August 2017: Jake Staggaley

The idea: Celebrate the end of Jake’s bachelorhood with an adventure on a budget with mass appeal
Location: The Isle of Skye
Transport: Flights to Inverness. Hire cars for the drive to Skye.
Essential kit: Waterproof coats. Waterproof trousers. Waterproof hiking boots. Bivvy bags. Swimming kit
Less essential kit: Suncream.
Kit we wished we’d had: Midge repellent. Waterproof clothes for everyone.
Cost: £70 each for return flights. £35 each for car hire and fuel.

When Jake told us he was getting married to the love of his life, Faye, we knew the stag do was going to be wild. Not casinos and strip clubs until 6am wild, but running up mountains, swimming in waterfalls and crawling into bivvy bags with the setting sun, wild. After all, who’d rather be stumbling into another bar when they could be striding heroically up another mountain instead? Not us, and that’s why we shunned weekends in Budapest, Bournemouth and Berlin for three days on the Isle of Skye instead.

It wouldn’t just be the four of us this time. Jake’s brothers and a select few friends were going to join us for their first taste of Everyday Adventure action, and we didn’t want to disappoint. We made an itinerary that focused on beautiful, secluded locations rather than heavy endurance for mass appeal and pre-warned the newcomers that their first night in a bivvy bag might be a life-changing experience. And it was. But perhaps not for the reasons we expected…

Bigger bait

Touching down in Scotland, our first destination was Loch Ness. With a few hours to kill before the final member of the group (Jamie ‘SOS’ Watson’s) flight landed, we thought we’d take a dip in the famous Loch to get the adventure going. The water was cold and refreshing but murky and mysterious. Hunting Nessie had never been on the agenda, but if anything was going to lure her from the dark depths, it was sure to be the eight rapidly shrinking pieces of bait twitching just below the surface. We stayed just long enough to dip our heads, and headed back to the airport.

Jamie now in tow, we headed towards Skye and to the first camping spot of the trip – Sgurr Mhic Choinnich or ‘MacKenzie’s Peak’. We stopped halfway there for dinner at a place owned by an overly hospitable landlord, who offered us more free beer than we could drink (only five small bottles between the eight of us – lads lads lads) and we stayed longer than we probably should have done, owing to the fact that ominous dark clouds were beginning to creep in.

Men/boys

After an hour back on the road, with our windscreen wipers on full, we arrived at the base of the mountain. It was midnight and the rain was unseasonably awful, even for North Scotland. The plan had been to climb halfway up the mountain to sleep that evening, but the general consensus in my car was that the storm was too strong and midnight was a bad time to start climbing a mountain. The consensus in Jake’s car, however, was that we should shut the hell up and get on with it. He was going up the mountain with or without us.

After a brief word with ourselves, we decided that group solidarity was the only option, and mustered the energy and enthusiasm to climb the mountain. While normally I’d respect Jake for this kind of commitment to adventure, I wished for a brief moment that I could have yelled ‘Stag’s don’t get to choose’ and duct taped him to the roof of his car with a bottle of whisky superglued to each hand and a dirty magazine laid across his face. After one hundred metres on the trail though, I was glad I practised restraint and happy to have been persuaded out of my comfort zone. Stepping onto a mountain in the dead of night, though inadvisable, was a revelationary experience. Sheep bleated and waterfalls crashed close by, but we couldn’t see them. With no view of the summit to intimidate us, we had to process our surrounding metre by metre as we made our way ever upward.

RIP Russell

One of the side effects of running an adventure blog is a healthy collection of outdoor kit that would be a boy scout’s wet dream. On top of the raincoats, technical base layers and hiking boots, we occasionally get offered great kit to try by small companies like Millican, meaning that if anything, we’re over-prepared for most situations. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for the new recruits. Jamie‘s brand new Nike kicks were about as water resistant as a roll of triple-ply kitchen towel, and Russell’s jeans, cotton jumper and woollen beanie didn’t look so stylish when soaked through.

Though the rest of us weren’t exactly tearing along, our headtorches and raincoats meant we could cross streams with confidence and the thought that we might die from pneumonia on that August night never featured on our minds. By the time we reached our camping spot after three hours of walking in the rain, however, Russell looked as though he not only had contracted pneumonia, but that he’d also died from it. Pallid faced, he sat silently on a rock in the now torrential rain while we pitched a tent and ushered him inside. We offered him our dry clothes and food rations, and even positioned a guard at his door incase he needed anything in the night. We knew he’d be ok, but I’m not sure he did.

Once we’d tucked Russell in for the night, we laid out our bivvy bags on the sodden ground and crawled inside them. I can’t say exactly how everyone else was feeling at that moment, but as I pulled the drawstring to cinch the bivvy around my face, I had a quiet little laugh to myself. This often happens on our trips, and particularly when we’ve done something that seemed like such a stupid idea at first. No matter the weather, I knew that sleeping on the side of a mountain with a bunch of great mates was an experience to be savoured. Though soaked and shivering, I felt privileged to be there.

What goes halfway up, must come halfway down

After a few hours’ sleep, we woke with the sunrise and made a plan for the day. In order to avoid mutiny, we ditched the ascent and headed into Carbost to seek breakfast. Finding sustenance on a Tuesday morning after 930am proved to be a challenge in itself, but the awesome owners of Caora Dhubh coffee house opened early for us and let us have first pick of their delicious snacks. Once refuelled, we headed to Fairy Pools, which was the most eagerly anticipated destination of the whole trip after we’d once been told that it was a favourite place to explore by one of our adventuring heroes, Alastair Humphreys.

While we were on Skye, The Telegraph published this article, bemoaning the influx of visitors to the island and explaining that local police were urging visitors to stay away. Owing to the fact that nobody of sound mind would have spent the previous night how we did, this came as a bit of a surprise to us. We thought that Skye was more or less empty, until we hit Fairy Pools where we spent half an hour just trying to find a parking spot. The only way to avoid the hoards of tourists at the pools was to jump into the water (where nobody else was). Once we were swimming, we couldn’t have cared less about the crowds. Even when they took so much of an interest in what we were doing that a few filmed us getting undressed. I can only imagine that they’ve reviewed the footage since and are highly disappointed.

Best ‘til last

Once we we’d had our photos taken by at least one person from every continent, we decided to ditch the crowds and headed for a remote beach to spend the night. We cooked our food on BBQs and sat eating with a view of the sun setting over the Cuillins across the North Atlantic sea. We made a shooting gallery from rocks piled on top of each other, and spent hours trying to knock the towers down without interruption from another living soul. Conversation turned to Jake’s wedding and, exhausted from a few days of adventure seeking, we fell asleep without any trouble. Waking up on that beach was the highlight of the trip, made better by a sizeable rock perched just above deep sea water that was the perfect spot for an early morning dip.

With a little pre-planning and a strong desire to avoid convention/crowds, we were able to find places to spend our two evenings that showcased the varying landscapes of Skye in all their glory. While the rest of the Island groaned under the weight of the August tourist influx, we were able to enjoy Skye as it’s meant to be enjoyed  – as a mecca for adventure travel and an antidote to the modern world. We achieved our aim of executing a stag do that broke away from convention and, minor mountain panic aside, left us all with positive and enduring memories. I can think of no better way to have marked the beginning of a new chapter in Jake’s life. ▲