Running on fumes in Skye – From Home to End – 12

 

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17.7.14

Back in Preston. Our trip through the Highlands was over too fast. The further south we drove the more depressing our journey became. This is a return to civilisation. Back to the monotony that accompanies 9-5 life. Back to the numbness. It almost flavours the air. Each exhalation has a little more sigh behind it, a little more dejection. Each step in this direction is less glorious. The geography mirrors our temporal experience of life. We drive away from the source of our memories. Suddenly those moments cease to be. For us they are just stories now and this all exists in the imagination alone. The one good thing about this is it gives experience the same quality as poetry, just as an end gives a thing the quality of a narrative. So this journey, at least from our subjective position, is both an adventure tale and a poem—a work of art. Through art the past is salvageable. That’s part of the reason it was important to document this.

There isn’t much remarkable about the Isle of Skye in my memory. My heart rests in the central Highlands and along the north-western coast. Still, there is plenty to be said. And it might be that part of problem was that by this point in the journey the weather had turned and we were getting hit with harsh and persistent rain and strong winds. Besides which we’d been going hard for nearly two weeks now, travelled crazy distance on foot and in the car, and we all felt a growing exhaustion.

One night sticks out in my mind. It was our second day on Skye; we planned to visit the Fairy Pools and refuel on the way, although we must have had at least a half tank. We weren’t really worried. The only station we past had cars queued up into the road though, so we didn’t bother with petrol and continued on our way.

After getting dinner, we figured we’d drive to the northernmost tip of the island. There we’d listen to Biophilia and smoke a joint. Checking the fuel gauge, we saw we were down to our last fifth. Definitely time to fill up. Following the Sat-Nav we went to the only 24 hour petrol station on the island. There was some concern that we might not make it at all. As we rolled toward the green neon beams of the place, the three of us kept our eyes on the fuel gauge. When we arrived there were cries of relief in the car.

Thank fuck, there it is!’

That was getting close.’

We were already talking about where we’d be heading once we’d filled up. A few more metres down the road, the car still spinning with relief, we came to the turn in for the station. Here we met traffic cones. It was closed.

Welcome to Sunday midnight on the Isle of Skye. As I said, it may look like civilisation, it may have plenty of pretentious restaurants, it may be dotted with convenience stores, you may even see advertising at the roadsides, but it is not civilisation. Ben and Yuri pleaded with the workers (who were, in fact, inside the petrol station) but to no avail. Even watching from the car I knew it wasn’t going well. I could see the man waving his hands before Ben had even spoken. 

They got back in the car and I asked Yuri ‘Was this petrol station on the way to the camp site at least?’

The complete opposite direction,’ he replied.

Nobody spoke for a while. Eventually we decided to try our luck and make for the site, now a significant distance across the island. We drove and spoke little, each of us contemplating the various possibilities. Would we be close enough to push the car to the campsite? If not, how many miles might we end up from the campsite, and where? Whatever the case, we’d be stranded and this time, no cloud for company.

For half the drive, I watched the fuel dial creep ever closer to red until it was millimetres away. I asked if we would have a lot of downhill, maybe we could just roll it out?

No, mostly uphill.

And we seemed to be creeping slowly uphill for fifteen minutes.

Ten miles from the campsite I was thanking the car for having got us this far on so little. I expected no more. The dial was on empty but we were five miles away from the site and in the car we allowed ourselves hope.

We could make it. Maybe.

I think we will.

Sometimes false optimism is necessary. If we really considered the world in all its absurd and dangerous glory we wouldn’t get anything done. Could you even leave the house if you could truly visualise what it meant to be on a spinning rock hurtling around a nuclear reaction in space?

The God of Skye or the God of Nissan Micras came through for us. The gates of the campsite appeared and we made it inside. Somehow our little blue car even took us to a small petrol station about three miles down the road the next morning as well. This was a learning experience; you always get something of value from the Gods of the Road, in whichever of their various forms and guises they decide to take. This time we discovered that on Skye, get petrol—really something we should have learned when we were stranded in the cloud—and Micras roll on forever.

 

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Luke

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Poor Kids in the Rich Part of Skye – Chasing Waterfalls – From Home to End – 11

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15.7.14

Nearly 5am

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.

