Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Isle of Skye - the magic island

Dunvegan Castle, Isle of Skye

The sun, his golden helmet shimmering in his brow, has scaled the walls of the glittering east, and now, proud and majestic, hangs like a pendant in the welkin’s eye.”

So said a passenger (or words to that effect) as our ferry cast off its mooring in Mallaig and headed for the open sea and the short journey to the mystical isle of Skye.

“Not many people aboard”, the passenger added. “A lot less than I would have thought”.
“A lot fewer”, I corrected him.

I thought he was going to hit me, but he just walked away. I looked at a forlorn looking lady sitting in a corner. An unstamped letter, I thought, lost and abandoned in life’s sorting office.

We were quite a collection.

Skye is the home of the MacDonalds, most famously Flora MacDonald, who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape the isle after the failed Jacobin revolt.  

“Och, wee Charlie, hoots mon, dinnae tarry, will yu get yur wee backside i’yon boatie, mon?”

The journey over we clambered on a bus for Portree.
“You married?” the passenger asked me.
“She left me”, I told him. “Said I never listened to anything she said. At least I think she did.”
“People have been hung for less”, he replied.
Hanged for less”, I corrected him, and thought this time he will hit me.

I got off at Broadford, bid goodbye to the passenger and wished him a long, prosperous and happy life (no I didn’t, why lie about it?) and headed for my hotel.

Broadford was small, a wee place, with a population of around 600 hardy souls some of whom still spoke Gaelic. But it was highly picturesque, the air was commendably breathable, and all around were panoramic views of the sea, the mountains, and still more mountains on the Scottish mainland in the distance.

I clambered up nearby Red Hill, and then went to a pub where I ran into two UFO-spotting Londoners who will remain nameless but whom I shall call Bill and Ben.

“Each man is his own divinity”, Ben told me. “All life is contained in a single grain of sand”.
“Macrocosm as microcosm”, said Bill.
“Ah, but you’re probably thinking: a grain of sand is composed of atoms and that 99% of an atom is vacuum”, said Ben.
“But what you don’t know”, said Bill, “is that every moment of every day billions of negative elements pass through the atoms of the brain and come out the other side”.
“And as they pass through they deposit information precasting the future”, said Ben.
“Short-circuiting the synaptic junctions between brain cells and planting cosmic information directly into the neurophysiology of the host”, said Bill.
“And they’re being used by the Saucer People”, said Ben, then added: “Because they’re all around us, you know, the Saucer People”.
“And they can travel great distances in their speed-of-light space craft”, said Bill.
“And even through time portals”, added Ben.
“They’ve got Anti-natal Clinics for Pregnant Computers”, said Bill.
“Cosmic Gymnasiums for Keep Fit Time Travellers”, said Ben.
“Technologies we could never dream up in a million years”, said Bill.
“I once dreamed up the name Zip Timmermims”, I said.

Bill looked at me, then at Ben. 
“Is he having a laugh?” he said.
Ben looked at me.
“Are you having a laugh, pal?” he asked me.
I looked at Ben, then at Bill, and tried to decide which one would hit me first.

The next day I hired a bike and pedalled to Loch Slapin which Bill Brandt had visited in 1948. The great photographer took many pictures around the island, most notably the gull’s nest. He died on my birthday in 1983, so maybe there was something to Bill and Ben’s macrocosm-microcosm theory after all.

Later on I went to Lord Macdonald’s Forest, tried (unsuccessfully) to see a golden eagle, and two days later was back on the bus for the ferry to Mallaig.

On the boat I was standing aft watching the sun setting over the island, when a man in a kilt came and stood next to me. We watched Skye as it drifted into the distance, and then he said to me: “It’s a magic place, all right”.
“It is”, I agreed.
“I come here every year”, he said.
“Is that right?” I said.
“Every year”, he said.
“Gosh”, I said.

The sun finally set, casting red and yellow and orange streaks across the night sky.

“So will you ever go back?” he asked me.
“Oh yes”, I said, “I’m sure I will”.
“I’m sure I shall”, he corrected me.

I hit him.

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