By Kristin Noell
Tyler Summer Metals Workshop
I can’t tell you exactly when I fell in love with Scotland. I might tell you it was on the ride through the highlands, in the backseat of a van with a person who had only driven stick for 2 days, on the wrong side of the road. I might tell you it was the sunset over Plockton, a mountain village flanked by a beach and ships beached at low tide. I might tell you it was during a ghost tour in Edinburgh, picking our way in the dark through catacombs 3 stories underground. But if I had to choose, I think the moment I fell in love with Scotland was on The Old Man of Storr.
The Scottish highlands are riddled with mountains so high you can’t see the tops through the clouds. They are massive, ancient reminders of how that land was formed. The Old Man of Storr is the folk name for one of the tallest, and for good reason; the landscape is gnarled and bent like a old man. Half the path is covered in forest; the other half, the tallest part, is a nearly vertical walk complete with natural steps made of stones and small lakes around the mountainsides.
Most of our group climbed halfway up up the summit of Storr, perhaps because of the incessant gnats, or perhaps because of altitude. My friend and I, however, ignored the “Danger: Rockslides, proceed at your own risk” signs posted around the premises. What we saw was a boulder field, clearly untouched by the sands of time or erosion. Climbing haphazardly over the huge rocks, we picked up a path that, instead of going straight up the vertical ascent to the summit, twisted around the path like some great sleeping serpent. Once we picked up the path again, we ran into some unlikely visitors. A small herd of 4 smallish, horned sheep stood in our path, seemingly judging us. It was an epic stare-down: two American girls versus sheep who’d been living on this mountain their whole lives. After what seemed like a good couple of minutes, the lead sheep seemed almost to nod at us, and the herd moved on, clearing the way. We couldn’t help but feel a little like the mountain approved of us there.
Close to the summit, the path dissolves into loose stones and dirt, and the ascent is nearly vertical. Now the sign we had passed before taking the serpent route made too much sense. Faced with the decision to continue, at risk of slipping halfway down the mountainside, or to continue to the summit, which was made of 5 great slabs of rock standing over the range like a sentry, we did the obvious thing. For when again would be ever get to climb a mountain in Scotland in our lifetimes?
We scrambled up the bare cliffside, wrenching up handfuls of dirt and loose pebbles, debris spraying everywhere. Surprisingly, neither of us slipped before reaching the top. We clung to the giant sentry-rocks at the top for dear life, and we surveyed the glorious view of the Highlands. It was as if we had been rewarded for our climb by the 5-mile 360 degree view we now had of the surrounding area. In the distance, great waterways sliced the land in two, mountains rose up around them, and the sky went on forever.
And it was around then my fear of heights kicked it and I got surpremely dizzy. We made it down the mountainside post-haste because fainting off the summit of a mountain is not a desirable trait.