The last couple of days have been on Skye. It’s strangely pretentious here. A kind of contradiction; you are back in civilisation but not. And the food snobbery is pretty incredible. Sometimes it feels like there should be a bank statement check before you’re allowed in an establishment. Portree isn’t for our kind. It attracts a better class of holiday-maker—and for these people, holiday-maker seems the more appropriate term—than the rest of the Highlands, apparently. The place is particularly filmic. We saw lots from the car and not too much up close. The island has brutal, jagged peaks and countless waterfalls. A truly striking landscape. It feels more raw than the mainland; more stricken and exposed.
On our first night, maybe an hour after crossing the Skye bridge, we saw an impressive waterfall from the road and resolved to see it up close. It was a wet night and the winds were up but we figured it wouldn’t be a major detour, so we parked up and headed across the road. It was obvious not long into our walk that we’d underestimated the effort that‘d be required to make the waterfall. The terrain was boggy and wet and the hill itself had a constant stream of shallow water running down it. Each footstep was a matter of faith. Feet fell into holes and slid through puddles. We held onto each other a lot of the way, for stability and to make sure none of us skidded too far down. We made our way across the hillside like wounded soldiers. Our boots lost grip regularly in the soaking grass or on hidden mud or our ankles became caught in weeds and bush. A few times we debated turning back. But we had already come so far and sometimes prior investment is the best motivation. Or the worst. As many long-lasting and unhappy marriages can attest.
A walk that would ordinarily take five minutes took almost fifty.
By I time I stood on a slab jutting over the river below the fall, my inner ears ached and my jeans were soaked. Ben had almost lost his leg in some sort of death chasm back on the hill. I was exhausted and felt no great excitement for the trudge back. The smart part of me thought we should head to the car before nightfall. Still, standing where I was, listening to the cascading water and feeling flecks of it hit my face, I was content. None of were in a rush to leave. The light would be gone soon. The road behind us was quiet, only the occasional car along the wide coastal bend we’d stopped on. I was happy despite the discomfort. The cold felt a distance away.
And anyway, the Highlands demand sacrifices. Any good journey does. Any adventure. This is common knowledge. In exchange for hard work or hundreds of midge bites or poor weather, the Highland Gods slap you with a beautiful reality whichever direction you look. You feel it tickle your face in the form of drops thrown from a waterfall, exploding on the rocks below. You feel it even despite soggy socks, despite the dull painful tug of cold. For real beauty and real life you must throw yourself at things as best you’re able.