Island life is essentially about being in harmony with the rhythm of the seasons, but it is the weather that really determines what we do and when, so I have adopted the Darwinian philosophy that survival depends on the ability to adapt to the environment. Consequently I have become a creature of routine and habit; I would like to think that this is an expression of a contented lifestyle rather than an indolent slide into old age. This might appear to be contrary, but they are just part of Hebridean Zen – there is a seasonal pattern to life, but as the weather gods are often perverse, things get done when the time is right. The ultimate form of mañana!
As the winter begins to draw to a close, and the days begin to lengthen, it is time for a short excursion to refresh the spirits. In February and early March the weather is still very unpredictable, so our away jaunt has to be arranged at short notice, as soon as we see a suitable weather window. A quick trip to Skye seems to fill most of these criteria, it is only a short ferry trip across the Minch (an hour and three-quarters) but its landscapes and culture are very different. Some serious weather watching produced the possibility of three days of dry calm weather at the end of February and once again our annual early spring trip to Skye was launched.
We have been visiting Skye for many years and watched it change as the building of the bridge has radically altered the economy of the island and, in recent years, attracted a deluge of visitors. Too often we drive straight across the island, either on a trip to the mainland or to catch the ferry home, and there is rarely time to stop to enjoy the rugged landscapes of Eilean a’ Cheo (the misty isle).
The geology of this glaciated, volcanic island is complex and has produced a diversity of rough-hewn land forms, from the jagged crags of the Cuillins to the pinnacles of the Quiraing and the massive rounded contours of Glamaig and the Red Hills. These are winter landscapes, stunning when covered in snow, moody when draped in swathes of cloud and in the pale winter sunshine they have a monochromatic, skeletal, sculptural beauty. The eye is constantly drawn to this dramatic skyline which is still the haunt of eagles, but the coastline is equally dramatic. The coast is fractured by monumental cliffs, basalt columns, stacks and waterfalls, leading to boulder beaches or more rarely an expanse of coral sand and tidal islands. Beyond there is the distant backbone of the Outer Hebrides archipelago sitting on the far western horizon with the mountains of the Applecross to the northeast and the wilderness of Knoydart to the south-east, to remind you that Skye is an island.
Skye is very different to our small island home, but there are ancient ties between the island people and reminders of the common traditions of crofting and fishing abound.