Messages from Skye
Koala on tour
‘Oh ok darling. Thats fine..’
I think I gave the appropriate response. The finely balanced sense of support and sympathetic disappointment, whilst masking my relief and abject excitement. ‘Don’t worry.. you just go.. I’ll be fine.’ I heard myself saying as I suppressed thoughts of 3.. perhaps even 4 nights in front of the fire with a glass of Wolf Blass and a decent choice of film for a change.
‘Yes of course I understand. It will even give me time to iron out the glitches on the website!’ Think that might have been a step too far! Koala paused and examined my words. I half smiled anxiously waiting. Has she seen through me!? But.. ‘Yes .. the website does need looking at.. yes good idea.. are you sure?’ Koala sighed. I breathed again and imagined the red wine glugging into the glass. Koala continues packing her camera.
She and her an ‘grammer pal Ben have arranged an ‘instatrip’ to the Isle of Skye, to get ‘insta pictures’. I’m off the hook! I smiled inside and contemplated an insta selfie!!?
Skye oh Skye
The beautiful islands sticks out of the west coast of northern Scotland like a lobster’s claw ready to snap at the fish bone of Harris and Lewis. I’ve climbed the islands spectacular mountainous centre, dominated by the Cuillins, the rocky slopes of which provide some of the most dramatic and iconic mountain scenery in the country. I have enjoyed the challenges, the demands and exhilaration that Skye offers and I began to feel nostalgic.. but then in the nick of time I saw the weather front about to hit the west coast.. it looks a bit wet. Must get more Wolf Blass.
Yes there are certainly photo opportunities in Skye for Koala… but she knows that and she’s on the hunt for that elusive ‘winning winter shot …Poor Ben!
I waved Koala off, as the crisp clear winter sky that we had enjoyed for a week began to darken. Had she noticed..? I’m sure she has must’ve checked her trusty MetOffice app.. but why no comment about the weather?! Had she mistyped her location? Or perhaps Koala, with usual optimism, had avoided the implication of the forecast? Surely not. But then again.. she was blinkered by the ‘winning shot’ and I felt a little guilty. Should I have pointed out to her my Accuweather app?? She wouldn’t have listened. She always doubts my app preference anyway.
‘Have a great trip darling..’ I waved.. smiling with faux dejection. The guilt subsided. She had her Mammut waterproof jacket.. she’d be fine. I put another log on the fire and pondered tonight’s dinner. The rain began. The wood hadn’t even started to blaze before my phone pinged. Koala had made it to Ben in Falkirk. But.. she’s not happy… the forecast is bad.. who knew?! ‘..no golden light!!’ Oh dear. I’m glad this is a text I thought, I could sound insincere on the phone.
‘No point driving through the night for no feckin sunrise! Now leaving at 6am in morning!!’ Oh dear… ‘Now going through Glen Coe for breakfast and aiming for Old Man of Storr for lunchtime!!’ Koala is not happy.. she’s only made it to Falkirk. 40 miles in the wrong direction! Poor Ben.. there will be repercussions now. She’ll be in compensatory creative overdrive …. and she has a Bowler Hat in her bag! Oh no! The ‘salesman shot’ at Eilean Donan on the way….??! Poor Ben.
‘We are on our way!’
There’s nothing more heartwarming than an unexpected phone call from a loved one. However.. the edge is slightly dulled when said call is accompanied by ‘I thought I’d ring you now whilst I have absolutely no opportunity of a photo…. ‘ abruptly followed by ‘.. shit! I’ve gotta go!! There’s a pocket of light!’ Maybe it’s just me?! I wasn’t expecting a gush of desperate ‘I’m missing you’s… or even wanting a courtesy call to see how my day was. No far from it. I know that when Koala is in her creative zone she’s focussed on her winning shot. I understand this. I encourage it.. I’m not pining. It’s not been 24hours yet.
I wasn’t given the chance of anything remotely responsive.. to her 3 second call, but I obviously would have been appropriately pleased to hear about the days adventures but we will never know now. My day did begin with the first of a series of cryptic, often broken text messages with vague outline of progress. ‘At lochearnhead. Dark. Pissing it down!’ Ah.. I yawned and made my way for my leisurely morning shower. ‘At that cafe in tyndrum. Snow and ice quite bad here..’ This got my interest. Cafe? I wondered which one? We got some good fish and chips in Tyndrum last time at the Real Food Cafe opposite the Green Welly. Hmm I wondered. Oh she said Snow?! Maybe it’s colder out than I thought? Better put my warm gloves on today. She said ice…. she’s useless on ice. Poor Ben. I checked Accuweather.
