A Road Trip to Skye

Thrill of adventure
Volume up, singing along
Friendships and road trips

This past weekend (October 21-23), I went on a road trip.

USA + Chile + Slovenia take the Scottish dance floor

A post shared by Manilyn (@manilyngabrielle) on

That photo was taken just about a month and a half ago (has it been only a month and a half?! It feels like a lifetime already) on the Friday of my first week here in Glasgow. I would never have guessed that a month and a half after taking that photo, almost the exact same crowd would be piled into a five-person Škoda Fabia, singing and laughing and road-tripping across the country to Isle of Skye, the northern-most major island in Scotland and one of the hands-down must-dos for a tourist in this country. There are plenty of group tour opportunities to visit the Isle of Skye, but I am so happy I found a group of bold and brave individuals and friends who wanted to plan our own adventure for ourselves.

“Adventure.” That’s far too small of a word for what this past weekend was.

Day One: On the road, through the Highlands, to Ratagan we go — plus a very unexpected adventure

I was an excited mess all day on Friday. Though I went to sleep at 2 the previous night (staying up hustling to finish my essay for my Scottish Enlightenment course, as well as putting together an 11-hour long playlist for our car ride), I was up by 8, doing laundry, packing, and cleaning my room before the incredible weekend ahead of me.

Since there were seven of us and we were only able to rent a five-person car, we had plans for two of us catch a train to Skye while the rest of us buckled in for an approximately 4-hour car ride, and then just get cozy among the seven of us in the car while we were on the island. My flatmates Annaliese and María left around 11 in the morning to catch their train to Mallaig. Pablo, Pia, Matias, Tejo, and I left Glasgow around 3 o’clock in the afternoon.

Pre-road trip selfie!

The playlist I made consisted of classics like Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, but it also had tons of contemporary American pop songs, which I quickly felt a little embarrassed about. While it was fun to blast “Don’t Stop Believin'”, “Mr. Brightside,” and other tunes classic for singing along to no matter where you’re from, Demi Lovato and Katy Perry didn’t quite match the scenery as we made our way through the rolling Scottish landscapes. No, it was far more of an enjoyable car ride once we got reggaeton playing, my Chilean friends joyfully singing every word to all the Moral Distraida songs I could download off of Amazon Prime. That inspired me to share some of the OPM (Original Pilipino Music) in my library later on. (Have I mentioned how much I’m loving the cultural exchange I’m experiencing here? We blasted Chilean and Filipino music. We listened to Tejo’s Nokia give us driving directions in Slovenian. We exchanged language lessons and cultural jokes. I can’t ask for anything more satisfying and exciting.)

From Glasgow to Skye, there’s really only one road you can take: A87. It runs straight through the Highlands, so we were able to stop in Glencoe and admire the Three Sisters. (I’d visited Glencoe a few weeks ago with a group tour, so I’m glad I got a second chance to enjoy it again independently!)

The images don’t do it justice, but you can check out the rest of the photos in my “Isle of Skye Day One” Flickr album or in my “Glencoe, Glenfinnan, and Fort William” album from a few weeks ago.

The five of us arrived at Ratagan Youth Hostel, located off of A87 just before the bridge to the Isle of Skye, at around 7:30 in the evening. It was pretty dark by then, and there was no light illuminating anything other than small porch lights of the sparse population of local inhabitants, so I didn’t get a chance to see the absolutely phenomenal surrounding landscape until the next morning. Check out the photos on their website here or see my own attempt at trying to capture the beauty of this place below:

But now, this is where the adventure really picks up. The five of us had decided to go to the hostel first and drop off some passengers and baggage before going to pick up Annaliese and María at the train station in Mallaig. We didn’t have anything planned for our first night in Ratagan other than to get situated and solidify our itinerary for the entire weekend.

But we didn’t think to check, either before leaving Glasgow or even before buying the train tickets, how far away Mallaig was from Ratagan.

You can imagine my horror when I looked up the directions and saw that the train station in Mallaig was 2 hours and 21 minutes away from the hostel.

Ratagan and Mallaig look like they’re close together on a map, but of course, there’s no direct route that connects the two towns conveniently.

