“Soulful travel is the art of finding beauty even in ruins, even in inclement weather, even in foul moods.”
…..Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage
Last week, I was exploring the Scottish Highlands with my husband. The weather wasn’t completely kind to us, as they like to say here. We both had things in mind that we hoped for from this trip — my husband is an avid hiker and climber. He was looking forward to a good trek on the Isle of Skye and way up north in Ullapool. I was looking forward to visiting the spiritual, quiet Isle of Iona and hoping for a glimpse of the Northern Lights. We missed seeing the Aurora Borealis by one day. They saw them on Iona the night before we got there. So close, and yet… Sometimes that’s how it goes.
We had spent several hours on the bus up from Glasgow to Inverness where we changed bus. Then, we went to Eileen Donan, a beautiful castle that we happened to hit on a spring day when the sun shone and the gorse glowed and the Scottish flag flew proudly.
We ate cullen skink – a soup made with smoked haddock – in the cafe at the castle. Delicious. We marvelled at our luck, and hoped, hoped, hoped that somehow our luck would last onto Skye and intially, it did.
But the weather reports continued to be poor for the following day (our only full day), so we decided to book a tour and got the last two spots on a seven hour van tour of the island. We joined three traveling students and a family of three. Countries represented in the van were Switzerland, Hong Kong, India, the United States and Scotland. Donald Nicholson, our fearless, hilarious driver/guide with Skye Scenic Tours tried SO hard to show us his beautiful island. The rain got worse and worse and showed no signs of letting up. We saw the Kilt Rock through pouring rain and blustery wind, waterfalls and Donald assured us there were lovely mountains behind the clouds. Fortunately, everyone in the van kept their senses of humor. We had no Eeyores among us and for that, I was very grateful! We agreed to go to Eileen Donan again because no one else had been yet and it seemed like a better wet day option. We enjoyed another fine bowl of cullen skink there and hoped, along with Donald, for a break in the rain, but it wasn’t meant to be. The traveling students were at a hostel far outside of Portree, so they requested a stop at a grocery store, for beer. We picked up one or two ourselves, along with some croissants for the morning. After resupplying, with still no break in the rain, we all agreed to call it quits on the tour. From the reviews I’ve read, and friends I’ve spoken to, I am sure this is a rare occurence on the tours in Skye — rain is not so rare, but steady, day-long, pounding rain accompanied by cold, cold winds is not so common. What’s more common are sporadic showers which makes outside touring much more possible — and outside is where you want to be on Skye. Try it if you can, but maybe allow a little more time there than we did to increase your chances for a good tour. And, don’t allow rain to lead to a foul mood – be open to what might come. If you’re not open, you might miss it.
That evening we had dinner at Sea Breezes, a fabulous small restaurant a friend recommended to us along the harbor in Portree. (Get a reservation.) During dinner, the rain stopped for a while, the sun came out, and yes, a rainbow graced our meal.
So we ended our day on Skye, not tired out from hiking, but enjoying a beautiful moment in a beautiful spot together. And my friends, I think that is what Phil Cousineau would call “soulful travel.”