In our Travel Journal series, The Stories We Tell, Dylan Greer, explores the hills of the Highlands and the seaside towns of the Isle of Skye in Scotland. But what he discovered is what connected people to those lands.

It rained the whole drive up the western coastline from Glasgow, so the soil had soaked into a soupy brine by the time I arrived in Glenelg. On the drive, my guide and host Eddie — a Scots playwright, highlands tour guide, and windmill engineer — would pull over and tell stories of what had happened there: the clearances, a battle between warring clans, or the filming of the movie Skyfall, while I was bitten by midges. To me, the land seemed static, to Eddie, each creek and hill had a different heart; a story that made it unique. When we reached the highlands, I stepped out of the car and sank ankle-deep into the mud, which grabbed my shoe and wouldn’t let go.

Latitude: 57° 38′ 22.19″ N
Longitude: -6° 15′ 33.0″ W

The next morning, the sun broke through the clouds and flooded the landscape. From the window next to my bed, the peat-carpeted hills rolled through the countryside while herds of sheep grazed beneath. A couple of cows strayed through the fence onto the lawn of the bungalow where I stayed a few minutes away from Eddie’s house. I got dressed and made a cup of instant coffee. It tasted the way my mud-caked shoes smelled: earthy, tangy, and bitter.
I walked to Eddie’s house along the only road in the village and spooked a group of sheep headed the other direction. One young sheep — not yet marked with paint like the older ones — was frightened. It turned and ran, crashing into the stone barrier between the street and hillside. It lay on the ground still for a moment, but when I moved to help, it rose and ran in the other direction to rejoin its flock.
I reached Eddie’s house and rang the doorbell while attempting to scrape the dirt from the soles of my shoes with a stick. They were the first thing Eddie noticed when he opened the door.
“Don’t you have any Welly’s?” He asked.
“Any what?” I said.
“Here.” He handed me a pair of Wellington rain boots two sizes too big for me. “You’ll need these for the Quiraing. Stuff some socks in the toes to make them fit.”
We drove to the port where the Kylerhea ferry had run to the Isle of Skye for decades. More of a barge than a ferry, it was small and did little to disturb the feeling of antiquity around us. The land looked ancient, and it was easy to visualize Eddie’s stories, even the myths seemed possible. The small islands grew like muscles out of the sea and for a moment looked like the humps of a giant serpent.
As we disembarked the ferry and began our hour drive through the hills and seaside towns of the Isle of Skye, Eddie told me we were hiking to the fairy table. A flat hilltop high in the Trotternish mountains where the fairies danced.
“The fairies like attractive young men,” he said, “stay with me and you’ll be fine. If you go off on your own, they’ll take you back to their cave and give you a pleasant death, having sex with you until you waste away.”
We continued on across the landscape as he told me more stories of the giants, fairies, and people that inhabited this land. He spoke in facts and details, skipping over the impossibilities the way our tires skirted over the puddles formed by last night’s rain.

Latitude: 57° 34′ 59.6″ N
Longitude: -6° 19′ 38.7″ W

We reached the Quiraing and the hills changed shape becoming sharper, more violent. The grassy round knolls were replaced by sheer cliff faces and brooks were replaced by mountain streams racing to the sea. We hiked for an hour, up muddy hillsides and jumping over creeks that dripped from the cliffs as small waterfalls until we reached the highest point, the only place I had seen in the highlands absent of sheep. It was windy, damp, and alive. The water pushed onto the land like an army and stole silt back into the sea. As we searched for fairies in the crags and nooks of the rocks around us, Eddie recited a poem by Robert Burns and I saw what connected us to that land: the stories we tell, and those that came before us.

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