DAY 23: KYLE OF LOCHALSH

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The morning can’t come soon enough for me. But when it does, it’s with a start.

Purely by chance – again – we have parked right underneath the Old Man of Storr.

The shapes in the dark last night which were so successful in giving me the willies were actually the famous Trotternish rock formations. Colossal rough arrow heads point to the sky. And we had set up camp right underneath the centre piece, the contemptuous looking long face of rock that is the Old Man.

There’s further commotion going on outside the van this morning as a gigantic hairy Highland bull – ginger fringed wig over his eyes, huge swaying horns – has set up home in the middle of the road.

A police car with lights flashing follows him around. Completely ignored by the bull who does whatever it likes. Officers have been sent to stand guard or flap arms impotently at the beast. This obviously a Big Deal in Skye.

The Skye police force eventually stand down, but one young, nervous looking, string bean recruit – with his uniform wearing him – is stationed on bull duty for apparently the whole day. They look rather an odd double act together.

Our own double act, though, decides to trek up The Storr. But it’s slow, painful going after Ben Nevis. We’re really feeling the fatigue from the earlier submits and the mishaps with the van and neither of us enjoy the climb too much.

The rocks seem more arresting viewed from afar anyway. Peering down on us rather than up close. The weather is bleak and we’re feeling pretty bare within.

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There’s a sign advertising food for the hungry climber at the bottom of the trek back down, with an arrow pointing: “Takeaway…14 miles”.

So it’s back in the camper van. And we head up over the top of the isle. The weather cheers and we climb high, passing the Quiraing rock formations. They resemble, from the road, a giant hand. A warning for travellers to stop perhaps? Or maybe it’s a wave goodbye to the county, as it plunges into its northern sea.

We race down the other side of the isle as we have a ticket to get us onto a tour of the Talisker whisky distillery and only a couple of hours or so before it closes.

I’m only interested in the free testing of the Talisker at the end really – the “king o’drinks” as the old poem The Scotsman’s Return From Abroad has it – but the distillery is a beautiful part of Skye in its own right. Set on a perfect fresh water river flowing down chiseling mountains out into the white mouth of Talisker Bay.

The whiskies are good. Smoky, lingering in the back of the mouth, all that sort of thing. Everything you might imagine from a Scottish malt.

Passepartout has never really drunk that much whisky before, tsipouro being the considered spirituous drink of choice in Greece. I’ve certainly never really appreciated it much either. However, since Dumfries, where I asked in a pub what was a good whisky and the whole bar joined in to help me, one man even producing his own homemade and regularly updated leather bound almanac of Scottish malts, we’ve been on unavoidable learning curve.

And while I still think to myself “well, it’s just plants and water mashed up in a big vat really” when the evangelicals wax too strongly about it, we feel we’ve developed a bit of a cultured taste while we’ve been here in Scotland.

This what I tell myself anyway, as I look out with slightly hooded eyes on the last of Skye, propped up on my chin on the dash board with an imbecilic smile spread on my face as Passepartout drives us back over onto the mainland and to the Kyle of Lochalsh hotel.

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We don’t have a room. We park in the car park, expecting to be moved on. But nobody says anything.

To “freshen up” before dinner (tinned haggis and Mulligatawny soup on the camper stove) we head to the public toilets by the tourist office. It shouldn’t be too bad though as I’ve read that these are the most lavishly decorated public toilets in Britain.

Having paid our 20p I’m rather disappointed to find they are just bog standard white porcelain and tile. They do have showers though. Required, paramount, cardinal showers.

We sneak in to one and are in the middle of using it when there’s a bang on the door

“Eh. Yous in there. I’m lockin’ up the doors now”

“Oh. Just a minute”

This doesn’t go down well “I dinnae get paid overtime you know!” comes the bellow.

As we exit, bedraggled and wet, a small angry Scotsman is waiting for us. One eye scrunched closed in irritation. Tartan hat.

I ask him if he’s responsible for the toilets.

“Aye” he responds charily.

I tell him we came especially having heard so much about the decoration. He brightens visibly.

“Aye that was me!”

And he goes on to tell me how, having retired as a local school teacher 20 years ago, he took over the running of the lavatories. It was a labour of love. Festooning the walls and cubicles and cisterns with old maps, drawings, photos of historical figures, thistles and saltires, new vases of flowers every day.

But what’s happened now?

“Och. The bloody council. They didnae like it. Took it all down last year”.

But it’s famous. The best place to spend 20p in the country.

“Aye. I told them” he shoulders slump. He looks despondent. Tails off “No one listens to me now…”

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We sit in the hotel bar that night. Imposters, but no one seems to care.

I listen to the men of Kyle of Lochalsh gathering round their drinks talking of next weekend when one of them is going to Inverness. To go on a shopping run to the Marks and Spencer’s there. The general tone of this journey to the nearest large town, around 70 miles away, is of hushed awe. As if he were taking some journey without maps, entering into the dark interior of Liberia or somewhere.

As we leave for our night in the camper van parked outside, next to a now markedly more tempestuous and frothing, dark, Loch Alsh, the nervous Scotsmen behind me with their equable, sequested lives have left me happy on this dirty night.

And so we drift off with the hulk of Skye watching us, resolute and hardy, from over the water. As the prefatory gale blows outside.