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Highland Fling | A Scottish Skate Adventure

A skater's perspective on the wild and remote landscapes of Scotland's north coast

There is nowhere like the North coast of Scotland in how it makes me feel, the unique sense of wonder paired with the freshest air, opens a new part of my brain, reserved only for my visits there.

“There is nowhere like the North coast of Scotland in how it makes me feel”

I have been going to a place called Skerray (just off the NC500, although that’s only a recent branding) since I was a young lass, and my family has had a connection to the land and the people for over 60 years. My perspective of it is unique to my childhood holidays, and more recently adventures around the NW coast in my Mazda Bongo. In my mind it is the ultimate open space and feeling of freedom.

Credit: Hannah Bailey

Geographically, Sutherland is a wild, yet habitable area of mainland Scotland, with a jagged coastline stretching for miles until Cape Wrath, singletrack roads leading you north or south, winding their way through the open land, past lochs and lochans, Beinn’s and Brae’s.

“I have dreamt of inviting a skateboarder’s perspective into this wild landscape”

As a photographer, I have dreamt of inviting a skateboarder’s perspective into this wild landscape to see what they would make of the land, what smooth(er) surfaces they might find. Concrete is few and far between, which is why I love the area so much. When in Sutherland, you realise how small you are as a singular human; the vast size, strength and beauty of the land in its natural form is beyond comprehension and is the dominant force. 

Credit: Hannah Bailey
Credit: Hannah Bailey
Credit: Hannah Bailey
Credit: Hannah Bailey

So, as autumn threw it’s blanket over summer, Helena Long jumped on the train from Kings Cross to Inverness, with her own perspective of Scotland, and never having visited the NW corner. Her board tucked under her arm, a small backpack and a couple of t-shirts. Everything else she needed would be with her in Inverness, as we set off in the van to explore, with a paper map of Scotland and my predefined route concept of going clockwise. Our perspectives joined forces and off we went.

“If you look hard enough and open your mind to new possibilities, spots, places and situations, there will always be something to skate”

Within an hour we had stumbled upon Loch Glasgarnoch Dam, of which I had passed every year as a child on holiday. A monstrous development, which stops nature in its tracks, an ugly site (and pointless one in my opinion, follow Save Our Rivers to learn more), but a skateable one.

As the sun set over the hills and damaged river bank, I could at least take in the beauty of the moment, and Helena’s skateboarding

Credit: Hannah Bailey

As you hit the coast and head north past Ullapool, you are in the Geological reserve, the land of Inverpolly, where (you can still imagine) dinosaurs roaming free. Stacks of views and scattered land, filled in with dreamy lochs.

“A visually striking skate spot and a shot I had always dreamed off”

In 1984, Kylesku bridge was opened. Before that, a ferry would have to take you 120 metres over Loch a’ Chàirn Bhàin. For my current travels and Helena’s skating I am thankful for this bridge, recognised as an innovative design by HIstoric Scotland, the v-shaped legs, designed for minimal impact on the environment, also make for a visually striking skate spot and a shot I had always dreamed off. Helena clambered up the brick ladder, placed by skaters before her and became a miniscule dot absorbed by the sheer scale of the bridge. There is no competing with the view here.

Credit: Hannah Bailey

Heading the rest of the way north and along the coast, piers would tempt our minds to stop, mine for the photos and Helena’s for the skating. But more so, a combined belief in pausing frequently to explore, take in the views, skim some stones, make tea in the van and have some food. Breakfast on Scourie Pier, lunch on Talmine Pier, dinner on Skerray Pier. We spent the final evening on the Kyle of Tongue, staring out over Ben Loyal, Ben Hope and Castle Varrich, the ancient seat of the chief of the Clan Mackay, whose descendants you will still meet in the area.

“You don’t see another car for miles and when you do, you get a fright”

The road between Tongue and Crask is an in-land singular skinny track, threading through deserted openess, sometimes you don’t see another car for miles and when you do, you get a fright. It was our South route back downhill to Inverness and towards the bright lights of the cities. Crossing some of the oldest stone bridges, once taken by horseback, now kickflipped by Helena.

Credit: Hannah Bailey

“If you look hard enough and open your mind to new possibilities, spots, places and situations, there will always be something to skate. When you stop and take a break you never know where you might find yourself. It could be that you wake up from napping in heather in the Scottish Highlands” – Helena Long (@helenalegslong)

See more of Hannah’s photos at whatmakesagoodphoto.com

Follow the good work of Save Our Rivers who raise awareness of our need to protect our last free flowing rivers and wild places: saveourrivers.org

In memory of Elizabeth “Babe” Mackay.

Credit: Hannah Bailey
Credit: Hannah Bailey
Credit: Hannah Bailey
Credit: Hannah Bailey
Credit: Hannah Bailey
Credit: Hannah Bailey
Credit: Hannah Bailey

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