A Journey into Scotland … Part 34
A little shop sells me cola and a Mars bar. I need sugar and I need a long sit down. The harbour provides the perfect place; views back across from where I came. I’m in a reflective mood. I’ve cycled a long way to be on the Isle of Skye and my time was much shorter than I’d planned. There it was, just across the water. Just a few hundred yards and yet I daren’t go back. The ferries aren’t a problem. The boats go back and forth almost continually. The problem is my ankle.
I don’t want it to seize up and I don’t want it to cool down. If it is hurt then I will need to completely change my plans. In the short-term I need rest. The pull from where I was knocked off to Kyleakin was demanding. If is is injured then it probably hasn’t done me any good.
But I’m better off being injured here than back where it happened. Here there is a big hotel and numerous guest houses. There’s a chemist where I re-stock my American friend’s first aid box before she pedals off towards Inverness. It seems an inadequate way to say thank you. But she’s gone. I’m left with this delightful view across the sea to Skye. And, of course, there is a railway station with a service that could get me home provided I’m not in too much of a hurry.
I was rattled beyond my current comprehension. The trip was precarious and had nearly ended with a tear or a sprain; I was beginning to tremble inside with the what ifs and maybes. I didn’t want to leave this country but, for the first time since I’d set out, I had no desire to see what was around the next corner. The small stretch of sea between me and the inner Hebrides. Quiet, seeming as a pool yet underneath, unseen currents that could pull you away in seconds. The three peaked hill on the opposite shore symbolising where I won’t be going, this tidy town symbolising where I was.
If it happened now I’d book into the hotel and move into a room with a deep and soapy bath. I’m not sure I didn’t get it more right back then.
For an hour or more I just sat and watched the ferries ply their trade and the occasional yacht go by. I felt the bittersweetness of knowing that I was safe and alive while having the hopes and dreams I’d woken up with placed firmly to one side. I’d wanted, more than almost anything else on the journey, to see the Cuillin Hills, to catch the ferry out from Uig to Tarbert and to pedal through the islands of Harris and Lewis before returning to the mainland at Ullapool on a ferry bound from Stornaway. The very names flew from me. My brave and my folly said I could still do it. It was only turning pedals. My prudent said I had to take time to assess. Only time would tell me the extent of my injury. I literally needed to sleep on it.
Eventually I decided to ride a mile or two and found a quiet road that kept me parallel with the railway. There were stations every few miles and with a timetable safely in my bag and assurance from the man at the station that there would be no problem putting the bicycle on the train wherever I chose to catch it, I rode quietly away from Loch Alsh and round the headland of the peninsular onto the shores of Loch Carron. This was all new to me. My planning had been quite meticulous. Long hours in the summer kitchen poring over maps had set a route that I’d followed almost every mile of the way so far. Now the towns and villages had unfamiliar names. Now I felt a different sense of journey.
I won’t overplay the cliffhanger with my ankle. It was hurt. I was struggling but I could carry on and I was pretty sure that taking it steady for a day or two would allow me to continue. But I did have big doubts. The railway seemed as big a god-send as my American friend. I could follow it as far as Dingwall if I wanted to. I could make a whole different route to Ullapool and pick up my planned journey there.
But steady gradients were now steep. This had never been a problem before. I’d prided myself with a certain self-deprecating irony that there was no hill in Scotland that was so steep that I couldn’t get off and push. That option had gone. I could ride but walking without a bicycle to push was difficult enough; pushing a laden bike up a steep hill was impossible.
My maps were good enough to put little arrows on roads that were precariously steep but other than that there was no real way of telling a rideable road from one that would defeat me. I needed to find someone who knew the area and who was prepared to go through the new route with me. But most of all, I needed to find a place to put up my tent.
I’d never heard of Plockton but once there I couldn’t understand this at all. This was Dartmouth, this was Clovelly, this was unbelievably lovely. The place boasted everything I could wish for. A beach or two, a harbour, shops, inns, even palm trees. I kept riding along the front, past cottages so lovely as to be almost unreal to a place I was told would let me put up a tent. I could walk to it now. While writing this I’ve tried to find it on Google Maps but can’t. It doesn’t seem to be there anymore. Even in my memory I cannot recall whether it was an actual campsite or a place where someone let me put up a tent. So many people were so kind to me in this little town that I cannot place all the memories in the right order.
I know that the place where I put up a tent was a field that had cows in it. I’ve got a photograph to assure me that I’m not making it up. No real campsite would have had cows walking free around the tents and I wouldn’t have just put the tent up in a field without being given permission. I have the haziest memories of doing a double take but being assured that they wouldn’t bother me; and they didn’t.
I didn’t go far that day once I’d pitched camp. Tea boiled and was drunk. I spent a long time sitting down where the palm trees grew and was told by one person or another how the shelter from the loch and the effects of the gulf stream gave Plockton an almost Mediterranean climate. I actually had Haggis with tatties and bashed neeps in the poshest looking of the pubs. I had a pint of Scottish ale and I was in my tent and asleep not long after the sun went down.
When I woke up in the morning, a cow was pushing against the side of my tent. I got out and negotiated field sharing rights with her. The sun was shining and I was limping like Keyser Söze. Common sense and the desire to explore came together. There was no need to abandon this journey that meant so much to me. An expedition into my past and my present that let me have time to think about my future. I was going to continue on. I was sure of that. But not today. I was in no fit state to go anywhere but I had dropped lucky. Of all the villages in all of the counties of Scotland I could have ended up in on a day when I wasn’t going anywhere, I’d picked on Plockton. Or it had chosen me. The next few days were all down to fate and this was a pretty good place to start letting the pixies rather than the ordnance survey take me my the hand and guide me.