Skye Trip – July 2013

Day 1

Travelled to Skye

I picked up a hitch hiker just past Dumbarton, about an hour into my journey. He was heading to Kyle of Lochalsh so I guess it was his lucky day! The guys name was Phil and he was working his way north to visit friends stopping off to visit family on the way from Cornwall. He had already been on the road for a fortnight when he met me.

The weather was pretty overcast and threatening rain the whole way up the road. When we reached Glencoe we could not even see the tops of the hills due to the low cloud. The sun was trying to break through tho. The drive itself was long but relatively uneventful as I wasn’t in a hurry. There were a couple of places where roadworks held us up before Glencoe and since it was around 12:30 or so as we passed through we decided to stop for a cup of tea and a bite at the Glencoe visitor centre. The food was typically mediocre and unfortunately the poor weather meant it was impractical to view the scenery due to the low cloud. Still it was a pleasant enough stop.

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We resumed our journey suitably refreshed and rested heading on until reaching Kyle of Lochalsh around 4ish. I dropped off Phil and decided to pick up a few last minute items at the supermarket before heading over the bridge to Skye. By this point the weather had improved greatly and I spent some time wandering around the town and taking a few photos of the bridge etc. I decided to go ahead and have something to eat since it was nearing 5pm and found a local chip shop then took my fish supper down to sit at the docks and watch the world go by as I ate.

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After the food was consumed I resumed my journey and headed over the bridge on to Skye itself. The bridge is not the prettiest thing in the world and the experience of crossing it was somewhat underwhelming. It was only a few minutes of driving when the scenery I was due to experience became apparent. Skye has two main themes, hills and water in abundance. With the clouds having cleared out the blue of the sky set off the scenery and I had to stop just to look around at the first opportunity. This turned out to be a few miles down the road just past a hotel which is set in the middle of nowhere. I quickly parked the car in a lay by and jumped out to take a few photos before returning to the car and continuing towards the camp site.

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The drive to the camp-site was an experience! I’ve never really had to deal with single lane roads, the last 8 miles of the drive to the camp-site was on single track road with passing places. Luckily there was not a great deal of traffic and everyone seemed to be pretty courteous so no drama or mishaps occurred on that stretch. It did mean that there were not any safe places to stop to allow me to take more photos without blocking a passing place so I had to keep on moving. A few miles down the road I passed some signposted areas which were full of cars and appeared to be marked walks or something. The signs were in Gaelic so I couldn’t actually read them 🙂

A few miles further down the road I eventually arrived at the camp-site the time was around 6:20pm. I headed round to the site shop to register only to find out that the shop closes at 6 and I had missed them for the day. Undaunted I had a look around the site which was pretty big and selected a suitable space to pitch my tent. I was able to park my car right at the pitch so it was easy enough to unload my gear and set up for the night. Having had a practice run in the garden actually pitching the tent took all of 10 minutes and I was pleased I did not run into any difficulties.

After setting up the tent and loading it with my sleeping bag and whatnot I took a wander round to see the area. The campsite itself is situated at the head of Loch Brittle and lies between some pretty impressive hills.


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The site itself was pretty quiet, other than the sheep I couldn’t even hear any of the other campers, there was so much space and everyone was so spread out. I didn’t try and climb the hills but rather headed over to the loch to chill on the beach for a while.

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The evening was pretty pleasant with the sun shining. A few brave souls even took to the water for a swim. I took a few photos, spent a lot of time just absorbing the peace and quiet and eventually around 10pm or so decided I was tired enough to hit the sack since it had been a long day. So, with some minor trepidation I prepared for sleep and retired to my tent for the first time.

I honestly cannot say if I slept at all that night. I can only suppose I must have at least dozed off briefly in between sessions of wakefulness. It sure felt like I lay awake the whole night listening to the sounds of everything around me. At one point I thought it was raining but later experience tells me that it was probably just a sea fog rolling in. I did get up around 4am to answer the call of nature and was surprised to find that visibility was effectively zero as a thick mist surrounded the entire camp-site. Having already gained my bearings it was pretty easy to find and follow the road the the toilets then make my way back. I grabbed my phone from the car to try and grab a shot of the scene since it was already quite light before heading back into my tent to sleep some more.