Did I mention that the receptionist was very adamant about locking down the hostel at 11 p.m.? Or that hardly any of us had any cell signal at all, therefore making communication extremely difficult?

It was about 8 o’clock by the time we figured this out, and I knew we were — for lack of a better word — screwed.

Now, a moment of personal reflection: One thing I’ve been very hyper-aware of since arriving in Glasgow is my obsession with planning and scheduling. At my college back home, life is so packed that my days are often scheduled to the minute — eat lunch at 12:00, meet so-and-so for coffee at 12:30, work on things for Mosaic at 1, dedicate time to work on schoolwork at 3, and so on. As I’ve grown closer with my friends from other countries and cultures here, I’ve noticed just how much planning has plagued my life. I honestly hate it. It’s been such a refreshing change of pace to finally be spontaneous and relaxed without having the suffocating surrounding American hustle and bustle breathing down my neck. I feel like it’s almost expected of people to have their days or even weeks planned second by second back home. But here, I’ve been able to appreciate a relaxed or slow or spontaneous pace without any expectations and without feeling like it’s inducing anxiety for someone, whether it be me or people around me, and I can’t be more grateful for that.

That said, it was still a little hard for me not to be a little freaked out when Annaliese and María had been waiting at the train station since 6 o’clock. I was incredibly upset for the first little bit of the ride to Mallaig — it was arguably the most upset and stressed out I’ve felt during my entire time abroad. Though every single person on this road trip had their share of contributing to planning the trip, I felt ashamed of myself that I, with all my previous love and need for planning, had let something like this completely slip through the cracks. I was beating myself up about it (how could I not, when my two friends were essentially stranded in the middle of nowhere because of this overlook?), and I was terrified my stress was stressing out my friends, just as others’ planning stresses have stressed me out so often in the past.

Thankfully, I was shortly able to let go of this stress and just live in the moment. There was nothing I could do anymore, I told myself. I was riding shotgun in this little Czech-produced car, whizzing through the Scottish countryside with two people from Chile and Slovenia who I absolutely adore, talking about our countries and our many qualms and sources of pride within them. It was one of many moments I’ll appreciate for a long, long while — not only for the really stimulating and intellectual conversation, not only for the thrilling experience of speeding down deserted roads at night in a foreign country, but for the great, great reminder that it’s okay when things don’t always go as planned. In fact, what would have been stress only turned into the exhilaration of having a fun story to tell, and that’s what made it even more of an exciting adventure. (At least, that was the case for me. I know I’m not speaking for my beautiful flatmates who had to endure a long train ride and a long wait in a small town on top of it. I’m still sorry, ladies. Thanks for being such troopers.)

We arrived to Mallaig at around 10 o’clock. I still didn’t have signal to message Annaliese or María that we’d arrived, and so Pablo and I began exploring this small seaside village on foot, going on nothing but Annaliese’s message from ages ago that they were waiting in “a cute bar.” It even got to the point that I asked a bartender in one of the pubs we checked in where two people might wait for a long time after getting off at the train station. When Pablo and I finally found them in a cute little bar indeed, it was nothing but happy smiles and relieved hugs.


And on the car ride back, Annaliese and I rewarded ourselves with blasting Hamilton. (Not sure if it was a reward for our friends, though. These folks have had to put up with Annaliese’s and my Hamilton craze for the last month and a half already.)

We made it back to the hostel just by midnight. Thankfully, we survived the car ride and spotty cell signal just enough to be able to communicate with the hostel manager through Pia that we would be arriving late, and it turned out not to be a problem at all. Things worked out completely fine in the end, and I’m so glad I didn’t waste too much time of this adventure being upset over something I no longer had control over. And after we made it back, I even had some time to spare to learn how to drive stick shift — and on the opposite side of a car than I’m used to, no less! (Am I even allowed to drive here? Shhh…)

Day Two: Portree, various viewpoints, and Storr

The next morning marked the beginning of our venture to the actual island. We grabbed a quick group shot on the shores outside our hostel before we took off:

This photo makes my heart happy, and the people in the photo make my heart even happier.

