Over the sea to Skye, not on a boat but a bridge. The name ‘Skye’ is sometimes said to come from ‘sgiath’ or wing, and today I feel like I’m soaring, the hills around me peaking at odd angles. The road-bridge seems to tip and disorientate, gives me the sort of view I associate with aircraft.

Lack of sleep the previous night makes the scenery on the way to Portree shock. Crags soar, squalls dizzy, cliffs are impossibly sheer. Loch and land and sea exchange places. It is many years since I have been here. It is both familiar and strange. The place-signs nod me through, poetic and rhythmic – Skulamus, Strollamus. To the north, the Quirang beckons, the Storr, the Star.
In the classroom, fast-growing creepers of stories rise up and bind us to our seats. How the Great Bear and Little Bear arrived in the night sky with extravagantly long tails. I tell them Judy Paterson’s version of a Scandinavian story – How the Bear Lost its Tail[i] - with the fox as trickster.

We read about a nine-headed giant who once raided Skye and other Inner Isles in search of maidens to feed his nine hungry mouths. The giant was eventually defeated on his home, Stack Rock, and his body thrown in pieces into the sea. The body parts, nibbled by fish and worn to bones, drifted in the flotsam and jetsam and finally formed themselves into the cliffs and rocks of the Outer Isles, where even today, when we look at the map, we see the outline of the giant in their shapes.

Intoxicated by story, we draw lines between stars in a map of the night sky, and make up our own stories.

The Golden Eagle

One hot sunny day King Scott went for a walk and met a beautiful woman called Henrietta. She was lying on the river bank picking flowers for her brother. She always spent time with her brother. Henrietta even went hunting with him.
A few days later Scott’s wife Queen Rebekah heard about Henrietta so she went through the woods and saw her. She turned Henrietta into a big, lovely, golden eagle. Henrietta tried to hide because of the hunters who hunt in the woods. She hid in a hole in a tree. Henrietta was really scared because the hunters could kill her.
Later on Scott went for a walk in the woods again to see if he could see Henrietta. He looked at the river, but then he remembered his wife turned Henrietta into a golden eagle. Instead he went to see were she was hiding. He looked in trees but it was too late. Henrietta was caught. Her brother found her just when she arrived in another tree. Before her brother shot her with his bow and arrow, King Scott turned him into stone.
After that Scott took Henrietta by the tail and swung her round and round then he threw her up into the heavens and poor Henrietta became a beautiful eagle constellation in the starry sky.

By Emma Macleod P5, Portree Primary School

The Annoying Midges

One day midges were annoying the whole of Skye who were thinking of an idea to get rid of them. There was a man called Bob who was about sixty and hated all the midges although he had to go outside to do his job. Sometimes he took days off from his job because of it. He was a very angry person. Everyone wore hats, trousers tucked in their socks, gloves and long sleeved tops so they weren’t bitten as much. Some children got a rash because of the bites.
Bob saw his friend Fred to think of an idea to get rid of the midges. Fred was fifty five. He was thinking that he should sell free midge sprays to kill them but Bob didn’t agree because it would be too expensive to get them. Bob thought that everyone in The Isle of Skye should stay inside so the midges would get bored and go away.
That was exactly what happened and everyone in Skye stayed indoors for nearly a week. The midges never gave up until some people put on their fires so the smoke would make them go away so they weren’t bitten again.
The midges got very bored and extra hungry not annoying anyone and eating their blood. Some midges died of starvation not having anything to eat for almost one and a half weeks.
In the end the midges went away and the people never saw them again. The midges went straight to the moon and started to eat it. The moon got annoyed and it shined on them but the midges kept eating the moon. The moon had no choice but to use its powers and turn them into a constellation. On Earth Bob was playing football which was his hobby. Fred was on a plane to France to see his parents which he hasn’t seen for a long time because he was too scared to go outside because of the midges.
Now you can see the constellation of the midges. Everyone is pleased that the midges are gone and wear short sleeved tops and shorts.

Kenny Nicolson P5, Portree Primary School

We also devised together a story about the infamous Skye midge. The children gave me all the ideas and I wrote it. At the top of the jagged Cuillin mountains, the wind is called on for his help. Lazy and reluctant at first, will he agree?