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The grass, the tent and everything else was thoroughly soaked by the mist but inside it was snug and dry and I was pleased to note that no leaks had appeared. Other than being slightly too short for me to fully stretch my length I am pretty happy with my choice of tent and the night was comfortable despite the lack of sleep.

 

Day 2

I did finally manage to dose off for an hour or so before I was rudely awoken by the sound of the sheep bleating like evil wool bearers and a herd of cows which had come down off the hills to join in the cacophony. Who needs an alarm clock! I gave up trying to sleep around 7am and headed to shower and get ready. By the time I was organised the camp shop was open and I was able to head over to pay for my night’s stay and arrange to stay for a further night.

I had some breakfast, simple fare in the form of weetabix and a banana with UHT soy milk. Since I was pretty tired I decided to head out in the car and get my bearings on the Island.

Everything on Skye seems to be at the end of miles of single lane roads with passing places. This made for interesting driving because the scenery is amazing and there are few places to safely stop and just take it all in. It’s hard not to look at the sights but the narrow roads and sheer drops are a recipe to get you killed! On top of this there are the locals. They are the ones who do not slow down on those crazy routes and appear from nowhere in your rear view mirror driving right up your arse until you let them past! I tried to be a nice tourist and let everyone past me at the first opportunity 🙂 I can understand how frustrating it must be to get stuck behind a Sunday driver when all you want to do is get to work on time.

My explorations took me past the town of Carbost to the very end of yet another single lane road where I found a jetty and some more breathtaking scenery. I parked up and stopped to take a few more photos before deciding I would head back to the car and drive to Portree, the main town on Skye and the centre of things there.

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Rather than use my SatNav I decided to just drive and see where I ended up. I drove back through Carbost then headed around the bay and up over the hills towards Portree. On the way I stopped at a signposted viewpoint which, as it happens, looked across the bay back to the place I had been where I took photos at the Jetty. I took a bunch more photos and even tried out my filters for the first time which I had brought specifically to play with on landscape shots.
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I continued my drive to Portree and arrived around lunch time so parked up and took a wander around the town to find something to eat. The restaurants were all really busy so I ended up nipping into the local bakery to pick up a sausage roll and also grabbed some fresh rolls for later. After a couple of hours I decided to head back to the camp-site and took a different route which took me past Aros having read a few reviews which said it had sea eagle exhibits and was nice stopping point. Most of it seemed to me to be devoted to gift shop sales. I did see some mention of a sea eagle exhibit but didn’t want to devote time to visiting it just then as my time was limited. I planned to come back on a later day when I had more time. A brief look around the gift shops didn’t part me from my cash and I returned to the car to continue back to the camp-site.

On the way to the camp-site I was able to spot the sign marking the parking place for walking to the “Fairy Pools”. I decided that I would stop there and head to the pools in the morning to see if I could get a few photos. The rest of the afternoon was spent enjoying the fine weather and exploring the area of the camp-site. For tea I decided to break out my cooking stove and made some scrambled eggs and ate that along with the rolls I had purchased at the bakers for another simple yet satisfying meal.

I decided to move my tent a few feet further from the long grass so I would be less likely to stumble into the unkempt section should I have to get up in the middle of the night again.

I was pretty tired by this stage and the evening was yet more relaxation and enjoying the tranquillity. The site remains quiet and the only things to be heard are the bloody sheep and cows along with the bird life. I have made a new friend in a chaffinch which seems to have adopted me since I threw it some crumbs from my rolls.

I still have not decided how long I will stay on Skye. There are some things I want to do before I head home. I should probably make a list.

One thing I did not realise before I arrived is that due to the one track roads everything on Skye is “about an hour away”. Or at least that is the answer the locals give when you ask them 🙂 This time is easily made longer when following an unfamiliar road. Add to this the fact there seems to only really be one road to any specific place and there is a lot of backtracking if you want to go to more than one location.

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I know I have already said this but the scenery here is astounding. I hope at least some of my photos can do it some justice!

I’m feeling a little cut off since I can’t get an internet signal on my phone at all. There is WiFi at the camp-site but when I tried to sign up for an hour’s usage the WiFi promptly vanished and hasn’t been back since, lol.

 

Day 3

I decided to change camp-site today and moved my tent to Torvaig which is just outside Portree.

