Skye 2

I wake up around 7 to a grey sky and the sound of rain on the grass outside my window. I’m curious to follow the politics back home. It seems like a watershed moment for Australia but as I finish the toast and jam and tea with an expected shift left, Anthony Green calls a shift to the right. Texting Bri we both begrudgingly resign to another 4 years of political torture.

‘Haha fucking Labor. They blew it.’

                                          ‘I am so disappointed.’

                                          ‘Are you at the Harry Potter train yet?’

‘Nope. I’m going to stop in Fort William for lunch then head over there.’

By 10, I pack up my laptop, check out and drive out of Oban.

Arriving into Fort William I find myself conscious of time. I squeeze the Mini into a tiny parking spot, that I discover later turns out to be reserved for residents. In a vegan café I eat a sandwich and confirm how long it’ll take to the Viaduct and what time the train passes through. I must time it right. Light rain is still falling. The coffee tastes nice. I pick up a ‘Vote Greens’ sticker from the cafe and considering the irony, apply it to the back of my iPhone.

Having never watched Harry Potter it’s a little hard to appreciate what this means to a whole generation. It wouldn’t be for another four months from this moment with Bris insistence of watching the series that I’d come to appreciate how formative this train, this viaduct, this scene would be for so many people.

The same year the fourth film came out was the same year that The Phantom Menace collectively disappointed an entire generation sowing the seeds for the next 20 years of media disappointment and cynicism. As the train passes through, I wish Harry Potter meant something more to me than the disappointment of not experiencing it. It toots, again and again. People on the train are waving at the people waving on the hill. I wave back. Steam shoots up like a geyser. It cuts through the mountain side, sometimes getting obscured behind hills as it gets further away. The steam can still be seen. Everyone’s eyes follow the train until they know for sure it can’t be seen again. Rain is still falling.

It’s gone, and like the sunset last night, too quick for me to appreciate it. The crowd begins its trek back to the carpark, and mine, towards Portree. 

Time for some quick maths. 50 miles less by taking the ferry. 30 minutes shaved. This all makes perfect sense. If I can make it to a town called Mallaig in time for the last ferry I’d be stupid not too. I check the timetable and confirm I can get there with one hour’s buffer.

As I pull into the port at Mallaig a queue of 4 cars is ahead of me. It’s two hours until the ferry departs. A portly man with a bald head in an orange high-vis jacket has his head poked into the window of the lead car. He takes a ticket and checks his clipboard, instructing the car to go ahead. My eyes narrow and stomach only slightly drops as I realise that there are limited seats on this ferry. Rain is still falling.

‘I don’t have a ticket.’ I say as confidently as I can with my arm on the window ledge

‘Eh? No ticket?’

‘Yeh… what do I do?’

‘Okey. The ferry is fully booked, go to the ticket booth and ask to go on standby but ya can’t do that for another 40 minutes and I can’t tell ya if you’ll get on.’ He asserts.

‘Cool.’ It’s the only thing I can think of saying with my stomach now is on the floor. Quick maths tells me that I might have just fucked up but I’m too invested now. I must wait.

I drive back out the port and find the co-op. I buy some crisps and a banana. The town itself is bare. It seems rarely appreciated, but a place where entire lives have been lived, far more interesting and rewarding than how I feel about my own. Boats bob up and down and the wind is the dominant sound.

‘What are my chances?’ I quiz the portly man.

’50-50’ He replies, with a slight grin looking up at me. I recognise this answer not as a genuine belief, but one made to avoid disappointment if I don’t make it although it doesn’t reassure me at all. ‘Okey, pull up in the line over there.’

I thank him and pull up behind 4 cars ahead of me. 2 cars pull up behind me as I’m leaning on the bonnet of the Mini. To the left, 20 or so other cars were lined up on the dock. The hood of my raincoat echoes the rain drops and is somehow relaxes me.

The ferry pulls in and the gate drops down. I return to my car and start the engine. I turn the radio off and wide down the windows. It’s cold and still raining. I’m gripping the wheel with both hands. My knuckles are white. One by one the other vehicles drive up on the boat. Another man in a high-vis vest points at the lead car in my queue, then points at the boat, like an air traffic controller. It rolls forward and onto the boat.

The next car is pointed at. It climbs aboard and I’m starting to see there isn’t much room left on this ferry as the sailors keep instructing the driver to move forward.

‘C’mon’ I say under my breath.

The white Alfa is next. It goes forward and after heavy instruction by the crew also manages to make it on.

The orange Vauxhall. A dog in the backseat is looking at me as it goes forward. I can feel my heartbeat. I can’t see if there’s space for me. There doesn’t seem to be any. No one is looking at me except the dog.

The man walks towards my car. He quizzically drops his shoulder and leans in to look at me. He points at me, and then points at the ferry.

‘Am I good?’

‘Aye.’ Is all he says as he points at the car behind me and instructs him forward too. As I drive forward and look in my rear vision, he pokes his head into the final car. It turns around and leaves the port.

‘It’s a good thing you’re in this small car.’ The sailor on the ferry mentions. ‘You’d be fucked otherwise.’ I laugh.

He keeps pulling my car forward. I can’t see how close I am to the car in front. There can barely be half a metre as I’m still inching forward. Suddenly he throws his arms up and instructs me to stop.

I’m about 3 cm from the bumper of the car in front, and about 10 cm from the closing ferry door. But I’m on. My shoulders drop. I take a deep breath and feel the cold air in my lungs. I’m allowed to relax.

I sit down inside. The boat is loud as the diesel motor powers along. Out the window the grey low hanging clouds cover the hills around Loch Hourn. It’s hauntingly beautiful and empty. I try and sketch it in my journal. A solitary man is sitting 6 rows ahead. Everyone else must be outside in the rain but I’m exhausted. I need to reflect.

When I arrive on Skye, in Armadale, its stopped raining. It’s only a 30-minute trip but after such a dramatic evening the blue sky is welcome. I have 40 miles to Portree, but it’s already late and the roads are twisty. For the first time, I run my hand on the gear shift and gun it.

I’m rushing, but I have to check in to Portree and I’m starving. I want to stop, constantly but I can’t. I blast up the peninsula towards Broadford. As I pass Heast, the landscape takes a dramatic turn. It becomes outer worldly. People live up here but it’s hard to believe. The hills look eons in the distance. Making mental notes of what I pass I promise to come back on my way back, but also know I’ll run out of time to.  The houses that face the Lochs are mostly white and pristine from a distance. The tarmac is smooth and I am speeding. I don’t see anyone for 30 minutes. The roads sweep off ahead of me and each time I approach the sweep, another one lies ahead. 

‘Gosh.’ These are beautiful roads.

I’m in Portree and the night ends with a pair of brothers from Greece and America who didn’t grow up together. We speak for hours at the pub and drink a few beers. It gets dark and I cannot wait to sleep. Tomorrow I head to the northernmost point of this trip. I sleep well.

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