The sunlight is a particular shade of peachy-gold on the Isle of Skye in northern Scotland. It pushes through the thick clouds and the sky dramatically opens, washing the lush green mountainsides in a soft warm glimmer. The white stone croft houses light up like beacons in the sun, and fluffy ivory balls of wool amble through the pastures, mist-heavy coats drying in the light. Topping a rise in the car, the hills and valley wrinkle and stretch out ahead of us, impossibly beautiful, with mustard colored flowers hedging the roadside, petals reaching upwards.
It never really gets dark in Skye in the summer time; in the beginning of autumn, the Northern Lights uncurl fingers of yellow-green and purple overhead and shimmer reflections on the blue-black sheet of deep, cold water off the coast of the isle. From the slick algae-coated boulders at the water’s edge, locals will occasionally see basking sharks surface in the bay. Our first night in Skye we stood on those rocks in the dim light at almost midnight, giddy and buzzing with laughter and relief — there was a joyful turn of fate from a morning that felt destined to end in frustration.
The first time around the first roundabout, less than a mile after leaving the Edinburgh airport, we missed our exit, ran out of road and popped two tires on the rental car as we bounced over the curb and slid to a hard stop. The fact that the driver’s side was on the opposite side of the car, and the stick-shift had to be operated by the opposite, non-dominant hand, should have potentially led to more caution on my part, but it was our honeymoon and I was filled with the naive exuberance that accompanies the beginning of an adventure. We sat on the railing at the side of highway, fuming. Eventually, a kind older man in a navy blue jumpsuit showed up with the spare tire and told us it could’ve been worse: it could be snowing. It was July. We made our way back to the airport to exchange the car with shame. The new vehicle we were given was less fancy, and still a manual transmission.
The drive from Edinburgh up and through the Highlands was terrifying, the narrow roads walled in by tall evergreen trees on one side and waist-high rock embankments on the other and double-decker touring buses whooshing within inches past our tiny car at breakneck speed. An hour into the drive, I stopped clenching my teeth as traffic would zip past and the awkward feeling of driving on the left-hand side of the road became more comfortable. Two hours into the drive, my newfound confidence was snapped back to reality when I tried to pass a slower car ahead of us, only to be confronted by a car coming head-on in the other lane. Instead of slowing back into the line of cars in our lane, I slammed the gas pedal to the floor and ducked in front as Lindsey yelled in fear, way too narrowly avoiding the oncoming traffic. My hands instantly started sweating and I glanced over to see a look on my partner’s face that I can’t ever forget. I had put her in danger, but my pride immediately swelled and came to my defense, not wanting to let myself seem small and incompetent for the second time that day, even while knowing I was wrong. We didn’t talk for a while, until we rounded a corner to see the lush mountainous terrain of the Highlands unfolding before us, and our wonder at the sight broke the silence. The green giants loomed over the car, the mountaintops shrouded in clouds that would occasionally break open and dot the windshield with heavy raindrops for a few minutes at a time. When the sun came out, we pulled off of the road at an overlook and climbed out of the car and up into a grassy field at the foot of a towering hillside and took photographs of each other. After stretching, we were back in the tiny car and continuing northwards to Skye, settling in for a few more hours of driving.
The singletrack road was barely wide enough for our little hatchback, and every so often when headlights would crest over a hill in the distance we’d pull off at the occasional paved shoulder and wait, until the opposing driver would chug past in an old utility vehicle, model unrecognizable, mud caked on the wheelwells from the heavy frequent rains that turn the barely-paved roads mushy and make the steep pasturelands that lead down to the bay a vibrant, cool green. White balls of fluff fleck the hillsides, sometimes lying in the road in groups that slowly rise and make way for passing vehicles, baa-ing their complaints for the disturbance of their peace. The sheep easily outnumber the people on the island. Up a hill and around a sharp curve, and we locked eyes with a surprised Highland cow that stood at the edge of the road, a head taller than the roof of the car. It was orange, with long curved horns and bangs of wavy hair that fell in front of its face like a teenager. We crept by slowly, and the massive animal stood still and watched us disappear down another hill.
We were lost, by the way. I’d called the host of the bed and breakfast twice, and both times Mairi’s (my-ree’s) gentle but thick Gaelic-inflected accent was too difficult to understand or provide any help in directing us to our stay. It was almost 9pm, but the sky still glowed a dusky blue-grey, and eventually we saw the small handwritten sign at the bottom of a long uphill drive that led to the white stone house sitting halfway up the incline, looking out at where the mossy cliffs meet the water’s edge. We were greeted warmly by the host and informed that we were the only guests that night - we had the property to ourselves. We exchanged a wide-eyed ‘can you believe this place’ look and thanked the host for the bottle of champagne she had picked up for us in celebration of our honeymoon. After dropping our bags and exploring the house, we opened the bottle of wine and poured up. Heads spinning with awe at the drastic landscape outside the big bay windows in the living room, we stepped out and walked slowly down the drive and across the street, down to the cove where the sea water methodically lapped at the huge algae-coated boulders.
The only sounds were our own repeated exclamations of excitement spoken through smiling mouths carried out over the water. The air was thick with the mist of the cool sea breeze. It felt like redemption, and we couldn’t help but laugh at the absurd contrast of emotion between the start of the day and it’s end, the frantic morning giving us context in which to celebrate the calm of the night. The memory of the peace and freedom felt on the edge of Skye has become a north star for our relationship, the lightness of being that can be found even after trudging through the shit, after shrugging off the burden of control and loosening one’s grip. We walked back up the hill to the farmhouse refreshed and reminded of the peace that can be found in the natural world, and to always seek the reconciliation that can be found at the end of a muddy road.
A woman with a short bob of dark red hair stands at the edge of the road, framing up a photograph of an ancient castle, deserted and still in the calm of late afternoon, a mountain fortress from a time that’s passed. The road narrows and becomes one-lane as we continue northwards, to the western end of the isle, where the verdant cliffs meet the open sea.