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Camping on Ceannabeinne Beach, Wandering Durness – From Home to End – 10

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11.7.14

7.57pm

We’ve been camped on Ceannabeinne beach for the last three days. Each morning, after waking up and looking across an empty stretch of sand and sea, we went up the cliff side stairs to the car and then to a little B&B in Durness. Inside, it felt more like my Grandmother’s kitchen than a cafe. The place was run by a lady who attended the till, cooked, cleared everything away and kept the rooms clean and changed in the B&B.

Her hands shook as she delivered plates and glasses to our table. We’d return them to the kitchen ourselves. She looked like someone who had worked a long time in this type of job. It had become a habit. Maybe she’d turned her natural inclinations into a business or maybe this was just how things had ended up. It’s all unpredictable.  There’s no maths for life. She didn’t seem unhappy though

The kids are on summer break and while Durness inspires us, it’s easy enough to imagine how a kid on an extended school holiday here could go insane with boredom. It’s for this reason that the grandson of the lady who runs the place has taken an interest in us. He’s an adventurous kid, prone to fleets of pretty awesome fabrication. He has in play so many interconnected and simultaneous fictions that he loses track. Most kids are basically the same in this regard, perhaps especially bored little boys.

He showed us the land behind the cafe. It was on a headland with the inlet for Smoo Cave on one side. There were old broken structures, the foundations of pylons with iron struts still visible cut a few feet from the base, a ruined caravan, tens of used tires. The kid told us the military used to do testing here and that went to explain the ruined buildings. This site was away from the proper military ordinance testing ground though, that was a few miles away on Cape Wrath.

There was also a story he enjoyed telling about a man who lived in a caravan here but even from a distance it was clear the caravan hadn’t been inhabited in years. Another day, the story evolved and it turned out the man had died and was buried nearby in, we must assume, an unmarked grave.

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All of this would be great to explore in your childhood but it only goes so far and if you don’t have other kids who are down to explore with you, it’s possible that it doesn’t mean much of anything. The same goes for adult adventuring; some people swear by solo trips and I see the appeal, the anonymity, the immersion and freedom that maybe easier to achieve alone, not to mention the fact that often times you just can’t sort out scheduling for a good trek with your friends, but for me, I suspect an adventure on my own would get to feeling a little hollow.

The kid sat with us today while we ate our last meal at the B&B. When we left, he followed us out to the car and tried to convince us to stay a bit longer. There wasn’t really anyone else around to play hide and seek with. Unfortunately, we said that our cash was running on near enough empty and we had some more places to stop before we could think about going home, although we weren’t sure which places they would be. He offered to lend us some of his a hundred and three hundred thousand pounds but we politely declined. The interest rates would probably have been ridiculous.

And right now, speaking of home, we gotta go back there soon. What a drag. The real world. The real world, where every surface is a chance to advertise something and every building must be lit all night and almost every transaction or interaction must be false, at least on some level. Then there’s the growing pain and existential dread that comes with that long drive back, where you start somewhere beautiful and end somewhere familiar. A gruelling experience. Maybe some thinking time.

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Thanks,

Luke Smith on Twitter

Journeys Through Pre-World War Britain on Facebook.

Have any of you guys checked out these spots?

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Estate Boys in the Wild – a phone call from the edge of the island – From Home to End – 09

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11.7.14

Probably around 7:30pm

While we watched the boat watching the sun, a phone call took place in the back of the car, between Ben and one of his friends. A few days have past since then and this transcription is a long way from verbatim but I had to try and capture it anyway. It summed up so much about what we were doing without meaning to. Besides, it might be the only conversation of its type that’s taken place around here. We heard only one side of it but that was enough. You can take it as a momentary view into the psyche of another person. Their life in microcosm. 

