There is no time to drink. So enjoy the tour…
In three days, three trains, two ferries, three buses and a taxi will cover 514 miles. Our tickets take us from Aberdeen on the East coast, once again through Highland Whisky country, past Inverness, Loch Ness, cutting west to the Isle of Skye for a night stay. The next day, we will shoot south and catch a ferry to Ireland.
At least that’s what our tickets claim.
Once past Inverness, we enter new territory. Our train snakes north and west past green forests, wastelands, lakes, and mountain ranges. Humanity sheds from the landscape.
We make it to Skye Island by the last ferry. Rain comes and goes. We drop off our bags at Broadford Backpacker’s Hostel. Walk to shops. The sun fades. We cook pasta. Walk around the sleepy port. Find an ancient tomb. Get tired for once. Tuck into the cosy, cabin-like hostel. But amorous neighbors and a gaggle of girls make our sleep light.
At sunrise, we leave our bags and hike around Sky’s extinct volcano.
Lazy sheep greet us along the way.
We reach a shell of a Protestant church swarming with tombstones and more sheep. Time to turn around.
Refreshed and fed, we grab our gear and await a bus to cross the island. A man steams about its confusing schedule. He wants to catch the Harry Potter train: The Jacobite. But we cross Skye Island just in time to sight its plume across the sea, chugging along it’s last journey. Ah well.
We board the ferry to Mallaig. Soon we land amidst bright-colored boats. The sleepy town has little more than a hundred residents.
Our host kindly picks us up and provides a rapid tour of the surrounding area, falls, lakes, hamlets.
Carsick but settled in, we walk back to the harbor for the freshest fish and chips the world will ever know. Seagulls soon take note and do their best Hitchcock reenactment.
Full of fry, we walk the coastline.
With the sun setting on our second day, we trek out to an isolated yet amazing lake:
The lake’s romantic name is Loch an Nostarie. Idiot.
A sheepherder calls from atop the hills: time to go home. We need our sleep as well. Tomorrow’s train jets south at 4 am.
Bleary-eyed and bristly-tailed, our host drives us, in the dark, to the train station. But ever hospitably Scottish, he surprises us with pack lunches. I feel five again.
Slowly some distant sun reveals a misty grey world. The most desolate moments in Trainspotting have nothing on these barrens.
Ghostly, wild red deer evade my camera.
We speed south to Fort William.
We wrap round mountains. The only life includes a miserable couple camping or mountain sheep. I revel in the fact that we gave up tenting. Thank you airbnb.com.
Then a massive, damp, valley feeds us towards Glasgow.
We switch trains in Glasgow. It feels odd, having started our Scottish journey there a month ago. We train South to Ayr and then switch to bus. The coastline looks bright and beautiful. But travel-lag sneaks up on us. I black out.
After security and a waiting room, we board the ferry to Belfast in Northern Ireland. Surrounded by our bags we nest. The intercom announces Yogic Indian massages. The bar beckons. But our exhaustion wins out.
Either way the land of black beer and Whisk[e]y with an “e” awaits.