“The tale is the map that is the territory. You must remember this.” – Neil Gaiman, American Gods
I’m not sure why I continue to work slowly at this telling of my trip to the UK with my sister so many years ago now. Perhaps it is because a few of my acquaintances like to read it, perhaps it is simply to keep the writing muscles limber as I work on my first novel. Whatever it is, I hope this tale is at the very least entertaining…and at the most an inspiration from which to map out your own adventures.
From what I remember, stepping off the bus in the tiny town of Kyleakin, the gateway to the Isle of Skye, was like stepping back in time. Though perhaps not the most picturesque part of the Island (disclaimer: I saw very little of said Island), it nonetheless seemed to me that we had somehow left the hustle-and-bustle, if it can be called that, of 21st century Inverness and alighted unexpectedly into a quieter, less hyperactive period in history. I won’t specify which period here for fear of insulting someone from this beautiful little town, er, village? But suffice it to say that the era did not seem to be my own.
We moseyed our way through the few streets and I’m glad Kristen was paying attention to where we were going as I was lost in how overwhelmingly adorable the place was. Incredibly, when we pushed through into the lobby of the hostel we had blindly booked online a few days earlier, we found a Canadian from the West Coast running the business! I took this as a sign that we were meant to stay here and promptly made myself completely comfortable. There is plenty of evidence of this as Kristen careened around spending a minimal amount of her considerable energy while I, characteristically, curled up on the couch to read and plot our next move. I may have also been noting Kyleakin down as yet another perfect place to jet off to for solitude when writing my someday-best-selling novels.
It was decided that since we had so little time here, the famed Fairy Pools were not going to be feasible…this time around. Instead, we opted to visit what was nearby and honestly? It was well worth it.
After traipsing along the beach for a while, stretching our legs and enjoying the fresh ocean air, we walked on down, past all the little shops and the one pub, and headed up a trail which promised an adventure of sorts, albeit an extraordinarily accessible one. Despite the ease of the hike, we were comforted that there was at least a high-tide warning. Starting on an adventure down a path that might disappear at any moment due to the forces of nature and impede your return is a pretty great beginning, don’t you think? I’m sure Bilbo a la beginning of the Hobbit would not have undertaken such a journey, no matter how short. You know, because of his severe aversion to water and all.
While in the middle of the “don’t tarry too long in case the tide comes in” zone we, appropriately, tarried for more than a few minutes to take a photo of a woman who had just completed the climb we were headed towards. And, just to fuel the stereotype of the reckless tourist, we flaunted the powers of the tide more by pausing even longer in order to have a great photo snapped of us as well. As one does when faced with an impending swell of ocean water.
The hike up the hill was none too difficult and yet when we got to the top we seemed impressively high. At least, I don’t remember it being too difficult. As Neil Gaiman so beautifully put it, “We do not always remember the things that do no credit to us. We justify them, cover them in bright lies or with the thick dust of forgetfulness.” Perhaps, in Kristen’s memory, I stumbled up the hillside huffing and puffing, wheezing and sneezing (due to the already-present dust of forgetfulness settling in of course), but I choose to believe the walk was a breeze and that I completed it like a champ – though perhaps not as gracefully as my deer-like sibling.
You might ask what we were hiking towards. I mean, how many hills could we possibly climb just to get a good view of the countryside? (The answer, if you must know, is all of the hills. We never get enough of them. But that’s besides the point). In fact, there was a particular goal in mind, for at the top of the hill we found… Well, I will let my Useless Historical Fact for this post take the explanation from here:
Useless Historical Fact #10
Caisteal Maol is a 15th century ruined old castle near Kyleakin harbour. Not one of those grand, imposing castles, you must understand. In fact, if anything it is quite understated. But the tiny building jutting into the sky proudly amidst the wild Scottish scenery is still quite the sight to behold. For such a tiny building, it has a fascinating (if debatable) history:
Once the ancestral seat of the MacKinnon clan, it was the fortress that commanded the strait between Skye and the mainland – an important responsibility considering the strait was one of the only safe passageways for ships in the area. According to legend, Findanus, the 4th MacKinnon chief, built the original structure for the clan around 900 by marrying a Norse princess named Mary. Once the fortress was built, the couple proceeded to run a heavy chain across the water from their home to the mainland and would not let a single ship through until they had paid their toll. You know, like anyone living on a major waterway would do to make a buck (disclaimer: for anyone who lives on the Ottawa River and is thinking “brilliant!”…I’m pretty sure this is illegal under modern law. Don’t say I didn’t warn you).
Now this Mary was apparently quite the character, and characterizes well the bawdiness of much of Scottish legend: Once the sailors has passed through, having paid their toll, she would flash her *ahem* assets at them in thanks. Though there is no way of knowing if this is factual or not, it certainly seems to be as good an explanation as any for her nickname : “Saucy Mary”. I’d love to some day get to the bottom of this story, what a fascinating tale that would be.
I should emphasize here that my sister and I were on our best behaviour while scampering around the old ruins – though we did climb on the walls, only a little.
Having not seen much of Skye on this, my first visit to the Isle I am not basing this on much, but I think Saucy Mary’s castle might have been my favourite part of our Island visit. That, and the feast that awaited us at, appropriately, Saucy Mary’s Pub.
I don’t know if this particular tale produced much of a map of the territory for you, my dear readers, but I hope it produced a chuckle or two.