Blud… I’m in Scotland. Scotland! Nah, blud! Ireland!? Nah, it’s not like Ireland. There’s mountains everywhere. Everywhere! Everywhere you look there’s at least eight mountains. Blud, I’m at the top of the fucking country. The top. You can’t go further than us. Nah. Not like this. You literally can’t go further than us. We’re so far north we’re south again, you know what I mean? Yes! If we went any further we’d have to go south. Mate, you don’t understand. You don’t understand, blud. It took days to get here. Days! I don’t know when I’m gonna be back, G. Mate. Mate, yesterday we was in a cloud, blud! A cloud! Literally. An actual cloud. Fuck man. NO! Oh my God. In a cloud! Yeah, alright, mate. Yeah. I dunno exactly. Next week. Alright. Alright. Sweet. Have a good one, yeah? Bye. ”

Character isn’t just in what you say and do but also how you say and do it, the emphasis you give phrases or actions, your word choice and mannerisms, your reactions, both voluntary and involuntary, and then on top of all that, there is the way you might deploy any one of those things in one situation compared to another. This is what it looks like when our language isn’t dressed up, when the place we’re from isn’t pushed out of how we speak for the maintenance of good manners and optimised social interaction. All of this is revealing, all of it is in flux; the human character is a lot like the ripples of sand on a beach, which change with each high tide but which remain in their fundamentals from century to century. This little snippet of a conversation shared between friends, is as much an autopsy as any medical procedure, it says more than most Facebook profiles. 

Your syntax should never be too pretty. It won’t be honest. The way you speak should always have a touch of home. 

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Thanks, Luke.

 

 

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Smoo Cave – Durness, Scotland – From Home to End – 08

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11.7.14

Ceannabeinne Beach

Yuri points out, ‘You know another good thing about this place? No advertising.’

He’s right. No roadside billboards, no flyers plastered to lampposts and buildings, no shopping centres flashing neon propaganda. No shopping centres at all. Not for a hundred miles. And back home you get adverts for the mall you’re already walking around.

Thank you for shopping at Westgate.

Don’t thank me. There’s no need. You attribute to me a choice in your favour where no such choice exists. Not really. Convenience and a distaste for Amazon bought me here. When every temple of commercialism is the same you may as well go to the closest. 

Thank you for shopping at Westgate, really, that’s just, Thank you for contributing to our bank accounts at the expense of your own.

I live better without the constant subliminals.

Anyway…

On the 9th, we toured Smoo Cave. It starts with a huge chamber at the end of a long, narrow inlet. The water leading toward it has the green colour of the weed below. Once, the cave would have included a lot of this inlet too. You can see in places fragments of the old ceiling, now covered in grass and used as canvases by visitors to mark their names in pebbles. To get to the cave you have to take a large staircase that follows the contour of the cliff wall as it turns in on itself and out again before reaching sea-level. The site is unique in that it’s entrance was formed by seawater while the rear chambers were carved by fresh water from the mountains.

This cave has been a communal site for humans for possibly as long as 10,000 years. The Vikings landed here and used it when the whole island was a gamble and a mystery. Before them, the hunter-gatherers who settled in the country, possibly taking a now submerged land bridge from France—the Weald-Artois Anticline—and working their way to the distant north over subsequent generations, did the same. Archaeologists have found the cracked nut shells and arrowheads those people discarded, as well as charcoal and animal bones. Ancient man took shelter here and cooked his kills.

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The tour was led by Colin. He was a self employed tour guide, geologist and archaeologist who left a great impression on us. A portion of his life consisted of exploring beautiful caves, finding what secrets they held. He was almost Indiana Jones. As he took us into the cave on a dinghy he told us about his suspicions that centuries ago many more caverns and tunnels were accessible but due to flooding a lot of it is underwater or filled in. This seemed to be his main area of intrigue, he wanted to chart those unknown parts of the cave system. There was an air of excitement about him when he spoke of his discoveries and the ongoing work to excavate deeper. His enthusiasm spread to us quickly, although inside the cold interior of the Earth, surrounded by its million year sculpting projects, little encouragement was necessary.

Inside the second chamber, where you board the boat and move into the cave-proper, there’s a waterfall that keeps a carp pool filled. Colin took us to the centre of it, maybe about 5 metres from the cave walls on either side, and threw some food into the water. For a second the water was alive, sleek black backs appeared in the beams of our torches, and then disappeared again.

Getting further into the cave meant taking a small boat and ducking under low arches of rock. The walls felt like ice and emitted cold but the air seemed strangely fresh, the smell damp and musty but clean. We could have spent hours there.

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Just for the record, Camera Thief by Atmosphere, Lotus Flower by Radiohead and Aurora by Bjork are going down very well this trip. Bjork sounds good in any cave. We’ve tested it in a few now.

