SLAINTÈ

THE FIRST HIGHLINE ON THE OLD MAN OF STORR

 
 

Literally it means "cheers" in Scottish.

A middle age drunk man told us the meaning of slainté in a small pub after we spent an entire day under the rain.
We have lived this short-but-intense experience thanks to the curious and creative nature of Thomas. That day it rained all day long and if we were in a pub was to try to shake off moisture. It was a strange, fine rain, which, depending on the wind, became more or less sharp, like little blades that were shaving our faces. Thomas, Stefano and I spent the day in a tent fixed between the stones at the base of The Old Man of Storr, but the gusts of the wind came from every angle, and with them also the biting water. In the meantime Benni and Mattia worked in the rain to fix the highline in the best way on a basalt of poor quality. We had almost underestimated that. We assumed that the rock pillars were steady and reliable. The thick fog certainly didn’t improve the situation: we stayed in radio contact because it was impossible to see farther than a dozen meters from the tip of our noses. Looking back on it, it was better this way. The Old Man of Storr is a very crowdy place on the Isle of Skye. Tourists come and go to admire these giants who stand out from the ground like green meadows, I mean really green. Despite this liveliness of colors it seemed to perceive a presence, as if this place was inhabited by some spirit. Maybe I was just susceptible to the legend I’ve read about this place.

Legend has it that in the early years of Christianity in Scotland, a dispute raged over the exact date of Easter. In order to put an end to the quarrel, a priest from Skye decided to travel to Rome and speak to the Pope himself. Climbing the Storr early one dawn just as the sun began to rise, he performed a spell which raised the devil and transformed him into a horse. During the journey, the devil questioned the priest about the reason for the journey. The priest had to use all his wits to answer the questions truthfully but at the same time avoid mentioning the name of “God”, which if uttered would break the spell resulting in the devil disappearing and the priest falling into the sea. The priest was successful and despite the devil’s trickery, arrived in Rome, learnt the date of Easter and returned safely to Skye. The devil was so impressed with the cleverness of his adversary that on leaving he was heard to utter the ominous words: “until we meet again”.

From the radio Mattia told me that the highline was fixed: 110 meters long, about sixty meters from the ground. In that dark and gloomy atmosphere The Old Man inspired fear. It's almost scary. The forecasts remained uncertain for the next days and we didn’t know if Benni and Mattia will be able to walk on it. Thomas and I didn’t know if we were able to shoot the images we dreamt of.

Sometimes it's strange, but you have the feeling that a situation can get better, without a reason, when even weather forecasts suggest you’re wrong.
We felt optimistic.
We felt lucky.
We felt that everything would have be fine, although we traveled to a place where the words "good weather" can not mean much more than "maybe it does not rain today".

The morning after the clouds that initially covered the sky were slowly thinned out. As we walked to the Old Man, I saw that long fixed line which seemed to hold those pillars together. The closer we got to the higline more careful we were that there were no police forces willing to ambush us. I felt the deep desire to film something no one has ever filmed before.
The more time passed, the more the elements began to blend harmoniously. The light started filtering through the clouds and then, at sunset, it set the landscape on fire. Benni spent almost fifteen minutes to walk all the line. There was a strong scream and a big applause by the people that we’re there with us.

It was one of the few occasions in my life when I felt privileged, I felt in the right place at the right time, as it was the chance to capture something unique. Thomas and I shot all night long and the morning after as well. It was a true and intimate conjunction with Nature. We smiled with joy and howled like wolves. We drank the first beer at 6:30 in the morning, when we realized we did something new in the world.

And so slainté, we said.

 
 

Pictures: courtesy of ©Thomas Monsorno