Lunchtime brought a breakthrough.. a video! Koala likes making video. Her insta stories will be familiar to her Instagram followers, often comedies, intentional or otherwise. Visual stories of her photographic escapades.. or so I’m told. I really must make an effort to watch them! But more often than not I get a rough cut pre edit iPhone video to peruse… as it was today. The familiar vista of the 13th century Eilean Donan Castle. In Australian, the ‘…most instagrammed feckin castle in Scotland!’ I laughed at the irony.
Eilean Donan is however stunning and recognised as one of the most iconic images of Scotland all over the world. Situated on an island where three sea lochs meet, the castle is surrounded by spectacular scenery and regarded as one of the most important attractions in the Scottish Highlands. It must be said that it did look rather dull today. I continued about my day, the weather was awful here too. Then the phone call and away she went to chase the one pocket of elusive light that Accuweather had failed to forecast.
I smiled. I was happy that she was in her element and I would get to watch The Bourne Ultimatum tonight! A flurry of images pinged to my phone. The castle looked even more dramatic than usual. I nodded my approval. Then the ‘pocket of light’ shot that had earlier interrupted our phone ‘conversation’. Mm.. not bad either.
It was the iconic Old Man of Storr. The large pinnacle of rock that stands as part of the Trotternish ridge. The Old Man was created by a massive ancient landside, leaving one of the most photographed landscapes in the world and today… it had a pocket of light illuminating its face. I approved. Perhaps Koala knew it was worth hanging up on me after all. I smiled.
I do worry
I probably should worry more… or perhaps I should just show more concern?! Koala is native to a warmer climate. Tropical in comparison to her now chosen habitat. The climbing of eucalyptus trees had given way to the icy slopes of the Scottish Highlands… I should worry. I know that her evolutionary development is far from complete. Her usual balance and grace abandons her proportionately to the level of snow and ice on the ground and further multiplies with angle of slope. This is often exposed at this time of year, on even the levelest of path… ‘Bambi on ice’
So.. yes when I awoke this morning to a ping…. ‘It’s raining and snowing. Roads are treacherous!!’ I should worry. I ate my pancake.. and pondered the text. She’ll be fine. ‘ …we’ve passed cars in ditches and on roofs in the snow!!’ I overlooked the danger of the situation and considered the grammar… did she mean the cars were on their roofs or were on roofs?? Either way Ben seems capable. I have realised that I have become detached from worrying about Koala.. perhaps as a coping mechanism.. who knew!! When I’m there, I carry the tripod and secretly keep an eye on her as she climbs the next fence to get the shot. But I’m not there on this trip? I worry now.. that I’m not worried!
They are on their way to capture a wintery Storr. It should be a spectacular walk to a famous summit, passing through the iconic landscape of the Sanctuary with the Old Man of Storr and many other rock formations. I drift away to a youthful memory of the No. 57 bus from Portree. Ah.. but Koala… snow… ice! I suddenly recall my training brief..
“Note that hillwalking when there is snow lying requires an ice-axe, crampons and the knowledge, experience and skill to use them correctly. All route descriptions and difficulties given are for summer conditions. Refer to Winter Mountaineering page for information on the skills, techniques and knowledge needed for winter ascent…”
As I was considering the implications and mentally walking the route.. ‘Ping!’ ‘We went to Storr… I climb up snow and ice… no one there except one other guy. It was scary as fuck…. pretty much every tourist attraction is out as they haven’t gritted the carpark!!’ Ah… Panic over. But what?? No gritted carpark!!?
Then a screenshot. And what a shot! The Old Man in Winter. She’s good. I feel pride. It takes me a little by surprise. I need to call her. Maybe I do worry. It was good to hear her. Even if the signal was making it impossible to communicate because of the delay. I could hear her. I smiled. Koala was off on an excited monologue of adventure. This made the delay more bearable as I listened…. ‘I’m very proud of myself to get up there.. Got recognised by a climber coming back. I didn’t fall!’ My smile grew.. I was proud. ‘That shot was worth the risk.. Seriously so proud that I did that. You don’t see many shots of that by non explorers in the snow!’ Koala wasn’t pausing for breathe… ‘…..the guy in the book shop in Portree was surprised we did it today! I’m glad I didn’t fall into the invisible Loch following fox prints…’ The what? Invisible Loch? Fox prints! Now I’m worried!!