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The Great White Wave – Driving in Sutherland – From Home to End – 07

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10.7.14

12:15am. Sutherland, Highlands.


Yesterday, w
e took a drive in the late evening dusk, on narrow mountain roads where blind corners lead to blind corners and a mistake means a fifty foot plunge into a loch or the ocean or rocks or some combination of the three. From there to single-track lanes through the valleys, cutting in and out of patches of mist. You could smell the sea on the air even with the mountains blocking it. Aphex Twin was on the radioit is essential to pick good music for a night driveand the beats of the Richard D James album shuddered at a suitable volume as we dropped on bumpy tracks into a great bowl between the hills.

We entered a vast landscape, nothing civilised but the road and us, no lights or street lamps, no buildings, just lochs and moorland on either side and a wall of fog running down into the basin ahead. It moved silent and steady, there was something ominous and beautiful about it, like a descending spaceship. We broke into it and found that this giant cloud was made of many smaller ones. Deep inside it became thick and eerie. The headlights shone a path only a few metres ahead. Visibility was just as good with them off. We slowed to a crawl and looked at the whiteness all around. We felt like the first people to witness lighting or to see the northern lights; lost in the great wave. Just as quickly as it enveloped us it receded and left us behind. When it was gone, we were left in a clear valley bordered by mountains. It looked naked and empty now in the darkness.

2018 Edit: On this trip I was listening to a lot of Eyedea. One of the tracks that stood out at the time (and still does) was Infrared Roses. The central theme of the song is the joy of a being a kid exploring and discovering the world and the fear as an adult that your best times, your peak, may already be behind you. I imagine its a common fear and probably a rational one given that most people spend their lives working basically shit jobs. In any case, I was having such a mad time on this adventure that I felt it pretty possible that this might be a high-water mark for me. There’s a note to that effect in the original journal entry. And it was pretty fucking good. But we did better still.

 

I’ll never forget me and Jake’s first roses trip together
Or the times when we all walked aimlessly through summer weather
With nothing better to do I rode to S. A. And tried to steal a pack of squares
Man I miss being a kid with no cares
Its the excitement of knowing everything you touch is new
I just wish I couldv’e stopped to cherish the moment while it lasted but
Maybe that’s the point, the second your smart enough to recognize freedom
You’re no longer free
You see heaven isn’t some place that we go to when we die
It’s that split second in life where you actually feel alive
And until the end of time, we chase the memory of that
Hoping the future holds something better than the past

— Eyedea

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Luke Smith

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Thoughts on the road – Time – From Home to End 06

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I never know the time here. I guess it’s about 6 or 7 pm on the ninth of July and I’ve been up basically all night. I slept for a while with my coat over me to block out the morning sun. I must have looked like a Halloween ghost wearing the wrong colours, slouched in the passenger seat.

On the subject of time, it seems to me that the clock is the ultimate fascist. Everything is a race; the alarm sounds and you get up or you hit snooze and it harasses you back to consciousness again five minutes later. Then you rush to get a bus or you sit in your car, tapping your steering wheel in traffic, eyes flitting to the digital display on the dashboard every thirty seconds, checking the time all the way to work. Inside the office, the dictatorship of the clock is in full effect.

God, how the seconds drag; you experience a mind-numbing restriction of personal liberty until the clock informs you that your slog is over, then it’s a battle through rush hour packed roads to get home and cooked and to get whatever errands you need to do out the way, so you can squeeze in a little time for you and that’ll be however long you can wrestle from the hour hand before you have to sleep.

Your birth and death are both announced in relation to clocks. You live according to them. A machine, a mechanism, is the deciding factor in when you do things. At least, it’s the messenger for a society convinced that progress and development are intimately and necessarily linked with consumption and a full schedule. Dead things have been invented to help us organise life. They are unnecessary. At least, they were until the neolithic revolution and we were doing just fine up until that point. There were no masters then. Not like we know them now.

Maybe I’m overstating the case; the clock has become a tool of oppression.

I’d rather live to natural rhythms. The sun and moon. The tides and seasons. I get that out here. Civilisation demands that we ignore our natural inclinations and our animal clock, those things aren’t compatible with the economic system. It requires we abandon that which every other life system is wedded to. I don’t have to in the Highlands. My phone is rarely switched on. There’s no watch on my wrist. I hardly know the day of the week or the date but who cares for arbitrarily lines?