Once again a sea mist rolled in overnight soaking everything. The outer of the tent was soaked inside and out but the inner tent remained dry other than a few drips which landed on it. I let the tent dry out before taking it down and relocating to Torvaig.

I actually slept really well last night, I did wake a couple of time briefly but soon drifted back off to sleep.

I emerged from the tent at around 7:30 am by which time the sun was up and the mist was receding fast. After showering and getting dressed I had a leisurely breakfast to allow some time for the tent to dry out before I struck camp.

On my way to the new camp-site I stopped off at the sign for the Fairy Pools. There was a bit of a hike over to the pools but it was a beautiful, if slightly misty, morning and the sun was working hard to chase that mist off. The Fairy Pools are a very pretty series of pools and small waterfalls through some stunning scenery. The colours in some of the pools as the sun was reflected off the stones were really quite amazing. I don’t think the photos do them justice.

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The flies were out in force and really annoying in the bright morning but the scenery was definitely worth the inconvenience and there was always some respite when I managed to get a bit away from the water and into a breeze. I only took my camera and left the tripod and the rest in the car. I spent plenty of time taking pictures but did regret, a little, not having brought the tripod or filters to let me try some longer exposures.

It was only when I turned back to head to the car that I realised just how far I had come. The sight of the climb back down into the valley and up the other side to the car was daunting to say the least. Still it had to be done and with the sun now splitting the sky I made my way back to the car and resumed my trip to Portree.

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I parked in the town and decided to head to a cafe for lunch. I wish I hadn’t, the service was terrible, I never even got the diet coke I ordered! Well, lesson learned. After that I wandered around some of the shops and then rested in the shade outside a hotel which advertised free WiFi. This allowed me to upload a photo to Facebook so my friends could see some of the scenery I had been enjoying. After loitering with intent I headed to the new camp-site so I could get there before they closed. Torvaig is much smaller than Glen Brittle which makes it seem much busier too. The tents were all set up in much closer quarters but it was still pretty peaceful. There was a camper van parked opposite my pitch which had 2 dogs in a cage whining most of the day. I was worried that this would go on into the night but the owners took the dogs inside later and it was not a problem.

In the afternoon I decided to go visit Dunvegan Castle. Dunvegan turned out to be a typical Scottish castle in the same vein as Culzean, more of a defensible manor house. The gardens were pretty nice, the inside was much of the nature – seen one, seen them all. Still it was pretty well presented and since I got a discount having stayed at Glen Brittle (part of the same estate) it wasn’t particularly expensive and it passed a few hours.

Surprisingly the road to Dunvegan from Portree was 2 lanes the whole way! This made it a relatively quick drive back to the camp-site. I filled up with petrol on the way back as by this point I was getting pretty low on fuel.

In the evening I sat in the sunshine writing my journal for my trip while baking in the sun. Still no internet access but I’m not missing that as much as I thought I might.

Tomorrow is Sunday and I expect that Skye will be somewhat like my experience of the Hague… everything will be closed 🙂 The plan is to climb up to see the Old Man of Storr which will be much more of a climb than the Fairy Pools and I need to carry a Tripod!

 

Day 4

Slept pretty well last night at the Torvaig camp-site. Got up and headed into Portree around 8:30 for some breakfast but had to wait til the Cafe opened at 9. Took a few photos down on the beach at the car park again and walked around the town a little.

Breakfast was delicious and much better value than the restaurant I tried yesterday. Once I had partaken of suitable repast I headed up to the car park at the Old Man of Storr. Got there a little before 10 am and took a look at the path. I then organised my backpack to lighten the load and carry extra water. My climb started off on the wrong foot since I mistakenly headed the wrong way and ended up having to cross a tract of land which was cleared woodland and not great footing. Still no mishaps and I arrived on the correct path after 15-20 minutes.

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On the entire climb it is not possible to actually see the Old Man of Storr itself. I honestly had not realised how much UP was involved in the hike. Had it been reasonably flat there would have been no issue. As it turns out I had to stop after a while to catch my breath. Not a problem as this allowed me to take a few photos while I did so and the scenery was amazing. I drank some water, rested a little and carried on. This turned into a pattern. Each burst of energy would see me climb a shorter distance than the last until after about 90 minutes I ended up sitting for as long as I spent climbing.

