They weren’t going about their business in spite of us – searching for food, moving around their territory. No sense of momentary tolerance here, we were clearly un-sensed; eaves-dropping on moments of personal pleasure and abandon. This was a stolen moment unlike others experienced with the abundance of wild-life on the Isle of Skye.
The white-tailed sea eagle, for example, breath-takingly fixed on a buffeting gale just feet from the cabin window. In motionless motion he made eye contact but dismissed me as a boxed voyeur and continued his skilful duel with the gale in wait of prey. Also, over frantic water, as a magical back-drop in this October gale, storm petrels skimmed their feet and darted forwards like aquatic bats. Moreover the silent and solid stag who strolled out of a fir wood to within feet of us and stood un-phased and patiently awaiting our passing. We stayed transfixed by the moment, marvelling at his felted-antlers, his size, his calm still confidence and condensed breath – a standoff without aggression. He stayed, we left gently smiling and awestruck once more.
Then there were the sought encounters, the sea trips on the stunning Sound of Sleat. Here we encountered playful common dolphins tail-surfing, leaping from watered speed to soft air-borne arches at our sides; the double finned basking shark, mouth gaping as it passed, enormous dark and calm and the Minke whale with its long smooth arched back, surprisingly small fin, and whooshing puff of misty breath. Wow – what memories of Skye.
This day, having chosen an easy but rewarding walk from Elgol to Camasunary Bay we continued across the river of undulating mountain water precariously balancing on submerged stones. This breath-taking location of mountains, islands, sea and lochs is accessible only by foot or boat. We meandered gently on Sgurr Na Stri, a classic shaped rocky mountain on the sea edge of the red and black Cuillin range affording fantastic views of the surrounding sea loch, Isles and mountain ridges. This was an aperitif for a week of walks; a taste of promise to come; a muscle and senses warm up. The dark ragged ridges of the black Cuillin sending a fizz of emotion-charged moisture up the nose and to the eye whilst simultaneously relaxing the jaw to afford an awestruck gape. The shifting climatic conditions on Skye allows these familiar dark mountains a new birth of shape, colour and contour adding unexpected depths and forcing the eye to seek new paths for future exploration.
It showered predictably and intermittently but Skye does that to you just to test your resolve. We answered the challenge by donning waterproofs, settling down and opening our picnic. A pristine common gull stood closely sharing fatty scraps; just three rain-tolerant feeders. The clouds were a frenzy of changing scenes, depth and intensity – once shallow and pale then solid, dark and threatening; the wind their conductor and constructor. With momentary favour the sun cast bright tips on the water’s and mountain’s ridges, painting the Isles of Eigg and Rhum in dashes of light once grey/green then purple/blue. The sea rippled a classic Skye slate grey with a tinge of maroon. Our souls and bodies fed it was time to turn back.
I often find return walking more chore than adventure. Be it grappling with scree on a descent or just avoiding boggy holes and slippery rocks the experience is dominated by the task at hand – the return more than the exploration; shame on me. With a focus on footing and Elgol in spectacular view across Loch Scavaig we rounded a corner and glanced fleetingly at a small group of rocks nearby off shore. Movement! A few more steps and we seated ourselves against the rocks entranced by the playful undulating movements of two otters; not foraging for food amongst the reeds and shore line but playing unashamedly on the rocks with quick smooth wave like motion. With no sense of our presence, just sheer abandon and joy they tussled and chased with child-like pleasure. The larger female was more guarded momentarily but with no scent or sound to support suspicion the game continued unabated; their behaviour suggesting a mother and juvenile pair. Being English we poured a cup of tea and sipped in awe of our fortune. Then, with smooth and deliberate motion, the female fleetingly chastised the juvenile and slipped smoothly in to the water; not quick to calm into sense and safety, the juvenile delayed momentarily. Within moments we too were alerted and the otters gone; there emerged a pair of chattering walkers from the depths of this isolated mountain region, their voices a siren. Yes, I was a little peeved but delight prevailed and I carry a memory that moves ever playfully in my mind in many still moments.