How many people would be buying anti-ageing products if they didn’t have an exacting measure down to the millisecond of their own journey toward the grave?

If you enjoyed this piece, check me out on Facebook and Twitter. You may also appreciate a similar post from a while back that expands on some of these ideas, called Life Math.

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The north coast in a cloud – Durness, Laid and Tongue – From Home to End 05

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The top of a mountain. Somewhere on the northern coast of Scotland.

1:53 am 9.7.14

We watched from the rise as a thick cloud approached us. It crept up the hill and along the road. A great white wave. We had to get closer, to get inside it and feel the cloud on us. We rushed down the bank, a half-second to consider foot-placement in the darkness, we stepped between rocks, sunk a path through the marsh and hopped puddles to get to the fence by the road. The three of us moved with clumsiness and urgency, as if the cloud might change its mind and direction before we reached it.

Walking on the tarmac, into the whiteness, we started to feel the change. Damp in the air. Water vapour visible in front of us, countless tiny drops floating. It was strange to see its components, like the pixels in a photograph, and to wonder how moisture made something that seemed so solid. It tasted fresh and the sensation was like that of spray from a nearby waterfall hitting your face. Our hoods and shoulders became dotted with dew.

We sat in it with crossed legs and listened. It was silent. The north was silent. I could only hear the hum of my own body; blood pumping through my ears and quiet breaths. Nothing was close by, no people or houses, and even if they were, we wouldn’t have felt it. We were too high and too insulated. Any cars would have been heard from a mile off. It was the type of remoteness that you can feel rattling in your ribcage, a kind of excitement and melancholy together. Primal feelings.

These low clouds in the Highlands move like giant whales. They swim through valleys and levitate over lochs. They are thicker and more certain than fog. Everything that enters disappears and falls into a new world. In the heart of the cloud you can see only fifteen feet in any direction before everything fades out.

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Earlier, we made it to Durness, stopping on the way for ruined castles, sheep and cows in the road, to look at a herd of stag—at least 15 of them on a pasture—and to investigate a seemingly abandoned bus. Regarding the bus; it was at the side of the road, some distance from any streets or towns and completely empty. When we tried the button by the door, it made a sound like a deep exhalation and the doors opened jerkily. We wandered in. There was a vague expectation that an angry bus driver might arrive at any moment and kick us off his bus but no one came. Ben got some wide-grinning shots in the driver’s seat, Yuri and I played with the automatic doors and then we all left.

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Hundreds of miles were already behind us, the roads went where the landscape allowed and brought us to altitudes that made our ears pop. Travelling anywhere often meant circling impassable ranges. We’d already gone almost as far north as we could, at least without going off road or Thelma and Louising ourselves into the North Sea. So many of the lochs we past on route were perfectly still, they looked like mirrors on the ground and reflected the shoreline, the peaks and the sky. A parallel world only disturbed by the occasional ripple. Approaching them in twilight you’d wonder for a moment if it wasn’t the sunset clinging to the ground.

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We made our way inland following the main coastal road through Durness. This was by accident rather than design. The idea was to find somewhere to pitch our tent but the ground was always too tough or water saturated or uneven. Having turned down several lanes without success, we decided to head back to the coast, to follow small roads until we had a decent perch to watch the sun. There was a view spot at the end of a gravel track, way off the main roads, that overlooked the sea and some small islands—rocky outcroppings with grassy caps—and on the other side were the cliffs of Scotland’s northern shore. We watched the sun sink and leave an orange trail across the water, broken by lines of blue from the waves. There’s a clearness in the northern waters, a change from the brown and grey ocean of home.

We sat with the fading sun, smoking a mammoth joint—the biggest of the journey, bigger than the two next biggest combined—and watched the underside of the clouds turn pink and the sun melt to a tiny point on the horizon. There was a small yacht at sea, someone else admiring the world. When the sun was gone and there was only a hazy yellow where it had been, the yacht turned and began its slow drift to wherever.