I won’t say it was not embarrassing being passed by all the other people heading up the mountain with old folks and parents with young kids in tow, all making the climb with relatively little complaint. The problem was not my legs, I could walk, I just had no stamina and could not properly breathe. The heat was intense as it has been all week and I sweated profusely.

I reached a point at which I had pretty much decided I could not go on and would need to head back down the hill when a guy wandered up and sat down to chat. It turns out he was staying at the same camp-site as me and had decided to wander up to see the Old Man of Storr on his way past. He had made the climb in his biker boots passing others on the way. He had not remembered to wear his hat tho and since the sun was relentless had developed a ruddy glow by this point. We chatted for a bit and he encouraged me to keep at it. Then he headed on up the hill. I sat for another while somewhat despondent and sorry for myself when he turned up again. He had decided he did not have time to continue the climb and was heading off to the beach at Staffin as he had an agenda he wanted to stick to.

We chatted a little more and then he headed off back down the hill. I sat for another 5 minutes before steeling myself to continue onwards and upwards some more. I climbed up to yet another plateau at which point it became evident there was even More climbing to do. This time it was what looks like a goat trail zig zagging back and forward up what I believe is the last stretch to the mountain. I thought long and hard about continuing but my water had run out by this point and I could feel the sun starting to burn me despite the sunscreen I had regularly applied.

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In the end I decided enough was enough and headed back down the hill. The walk down was much quicker and after about 30 minutes or so I was back at the car park. I have never been so happy to see my car in my life. I filled my water bottle and climbed into the car and turned on the air-con. Bliss!

I was greatly disappointed in my failure to make the climb. I did not realise just how unfit I seem to have become. Even a couple of years ago I believe I would have made the whole climb in less time than I had spent on the mountain today. I vowed at this point that I will return to Skye and climb to the Old Man of Storr. So, it looks like I will be heading back!

Once rehydrated and cooled somewhat I decided to follow up on the conversation I had with the biker and head on up the same road to Staffin. On the way was a viewpoint for the Kilt Rock. Usually there is a fairly impressive waterfall pouring over the cliff here but today it was a mere trickle due to the extended good weather we’ve been having. I took a few photos there and then headed on to Staffin which was a few miles further along the road.

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Being Sunday most things appeared to be closed so I carried on past to the beach sign and headed on down the road to see the jetty/pier the biker had mentioned. On the way down the single lane track I encountered some vehicles heading the other way. Since I was closer to the passing place than them I tried to back up and allow them to pass me. I managed to get that wrong too and ended up with my drivers side rear wheel in a 2 foot ditch full of mud meaning the front of the car lifted off the road and leaving me no purchase to go anywhere. The other drivers were in 4WD vehicles and managed to pass me on the other side. They then jumped out and helped push the car back on to the road. Luckily the verge at the point was soft turf and I don’t think any damage was done. The others made light work of getting me moving again and headed off with a cheery wave. I continued down the single lane track (more cautiously now) and eventually found myself at the pier at the end. This area was mobbed with camper vans so not very scenic altho’ I’m sure if they had not been there I would have taken several pictures. A little disappointed with this I headed back out of Staffin then back down the road towards the camp-site.

When I got to Portree I decided that at 3pm it was too early to call it a day. I recalled something about a reptile house in Broadford and remembered seeing a sign on my way past. For something to do I headed on through Portree to Broadford and located the Skye Serpentarium which is on the main road and pretty easy to find. It’s not a very large site but the 2 guys on staff were happy to explain what they do and how they operate. The Serpentarium itself has about 20 display cases of varying sizes showing lizards and snakes which have been rescued by customs or handed in by individuals who could no longer cope. The displays themselves were clean and it was pretty easy to see the reptiles as they basked or hid inside. Various constrictors and some fairly sizeable lizards along with a couple of tortoises. What made the visit was the obvious enthusiasm of the staff and their clear love of the work they do in maintaining the reptiles. At the end of my visit as it approached 5 and the place was about to close they brought out a small (5ft) python named Goldie to show me and the other two visitors. Each of us took a turn to hold Goldie who was adorable and took a great liking to me. Apparently she likes guys, especially guys who wear leather jackets. I guess she could smell my jacket off me even tho’ I wasn’t wearing it.

