I’m back in Edinburgh after yet another Yummick Roadtrip and I have the midge bite scabs and sunburn to prove it.
For those completely unaware, I cast my lot in with the Edinburgh University Mountaineering Club (EUMC) in first year. Four years and three committee positions later, I’ve found it to be an incestuous league of miscreants who might also just be the best people I’ve ever had the pleasure of suffering in a bog with.
This year eight of us departed Edinburgh on May 26. Split between two cars, we headed northward arriving at the walk in to Strabeg Bothy with plans to spend at least two nights. The bothy is maintained by the Mountain Bothy Association (MBA) who manages and upkeeps basic open access shelters around Scotland. Most of them are old croft houses with stone walls and two fireplaces. They can be notoriously dark, dank, and soggy but it really beats pitching tents in rain and wind.
The walk in was a treat.
It was advertised to be a little over two miles, but during the day the river flooded and the surrounding bog became a swamp.
I fell into this swamp after being dumb. I too was bamboozled. After more than sufficient ridicule, Erling finally attempted to help me. However, at this point, the mud and sheep shit had already absorbed me up to my knees.
Finally, we made it to the Bothy after wading across the flooded river in a human chain. Ben decided to abandon us all and wade across the river himself. I still don’t know if it was ambitious, stupid, or if he was just trying to off himself so he didn’t have to listen to my horrible jokes anymore. We all put on dry clothes and hung everything else to dry by the roaring fire. Then we cooked dinner (steak stir-fry if you’re wondering). I found a copy of Atonement and kept the fire going. It was cozy.
We stayed at Strabeg for two nights and then walked out. Ironically, the river torrent we had been forced to cross two days earlier was a little more than a stream. It made me so angry.
Considering that most of Scotland was still a bog from the heavy rain the last few days, we headed even farther north to Sheigra in hopes that we might find some dry rock or sun.
Behold. The sunny beach of Sheigra.
Upon arriving, we pitched up and decided what to do next. I took off along the coast for a pleasant run. Alven placed his crab trap in hopes of catching something for breakfast. That evening, we sat at the beach until the sun started to dip below the jagged sea cliffs. The only option was to climb higher and we watched the last rays of the sun from a grassy ledge overlooking our pitched tents.
We packed up mid-morning. Alven checked in on his crab trap only to find that a crab had indeed been caught, ate the salami bait, but then broken out of the trap. Saddened, to have been outsmarted by a mere crustacean, we headed off for a day of climbing. After a successful day, we headed along the coast to Scourie and pitched up in a field near the shore (we pitched on the middle peninsula in the photo). Being that is was Alven’s birthday, we treated ourselves to something nicer than what we could cook on our gas stoves. A true comic moment was the look on Ben, Sam, Erling, and Alven’s faces when they learned that the ladies’ bathroom at the restaurant had clean hand towels to wash faces and spa-grade soap and lotion. Apparently, the gent’s room only had a weak hand dryer. Walking back to our tents, we watched the sunset.
The next day we left for a bit of day cragging on semi-dry rock. We returned that evening to the same field in Scourie to spend another night. From Scourie, we drove southward to Ullapool. It had been nearly a week on the road at this point so we stopped to resupply food and take showers at the Ullapool Leisure Centre. (We had wanted to go swimming, but the pool was closed for Senior Hour in the morning. But, alas, no seniors were floating about!) As usual, the boys finished their showers well before the girls and were waiting outside with their arms crossed. Honestly, I pity those of you who don’t appreciate clean hair and scalding water more.
From Ullapool we continued toward Applecross where the annual EUMC dinner meet was to be held at the Walled Garden. It was a chance to see everyone before parting ways for the summer, take showers, peel off sweaty leggings and put on something nice.
We met up with various other parties of Yummicks at the pub to swap stories from the week and then pitched up by the water. We stayed up late wrapped in a tarpaulin to keep out the chill. Many were already realising the bittersweet finality of this last road trip.
