Can you give us a ride to the Fairy Pools? Fanny Marie Cheseaux recalls the bad and the beautiful of hitchhiking around the Isle of Skye in Scotland.
The summer before starting university, I embarked on my second interrailing trip. The plan consisted of me, my best friend, our backpacks, and the foggy corners of Scotland. We jumped from train to train, passing through Paris, London and Edinburgh to finally reach the most northern point of the Inner Hebrides: The Isle of Skye. A place of mystical lochs, moors, green pastures and sunshine and rain - all on the same day.
There was just one problem: how were we going to travel around a mostly deserted island where there was next to no public transport? The answer came from my best friend: let’s hitchhike! Our families and friends gasped: “two 20 year-old girls hitchhiking alone? That’s too dangerous.” Indeed, hitchhiking, or the art of raising your thumb to ask strangers for a ride in their car, has acquired a reputation of danger, losing the popularity it gained amongst hippies in the 70s in the US.
I was scared too, having heard many horror stories. But we were equipped with our maps and some tips harvested on the internet, like to always ask where the driver is going first, to give you an opportunity to refuse the ride if something seems off. The beauties of the island of the Old Man of Storr were awaiting us.
The first van that stopped took us from the mainland through the Skye Bridge. It was a couple with two dogs: we sat in the backseats of the bohemian decorated van, petting the dogs and laughing, and for a moment, we felt like kids again.
Another time we were waiting one hour for a ride and saw a tourist bus coming. “Should we try to stop a bus?”, we said, jokingly. Trying to keep a sense of humour during the long wait on empty roads is one of the charms of hitchhiking. And to our surprise, the bus stopped. There were not enough seats for us – so the tour guide gave us plastic stools and we spent the ride happily trying our broken Spanish with the South American tourists.
On the second day, we decided to see some mystical waterfalls – the Fairy Pools. A big black rental car stopped, driven by two Italian men traveling for the summer. They ended up inviting us for lunch by the side of the road with them. Pasta cooked in a camping kit, accompanied by homemade tomato sauce they had brought from Italy. Emotional. And tasty.
On our last day, we visited the western-most point of the island. It was beginning to get dark and misty, and the hostel was still far away. The last car had dropped us in the middle of a rainy intersection. When all hope seemed lost, a small baby blue car stopped. We shivered as the woman told us about her work in the criminal justice system. She had cold eyes and a chilling aura. Nothing happened, but this was the only time I felt unsafe in a car. So, from then on, we made sure to allow more time for hitchhiking at the end of days, so our defences wouldn’t be lowered by the urgency of reaching the hostel before night-time.
Through all the encounters, the joyous, the mediocre and the scary ones, hitchhiking around Skye created many memories. Standing on empty roads under all weather does take some nerves, but it makes everything more vivid, and enhances both our fleeting and long-lasting impressions of sceneries and people.