reflection of moonlight on calm water with an island and a mostly dark sky

How to travel in Scotland (or anywhere)

posted in: Scotland 2023, Stories | 0

I’d like to think I know how to travel, but occasionally I learn something new.

Looking ahead to my trip to Scotland, I recently posted on the Rick Steves Travel Forum asking for thoughts about how to fill my time on the Isle of Skye. I have three full days there, and only one all-day activity. I wondered about other options to fill my time.

Several forum members wrote helpful responses about places I could get to that are worth exploring. But one response really blew me away.

The following was written by Lori Gibson of Vancouver, Washington. She goes by thenosbigs on the forum. She gave me permission to share her words here.

I’ve traveled many places in my life. The Isle of Skye is not one of them, alas. Through familial ties and love of a heavily peated single malt, I can say Scotland and the Hebrides has been my playground on many an occasion.

Like you too, most of my trips I’m prepared with every option, explored every possible adventure, flipped schedules back and forth to make sure I’m squeezing every ounce of juice out of the orange. We’ve all hated hindsight when we wish we could have traded an extra night in town X instead of dreary town Z. The islands off the west coast of Scotland are different. Now maybe Skye is different because it’s connected to the mainland by bridge. Maybe tourism has changed its way of life from the other islands. I don’t know, I’ve never been.

This is my experience on the islands. From the moment, you step across the CalMac gangplank, it’s magic. As the coastline recedes, so does time. Check your timepiece, it’s slowed to the new pace too. You go back in time to communities that have grown up together, survived together and celebrated together. The guy at the ferry dock went to school with your B&B host 40 years ago and the wife took care of his mom before she passed. It’s that interrelated.

Suddenly it hits you how isolated but connected you are here. A few small communities scattered across an island. In winter the winds and gales can kick up such that no ferry or plane dare cross the Hebridean Sea. How these small enclaves clung to the land over the years enduring the clearances, famine, even war time creating this magical fairy tale land of physical beauty but also social idyllic.

The islands are a place to find yourself in. Learn how to breathe again. Walk a path, get lost, shelter under a tree in a rain storm until you follow some sheep home and the lady of the house insists she make you a cuppa while you wait for a taxi. Back at the pub while you wait for your boots to dry out next to the peat fire, revel in the medicinal effects of the local potion as its warmth spreads across your belly. Close your eyes and listen to that sing song patter of friends at the table behind you. That lyrical sound is Gaelic, still spoken in this hidden part of the world.

What I’m trying to express is the beauty and allure of the islands for me isn’t in the Instagram worthy sights, museums or castles. It is the enduring ruggedness and grit of the land and its people bobbing around on an island in an angry sea. Take the time to stand still. If Skye is anything like the other Hebrides, magic will find you. Forever bewitched, you’ve been warned.

Yes, I’d like to think I know how to travel. But reading this, and thinking of how I fill my travel days with activities, I realize how much I can learn from others. 

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