The alarm goes off at 4.30am interrupting a restless night at the back of a car. My boyfriend opens the door and peeks out with blurry eyes. It is raining. The clouds hung low. The Cuillin Ridge is hiding behind the heavy, grey curtain. There is no point in trying to scramble the narrow ridge which climbs over 11 Munros in wet weather like this.
The Cuillin Ridge Traverse on the Isle of Skye is supposed to be one of the best scrambles in the UK, but it is cursed with frequent bad weather. At the end of August, when we are on our way to Inverness, we decide to stop on the Skye for a few days and try our luck. Unfortunately, the luck is not on our side, and we end up leaving the island without seeing the ridge at all.
Even though we can’t take a single step on the Cuillin mountains, the seven-hour drive to the Skye is not wasted. In the early afternoon, we head to the northernmost point of the island and walk through slippery mud and purple heather to a little bothy which sits on the top of gorgeous cliffs. The Rubha Hunish Lookout Bothy, like many other bothies in Scotland and northern England, has no lock on the door. There are three bunks, a tiny unequipped kitchen, and a small common room welcoming overnight campers and passers-by who wish to escape the rain for a while.
When we arrive at the whitewashed cottage, the rain stops. The north-facing wall, which is covered with windows, reveals a splendid view of the sea. The sun comes out and makes the heather glow, inviting us to explore the green cape underneath the cliffs.
When we return to the bothy, two girls who are tackling the Sky Trail are making tea in the window-room. We are happy to share the bothy with other keen walkers. As we start cooking our dinner, another couple arrives. The bothy is starting to get a bit crowded. Alas, just before the rain closes in, two more people burst in.
Here we are; a few New Zealanders, a few Englishmen, one American, one Irish, and one Finnish traveller. We are sitting around a low table and sharing our experiences about drenched hiking boots, painted sheep, and the best places to spot puffins. Although the diary entries get our hopes up for Minke Whale sightings, we fail to see anything but waves in the sea.
The evening grows darker. We decorate the room with candles and admire the stars on the quickly clearing sky. A bottle of whiskey, left behind by previous visitors, is passed around as we engage ourselves in creative collaboration and compose a poem describing the evening.
Then it’s time to roll out our sleeping mats: four in the window-room and four on the big bunk bed. We blow out the candles and adjust ourselves to the darkness. The sleeping mats rustle when we seek for a comfortable position, but eventually, we relax. Eight strangers sleeping in the little white bothy with accommodation for three.
Not quite the Cuillin Ridge, but an all right plan B.