My spirits somewhat buoyed by the visit to the Serpentarium I decided to head back to the camp site and chill for the evening. For dinner I cooked up some hotdogs with some buns I had purchased on my way back. That evening another couple of bikers turned up at the site and set up next to my tent. One of them was struggling to put his tent up so I wandered over to help out since it was a similar design to my own. We got chatting and the whole process was both quick and amusing. Turns out the guys had decided to drive round Skye the next day so, since one of them did not want to stay at a hostel they had decided to camp tonight and start early the next day.

The next couple of hours passed relatively peacefully chatting to all the new people I had met today and I enjoyed hearing their stories and plans. The biker from the hill had apparently decided to head back to camp some hours ago and taken refuge in his tent from the intense sun. He managed to leave his feet sticking out of the tent and they now matched the rest of his redness! We decided to wander into Portree as there was a live Celtic Rock band playing at one of the local pubs. The walk from the camp-site to Portree is about a mile or so and took about 20 minutes. The biker, Duncan, showed me some viewpoints he had taken pictures at but I had left my phone on charge in the car and did not have my camera. I made vague plans to drop by in the morning and take a few photos before heading off to my boat trip.

We wandered into the town and located the pub by the music playing loudly. We went in for a couple of drinks but only stayed about an hour. The band were very loud in there and not really that good. On Duncan’s suggestion we headed to the Harbour to a different pub for a quiet drink but after walking over there we found that pub was shut today. Rather than give up we headed back into the town to a different pub he knew of and spent another couple of hours chatting and drinking and listening to the juke box. The pub had a kind of rock vibe to it so the music was much more to my taste. Duncan mentioned the pub was of a different class as proven by the buckled urinal in the gents. We decided that “Buckled Urinal” would be a good name for a band!

This last pub was pretty quiet with only the staff and a couple of locals. Duncan and I spent our time chatting with the barmaid and after a while the locals left. The barmaid advised us that the locals had been quite rowdy and she had not been looking forward to kicking them out. It seems that our presence may have had a calming influence. We loaded up some songs on the juke box to pass the time and chatted away until deciding it was time to call it a night.

The walk back to the camp-site was all uphill. Duncan suggested getting a Taxi but there were not any on the rank so we walked. The walk was pretty uneventful, the evening was calm and a welcome break from the oppressive heat of the day. Duncan referred to the walk back to the camp as the start of my training to climb to the Old Man of Storr. I don’t think he seriously realised how close he was to the truth. There were a few jests about keeping on walking to the Old Man at the time but, sensibly, we headed back to the camp-site to call it a night.

 

Day 5

I had hoped that a couple of beers would help me nod off last night but I guess I was still uptight with myself over my epic fail in climbing the hill to the Old Man of Storr. I did eventually drop off but woke again at about 4 am and tossed and turned for ages before sleep overcame me again. Only myself to blame, I know that drinking usually means a disturbed night’s sleep. Apparently that includes only having 2 pints of beer and copious amounts of diet coke :p

Around 7:30 am I gave up on sleep as I was constantly being disturbed by other campers getting organised. After showering and getting dressed I started to empty the tent having decided that I would head home after my boat trip later in the day. By the time I had packed away all the bits and pieces from inside the tent most of the moisture had evaporated but it was still a little damp. The two bikers from the previous evening had decided to head off early and get started on their Island tour so I waved them off as Duncan emerged from his own tent. We decided to head into town and get some breakfast as he was also heading home that day and this would allow time for the tents to dry out more.

We both went about our preparations until only the tents remained to be packed away then jumped in my car and drove to town. Another visit to the Cafe of choice resulted in a very enjoyable breakfast. Duncan told me about his trip around Skye, he had also arrived on the same day as me and had been filming a lot of his bike rides with a camera mounted on his bike. I added him on Facebook so he could let me know when the videos had been uploaded as I am curious to see them. He had showed me a brief clip the previous evening on his phone and they looked to be of remarkable quality for such a tiny video camera.