If we weren’t already friends enough before this, the limited space in the car gave us an opportunity to get real cozy with each other. Four of us were squeezed shoulder to shoulder in the back, with another person having to take turns getting the short end of the stick to ride in the trunk. We attracted stares wherever we we went — we were just as amused with ourselves as the families who were gawking at us university students tumbling out of this tiny car once the doors opened, and then playing a game of human Tetris trying to fit all seven people back into it when it was time to leave. Was it uncomfortable? Sure. But was it fun? Absolutely.

Our priority for the day was to hike up to the Old Man of Storr, with stops throughout the trip as they came on the way. Our first stop was at a gorgeous viewpoint on the way to Portree (the main town on the Isle of Skye).

Our next stop was Sligachan Bridge, where we got to partake in a bit of local legend. It’s said that if you put your face in the water under the bridge for seven seconds, you’ll stay young and beautiful forever. So, we all took turns trying to get in on that eternal youth and beauty:

After that, each of us picked out a rock, made a wish, and made our own little tower with them. (I actually have no idea what exact myth or legend is behind this. But it was still pretty cool.)

Mine is the middle rock!

After a quick stop in Portree to grab some breakfast and supplies for lunch later, we took our time at small viewpoints before the highlight of the trip, Old Man of Storr.

Kilt Rock / Mealt Falls

We remarked at how gentle the water was — I wish I had a video to prove it! — but it wasn’t a raging waterfall or anything. It was just a little stream that casually just tumbled down the cliff directly into the ocean.

Lealt Falls

Couldn’t resist taking a photo of the cute little tea trolley that awaited tourists at this beautiful viewpoint! I treated myself to a cup of pear and apple tea that tasted like bubblegum.

Unfortunately, I didn’t make it all the way down to the beach or to the falls, though I’d certainly have liked to! But it was here that we ran into a kind Scot who, by some lucky hand, was actually quite familiar with Texas A&M University, much to Annaliese’s delight. We briefly engaged in conversation with this kind stranger for a few minutes on each of our countries’ politics. I can’t help but think back to my first orientation date at the University where it was insisted that people in Scotland are some of the friendliest around, always up to have a conversation. Though I’m not one to enjoy generalizations, it proves to be true all the time.

The Old Man of Storr

Wanting to dedicate as much time as possible for the biggest tourist destination we planned to visit on Skye, we saved the best for last: the Old Man of Storr.

Storr is a rocky hill featuring one of Scotland’s most iconic landscapes. It’s even in Ridley Scott’s 2012 film Prometheus!

Here are a few of my favorite photos from the hike up:

The hike wasn’t terrible at all — my hikes up Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, the hill in Perth, one of the “Sisters” in Glencoe, Loch Lomond, and Isle of Arran have all been pretty good resume-builders up until this point. (I’ve been more in shape being in Scotland than I’ve ever been before. Thank you, study abroad.)

That said, my pair of ASICS running shoes are not ideal for hiking. A nasty fall in Glencoe that led to a deep tissue bruise should have proven that to me weeks ago, and yet here I was, still slipping and sliding as I tried to climb and descend from this hill. Note to self, and to future study abroad students: Invest in good walking or hiking shoes! 

I actually didn’t take as many photos as I’d have liked, and I regrettably wasn’t able to make it up to the “classic viewpoint” where one could see the signature “skyline”, but that’s all “a good excuse to come back” — a phrase which is quickly catching on to many of my adventures here in Scotland when I’m unable to do exactly everything at any given place. But this group of good friends was still able to take a neat photo with our new pal, the Old Man of Storr:

USA + Chile + Slovenia take on Isle of Skye (I’m geeking out over this full circle moment here!)

We headed back down as the sun was setting and returned to Portree to grab supplies for dinner. But an unexpected traffic mishap led us to take a long, long detour off A87 through an all but deserted countryside. We were told the detour would take only about seven miles — no, it definitely was longer than that. Despite the stress of traveling down a pitch-black one-lane country road (yes, roads here are so narrow that instead of having two lanes, they have designated “passing places” every few hundred meters where drivers can yield to oncoming traffic), there was one positive that came out of it for me: the stars.

