Ride Scotland, Day 7: Landfall at Skye

Day 7: Tarbert – Portree

“Do you have anything explosive on you?” asked the ferry attendant in Tarbert as he secured our bikes on the car deck.

“Only these bad boys,” I said, pointing to my atrophied quads.

In Australia, jokes about transport security elicit a $5,000 fine. In Scotland, you’ll get barely a laugh.

'Scuse me, while I kiss this Skye'
‘Scuse me, while I kiss this Skye’

My mum’s family traces its ancestors to Skye so it is always a thrill to return, and particularly in good weather.

What’s more, Flora MacDonald, the legendary figure who’s birthplace we’d visited in South Uist, was buried in Skye. As for her brother Ronald’s legacy meanwhile,…

Instead of the lengthy detour to pass her grave north from Uig, however, we took a back route that schlepped us up 7 miles of hill and moorland on a road the size of a country lane.

It was so quaint, that at one point I passed a roadworks sign – the one with the man in the hardhat digging the ground – and just off the road, there was a man digging peat from the ground, exactly as described by the signpost.

Closer to the summit, a shiny line of reflective metal stretched across the hillcrest. It could only be one thing: cars and campervans parked for a tourist attraction. A large helicopter, much bigger than is usual for sight-seeing, was hovering close to the cliff wall.

We had stumbled across one of the great tourist attractions of Skye –  the Cuillin mountains: steep jagged peaks, vertiginous views around 180° of the sea and lowlands of the island.

There was a walk around the peaks, but we’d done enough climbing on the bike already. Instead, we headed to a flat area to take in the view. A woman in her bridal gown was having photos taken.

Hello there helicopter
Prince William, are you in there?

Putting two and two together, I realized the helicopter was linked to the wedding – probably something James Bond-esque with the groom abseiling down a line to meet her at the grass altar.

Normally there is good bird-watching to be had, but the only thing airborne was this big bloody whirly-bird in the sky, which was presumably causing the native animals to take shelter.

When the helicopter passed close to me next time, I flipped them the bird to express my displeasure at their selfish wedding behaviour.

Shortly after, and as predicted, a line was thrown down from the helicopter. However, far from a groom abseiling down, instead a stretcher bed was lowered.

It turns out, a woman had slipped off the trail and down a ravine and injured herself. The Coast Guard had dispatched its helicopter to assess the situation.

The Cuillins
The Cuillins: stand close to the edge if you want a helicopter ride home.

A little while later, we rode down from the mountain top along a series of majestic sweeping bends, which feature prominently on much of Skye’s marketing material.

About halfway down, we passed the helicopter again, which had landed next to an old cemetery.

Its rotors where spinning fiercely, and the power flattened the grass for 50 metres around, sending out terrific barrage of wind that almost knocked my bike over. Perhaps it was Prince William in his rescue copter, my mind fantasised!

A number of helmeted and harnessed members of the Skye mountain rescue team were running to climb aboard. So, not a group of wedding dickheads, but a group of service-minded rescuers saving lives. I made eye contact with the pilot and gave him a thumbs up.

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