat indeed for any cyclist.
Our German team-mate, Sebastian, hails from Dortmund, an area of Germany not known for its hills. The sharp Scottish climbs took their toll on his legs, and cramp eventually kicked in. He was in pain all afternoon, and found the going tough. But I was very impressed that he never stopped grinning throughout the ride. I like a masochist with a good sense of the ridiculous!
And so now, as the team sits round a campfire in the gathering darkness, we can look back on a tiring, difficult but beautiful first day on Skye. The adventure continues tomorrow, heading high up onto the Trotternish ridge. But for now it’s time for a well-earned mountain of pasta, and a night under the stars in our bivvy bags beside the fire.