My view looked a lot like this, but with a pitch-black sky. (Source)

Oh, I wish I took a photo of my own. Because there was just about zero light pollution around and we absolutely lucked out in terms of weather, avoiding Scotland’s customary clouds, I was able to see the Milky Way. Not only that, I was able to stick my entire torso out of the window. It was like that iconic tunnel scene in The Perks of Being a Wallflower where Charlie is standing in the bed of the truck as they go through the Lincoln Tunnel — no, it was better. I was essentially sitting on the windowsill (is it called a windowsill in a car?) of the car as we traveled down this winding road, with no light but that of the car’s headlights, dashboard, and the stars. It was a beautiful moment: music playing, in the company of amazing friends, crisp and cold wind whipping my hair and quite literally taking my breath away, and just seeing more stars than I ever have in my life. I even saw three shooting stars. I hope I never forget that moment. (I hope I never forget any of these moments.)

We arrived back to the hostel just in time to make a late dinner. We’d bought some of Skye’s signature ale to enjoy with our dinner, too. (Note to self: If I ever return to Skye, get the red fruity brew, not the black oatmeal-y one.)

And just like that, our second day on this adventure came to a close.

(See the full Flickr album from the day here.)

Day Three: Glenbrittle fairy pools

This day was just dedicated to the fairy pools in Glenbrittle and a return to Glasgow.

The fairy pools are located along the winding path downhill.

Despite my best efforts, these photos are a little dark and don’t do the beauty of the pools justice — we’d arrived in the morning when sun hadn’t yet come over the highest peak of the surrounding mountains. (See the full Flickr album from this day here.)

It was beautiful nonetheless. The water was crystal clear. You could see all the way to the bottom of each pool without any problem at all. If I had my swim suit and if the air wasn’t 40 degrees Fahrenheit (the water didn’t feel too far away from that either), I might have considered going for a swim. It was just so gorgeous.

The temperature didn’t stop Pablo and Tejo from going in for a dip, though. Pia, Matias, María, Annaliese, and I all watched and cackled and screamed and applauded as the two daringly jumped into the freezing cold water. Fellow hikers passing by joined our audience too — it was absolutely hilarious. Thanks for the laughter, guys.

This is where they went for their little swim. The water is a bit deeper than it looks. It’s a lot colder than it looks, too. And I have friends who are bonkers enough to dive into it. (I love that.)

I wish I was a little more daring to try and swim in such crystal clear, clean water, regardless of the temperature. But oh, well. It’s a good excuse to come back.

After dropping off Annaliese and María at the train station in Fort William, the remaining five of us in the car settled in for the long haul home. Exhausted, we made it back to Glasgow around 7 o’clock, just enough time for Pablo, Tejo, and me to return our little “Fabia” to the car rental place and reward ourselves with some much-needed, well-deserved Five Guys. (Side note: Five Guys here is less greasy than in the U.S. Their cajun fries are also underwhelmingly seasoned to the point where I thought they’d given me plain fries on accident at first. But it was so good nonetheless — as much as I’m not missing home, I was grateful for the familiar, satisfying heaviness of Five Guys after a long, long weekend.)

Thankful as always.

I was so blessed to have this weekend. I’m blessed to be here in the first place, but this particular weekend was especially incredible. It was nothing short of exhilarating to be young, dumb, wild college kids crammed in a car, barreling across a gorgeous country, windows down and singing away. The stresses of planning our own itinerary and logistics only added to the thrill of adventure, even and especially when things slipped through the cracks — maybe I’m just too idealistic or optimistic, but for me, despite the strain, things like the unexpected 4 hours to rescue stranded friends or forgetting to load up our car with gas before embarking on a route desolate of fuel stations only satisfyingly made for a better story. Every single second of this weekend was worth it.

I just don’t have enough words to describe how fulfilled and happy my heart is feeling after this adventure. Pablo, Pia, Matias, Annaliese, María, Tejo, Skye, Scotland, God, thank you for the weekend of a lifetime.

Grateful beyond words to experience life in this amazing country with these beautiful individuals. Thank you for the smiles and the laughter and the memories and the wonderful, wonderful friendship.

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