In April, I had four weeks off uni for my mid-semester break. While I did have a few essays due soon after the break was over, I naively decided I could write some while I travelled and proceeded to plan out a whole month of travelling through Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Italy with my exchange friends! Looking back now, I admittedly wrote very little of my essays while travelling and later drank copious amounts of coffee in my struggle to meet the deadline, but I wouldn’t change a thing if I was to do it all again!
The highlight of my mid-semester break was definitely the seven days I spent hiking in the Isle of Skye, in northern Scotland. While I loved the live music in Irish pubs and ate pizza four meals in a row in Italy, my time spent in Skye was just so different, as my friends and I fell in love with the Scottish landscape.
To get to Skye, we took the six hour train ride from Glasgow on the West Highlands Line. This route has won awards for being the world’s best train journey, but you’ll probably recognise it from the Harry Potter films.
My most memorable, and most muddy, hike in Skye happened to be the first day. Although my two French exchange friends and I were armed with waterproof hiking boots, nothing could save us from the ankle-deep mud on a rainy day in Loch Coruisk. To reach Loch Coruisk from our hostel, we first took a bus (that ran twice a day) to the village Elgol (population 150 people), and then boarded a boat to arrive at the loch forty minutes later.
The whole area was breathtakingly beautiful. There were only a few other hikers on the boat with us so once they quickly took a bend around the mountain, the whole loch was just to ourselves. We really appreciated the peaceful silence and seclusion, because it was something so rarely experienced as a tourist. It was just the three of us, and nature (and a few deer too!).
We slowly made our way around Loch Coruisk, trying to plan out our steps as there was no proper path to follow. While we were painstakingly slow at first to try stay clean, we eventually gave up and just trudged through mud that soaked our boots. One of my friends actually miscalculated how deep the mud was at one point, and had half her leg stuck in a bog! We decided to wade across a fast-moving creek to help clean off the mud a bit, but I actually ended up slipping, falling over, and getting fully soaked. We all lied down on a large rock to enjoy the sun while our clothes dried off, but because we were in Scotland where the weather was temperamental, it literally switched from sunbathing to thunderstorms in two minutes! This switch happened another five or six times that day – classic British weather. Yet, despite the thunderstorms and bogs, it was such a fun day and great introduction to Skye.
Another memorable day in Skye was when we hiked around the Quiraing, a landslip in northern Skye. Because we were relying on public transport to get around Skye, we ended up having to walk for an hour and a half uphill, from the bus stop to the top of the landslip formation where the hike began. (Later on that week, we actually ended up hitchhiking a few times with locals and tourists, because it just became too inconvenient to catch buses that ran every few hours.)
The walk around the Quiraing was on a skinny dirt path along the edge of the rock formations. Being someone with a fear of heights, it wasn’t great to be constantly walking right next to a drop of at least a hundred meters. However, I soon got used to it and my mind was instead occupied by how breathtakingly beautiful the nature was around me and how lucky I was to experience it.
While there was a clearly marked path for the majority of it, it soon just became grassy fields along the cliff where we couldn’t tell where to go anymore. On our way down from the summit of the Quiraing, we lost the path completely and just bush-bashed across a field for two hours, aiming for the general direction of the coast where the road was. Again, as we pushed past plants and shrubs that reached our waist, we discovered the field to be an incredibly muddy walk. We cried out hope when we saw cars driving in the distance but once we were closer we realised we ended up on a section of the highway that was really far from where our bus stop was. That’s how we ended up walking for another two hours on the highway to try find our bus stop.
Perhaps this was a memorable day for the wrong reasons, because I remember 9 hours of non-stop trekking up and down hills, across random fields we were probably trespassing in, and along a never-ending stretch of highway. However, I still look back on it and miss that day because I also think of the stunning views and recall the funny conversations my friends and I had (for example, about how long it would take for someone to find us if we all fell down the cliff).
I absolutely loved travelling during my mid-semester break and while Skye may not be the most popular destination for tourists, it was one of the most fun, exciting, yet challenging experiences of my exchange. I would also definitely recommend going travelling with the people you meet on exchange because everyone becomes closer friends during this period. Later on, you’ll also all have fond memories to reminisce about once the whole exchange experience is over, and as I have discovered, over way too quickly and too soon!