On Sunday night I took a walk along a short stretch of the A87 between Dunan and Luib on the Isle of Skye. I had only a fleeting overnight visit to Skye this time, although I hope that I continue to have the opportunity to go there to attend to the business that took me there this weekend. With the sun beginning to dip to the west, I plodded along the verge of the reasonably busy road to get a longer view of the sea loch between Skye and Scalpay and to get a stronger mobile phone signal. It was with some modest shame that I even turned on my phone; somehow it didn’t seem right to go to the trouble of travelling six hours and almost 200 miles without sacrificing some contact with the outside world. That cellular contact was comforting though. And it wasn’t exactly cheating. The modest accommodation provided for me on Sunday night was cunningly disguised as a shed at the back of a builder’s yard, but it had a Sky satellite dish hooked up to the TV.
Britain may appear to be a tiny little island to those who see it from a distance, but like most British people, I do not consider myself to be an islander. After all, the British Isles consist of two large islands and about six thousand smaller ones. It’s only in the second half of my life that I’ve really begun to appreciate some of the Hebridean Islands. Although by the standards of my island experiences, Skye is almost too big an island for me, being more than 1,600 square kilometres in area and almost 100km from north to south. It’s status as an independent land mass has also been unromantically eroded by the utilitarian Skye Bridge, over which I was able to float on board one of the thrice-daily buses that connect Glasgow and Fort William with Skye. The first time I came to Skye, I was killing time on a day trip from Mallaig on the mainland before I crossed the sea to the significantly smaller (and suitably named) Small Isles. I felt then, as I did this weekend, that Skye was just too big for me. It was hard to grasp the concept or emotion of an island I couldn’t walk across in an hour or two. And while Skye can be crossed on foot, it’s best not attempted in my shoes.
That short stretch of the A87 is not Skye’s finest walk. But in addition to only spending a brief period of time on the island, I also arrived completely unprepared for its true landscape. The smooth asphalt of the road was about the only surface on Skye that my city dwelling shoes were good for.
I look forward to my next trip to Skye. I may not be able to grasp the island, or its spirit, but any excuse to leave the city behind for this landscape and space is to be relished.