H is for HIGHLANDS
The first time I went to the Highlands, I was high. I’d just been away in Oz for a year and had come back and wanted to explore my own island. A friend, who was both Scottish and considered an authority on Britain’s North Shore put us on to a swell. He couldn’t come, he regretted, but reckoned it could be 6-8ft perfect cold water Nias. On the afternoon of departure, we stopped at his to borrow a bigger board. He warned us, ‘Good luck, eh.’ ‘What do you mean?’ I asked (given that his tone was more 'you’ll need good luck' than 'I expect you to have good luck'). ‘It can be a tough place to go’ he said.
We drove from Saltash to Thurso in one of those ex-BT Fiesta vans, you know, the gunmetal grey 3 door jobs. There were three of us, and half a dozen surfboards. Needless to say the back wasn’t great, but, this being the Millenium, we had some of that awful cheap black hash and got it done. We arrived at Thurso some 16 hours later, and it was kinda chilly, considering it was June. We checked the surf at Thurso East, and there wasn’t any. We checked Brims, which our Scottish surf pal had said is ‘never flat’. It was flat. The chart, they say, had ‘changed’. Our 6-8ft Nias swell was no more. In the end we drove off to the Western Isles and had wild adventures and good surf, bad surf, and went slightly bonkers. Our tent had a hole the size of a dustbin lid in the front and it rained every day. We smoked more of that cheap hash from a Coke can in a council house where a wild local made me hit a punchbag only with my left. ‘Left! Left!’ His girlfriend had alarming bruises.
We did many miles, found some great surf, did a few silly things on flat days, spent an alarming amount of money. I nearly got lost at sea and the other two were busy composing a story for my loved ones. But I got found. By the time we got back down to the Lowlands, Edinburgh to be precise, we were different animals. Our stares were more thousand yard-y. We left boys and came back men. Saturday night in Edinburgh after ten days up in the back of beyond was like the promised land. We went to a nightclub and gripped saucy Edinburgh womenfolk.
The second time I went to the Highlands I flew from Bordeaux to Gatwick to Inverness and drove the last two hours in hire car comfort, and then checked-in to my room at the Royal Hotel, Thurso. The surf was pretty good. It was the Highland Open, and the QS warriors took it apart. After surfing I would hang my wetsuit in the shower, and it would be dry when next needed. Meals were hot, hearty and ready, all I had to do was sit down at the table in the restaurant. The comp was fun and I wrote my report for the mag and it turned out pretty fine. The flights and the hotel were paid for and everything was all taken care of. There was no real danger of being lost at sea, getting tent pneumonia or anything else.
I remember the first trip more fondly.