How Skye was Saved from the Midgies

The swarm of midgies dive-bombed Sam for the third time that morning. They stuck in his beard and stung his eyes where they had crowded in behind his glasses. He threw the letters he was about to post through the door of Number 5 into the air, chucked the post bag onto the ground, and howled, ‘I’m going to do something about this’.
A highland cow raised its shaggy head and stopped chewing to look at him, a stalk of grass hanging from its mouth. But no-one was brave enough to come out of their houses.
Sam marched towards the Cuillins. He had never climbed them before. They were steep and craggy and his lungs burnt red-hot as he puffed his way to the top of Sgurr nan Gillean. It took him four hours to get there and he arrived exhausted and thirsty. But before long the mountain cold seized him and he started to shiver. He needed to get on with his task, but in truth, he was a little afraid.
He stood tall and closed his eyes. Sure enough, The Wind answered him with a great sigh that nearly knocked Sam off the top of the mountain.
‘Wind,’ Sam called. ‘I need your help.’
‘Puff,’ said The Wind.
‘I’ll never post another letter until the midgies are gone,’ he said, and held up his red-speckled arms. ‘Look at all these bites!’
‘Huff,’ said The Wind.
‘I want to play football at night without having to wear a hood and long trousers,’ Sam said.
The Wind just yawned.
‘Won’t you help me blow them away?’
The Wind opened one sleepy eye and looked at Sam. ‘Don’t you think I’ve enough to do already?’ Then The Wind yawned so hard that Sam felt he was being sucked right into its mouth, where there was a great rustling noise and a smell of fresh leaves.
‘Please?’ Sam called.
‘Bye,’ said The Wind. ‘I need a snooze.’
Sam watched as The Wind swept its way down towards Loch Sligachan. It draped itself over Glamaig, its favourite resting place, and soon its soft snores were helping to push a small boat across the nearly still water.
Sam sat on the summit with his head in his hands. At least it was too cool for midgies up there. He watched the tiny cars beetling along the winding roads way below, and wondered if he would ever go back to the village in the valley.
Suddenly a thought flew into his head, and he sprang up and started running back down the hill. As he got lower, he knocked on the door of every cottage he passed. Although it was evening and the midgies were preparing for their next attack, people put on their hoods and followed him.
‘If you ever want to get another letter or birthday present or Christmas card, you’ve got to help me,’ Sam told them.
Several thousand hooded people came to surround the dozing wind on Glamaig. First, they had to wake him up.
‘Wind! Wind! Blow away the midgies!’ they shouted as one.
Eventually, he snorted, and raised his tousled head. One big bloodshot eye opened and looked at the crowd. ‘Huff,’ he said.
‘Wind!’ they shouted again.
He sat up then and looked annoyed. ‘I have too many jobs to do already,’ he moaned. ‘I have to dry all your clothes, and push all your boats along so you can catch fish. Give me a break, I’m tired.’ And he lay down again.
The crowd started to turn for home, disappointed. Their arms were flailing around their heads and they were stamping their feet. The midgies had found them.
‘Hang on.’ Sam stopped them. He spoke quietly to one or two of the people around him. He spoke to a group of fishermen and to Mairi from the local laundry. After a while they nodded and he turned back to The Wind. ‘We’ll make a deal with you, Wind,’ he said. ‘We’ll dry our own clothes from now on, and we’ll all buy engines for our boats. So you’ll have nothing to do. But in return, we want the midgies gone for ever.’
The Wind stared at him, breathing quietly. He was quite good at thinking, but he had to do it slowly. Then he let out an enormous sigh. The crowd fell onto their stomachs so as not to be blown into Loch Sligachan. They peered up to see The Wind pulling himself upright. He put his head up to the sky and swallowed the most enormous gulp of fresh Skye air. The people sensed what was going to happen next, and they all clung as hard as they could to boulders or to clumps of heather, or to each other, where they lay on the ground.
The Wind bowed his big ugly head and blew along the ground in the most ferocious gust anyone had ever known. It swept north, south, east and west across the island, rattled the teeth of the oldest men and blew the wig clean off the head of Mrs Macpherson. The people glimpsed the wig joining the black cloud of midgies that The Wind gathered in its breath, as he blew it upwards way over the top of Sgurr nan Gillean, further and further into the heavens. They saw The Wind’s tail disappearing after the black cloud as he chased the midgies away. The snapping of the midgies’ teeth got quieter and quieter, until there was silence, and the people of Skye got up, and dusted themselves down.
That evening was warm. People celebrated with barbecues in their gardens. They played football, and took picnics into the hills beside burns. They were amazed that they needed no hoods, and nothing bit them. ‘Where can they have gone?’ people asked. ‘Perhaps to the mainland,’ some said. They didn’t wait long for an answer.
The night was clear. When they looked up, they saw a new constellation. A cluster of bright stars shone down on them and they recognised the shape of a huge heavenly midge. They all looked up and admired it. The Wind had made it into something rather beautiful, but very far away from them.
‘That’s the right place for the midgies,’ Sam said. ‘I don’t think they’ll bother us again.’
The next morning, he delivered letters with a smile on his face. And he wore a short-sleeved T-shirt and shorts.