I’m a Yorkshireman so technically I should be a cricket fan. However, it is the 2nd Day of the 3rd Ashes Test in Australia. In Perth WA to be exact… Koalas hometown. She likes cricket. My morning ritual begins with a message to Koala’s Dad to analyse the score.. or to be precise, the level of English humiliation! He is very diplomatic, even sympathetic for an Aussie.. despite the occasional ‘Pommie’ reference.
Then.. Ping.. a text. Oh shit.. it’s Koala! I forgot to enquire as to her whereabouts! In the snow!!! ‘At Eileen Doonan’ she announced. Oh.. but I’m not sure I know who Eileen is?! I chuckled at my own humour .. sure her predictive text meant Eilean Donan.. the castle. Ok.. well she is still alive… and off the island! That text was sent 90 minutes ago!!! Shit.. they are earlier than I thought. Ben is driving Koala to Stirling tonight so I can pick her up. I had better get organised. Perhaps I should call and tentatively ask what time they will be back? But I don’t want to pressure her. It’s the last day of Koalas adventure. She won’t be happy.. and will be creatively binging on the return leg! I hope there’s light. Actually, I hope that there is a road back through the snow in Invergarry??!
I get sidetracked. There is a lovely hotel there I recall, the Glengarry Castle. I could meet her there if she got stuck?! A romantic black and white image of a midnight rendezvous with Koala in a blizzard rolls into my mind. Now that’d be a shot. But what do I know. Suddenly my phone rings.. as if to bring me back to my creative level! She has signal now.
‘Are you ok darling.. how are you getting on?’ I ask cautiously. Then a breathless avalanche of the days activity! ‘We’re on way back… We chased the light this morning. Went to Kilt Rock first. Thought we had struck it lucky – no one there! 10am. No one there!! ‘ Koala tends to repeat a statement with increasing emphasis to ensure that I completely understand… completely… understand. I love her excitability. ‘We put on our Christmas hats…. !’ Oh that’s different I thought and imagined a 90s pop video. ‘As soon as we put on our Christmas hats.. Rabbies Tours rock up!!!! Does nothing stop them?? It was icy!! Ah… ‘They must be the only other feckin people on Skye!!!’ Oh dear…. ‘Light too bright anyway!’ Ah…. Too bright?? I pondered. ‘We followed the light to that bridge.. the one I can’t pronounce’ Ha.. that narrows it down!! ‘Bridge closed! They’re building a path. There was a helicopter….but Ben asked this guy to open the bridge for us to take a shot! And he did.. we got a shot! We.. GOT.. A SHOT!!’ Oh good… thank goodness!! Koala is happy and maybe a little hysterical.
‘We tried to ask a sheep the way to Portree!!’ She laughed. She’s losing it now. Does she have exposure?? Did she slip and bang her head?? Is she ok?? I ask to speak to Ben.. as calmly as possible. ‘Yeah he’s driving… he was playing bagpipe music to the sheep!!’ More hysteria! ‘What??! Are you both ok???’ ‘We’re probably going to stop at Glen Coe on way back…’ Oh ok darling.. ‘what’s the snow like through Invergarry?‘ I ask. ‘Darling?’
…but she’s gone. I file that romantic rescue break to Glengarry Castle for another time. So anyway.. Stirling.. I’d better get going.
‘We’re at the ski centre’ Oh! So they’ve made it through Glen Coe. That’s another 2 hours drive. I’d better get moving. I don’t want to be late. Maybe I have missed Koala after all? Yes of course I have! Perhaps I won’t moan about carrying the tripod next time. I make it through Glasgow on an icy M8… at rush hour.. on a Friday night.. without incident.. and without cursing. As I sit waiting at Stirling service station like an expectant father.. Bens car slides into the car park and out jumps an excited Koala. ‘Careful darling it’s…… icy!!’ I half shout.
About the Author
I was born in Leeds and grew up in the Military. Which thankfully has put me in good stead to 'look after' the Koala. I carry the tripod, hold the reflector, drive the truck, make the sandwiches and ensure that the clients have everything they need. So basically I do everything apart from press the button... sorry.. shutter! Apparently I am a hidden literary gem so I get to write the blog and provide creative input when asked!