The second morning of my stay in Portree the sun finally came out at last. I had been planning to check out the Dunvegan castle that day, but I did not want to waste a day of sunshine by being inside. I was utterly sick of the pouring rain.
One of the places I wanted to go to the most while on Skye was the Fairy Pools. The pools are located on a well-photographed, stunning creek with the deepest blue and green waters. Unfortunately, the Skye transit schedule failed me. The closest the buses get to the famous pools is nearly five kilometers away, and they only go there in the afternoon and don’t return to Portree until the following morning. But there was no way I was going all the way to Skye and not going to the pools. Instead I went up to the woman working reception at my hostel and, somewhat desperately, posed the question of whether it was possible to get to the Fairy Pools without a car. She responded with “it is entirely possible, as you’ve got legs.” This was definitely an answer I liked.
She showed me a map, pointed out the trail that arched over a mountain pass and took a short cut to the pools, and found me the right bus that would take me to the trail head. Delighted, I grabbed my bag and went to head to the bus stop. Halfway there I stopped, reconsidered, and went back to grab my bathing suit. It’s always been on my bucket list to go swimming in the Fairy Pools, and even though there had been a freak hailstorm while I was trying to decide what to do with the day, I hadn’t yet ruled out the possibility of swimming. It was sunny again by this time anyways.
I got off the bus at the side of the road in Sligachan, a tiny, not-quite-big-enough-to-be-a-town sort of place. It took me awhile to locate the right trail, as there were several, but once I did I headed off with great enthusiasm. It was stunning. Gorgeous. The path went upwards beside a river of bounding green water. I was surrounded by golden-green plains that rose up into towering, treeless mountains. The tallest of these gleamed with snow, and the sun played across it, got lost in the river, and set the ground to blaze golden. I soon left behind all other hikers and lost myself in this wild and stunning landscape. My heart bled poetry for it. It seemed to be the place where dreams are born, and where thirsty souls go to drink.
As I walked, clouds began to crowd the sky again. On Skye, you can actually see the rain coming. You can watch the clouds approach and see the tendrils of moisture reaching for the ground. Luckily, the second freak hailstorm of the day only lasted twenty minutes, if that. I ended up spending quite a while making up absurd analogies for the weather as I walked; it was lulling me into a false sense of security; it was playing a game of go-go-stop; it was clearly bipolar. It wasn’t until the walk back that I realized that the weather was actually just Molly Weasley in one of her rages: “I AM ABSOLUTELY DISGUSTED IN YOU! Oh an Ginny dear, congratulations on making Gryffindor. Your father and I are so proud.”
I kept heading upwards, marveling at everything. The landscape awoke the urge in me to leave the path and climb up into the mountains and ridges and stay away up there forever. I just wanted to walk until I was tired and then fall asleep under the stars. I fought this impulse off and soon arrived at the place where the river first gathered its waters. It sat in various different pools, clearly very confused about which way it should go to get down. The mountains were all around me now and the path was hard to find among the grass, broken rocks and gleaming pools of snow melt. It was marked with piles of rocks, thankfully, and these also doubled as wind breakers. I decided to take advantage of them and settled down behind one to play my flute. My hands soon became numb and I had to stop, but it was an enchanting place to play. I could see to the other side of the mountain pass, where the trail climbed down to a faraway forest and a road.
Down on the other side of the mountain I could also make out a distant car park, where normal people parked when they wanted to see the Fairy Pools. I headed down in the direction of this, filled with the excitement of almost having reached a place I had always wanted to go. I cut across to the pools by hiking down a steep and slippery grassy slope, and eventually found myself on the main path, which was busy with people coming too and fro from the car park. After a three hour walk over a mountain, it was weird to realize that they had simply hopped out of their cars and strolled up a trail, and that they would just hop back in soon and drive like maniacs to the next photo-taking stop. I had come to the pools by an inspiring, epic quest through one of the most gorgeous landscapes I had ever been in. I was suddenly quite happy that the bus schedule was impossible.
It was dream-like to be in that place. I was somewhere I had always longed to be, and it was ridiculously beautiful. The waters were green and glinting, the pools lined with polished blue stones. There were plenty of waterfalls cascading into carved and polished bowls.
This is where the inner-debate began. Should I go swimming? Should I? I examined the facts: it was early April, the weather was unpredictable, often windy, and prone to freak hailstorms, I had no towel and it was roughly a three hour walk back to the bus. On the other hand… I was currently more than 7000km from home and it had taken me eighteen years to get to Skye for the first time. I had come all this way with the dream of plunging into these crystal waters. Yes, they were said to be freezing on a good day. However, I have swum in an uncountable number of ridiculously frigid waters in my lifetime, including the Pacific Ocean on January 1st. I had come all this way. I was going swimming.
I climbed down the bank to the pools and the famous swimming location. The climb was a good thing, as it meant I didn’t need to worry about leaving my bag on the banks unwatched. I was the only one down there. It was also good because there was a small cave on one side of the pools that was almost completely hidden from the many people up on the path – the perfect place to stealth change.
I stood up and went to the edge of the water, where I promptly attracted the attention of every passing tourist in the vicinity. They all wanted to watch the crazy girl freeze to death.
I didn’t want to simply creep into the water, toe by toe. So I found a ledge about a meter up and climbed on to it. With the cheering of the now-assembled crowd in my ears, I jumped in to that deep, green water; into the magical Fairy Pools, with the black mountains on either side and the golden plains, and the big open sky. I didn’t hesitate as I usually do when about to submerge myself in freezing water, but simply made the plunge. It was gorgeous. Refreshing. Vibrant. Vivid. Alive. I could feel what it meant to be truly living. I ended up leaping in three times, as it was just so perfect.
And then it was time to don my clothes, wander the pools some more and then head back up into the mountains. I had turned a destination I had always wanted to reach into a journey. My desire to see the pools had spawned this beautiful adventure. I sang and thought all the way back to the Sligachan, my voice ringing out clearly above the noise of the river rushing. There was no one else on the path and I took my time, enjoying the landscapes once more. I made it back to the bus stop just in time for the five o’clock bus back to Portree and headed back to my hostel, heart full.