The Old Man of Storr beckons to me in the evening. I climb out of Sitka Spruce plantation to find myself alone in mist and cloud amongst the flat grey ghosts of towers and pinnacles. They grow detail and texture as the wind agrees to help me, tweaks at the curtain of mist to reveal below the Sound of Raasay, the sparkle of a boat, a fragment of rainbow, the long dark shore of the island. The horizon is a 180 degree silver screen, on which is projected several days’ weather. Above me the Old Man is silent and monumental, his pointed head still in the clouds. The curtain drops again.

South, to Broadford, weaving around loch and promontory, roads I have cycled years before, now easy in a car. On the shore at Breakish, the first flags are flowering yellow amongst the rashes. Behind them, russet seaweed spreads on the rocks. Light pools onto the sea as low rolls of cloud peel back a clear evening. A heron, huge and self-preoccupied, grooms itself on the shoreline. Walking back to the B+B, I pass four boys under fourteen, each holding a gun of some sort. Feral, but polite.

Together, Portree and Broadford primary schools choose Kochab as their star. Kyle at Portree celebrated this choice in a poem he wrote within the outline of a star:

Kochab joins the
Highland Constellation
bright, fierce, sharp-
clawed paws

Visually Kochab relates pleasingly to Deneb, Vega and Polaris – a pattern beginning to emerge. At around 125 light years from Earth, there is a local resonance. In 1882 the ‘Battle of the Braes’ took place near Portree. Crofters of the time were denied access to land to graze their stock, despite agreeing to pay a generous rent. When they grazed their stock regardless, Lord MacDonald tried to evict the leaders. This led to a confrontation between crofters and police brought in from Glasgow. The latter were ultimately defeated in a blizzard of missiles. This ‘battle’ was one of the factors prompting the enquiry that led to the Crofting Act of 1885 which gave crofters security of tenure.

The children write acrostic poems based on Kochab’s observations of 1882.

Kochab you are
Our star you see
Crofters throwing sticks and stones and more
Helping us to fight bravely
At the
Battle of the Braes

Ryan Dougan, P4 Broadford Primary School

Kochab, you are
Our historical star.
Cold winds blow near our school
History about you is dazzling
Actually our school has chosen you
Because you are the best star in the sky

Broadford Primary School

Our star. You saw a
Cold and
Battle in 1882

Callan Smith P4, Broadford Primary School

The children also commemorate this historical event by creating a story about a crofter called James, who died after the battle. As a tribute to him, the evening mist formed into the outline of a croft and rose into the night sky to form a new constellation of stars, reminding us to protect the rights of crofters forever.

In the evening on Broadford pier, the first midge of the season bites. Come back, wind! Rachel demonstrates her impression of a shooting star - an off-centre leap with arms raised. The next afternoon in the playground, twenty-four shooting stars leap and dart upwards, against the backdrop of a shimmering Broadford Bay. Then we go indoors, paint the Universe, and sing ‘Major Tom’ together one last time.

I take the road south-west from Broadford on an evening of tumultuous cloud that stacks and explodes as it’s torn on the high jags of the Cuillin summits. At Elgol, boats roll in the harbour and the surface of the water is coruscated by light and wind. I look straight into the heart of the corrugated mountain fortress. Tomorrow I will walk along the edge of Loch Scavaig towards the secret interior of Loch Coruisk. In Gaelic, Coir’uisge means ‘the cauldron of the waters’. From a distance, Cawdor’s witches nod their heads.

[i] Tales on the Tongue, Scottish Storytelling Centre

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