I’ve had my all-terrain wheelchair for over a year now. I use it all the time at work, it keeps me moving at music festivals, and it’s taken me up Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh. But I’ve never fully tested its all-terrain credentials until now.
Walk One – Tuesday
One of the things I was most looking forward to about being on the Isle of Skye was exploring and going for walks. We got off to a strong start on Tuesday. It was a dry cloudy day and being wary of getting cold I’d layered up. No need – within ten minutes of effort the layers started coming off.
I had no idea what to expect from either the terrain or the wheelchair. The path from the house was downhill, steep, and made up of loose stone shards, grass and the occasional big boulder. I reached the bottom exhilarated and excited about the walk ahead.
We travelled along the road next to the sea, its calm expanse broken only by the odd seal popping its head above the surface.
“Hello seals – do you sing seal songs to the stars at night?”
We went through a gate, down a rocky track, and across a bridge over a fast-moving river – everything sounded and smelled amazing. We pushed on into a forest where the ground was soft, and every hundred metres or so a narrow ditch cut across the path. But with a bit of help from my six walking companions this was no problem – the chair was already earning its off-road stripes.
I felt impossibly happy to be pushing myself through ferns, muddy puddles and small streams. I got lots of help and it felt like some sort of extreme team-building exercise. At one point my tics succinctly summed up the situation with a joyful squeal of “Look, I’m being outdoorsy!” A while later I had to come out of my chair and slither down a particularly steep section of the path on my bum – you can’t get more outdoorsy than that.
We emerged from the forest, crossed some fields and arrived on a stony beach where the combination of the grey-blue stones, dark sea, and light, misty sky was beautiful.
We stopped here for a bit to catch our breath, have some mulled wine from a thermos and take in the view. Then we continued along the beach until we reached the mouth of a river and followed it back to the road. We ambled along and with one last big team push made it back up the steep slope to the house. My face was flushed, my hands were cold and I was incredibly happy.
With this walk the chair confirmed its place in my affections. It‘s given me back the ability to do something I’ve always loved and have missed deeply – to explore and experience wild and rugged places. It’d also proved itself to everyone else, and as we sat in the kitchen warming up, with a table full of baked spuds ready for lunch in front of us, we were already planning our next route.
Walk Two – Wednesday
Wednesday was wetter and the walk more ambitious. Ten of us, plus one baby and a dog, set out from Drinan and immediately started climbing along Glasnakile towards Elgol. During the planning of this adventure my tics had responded to these mythic-sounding place names with helpful comments like “And then to Gandalf” and “When will the Hobbits come?”
The track was boggy and the incline steep but I had loads of help. Bouncing through puddles and over hillocks was exhilarating. The sea stretched out to our left as we climbed higher and higher. Olive and a few others had set out earlier and strategically placed the cars half way up the hill so if it got too much there was a get-out plan. Just before we reached them we bumped into a herd of cattle – almost literally, and had to shunt them out of the way to get past.
When we got to the cars we stopped and had cheese and pickle rolls. Then eight of us carried on up the hill, where the climb was gentler and on a stony track. The final part of the walk was on a sweeping road up to the top of the hill. It was beautiful but bleak and the relentless rain and wind were beginning to take their toll.
After three hours of walking it was a relief to see Olive and the car and to enjoy the scenery on the way back from the comfort of a warm vehicle. I had a shivering Keith wrapped in a coat bundled on my lap.
When we arrived back at the house I had the best bath I can ever remember.
Walk Three – Thursday
Yesterday got off to a slow start. We’d seen the New Year in in style. There were ten of us and Keith, an amazing feast, warming fire, a decent amount of booze and cracking tunes courtesy of Paul (AKA Professional DJ Business). I spent the last ten minutes of 2014 on the mic as MC Biscuit leading energetic chants of Alan, Alan, Alan, and instructing my companions to impersonate some truly bizarre things. “Tom, imagine you’re a cat vacuumed packed in an avocado” and “Vicky, imagine you’re Anneka Rice travelling backwards to Nuneaton.”
I can’t imagine a more perfect ending of one year and start of the next. As a result of the night’s festivities and my aching arms from yesterday’s walk, Zoë and I decided to opt for a gentle stroll rather than a long expedition.
The two of us trundled off down the track and headed to the sea. Leaving my chair on the grass bank we scrambled down the large rocks to the tide line. The sea was rolling in, and a pair of seals who make this bay their home were watching us with curiosity. I sat at the water’s edge shouting at the ocean:
“I can see you waving, sea.”
“Roll back the ocean and dance!”
“Sea, you’re as rhythmic as the rain dripping down a cow’s nose.”
We hung out there for a bit throwing pebbles into the sea before clambering back up to the road and walking a little further until we got to the river. We then turned back and headed home.
In a few hours we’re leaving Skye and beginning the journey back to London. I’ve had an incredible few days and feel relaxed and refreshed in a way I hadn’t expected. At no point has there been anything I’ve been unable to do or somewhere I’ve been unable to get to on this rocky, boggy, rugged island and that’s a testimony to my wonderful companions – and my amazing wheels.