A night of shining torches

The Storr: Unfolding Landscape” was a remarkable ‘environmental animation’ created this summer on the Isle of Skye, which four of us in the Pro-Talk team (Jackie, Laura, Tony and I) were able to take part in. Participants – there were up to 200 each night for seven weeks – trekked 1500 feet up a rocky hillside, in the darkness at midnight, to a Skye natural landmark, The Old Man of Storr. On the way, the walkers experienced a number of sound and light installations designed to add atmosphere to this unusual opportunity.
Of course, at night there’s no sense of scale, and very little sense of distance. But you can probably get an idea of what it’s like from this daylight view of the Old Man, which is the seemingly precariously-balanced, 40m tall pointed rock:

The event was a true one-off. None of us had ever done anything like this before, and I doubt we’ll ever get the opportunity again.
As darkness descended, the walkers gathered and were issued with “head torches”, one of a number of initiatives contributing to the project’s aim of creating an environmental event with the minimum impact on the area. Incredibly, the whole installation, with its sound systems and lighting for the whole hillside, ran off “the equivalent of four 13A power supplies”.
The path to the top varied from about 2m wide to less than a metre, so it was single-file for most of the way, and that led to one of the most impressive sights, the trail of lights weaving their way up the hillside. The Pro-Talk team were lucky enough to be right at the back (although that meant the front coming down!) and got a great view of the procession.
The ascent, we were told, would be leisurely, but would take about an hour, which made it about the equivalent of walking up a shallow flight of stairs for that whole time. It was not, therefore, for the faint-hearted! The first half wound its way through fairly dense trees, and in these, the artists/designers had installed subtle lighting and eerie sound-effects. Occasionally you’d hear the words of Skye poet Sorley MacLean being read from an indeterminate distance, and you could glimpse shadows of indeterminate creatures in the trees. Fascinating, but you wouldn’t have wanted to have been there on your own!
Halfway up, the path went on to open, exposed hillside, and it was a little further on that the organisers offered a get-out option to those who really didn’t think they could make it up the final part of the ascent. Jackie and Laura took this opportunity!
Tony and I, however, struggled to the top (well, it wouldn’t have done for the boys to have lost face, would it?) and there, at the base of the Old Man itself, there was an ethereal lightshow, accompanied by a strange recitation – in German – through a hidden but substantial sound system. In the distance, there seemed to be a dancer, or was it a mime? Difficult to tell, but that was the whole point. Pretentious? Probably. Memorable? Certainly.
After ten minutes (or was it forty? Hard to tell) the guides led the participants back down the hillside. Anyone who’s ever walked in mountains knows it’s harder coming down, but the path down was also a lot steeper (and slipperier!) than the one up. At one point the guide said: “Don’t worry, this is the steepest part here”, to which Tony said: “Oh good, I thought for a moment it was going to be the fourth steepest!” In places the path was quite narrow, and there was a fair drop to one side, so it was probably lucky that we could see only as far as the head torches would allow, and not how far down the drop was.
Then we stopped on a small natural platform, and in the distance, spookily lit from behind, was an unaccompanied singer performing Gaelic folk songs. On a silent night, with just the breeze, it was enchanting.
By the time we all reassembled in the car park, it was heading towards 3am, and Jackie had the unenviable task of driving us all home for two hours on winding highland roads. That she stayed awake and drove so safely was probably the most amazing feat of the evening, we all agreed when we met up the next day. Much later the next day, that is.