Heavy legs and heavy eyelids. The alarm woke us too soon. Our legs are weary and sore from hard days and miles.
And heavy weather too. The clouds sat low over the world and rain rattled my anorak as I stirred the big porridge pot. We would need a good burst of hot energy to push us through the final day of this challenge.
Over the past four days we have worked hard to make it almost the whole way round the Isle of Skye. All that stood between us and success now was the Cuillin Ridge, one of Britain’s most imposing and foreboding mountain landscapes. Sebastian waved us off and wished us well. His ribs hurt, he is disappointed to have had to withdraw from the team, but he never stops smiling and being upbeat. I feel that is at least as impressive as walking over a big mountain.
The rest of us trudged off into the mist. We were tired, but we were excited too. The Black Cuillins are spectacular and difficult mountains. They are the eroded ancient remains of great volcanoes, and climbing up to the ridge is always a difficult scramble amongst contorted jumbled piles of rock.
Tim and Thomas had never worn climbing harnesses before, nor used an ice axe. They were understandably nervous as well as excited. We traversed a narrow ridge, the world dropping steeply away below us on both sides. Ridge scrambling in the mist is a strange sensation. You cannot see how high you are, but you know that you are high and so the nerves continue to jangle.
There are places along ridges like this where to fall would be to die. For such a small mistake to have such a phenomenal consequence is one of the great, mysterious appeals of wild adventure. You are responsible for yourself and your mates. You’d better not make a mistake. Your life – for these small moments – is completely in your own hands. You’d better think clearly and make good decisions. Because if you do not, the price will be a high one. But if you do get it right, then you can feel proud and satisfied. And you can truly enjoy your squashed cheese sandwich in the lee of a summit cairn. The delicious satisfaction of simple rewards.
In the afternoon we dropped down from the peaks and the world seemed to stretch out all before us. Below the cloud line we could see where Thomas had capsized his kayak. We could see the Old Man of Storr out on the Trotternish Ridge and Portree where we set sail for Kyleakin. And there in the distance, straight ahead of us, we could see the Talisker Distillery. The end was in sight!
We skidded down scree slopes, hurrying down from the bare, powerful chaos of these magnificent mountains. Only one tiny challenge still remained: to swim in the Fairy Pools.
The Fairy Pools are a series of pools and waterfalls in a river that cascades down the southern flank of the Cuillins. It is one of my favourite places in Britain. At this time of year the river flows fast with meltwater from the winter snows. It is therefore not only very beautiful, but also very, very cold!
We giggled and squealed in anticipation as we stripped off our mountain gear and prepared for the plunge. There is also a magical underwater arch you can swim under from one still pool into the splashpool of a waterfall. One of my favourite sights in this whole adventure was the look on Tim and Thomas’s face after they dived into the pool and swam down and under the arch. They surfaced in the next pool grinning wildly, absolutely high on life and adventure and the beautiful wild elements of this place. What an experience that was, what a memory!
And at last, all that remained was for all of us to carry on together to the Talisker distillery and to raise a dram to this fabulous bunch of guys, this collection of strangers from three countries – Seb, Thomas and Tim – who have done so much and pushed themselves so hard on this adventure round Skye that now had gone full circle. I hope that this journey will give them many great memories, a determination to squeeze more adventure into their lives, and a group of long-lasting new friends. I hope that it may encourage other people to try to take on an adventure of their own.
SPECIAL THANKS to:
– Kyla Orr
– Alex Glasgow
– Alison French
– Lee Woodward
– Topher Dawson
– Isle of Skye yachts
– Lukasz Warzecha
– Joel Stephenson
– Anita Myatt
– Duncan McAndrew
– George Glasgow
and all at National Geographic and Talisker