One of my favorite things to do to waste time is read awful TripAdvisor reviews from disgruntled tourists. The things some people complain about are just ridiculous. Recently, I read a series of bad TripAdvisor reviews about Scottish landmarks, and a goodly proportion of the ones complained about where either in the Highlands (13 of 19) or on the Isle of Skye (3 of 19).
One person complained that the Old Man of Storr was just “a tall rock.”
Someone else claimed that the Cuillins (koo-lins) were “nothing special.”
Go home, Tourist. You’re drunk.
I’ve written a couple posts about the Isle of Skye now, and I think it’s time for a disclaimer: You don’t go to the Isle of Skye to be entertained, you go there to be awed. In other words, just looking at stuff should be enough. The Isle of Skye is sparsely populated, but the number of people on the island balloons in summer, when the weather is good for hiking. The mountains on the Isle of Skye are world-renowned for being home to some of the most difficult scrambling (i.e., hiking on all fours so you don’t fall down the chasm of doom) paths in the world. If you look in any guidebook, all the major points of interest on the Isle of Skye are natural wonders. And if you actually go to the Isle of Skye and put your phone down for about three seconds and look around, you’ll see why.
One of my favorite things about the Isle of Skye is that the natural landscape is imbued with stories. Not only do they have beautiful landscapes that go on for miles, every single one has a story connected to it. And as befits a landscape that is as surreal as Skye’s, most of those stories have to do with the things beyond our ken. So, I propose to spend the next few posts sharing some of the stories that are connected to the landmarks around the Isle of Skye.
The Old Man of Storr
On the major road north out of Portree, there’s a rather distinctive rock formation called the Old Man of Storr. Back in the day, there was another rock perched on top of it, giving it the appearance of an old man (thus the name). However, the ground of that part of the island is very sandy and shifts at an alarming rate. Because of this, the Old Man’s head fell off some years ago. Experts say that what’s left of the Old Man only has about fifty years before it also topples over.
The story goes that, once upon a time, there was a dispute amongst the islanders about the proper date for Shrove Tuesday (aka, Mardi Gras). This was important, because without the proper date for Shrove Tuesday, they wouldn’t have the proper date for Ash Wednesday, which means that they wouldn’t be able to find out when Easter was. In order to resolve this dispute, a priest climbed to the top of the Old Man of Storr and, using the dark arts (which, alas, are no longer taught at seminary), he summoned the Devil and turned him into a great horse that could ride all the way to Rome in a day, that the priest might ask the Pope about the dates. Now, it’s a known thing that when you summon the Devil, he has the right to ask whatever questions he wants, and you must answer them truthfully. But if you mention the name of God, the Devil goes back to where he came from and leaves you high and dry.
The Devil, however, was not ready for this particular wily Scot of a priest. Through the whole day of riding on the Devil’s back and having the screws put to him, the priest managed to answer all of the Devil’s questions about his mission, the Church, and Easter without once mentioning God’s name. The Devil was so impressed that, after the priest had completed his mission in Rome, he dropped him off exactly where he’d picked him up on the Old Man of Storr, and turned to leave, saying, “Gun an ath turas a choinnicheas sinn” (“Until we meet again”).