Freshman year, back when I thought I was an English major, I took English 45C and had to read “To the Lighthouse” by Virginia Woolf. One of the themes I remember our professor teaching us was the concept of the sublime: something so vast, so beautiful, that our very inability to wrap our minds around the whole of it made its beauty terrifying. I also remember finding the book sublimely boring.
Incidentally, the novel was set on the Isle of Skye, an island just off the coast of the western highlands in Scotland. While I found reading Woolf’s descriptions of the island incredibly boring as a freshman, I decided that seeing this scenic island in person might be a little less yawn-inducing than her verbose prose about it was. So last month I joined the International Student Centre on an organized bus trip up through the Highlands.
Our first stop was Portree, the capital “city” of Skye, if you could call it that. We could walk the perimeter of the main part of the 4,000-person city in about ten minutes. It’s a bit like what you would imagine Scotland is like if you’ve ever seen Local Hero: thick accents, friendly people, fresh seafood, sheep and a harbor.
After resting up in our Portree hostel, we were able to cover most of the island’s perimeter in the first day (by bus). There isn’t much to the Isle of Skye. Its simplicity is the best thing about it. In just one day, we circled most of the island on our bus, stopping frequently to hike and take pictures. As I write this post, I’ve erased about five different sentences, each a failed attempt at trying to explain the beauty that sat before us at the top of each hill or the end of each hike. I snapped as many photos as my memory card could hold, to share with my friends and family, but the Isle of Skye is one of those places you can’t really understand until you’ve visited it. I finally realized what Woolf had been blathering on about. Every part of this small island felt so captivating and vast that it made me feel completely insignificant. It was terrifying. It was beautiful. It was sublime.
The only thing I’ve seen that came close to what I experienced at Skye? The drive home. The highlands that lie between the city of Edinburgh and the island offer green and rolling hills and valleys with potentially monster-infested lochs (lakes) in between. I recommend Glencoe if you’re looking for a nice place to picnic, or if you’re the mountain-climbing type, check out Ben Nevis and the range surrounding it.