We left the medieval church at Rodel rather reluctantly… not just because there was still so much we wanted to explore, but because it meant we were heading north once again towards Tarbert and the ferry. Our time on the island was fast running out, but what we had managed to see in the short time we had been there was quite incredible… even we could barely believe it… and we still had a little time to spare.
There was something we had seen on the drive south… a group of pillars in the machair. It was all the excuse we needed to stop again. They could have been standing stones, but, on closer inspection, turned out to be trees, bleached silver by wind and weather.
We wandered across the dunes for a little while, neither of us showing any enthusiasm for returning to the car or the port. The scale of the landscape, the soft sands, the sunlit, flower-strewn grass and the sense of latent possibility were enchanting, in the truest sense of the word. We had no desire to break the spell.
But the clock was ticking. We regained the car and did not stop again until we could see inlet, full of little islets and the ferry-port of Tarbert far below us. There we paused, because we had time, to drink in the magic and beauty, as if preparing for a drought.
A high, rocky plateau, scattered with small lochans, looks out across the sea. The air, crystal clear… the waters pristine and blue… and, in my heart, the weight of saying farewell, as if to a place I had loved all my life, not somewhere I had known for just twenty-four hours.
But, we still had a couple of hours left before the ferry was due to sail and, beyond Tarbert, the road crosses a bridge to the tiny island of Scalpay and I could not resist even so brief a visit.
Before the trip, we had hoped to be able to visit one of the Scottish islands… thinking it would probably ‘just’ be Skye, to which we could drive across the bridge. Almost accidentally, it seemed, we had done rather better than ‘one’… Scalpay was our fifth island. Having worked with the pentagram at the workshop weekend two days before, that seemed rather appropriate.
There was only time for a brief ‘raid’, not an exploration. All too soon we had to park the car in the queue for the ferry, with just enough time to restock the cooler with snacks for the road and then we were underway. Last to load was a hearse with a private numberplate reading MacCleod. It would be the first off the ferry on Skye… that too seemed appropriate as we had been following the clan since we first set foot on the islands.
There were no mists to veil the isles on the return journey, just a little distant haze against the brilliant blue of the sea. Nor was the sea as preternaturally calm as we crossed this time. We were able to get a better look at the island that had drawn our attention… and saw the recumbent profile of the Old Man of Storr smiling at us as we approached Skye, as if to say we had passed his test. But, although we did not realise it at the time, he hadn’t done with us yet.
As the ferry was docking in Uig, we watched, fascinated, as three great hawsers were cast from the ship to the shore, tying the vessel to the land. As we awaited our call to disembark, we noticed that all the glass doors were etched with huge swords that we had failed to see on the outbound journey, but which, after the church at Rodel, seemed somehow significant in a vague way we couldn’t really place. There was also an advert on the wall for really cheap accommodation on Lewis… which we could have seen, and booked, on the way out. If we had, we would not have spent that second night in the car. We would have had charge in our phones… ways to contact people… We would have made other plans.
As it was, we used the last shreds of charge on the phone to book and pay for a hotel in Ayr. We knew it was going to be a long drive south, but didn’t bother to check the map; the ‘blindfold’ was on once again. Docking much later than expected, we managed to drive across Skye without pause, until we reached the mainland again and caught sight of Eilean Donan, one of the most photographed castles in Scotland, familiar from so many movies. As the light began to fade, I pulled in, briefly, to get a shot or two of my own, before hitting the road through the Highlands. We still had a long drive ahead…