A Portrait of the North: Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK
31 December, 2019
That is what I wanted: an unadulterated encounter with wild northwestern Scotland, at the moment that winter assumes its reign.
In summer, Scotland is a place that welcomes an entourage of holidaymakers. Campervans ram the questionably equipped isles; images of arcing cliffs and still lochs fill social media feeds. Winter, however, paints a very different picture.
The windows of our small Peugeot van rattle violently as the wind taunts outside. It's 7am but the night is still in control. The light has been intermittent but rich; the place is vast, wild and eerily empty; the days are short.
The season demands a slower pace of life. Long nights give no choice but to switch off, reflect on the day and appreciate the close relationship to nature that this northern territory allows.
Driving westward from Duncansby Head, we observe how the varying patterns of weather influence the landscape. We watch the swell free itself on steep rock shelves, creating short, wide waves. We climb dunes and gaze across white-sand beaches that dance in the wind.
After a week we make it to Durness, from where we begin the stint south towards Skye. Dramatic landscapes are framed by the defiant white of snow and washed blue of the Atlantic. Winding roads cut slits in the mountainous horizon, allowing us to meet certain parts of the ocean once again.
While this time of year in northwestern Scotland may seem daunting, it also provides a welcome change to the flash-like speed of life at home. In the wake of storms, the landscape seems exaggerated - sharing this spectacle with no one other than a few hooting sea birds makes the cold, dark days worth every second. It's an unfiltered view, an untainted perspective, a true portrait of a northern winter.