IT’S not the longest ferry crossing, but I suspect even Marco Polo might have been impressed by the feeling of adventure you get when you set sail from Uig.
Perhaps it’s the long journey to reach this point, perhaps it’s the windswept loneliness which surrounds it, but this little port with its scattering of houses in the north of Skye always makes me feel I am at the ends of the earth.
My first experience involved sleeping in the car for a few hours while I waited in icy darkness for the 5am sailing over the waters of the Little Minch to Harris. Subsequent trips have failed to dislodge that feeling of cold farewell, even with sunshine and blue skies.
I was heading to Tarbert for the Harris Mountain Festival, a week-long mix of talks and walks where I was one of the guest speakers. I had hoped to tick off three mountains on my Grahams list while I was there, but with so many other options I was happy to play it by ear.
I stayed at a cottage on the east coast and was rewarded with a beautiful sunrise next morning. Unfortunately, just a few miles over to the west coast, the hills I was aiming to climb were shrouded in low cloud.
I like to think I am more laid back these days when it comes to walking, so I decided to turn my back on the greyness and head back east to tackle The Postman’s Path, rated by many as the most scenic path in Scotland.
The first half hour or so is all about gaining height but when you reach the first horizon the views appear in spectacular fashion; four-plus miles of deep inlets dotted with little islands, steep heather-clad hillsides and the poignant remains of old settlements. And for a bonus point, I even had a golden eagle soar lazily over my head as I headed down a section of grassy zigzags.
The path eventually comes out near Reinigeadal, a few houses which include a remote hostel. There’s a fair amount of uphill work to be done to reach here and you would be mighty relieved to find a warm bed waiting.
I managed to take in a film night over in Scalpay as part of the festival before retiring for the night with mountains on my mind. My cottage companions had changed with the bedsheets, and now included a Danish lady and two Belgian gentlemen.
Sleppe was on his twentieth journey round Scotland but his rapidly deteriorating health meant this would probably be his farewell to a country he had grown to love. His younger companion was getting a guided tour to all the old haunts while watching out for him.
The sunrise was even more spectacular the following day, purples, yellows, reds and oranges lighting up the horizon, a slowly rippling multi-coloured sheen conquering the dark waters of the bay.
Again though, there was an east-west split, and my ascent of Tiorga Mor quickly went downhill, so to speak. The slopes of the hills here seem afflicted by an outbreak of giant, grey measles, typical of much of the landscape of Harris. It’s rough, untamed country, and all the better for it.
The trig point summit was reached amid ever-increasing pulses of rain and the return via a northern then eastern descent amongst complex terrain to the lochs of Gleann Chliostair was achieved with a modicum of relief.
The Moonwalker show avoided the Nancy Dell’olio affliction and played to a full house at the Harris Hotel that evening, new friendships forged and old ones reaffirmed, a relaxed and welcoming end to a wet day.
I reluctantly left early next day, the sun splitting the sky as I boarded the ferry. By the time we docked in Uig, I had decided the adventure shouldn’t come to an end just yet. When you catch Skye in Med-style conditions you have to take advantage, so I headed up from the Slig for a short circuit of the red scree slopes of Beinn Dearg Mhor.
From high on the ridge, I could look down on the long, twisting road home. I couldn’t help wonder if Sleppe was enjoying a similar experience for his final adventure.