The Grand Tour: Fife and Beyond

Ramblings of an inveterate cyclist

With no bridge and no Sunday ferry from Kyle of Lochalsh to Kyleakin, the Cullin Hills, was a place only accessible to us on Bank Holidays, when we could get the ferry back on the Monday. When on Skye we would stay in a hayloft belonging to a farm down in Glenbrittle and in his implement shed the field kitchen would be set up. Just as important was the keg of beer with a proper delivery handle and pressurised by, if memory serves, a foot pump. No sooner was all the comforts of home installed than we would have a visitor:

“Well, Hello there boys, I did not know you were here, but it just so happens I have my mug with me”.

This would be my first visit to the Cullin Hills, and my first real rock climbing experience, although I had done a bit of scrambling in the past. The Cullin Hills are all you have heard about them, and then some, beautiful, majestic and a delight to climb. The rock is Basalt very hard, and as coarse as rough sandstone to the touch, so good handholds and footholds. However over the years, climbing boots have polished footholds to the resemblance of polished marble and when wet, not uncommon on Skye, it is more like climbing on ice, without crampons. Also it is very magnetic so compasses don’t work there, hill walking is much more of a challenge, thankfully my first visit was on a hot and sunny August Bank Holiday.

On our return the following Monday, we were waiting for the ferry at Kyleakin, our Chief was fooling around on the slippery pier and ended up in the water, no one rushed to his aid, we all knew the Hind too well. A guy came from one of the car and, believing Oor Chief was in trouble leaned over to help him out, only to find himself in the sea beside him. We all saw that one coming.

The second time I went over to Glenbrittle, was on a call-out a woman, an experienced hillwalker, had become separated from her friend as darkness fell. We bivouacked on the hill that nigh and started our search next morning. She was quickly found in the area we were told to look for her by her companion who had raised the alarm. The woman was experienced enough to known, not to go traipsing around the Cullin Hills in darkness, had decided to spend the night sheltering in a gully. She was not a young woman and now suffering from dehydration and exposure, we wrapped her up in a duvet bag and strapped her onto our aluminium stretcher, such stretchers had skids, so could be pulled across open ground. I’m not sure how comfortable it would have been, bounced across the heather, pulled by half a dozen fit young lads, but a lot quicker than walking I’m sure.

The third trip: the RAF Mountain Rescue, had received a request for guides. Seems a group of Italian Soldiers wished to go training in the Cullin Hills. They all came in full uniform complete with hats with large feather sprouting from their rim and spend most of their time running around at 120 step per minute blowing bugles, well they were Italian.

After leaving the RAF I did continue hillwalking and managed 106 Monroe’s, some several time over, some in both summer and winter. And when I moved down to the borders, some of the Donald’s there, them life got in my way. I once danced on those mountain peaks, now I only stand and look in awe at their majesty. Old age does not come alone.

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