The next day we packed up and moved to the Applecross Campsite. It was raining so some ambitious folk went running and others went to the cafe.
By the afternoon, Ellie B arrived from Edinburgh and it was almost time to get ready for dinner. Getting ready for the Dinner Meet is a rather social affair. Imagine, people rushing around the campsite fixing each others ties and makeup while balancing plastic wine glasses or tins on cars or in soggy patches of grass. The Walled Garden was a short walk from the campsite. That was a blessing as it was threatening to rain again.
Dinner was really nice.
After, we danced our way back to the campsite to disco versions of Star Wars. We changed clothes and then headed down to the beach for a bonfire. I’ve come to realise I’m actually quite sentimental and found myself trying to memorise that moment on the beach. How everyone’s smiles reached all the way to their eyes. How the fire flickered in the sand. The feeling of being spun on the beach in a dance and the cold sand between my toes. How even the stars seemed to dance along overhead.
The next morning was rainy and fit the mood of farewells. Ellie Leigh returned to Wales to continue her amazing internship. Ben headed north and then south to London to start his summer job (He also drove off with all the remaining food and my camping mug!!! Sabotage!!). Tuva and Erling returned to Edinburgh. The rest of the Yummicks scattered to the wind to do amazing things of that I am sure.
It was just Ellie B, Alven, and I heading even farther north to Skye.
The following week went as quickly as the week before despite my pleas to make it slow down. We spent a windy night on the edge of the world and woke up early to catch a ferry to Lewis and Harris.
We spent the next two days driving around the island and visiting every historical site on the map. The Callanish Stones were absolutely stunning. They are a stone circle similar to Stonehenge, but arguably much larger and probably more significant – they exist in a larger landscape with more of the subsidiary stone circles still surviving.
As an aside, stone circles don’t exist in isolation and play into the landscape. They’re all connected to each other like a spider’s web across expansive miles. Their position is affected by other circles and geographical features. Because Lewis and Harris is still relatively undisturbed compared to the landscape around Stonehenge you can actually get a better feeling for the prehistoric landscape. Also, you can walk right up to them.
The sun finally came out and the waters turned into one of the most beautiful turquoises I have ever seen. (The most beautiful still has to be Shetland.)
The three of us took the ferry back to Skye and then drove to Sligachan to meet back up with other Yummicks. We spent the night at Neist Point and watched the sky turn from blue to yellow to orange to pink to purple and then to black.
Sunsets have always held a special place. Growing up in the Kansas countryside you get used to vibrant colours spreading across the wide reaching sky. The sunsets across the ocean have that same magic and maybe something a little extra. There’s a moment when the sun’s rays hit the water and appear to wrap around the world. And then the stars emerge – the same stars people have looked upon for thousands of years and the same ones we all gaze upon now.
I am so thankful I decided to wake up early that morning in September four years ago to get on a bus and head northward. I am thankful for the sun and the snow and the rain and even the bogs. For the broken tents and the soggy bothys. I am thankful for the moments of fellowship in the mountains and trust on belay. The silence of the night broken by the muffled sound of music. The quiet breaks on the sides of ridges. The feeling of exhaustion but also of adoration for the landscape and the people around me.
And the stars. The spreading canvas of light across the night sky. They might be separate balls of gas thousands and millions of light years apart, but together they weave constellations and epics across the sky.
I know no matter where in the world we end up, we’ll share the same sky. Somewhere, you’ll be watching your sun and stars as I watch mine.
Writing this now back in Edinburgh I realise how much I will miss them. I just hope they will miss me just as much.
I am reminded now of the conversation I had with an old woman in the Tesco car park in Ullapool. She rambled a bit and was all to keen to tell us the dangers of Germans driving large caravans on small highland roads, but she looked me in the eyes and said something I will carry with me for a very long time.
She said, ‘Some places are magnets and the north of Scotland is a strong one. People return here. They always do.’
I hope I do.
Either that or I’ll write a really good story about it.