The teashop sits at the end of a mile-long dirt lane. One room, fire blazing, with windows overlooking the sea, which is wild and rough this August afternoon.
We are lost in a month-long adventure. No plans, no reservations, no expectations. Just the thrill of walking away from jobs, mortgages, car payments and being free in Scotland.
This is our second trip to the tiny teashop on the Isle of Skye. Today is a celebration of sorts, and we are eating chocolate fudge cake. It is moist, gooey but substantive, soaking up the heavy cream in which it sits.
I cut a small bite and move it around the bone china plate to soak up as much cream as possible. Then I quickly bring it up to my mouth, so I don’t drop chocolate and cream over the one wool sweater I wear every day.
Though we’ve been married for five years, this month is the time we fall deeply in love. We have so much time to wander, talk, sit around for days playing cribbage while waiting for the car ferry to the Orkney Islands, get up at 3 a.m. to see the eclipse at the old Edwardian hunting lodge by the River Spey.
We sleep in, make love, miss the inn’s breakfast. With a smirk our New Zealand hosts tell us that they’ve left us a plate in the kitchen. They’re off to forage mushrooms for dinner.
We arrive at a grand estate not realizing this is where British aristocracy comes every year for the August holidays. There are no rooms available, says the very formal man at the reception desk, except for one in back that’s in the white, long-slung building where the help lives. He invites us to use the Manor’s drawing rooms and directs us to the local pubs for our meals. He cannot, unfortunately, accommodate us in the Manor’s dining room.
We love our squat, bare-bones room. We wash our clothes in the bathroom sink and string them up all over the room to dry, turning the portable heater up to high.
In the Manor drawing room we meet a couple our age. Cambridge and Oxford, we learn. We play whist. They’re surprised we know this card game. We play to win and do. My husband and I revel that we’re such good card players together and then head to the servants’ quarters to put on our muddy boots and walk to the pub.
What sealed our love on this trip — and why we’re celebrating in the teashop — was the hike in Skye.
“Be cautious now,” we were warned. “Those mountains are like no other and the weather is unpredictable.”
We are unfazed as my husband is an experienced mountaineer, expert in diverse landscapes and rescuing unprepared people off mountains.
Halfway up we stop to drink some water. A low-cloud gust blows in hard out of nowhere. We’re blinded in the fog and I feel the wind bend me forwards. I am about to say something about it when my husband violently grabs my arm, yanking me towards him. Before the stunned me can speak, he pulls me close, turns me around in his arms, and says, “Look.”
As the cloud and wind move off, we stand silently looking out. He kisses the top of my head, fearful, grateful.
Had he not grabbed me, I was about to be blown down into a 3,000-foot ravine. I had been inches from the edge, unable to see in the dense fog of the cloud.
We continue on. When we get to the top of the mountain, we eat our lunch and meet a local family doing the same. We tell them what had happened, and they nod and say it was no surprise. “This isn’t like the Alps,” they say and tell us a few chilling hiking stories.
“Might we be able to hike down with you,” we ask. “This seems like a tricky one to navigate.
“That it is,” they say and welcome us to join them.
We all start packing up our lunches, rearranging the contents of our backpacks, and putting on an extra rain layer. My husband offers a hand to help me up off my rock. When we turn to join the family, they are gone.
They have disappeared into another massive, blinding cloud. We can’t see or hear them. We yell to them. Nothing. Silence.
“Let’s turn around and go down the way we came up,” he says quietly and with no alarm or fear.
As we sit in the teahouse I’m recovered enough to joke, though I’m done with Skye and its mountains.
“You know I tease you that your “little” hikes are like death marches,” I say. “But that…”
“That was close,” he says and gets up to get us another piece of fudge cake.
“With extra cream,” I yell.