After breakfast we headed back up to the camp-site to finish packing. My tent is pretty quick to pack away and to set up so I was done in only a few minutes. Rather than delay any further I decided to head on over to Elgol where the boat departed from and allow myself time to get there. The drive would involve driving to Broadford (22 miles) then another 19 miles of single lane track with passing places. Wow! The single lane track was the most hairy of my entire trip. The leaflet had advised to leave 45 minutes from Broadford but I took an hour to cover the distance before arriving at the pier at the end of the headland below Elgol itself. The scenery was, as always, fantastic. Unfortunately since it was single lane and pretty busy I could not find a place to stop and take any photos as this would have blocked a passing place. This seems to have been a theme of my visit. Actually finding a place to safely stop and take photos usually resulted in being miles from the photo you wanted to take in the first place!

I arrived at Elgol around 11:30am and headed over to the white booking office as I had been advised when I called on Saturday. When I enquired about the possibility of changing to an earlier trip since I was originally meant to be on the 2:30pm I was advised that they were pretty busy and that they couldn’t actually locate any reservation in my name for the 2:30pm trip either! Once it was clarified that I was only looking to travel by myself it turned out that a party of 11(out of a maximum 12) was due on the 12:30pm excursion so I would be able to join that trip. Relieved, I happily paid for my ticket and wandered back to the car to get some lunch and prepare for the hike at the other end up to Loch Coruisk. The trip out was to take about 45 minutes with a visit to the Seals en route then we would have around 90 minutes to go do whatever we wanted at the other end before sailing back.

We saw plenty of seals on the small islands/rocks on the way over. The scenery was majestic with the stunning hills and the beautiful blue skies with only a few lone clouds. We did not see anything particularly unusual but we did see some Cormorants and some female Eider along with the Seals who looked very happy to simply be basking on the rocks. There were some larger pups having a swim and being generally curious. One came pretty close to the boat to see what we were all about.

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I chatted some to the group of 11 who all turned out to be young Chinese around their 20s and living in Elgin. They had decided to have a day trip to Skye and left at 4am to get here! Their trip was shorter than my own by a couple of hours but it was clear they were in for a long day. I asked their next destinations and they told me they would like to see Kilt Rock and also the Fairy Pools. I offered my thoughts on both and gave brief directions to get to them for which I was thanked.

When we arrived at the drop off point I chatted to the captain a little and he advised me to “take the stepping stones” across the river and approach the Loch from the far side as I should get better pictures. I took his advise and immediately headed off to find the stepping stones. There was no drama and I quickly crossed then headed around hills to the loch itself. When I arrived at a small pebbled beach I decided this would be an ideal spot for some photos. I then spent the best part of an hour playing with filters and taking various angles and views of the landscape before packing up and heading back to the boat at 3pm as scheduled. I got there a few minutes early but as it turned out had a few minutes further to wait as the boat had moved aside to let another boat in to unload it’s passengers.

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Once back on the boat we were offered a very welcome cold drink and a biscuit before the boat headed back to our start point. We got back to Elgol just before 4pm. I said my goodbyes to my new friends and headed back to my car for another cool drink then fired up the engine and headed for Troon.

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The trip back home was pretty uneventful. I was planning to stop for something to eat at Fort William but somehow managed to miss the turn off. I continued and stopped at the Ochil Hotel for a bar meal which was most splendid if a little expensive. Glen Coe was clear this time and I did stop and take a few pictures on the route past Glen Garry and Glen Coe. When I stopped at Glen Coe there was a young couple thumbing for a lift. It turns out they were French and the guy’s English was not great. We soon established that they were headed for Crianlarich and I offered them a lift. A few minutes to shift all the junk from inside the car to the boot enabled them to climb aboard and we set off. Conversation was difficult due to the language barrier so most of the trip was done in silence and I took the time to appreciate the harsh beauty of the moorland and glens as we whisked past.

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I dropped the hitchers in Crianlarich and headed for home, finally arriving around 10:30pm. Somewhat tired I brought in the perishables and left the rest in the car. On wandering upstairs to check my computer (Internets at last!!!!) I noted that my bed was not made. Rather than go to all the hassle of making the bed I went back out to the car for my sleeping bag and threw that on the bed for the night.

After catching up on my emails and Facebook etc I finally turned in around 2am and slept like a log. Glad to be home in my own bed and yet missing Skye and the experiences I had there.

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