As a child living in rural Scotland it never occurred to me just the profound impression the surrounding mountains and oceans had on me. With parents that worked 13 hours days we were never able to take full advantage of our adopted surroundings and the furtherest adventure we took was to the local sand dune beaches 20 minutes at the end of the single track road.
The day we left our minute highland village of Campbeltown (Kintyre peninsula) and relocate in the Midlands, England, I recall staring out the backseat window as we weaved through the valleys (Glens, when you're in Scotland) and pointing upwards requesting "can we go to the top of that hill?" For the next four hours before reaching the English border I stared out the window, transfixed on the idea of being surrounded by mountains (Ben, again when in Scotland) with a view of the ocean.
"Not today...maybe you can come back one day." - Parent's reply
Fifteen years separated the next time I would visit the other side of the border but neither the fascination nor the impression of the landscape had diminished.
Visits to Scotland are much more frequent these days with family, friends and work all taking me north over the border. However, these visits are often fleeting and precise and upon returning South I often felt a disappointment that I had drove (or flew) away from an opportunity.
Travelling to beautiful parts of the world seeking huge mountains and summits with cycling clients and racing is a great privilege, but, these places have only fuelled a desire to explore the land that sparked my curiosity with mountains and it's characteristics.
The A82 - The Road to the Northwest
"The forecasts isn't exactly what you'd call pretty up there, lad."
Stretching nearly 170 miles long northwesterly from Glasgow, the A82 is the main road that takes you through The Highlands and all the way to Inverness (so you can find Nessy).
Soon after leaving Glasgow along through the forest that surround Loch Lomond did the words of the fuel station cashier ring true and the heavens opened up in the typical Scottish fashion; apocalyptic rain coupled with relentless gales. And in truth, I couldn't be more pleased, it was Scotland after all.
For an hour the windscreen wipers furiously tried to provide a glimpse of the road ahead but its efforts were feeble. However, as quickly as the rain fell it stopped as I crested over the hill at Bridge of Orchy. The forest began to thin and reveal the grand exposed landscape at the foothills of the Scottish Highlands and on the horizon the outline of mountains.
Glean Comhann - Glencoe
Formed from the remanence of a long gone volcano and sculpted by glaciers during the Ice Age, the Glencoe Range carries an almost indistinguishable geological profile to that of Scandinavian or Pacific Northwest ranges.
Dominating grey rock jut from the ground on either side of the River Coe only to be suppressed by the gentle hue offered by the wild grass and moss that blanket the dark rock. Although rain clouds begin to form above and mist rolls in over the summits of the mountains things go quiet with the view into the inners of the glen offering true tranquility.
"Alright fellow, view isn't bad, eh?" - Fellow hiker.
Eilean a' Cheò - 'The Isle of Mist', Isle of Skye
"Thats the ocean, not a loch" - Host at Heatherfield House
From Fort William the road splits and points westward on to the A87. Passing through the last glens of the mainland before crossing the Skye Bridge and on to the second largest island in Scotland, the Isle of Skye.
The ever brooding Atlantic Ocean surrounds the 639 sq mi (1,656 sq km) isle ladened with Jurassic mountains modelled over millenniums by the battering gales that pass through the land.
Low hanging clouds over the the towering Cuillin Hills and ocean fog move swiftly to ingulf the land as 60mph winds relentless roar through during the early hours. As visibility falls over the single track roads through the peninsulas, the island's Gaelic name reveals itself. Eilean a' Cheò; The Isle of Mist
Rubha na h-Eist - Niest Point
Evidence of the isle's formative years act as a protective wall of basalt rock around the Duirinish peninsula from the brutal hammering of the Atlantic ocean as mist flows effortless over its face. Through the roaring of wind a constant squeal of metal on metal from the overhead cable-basket and swinging power lines echoes in the air along the walk of Neist Point. A mechanical reminder that this seemingly inhospitable point once served as a home to a safe havena and its keeper.
Whilst it's bricks and mortar have withstood the test of time, over a century of exposure to the unforgiving Atlantic climate has stained and desaturated its skin. Neglected in appearance but still needed for guidance, since 1909, Neist Point lighthouse serves as a beacon to those braving the seas surrounding Duirinish peninsula.
A' Chuith-Raing - The Quiraing
A land made of rock shows little sign of life nor movement, but beneath the surface the land can be very much alive.
Spanning almost the length of the northern peninsula, rips and cracks in the mountains are evidence of the mobilised past of the Trotternish Ridge. Gigantic landslips pulled this once singular ridge of mountains into the Tables, Needles and Pyramid of The Quiraing, a rock still alive and moving today.
An Stòr - The Storr
Folklores told of battles on the Trotternish Ridge between giants that left one buried amongst the mountains of Storr, leaving only it's thumb exposed piercing through the ground and dubbed The Old Man of Storr.
An Cuilthionn - The Cuillin
Standing boastfully as a gateway in and out of Skye the jagged profile of the Black and Red Cuillin dominates the southern horizon of the isle.
Dark impenetrable rock of the Black Cuilins are washed by the ever present mist and howling winds cutting through its cracks and gullies. While at the foot of the tallest range in Skye lies a watery and fairytale serenity, The Fairy Pools. Fed from the River Brittle flowing from the Cuilin overlooking the glen, enchantingly blue water runs rapidly through and unnaturally blue pools sit at the bottom of each waterfall. Perfectly deep enough for any brave enough to brace the freeze of Scottish water. Fairytales suggest for that those who do will emerge blessed and enchanted.
Fantasies are short lived as the wind comes barreling through the glen from all directions the looming misting pumps overhead like the lungs of a sleeping giant and with one last gust, rain comes hurtling down.
A fitting end.
I'm not the fittest hiker, I'm also afraid of being in the ocean (and I'm a rather rubbish cyclist) but finding places that can fulfil my ingrained impression of nature acts as a time for me to recharge. A land such as this offers more than just physical space and time away, it offers freedom to explore ones imaginations and creativity.
An Island like Skye.