Wednesday, 16 May 2012

McBlog - Day 7: If You Do Not Want To Throw Yourself Over The Edge, Look Away Now.

Day 7 of my Scotland holiday arrived right on time - just after the night of day 6.

The morning was a good one - more than a smattering of blue filled the sky, although there were still clouds loitering like youths outside an old folks home.

The plan today was to walk up around the Old Man of Storr, which is not far from the town of Portree on the Isle of Skye. Now the Old Man of Storr is an obelisk of rock that stands separate from a larger outcropping of rock. I don't know if the entire outcropping is called Storr, but that will be what I will be referring to in this Blog. If you think I am wrong and wish to correct me, please leave me a comment on my web page:'

The weather forecast for Portree was looking good according to the weather App on my IPhone - sunshine from 8am right through until 4pm - and as none of us are meteorologists (weathermen) we had no reason to doubt it.

We made packed lunches and set off for Portree, our spirits high. Skye is one of my favourite places; it's rugged, barren landscape has an individual beauty all it's own, and I was looking forward to seeing it from the top of Storr.

However, as we reached Portree it became very evident that the weather App on my IPhone was about as accurate as a myopic, epileptic marksman trying to shoot peanuts off a spinning disco light. The weather in Portree was awful - it was raining and as we drove on towards The Old Man of Storr, the familiar shape that usually dominated the horizon was obscured by low cloud.

Things were not looking good. Still we arrived at the crowded parking area (crowded because presumably lots of other people used the same lying weather App that I have) determined to do this walk. In fairness, the weather was looking a little better - it had stopped raining, and the clouds were brightening up.

We put on our waterproof clothing, picked up our rucksacks and started the long walk towards the top of Storr.
There was Jim, Leigh and Jack (the dog), and Ben, Cain (the son) and me. And, for the first 15 minutes or so of our walk, an odd female who just appeared and tagged along behind. Eventually she moved on past us - and we got on with our walk.

The first 30 minutes or so is the hardest; we climb steeply and soon we found ourselves at the base of the Old Man. It is truly an incredible sight, a huge monolith that looks like it will fall at any moment. There is a large hole on one side that looks like an eye, and thus gives the Old Man his face. By the time we had reached here the weather was fine and warm. So warm in fact that most of us had removed our waterproofs and warmer clothing, and were in t-shirts. I didn't, as I knew it would get colder and windier the higher we got. Plus, I couldn't be bothered.

Now, as a rule most people only come to see the Old Man of Storr and then go home. Not many people know that there is a path that leads up to the top of the Storr - but we did (well Ben, Jim, Leigh, and Cain did - this was only my second trip to The Old Man - in fact I'm fairly sure Jack knew more than me). We climbed (and by climb I mean walk) up round the back of the Storr and continued to ascend. The ascent was more gentle that the first part of our walk, but already we had good views of the surrounding area. Admittedly the views weren't amazing as there were clouds closing in.

We pushed on and finally started the ascent towards the top of the Storr. The landscape was moss and heather with small rocks dotted all over, for a while it seemed that this ascent would go on and on, but then the rocks suddenly disappeared leaving just soft grassy mossy ground underfoot. Soon after we reached the top of the Storr. The views were incredible, inspite of the low cloud. The sea was visible to the left, a great pool of pearl coloured shimmering water, and to the right the rugged landscape - not dissimilar to the grand canyon - spread away before us. The only shame was that we could not see as far as you can when the visibility is good.

There are many things I am good at: making people laugh, being quite clever with words, and taking care of people. However, one thing I am very bad at is dealing with heights. So finding myself almost 2500ft up on top of the Storr on a flat piece of ground with sheer drops on at least two sides probably wasn't that good an idea. I have always had a fear of heights, as did my father. And like my dad, my fear of heights has a strange by product; when ever I am at height or near the edge of something at height, I feel a strong urge to just lean out over the edge until I fall. Of course, I've never yet succumbed to this urge - and I don't intend to.

So we are up on top of the Storr and I am really enjoying the views - Inspite of my terror. I managed to get within six feet of the edge and look down - but I didn't like it. And then Ben suggested I try crawling on my stomach to the edge and looking over. I have always felt that my fear of heights has held me back to some degree in life (which is ironic when you think that part of my fear of heights is a desire to throw myself off from a great height, and being held back is a distinct advantage), and so I am trying to fight back if I can. So I decided to try Ben's suggestion. I laid on my belly and crawled to the edge. There was a gap between two small rocks that I crawled up to and looked down through. The picture below is what my view was - although it does not do it justice. I managed to look down briefly but then I got the sensation that my legs were lifting off the ground and I was tipping over towards the empty air just past the edge. That was too much for me so I scurried backwards and backed away to safety.

My legs were jelly and I only felt safe sitting on the floor. If I was to stand, I would feel that the tiniest blade of grass could trip me up and send me over the edge, plummeting to my death. I remained sitting - but then could only look in sickening horror as Ben and Jim both went close to the edge. Jim then went one further and sat on a rocky outcrop with his legs dangling over the edge!!

I couldn't look, and had to turn away. Jim's wife Leigh was also not a fan of Jim's antics and had to look away too. I honestly don't know how Jim does it - to have that level of fear control is something I can only dream of. I don't even think fear comes into it for him; of course he is adverse to the concept of falling 2500 feet to his death, but he doesn't let that stop him experiencing the best view. I have envy and admiration for him and anyone who can go right to the edge at great height and not feel like I do.

While we were up there, it started to snow - and big flakes too! It wasn't cold enough for them to settle, but there were some serious flakes falling. Snow, in May - who would have thought it.

Eventually we decided to make our way down, as more clouds were closing in. As we made our descent the snow gradually turned to rain and by the time we reached our cars it was raining steadily. We looked back to where we had been, but could not see it as it was shrouded in cloud. We changed out of our waterproofs and came home.

I really have enjoyed today. The walk at The Old Man of Storr is the best walk I have been on - not too difficult, and the reward in terms of view at the end is amazing. I just wished my fear of heights wasn't so great.

Still, I have walked to the top of the Storr - and I'd never done that before today!

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