The campfire burning on the pebble beach seemed to draw the darkness in tight around us. Its hypnotic glow draws people in until they forget about the world out there. Sparks flew high into the sky as we chatted about life, planned adventures and talked rubbish about all our experiences here on Skye.
This morning we woke to rain on the tents and the washed-out embers of last night’s fire. Thankfully the rain eased as we prepared for another day of adventure, and two new ways of travelling around this magnificent island.
I was particularly looking forward to the first stage of today’s challenge. Before we reach the end of the journey we have to climb up and over the infamous Cuillin Ridge. Today we need to cross the sea to reach the foot of those famous mountains. To celebrate a traditional aspect of Scotland’s maritime heritage we pushed away from the shore in a beautiful wooden rowing skiff. In recent years these boats have surged in popularity due to a push to encourage small coastal communities to work together to build and to race their very own skiff.
Four people row the boat, with another to steer in the stern. The key is to follow the stroke rate of the person in the stern seat, and to make your strokes long and steady. We bent our backs to the task. I was surprised how smoothly and swiftly the boat cut through the water. In no time at all we were away from the shore, past the crumbling castle, and out into deep water. The wooden oars creaked as the cold water swooshed beneath us. The mountains peeked from behind clouds as we rowed steadily across the bay towards them. It’s an exciting feeling to be out at sea in a small boat. I loved it.
But I was also happy to trade boat for bike. To climb onto our mountain bikes and hurtle up into the glens, bouncing up rocky tracks, panting and sweating as we climbed. We were on our way to one of my favourite places in all of Scotland. I was looking forward to showing it to the guys for the first time. I enjoyed their enthusiastic “wows” as we gazed down from our high viewpoint onto a beautiful curve of beach with the spectacular Cuillins towering above us on the other side of the valley. It’s been a real privilege to be part of this journey. As I sat and drank in that view I made a promise to myself that I really should come to places like this more often.
The track was strewn with loose rocks and deep mud. The riding was good but technical.We dodged and weaved as we rushed precariously downhill and on across the flat valley floor. I rode deep into a bog and catapulted over the handlebars, much to the others’ amusement.
It is the end of Day 4. We are all tired now. Our faces are flushed with wind and sunshine. We were eager and relieved to reach day’s end. All that remains -“all”- is a steep and technical climb over the mountains, and possibly the hardest day of the whole trip. It’s an imposing final challenge for us to cope with. But whatever it throws at us, I’m sure we’ll meet it with a lot of laughter, for that has been the most common unifying feature of the trip so far. It has been hard. It has been beautiful. And it has been fun.