Later, we went searching for a petrol station or a spot to pitch again. Neither were forthcoming. Nor were hostels or campsites. At least, there were none within the workable radius our sixth of a tank would afford us. It became clear that we were finding nowhere, not off of these roads, and so we picked a place to pull over and spent the night where we were, stranded until places opened in the morning.

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Luke

 

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Escape from Loch Maree – From Home to End 04

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6.7.14
Wester Ross

In the past few days we’ve been escorted off the grounds of a haunted castle by a friendly Scotsman and his dogs—security guards aren’t all assholes—we’ve tried to nap by a waterfall in the early hours, only for our thoughts to converge on the same notion at the same time; we can’t sleep, we should go the fall’s edge and baptise ourselves in the water. After that, we drove on and past an MOD base and some overgrown World War 2 sea defenses, now the centrepieces in a cow field. The same night, in one heroic and almost constant ascent north, we came around a curve in the road and appeared behind a startled badger, who swerved in the headlights, confused and panicked by the car. We slowed down and he rushed into the foliage. The three of us went through more mountains and valleys than I can remember. Each as complex as a face or a fingerprint. All lost somewhere in whatever part of my brain processes images.

Eventually, we set up camp in the familiar wilderness around Loch Maree, where we were attacked and swarmed by hundreds of midges. A war of attrition. A constant bombardment. After a few days, they’d won, we packed up and retreated to a campsite down the road, covered in bites and suffering low spirits.

I’ve never been more pleased to escape somewhere beautiful.

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We ask each other almost every day, sometimes over and over again, is this place real? Is this really Scotland—the same island we’re from? It can’t be. We figured at some point during our travels something ripped a hole between universes and we ended up somewhere else entirely. Somewhere that still has remote places and long empty roads. An insane parallel reality where we don’t build on every free green space we find.
Here the sun never goes all the way down. It waits just below the ocean. You see murky orange from the western horizon all night. Midnight feels like a late sunset back home. The early hours merge as they pass and they have the dark blue of an English summer’s late evening. When it should be pitch black over the Highlands you can still walk through the woods by an eerie natural light.

The night is too bright for stars.

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An art gallery in an abandoned school -From Home To End 03 – Lesmahagow

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On the way back to the car we stopped by the abandoned school mentioned in my last post. It had lockers covered with tacked up pictures and stickers of Boyzone , stamp sized stickers of the Spice Girls, of 911. Of all those early airbrush idols. I walked into a chapter from my young past with the eyes of an adult. It was degraded and aged, but in a sense, still preserved. That’s one of the great things about exploring abandonments. Like a song an abandonment stalls a moment in time. All the pictures were the same as you’d find in my school if you could travel back to a summer around 1997. I guess I would’ve been the right age to be at this school when it closed.

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For me, I thought especially of the London school I stayed at, where the bedrooms and classroom tables were covered in stickers of the same people, taken from the same magazines.

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We found hypodermic needles amongst discarded Christmas decorations in classrooms, Santas left adrift amidst debris in the halls and upstairs we found a shit in a draw. Literally, a shit in a draw. Very Trainspotting. In another world—even in this one—you could probably call it surrealist art. Or a keen satire on education.

exploringschool

It brings me some joy to think of the person who must have squatted over that draw, their thighs aching until their product dropped onto the plywood. They probably turned around and inspected their work and then, wasting little time, would have pushed the draw closed and there, entombed in an old cabinet, the excrement remained. Never again did it see the light of day.

At least, not until three fools with a burning curiosity opened all the draws, all the lockers, everything. Why? So we could understand the people and the place better. So we could understand the events leading up to the abandonment of this school and those that had transpired since. When our curiosity led us to that draw, however, though we found a little piece of history, we closed it and moved on.

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The most interesting thing about the place was that someone had turned it into their own private art exhibition. Using black, they painted silhouetted figures and symbols: the outline of an angel, painted with dark, heavy brush strokes running down the walls, weeping. Or a huge eyeball across a mirror, a tear drop leaking out of it, pooling into a puddle on the cabinet below. The artist had a range of paintings all around the building, spread across multiple rooms and two levels, some hidden inside closed wardrobes or little corners or painted on mirrors, others loud and large, ripped across the walls. The paintings were dragons, tragic silhouettes, symbols, strange messages (“huuuuuug meeee pleeeeese”).

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