As the train rattled out of Penrith, it chugged its way north toward Mallaig. The landscape took on an altogether different picture, the rolling hills of the Lake District were replaced by raw mountains, relentless in stature and never ending on the eye. If there was ever a way to experience slow travel, jumping on a train for 8 hours is one of them.
Words by Jeffrey Bowman | Photography by Jim Marsden
I purposely, maybe naively, choose to go with the flow. No ambitions other than to be carried along by the sway of the train, and the view from the window as my companion. The only real form of a plan was to head to Mallaig, then jump on the ferry to Skye the next day.
Cutting through valley after valley a mantra formed in my head ‘I can’t believe this is the UK’. Annoying as a repetitive mantra is hour after hour, it allowed me the rare feeling of being present as we weaved through yet more mountains like I’d never seen, I really couldn’t believe we were still in the UK and not weaving our way through an ancient Norsk landscape.
The ferry, loaded up with campervans, bike packers, locals and me. My ticket said Armadale. 50 minutes later across a lulled sea, I walked up the ramp, not entirely sure what waited for me at Armadale. I ducked into the Tourist Information centre, reluctantly, and was met with the familiar set-up of maps, guides, and all sorts of folded pamphlets of things to do… sadly, all on the north side of the island. I didn’t have the time or the means to go anywhere other than by walking.
The small pocket guide showed a path up to Armadale Hill. I’d stood still too long, covered in midges, I had to move, so I set out on the path up to the top. Ambling along, through a forest that eventually gave way to a moor-like landscape, bog-cotton blowing in the wind, I trekked about 40 mins to the summit. A 360-degree view of Skye and back onto the mainland kept me still for a while.
Sitting, then eventually laying down, in the spongy grass, the breeze whisked overhead. It became clear I’d taken an 8-hour train and a 50-minute ferry ride for essentially a stroll up a nondescript hill on an island in Scotland. Between feeling a bit silly and embracing the ‘adventure’, the clouds above could have easily been the same as the clouds at home as I looked up, I wondered if they looked the same from the mainland.
The next day the train rattled and chugged its way back through the mountains, homeward bound. Not 48 hours had passed since I was rattling and chugging my way north, and now less than 12 hours previous I was on top of a nondescript hill, it was a long way to go for an hour in the clouds.