One week on Skye

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I’ve been living on the Isle of Skye for one week. I arrived under the invisible, grounding new moon in Capricorn, tired and happy to land after a nine hour drive through some of the UK’s most dramatic scenery – two cats, my shop and the rudiments of a comfortable life packed into a friend’s sturdy little Fiesta.

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I hadn’t driven for 18 months, and setting out at 6am in driving rain, navigating the complex, unkind motorways of greater Manchester, longing for the sun to rise, wasn’t the easiest start. When it did rise, I was in the Lake District, love songs on Radio 2, cats and I all singing along. It’s a journey of two halves – all motorway til Glasgow, then winding national park A-roads north and north and north to the Highlands and islands. Honestly, I’ve never seen such beauty in all the world. By the time I reached the mountains around Mallaig I was in tears, belting out Hungry Heart, dazed and excited in that beautiful, lonely way that I crave so much. Then a ferry, over the sea to Skye, and I was home.

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I’m here to help out on a permaculture forest garden and campsite on the southern peninsula of Sleat (pronounced ‘slate’), in exchange for a caravan on the shore, overlooking the Sound of Sleat and the snow-covered mountains of the highlands beyond it. From here I can see ‘the remotest place in Britain’, Knoydart, a mountainous peninsula cleaved on either side by Loch Nevis and Loch Houn (‘Lake Heaven’, ‘Lake Hell’).

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The work is simple. Four or five hours a day of whatever needs doing – clearing paths, chopping wood, pruning trees and plants, painting signs, sorting, tidying and general dirty outdoorsy maintenance tasks. It’s grounding and real, which was just what I was looking for – my days spent working with earth and tools and gloves and breathing steam in the cold winter air, rising early and watching the dawn over those mountains as I write or read tarot cards. Sandra, who owns the place, is a Yorkshirewoman who fell in love with permaculture in the 80s and has been growing a garden and a community here ever since. It’s called Rubha Phoil – ‘Paul’s Point’.

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This island is rugged, far far north, filled with cliffs and beaches. The Cuillin Hills are reputed to be among the most beautiful mountains in the world, and suddenly they’re a half-hour drive from my home. I’m hoping to go exploring soon.

The cats are loving their newfound adventure playground. Emily climbs cliffs while Jammy jumps on rocks by the sea. They’re lively and talkative, curious and energetic. I’m so glad they’re with me.

The radio is tuned to BBC Scotland. Unpacking late last Sunday I was lulled into a musical dreamland by a late-night alternative music show. I was delighted to switch on on my first morning and be plunged into a discussion of Jennifer Lawrence’s comment that her style is ‘slutty power lesbian’. There were I believe three real life lesbians on the show to give their views! Great stuff. And evening folk shows and local weather and it’s just so nice to be hearing about what’s happening in another country.

Late at night, I sit out on the bench in front of the caravan, looking right out to sea. It’s very cold, but the weather has been generously dry. The sky here is so dark that you can see a million stars, the more you gaze up at the infinite blackness, the more appear, it looks like dark velvet, completely covered with glitter. The port-light flashes at the end of the pier, and out of sync, the lighthouse at Mallaig directly opposite flashes back.

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But the best part of the day is the dawn. Every time. I wake around 6.30, stretch, step outside, make the fire, make coffee, draw a tarot card, answer emails, still in the velvet blackness of winter dark. Slowly, gradually, the light begins, and it’s only then that I start to see what kind of a day it is. Can I see the snowy peaks? How still or how rough is the sea? Are the clouds that cling to the mountains grey and thick, or white, moving fast? The light grows and grows until at 8.50 (and growing earlier every day) the sun breaks through the trees on the rubh. I package parcels and read tarot for clients in these awakening hours, before setting off up the hill to my daily tasks at the forest garden. The simplicity of my days is delicious.

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22 comments

  1. Beth, I did the road trip from Manchester to Skye and so I was able to remember my own thoughts, prayers and connection from your story. Skye is so special; I found myself not wanting to leave that magical place and it makes me deeply happy that you are reading taro there. Enjoy your depth, the calm, the wind, the smell of the air that is only Skye!

    • Beth says:

      Thank you Jenna! It’s not the longest trip I’ve ever been on, but it’s certainly the longest I’ve ever driven. Where on Skye did you visit?

      • Beth, I stayed in Portree and from there did a series of road trips around the island. I recommend the Isles Inn for a pint there and they make a FAB vegetarian haggis on a bed of neeps and tatties that I still dream about. I was also very lucky to see a Hen Harrier while there, a sea otter and magical wind whisting songs through old pipes… Skye is best taken when you slow down, sit somewhere and just watch. Though to be fair, I was there in fall. Now, I am wearing the hat made from yarn of black sheep I was lucky enough to pet and love up on and its a nice connection this winter, and now I have another! 🙂

        • Beth says:

          Yes indeed to slowing down! I keep hearing about ‘Skye time’ which is floating my boat very nicely.

          I will be sure to check out the Isles Inn for veggie haggis – Em and I visited Portree in December and it’s just the most beautiful place. Sandra and I were supposed to be day-tripping there yesterday, but between the garage sale we stumbled across and the crofter she’d promised to visit, we never made it – another time!)

          And don’t get me started on the yarn situation. Oh my. When I was here before I found hand-spun, hand-dyed Hebridean yarn dyed with local wildflowers. Just stunning.

  2. Spooteh says:

    I love all of the pictures you’ve included! It looks like an amazing place. It really sounds like this is the situation you were looking for, and I hope your year continues in this way.

  3. Wonderful space, nature textures. I can feel the chill, the verticality (haven’t been to the isle, but saw it from Kyle of Lochalsh). Good memories of a fine trip to Scotland many years ago. What a wonderful Capricornian opportunity, Beth. 🙂

  4. The way you write about Skye makes me fall so in love with it too, and makes me feel like I’m there. So beautiful–the pictures only add to it. I can’t wait to see how great it is for you.

  5. Marianne says:

    Oh my god dude, GOOSEBUMPS. This sounds so right, so glorious! And I’m glad you got to take your cats – it looks like you might need a furry hot water bottle or two on your feet at night! Not that you need anyone to tell you this, but enjoy this perfect moment! I’m so happy for you to have found it up there!

  6. Sanna says:

    It’s over 20 years since I visited Skye but I still remember it as a very beautiful place. Your photos make me want to visit again.

  7. tango says:

    Eeee! Beth I’m so glad you received this opportunity!

    Except for a slightly different climate and different flora/fauna–your descriptions of scenery & daily activities sound very similar to my new Alaskan life.

    This post was beautiful; thank your for sharing. I hope you make time soon to explore those Cullein Hills.

    • Beth says:

      Hey Kylo!

      I googled for co-ops/communal living/volunteering opportunities on Skye and found this wonderful place, contacted Sandra and came up to meet her, then figured out a role that I could play and moved here!

  8. Sally says:

    Oh my goodness I am so jealous!!! Here I am sitting in an office staring into a computer hating what I do. Had to drive here in crazy traffic and will be driving home again in crazy traffic. Rushing home to cook and hopefully have a glass or two to unwind to then just start all over again tomorrow. How very fortunate you are!! It looks absolutely beautiful and I wish you all the very best.

    • Beth says:

      Oh Sally. I hope you’re not trapped and can find an escape route, if that’s what you want. Enjoy your glass of wine. And I really, really do know how lucky I am – this opportunity is definitely not something I am taking for granted.

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