There was a mêlée around the notice board at the entrance to the senior boys dormitories after tea one evening. Pip was one of the last boys to arrive with Owen.
"What's going on?"
Everyone was concentrating on a list of names. No one answered. Pip craned over the other boys.
'Skye Trip: Easter 1968' was the heading. 'Final list of boys selected to go to Skye at the end of Term' was the sub-heading. Clancy was reading out the list of names.
"Morgan and the Johnson Twins, no surprises there."
Clancy read out more names. Pip spotted his name was on the list. Secretly he had hoped it would be. Last year he had missed out as he was only eleven and deemed too young, but this year, now twelve, he was going. However, apart from himself, Pip was now most interested to see who else was going. Eagerly he looked further down the list, racing ahead of Clancy, from the Sixth Formers to the Fifth Form boys joining the trip this year.
"And finally Pierce."
Jonathan's name caused a mix of groans and laughter.
"It looks like we are in for a bumpy ride then."
Jonathan lashed out the boy who made the comment causing the boys to scatter. So Pip had to fight his way through to the front to double check the names Clancy had finished reading. One name was crossed out, a Fifth Form boy who had just broken his wrist in the gym that morning. Pip looked further down the list to see the other names. Sacha was not listed; his name would have been above Jonathan. But then Pip looked further down beyond where Clancy had finished. Right at the bottom, unnoticed by Clancy, a name was appended. Captain Porter's neat writing spelt out 'Morgan, A'. So Sacha had made it by the skin of his teeth as a last minute substitute.
As soon as he saw Sacha's name Pip knew it was what he had secretly hoped for. Peter had also seen his brother's name. He turned around and sought out Sacha. Sacha was standing on the fringes of the crowd, trying to hide his disappointment as he assumed was not on the list since Clancy had not mentioned his name.
"Well, Sacha, looks like you are coming after all."
"What do you mean?"
"You made it, as a substitute. Here, see for yourself."
Peter pulled his brother through and pushed him to the front, a brotherly arm around Sacha's neck so he could see with his own eyes.
"Oh, so I am going."
"Indeed you are."
In the last couple of weeks Peter had been trying hard to make up for his earlier behaviour towards Sacha. Last weekend Sacha had gone out with him to St Ives. They went and had fish and chips before spending time in the amusement arcade on the front.
Suddenly it was the end of games on the last Friday of term. Excused afternoon lessons, there was an air of excitement as the twelve Fifth and Sixth Form boys travelling to Skye collected their kit together in an increasingly large pile by the front door. The boys, Pip included, gathered around the minibus as Captain Porter officiated over the arrangements. Sacha appeared last. He was not good at packing. In the end Mrs Porter had come to the rescue, going through his kit bag and then collecting some extra clothes for him. Satisfied, Mrs Porter led Sacha down stairs by his hand.
"Come on slow coach."
The other boys were all waiting when Sacha appeared, his hand still firmly gripped by Mrs Porter. He did not try and free himself, enjoying this moment of intimacy.
"Here he is, had to raid the airing cupboard."
"Well, we are all finally here now."
"I'm sorry, sir. I couldn't find my shirts."
"Not to worry, we have plenty of time."
"He needs new labels. I will tell Matron. They must have fallen off in the wash."
Amidst some low-key complaints aimed at Sacha, the boys climbed into the minibus. Scorned, Sacha sat at the front with Captain Porter, next to the driver. The boys all waved at Mrs Porter as they left. They were finally on their way.
Captain Porter took out his copy of the Times. He had yet to finish this morning's puzzle, something that irked him, as he normally aimed to finish it after lunch, a rare period he had to himself.
"Relatively wet flavour, what can that be? I couldn't work it out over my coffee this morning." Sacha looked over Captain Porter's shoulder. Two letters gave further clues.
"Oh, how about son for relative and sea for wet? So season is relatively wet and flavoured, I think."
"Goodness boy! Who has been teaching you to do crosswords?"
"Oh, my father, but Mr Barnes lets me help him with his Times crossword after lunch sometimes."
"Including today? That would be cheating I think."
"Oh, no, sir, honest."
Captain Porter looked into Sacha's eyes. The boy was telling the truth.
"Sorry, Morgan, of course you didn't cheat."
The Skye party was following a detailed itinerary drawn up by Captain Porter. The boys were to travel to Skye by train and ferry, with just Captain Porter, in itself an adventure. The two other teachers on the trip, Mr Durrant and Mr Wallace, had set off the previous afternoon, taking their cars up.
At Penzance station there was some disappointment; the only train in the platform was just an ordinary compartment train heading to Leeds via places like Bristol and Birmingham.
"Is this our train sir? It doesn't say anything about Scotland on it." The boys huddled around Captain Porter seeking answers.
"Oh no, we have to change twice. The direct sleeper to Scotland only runs in the summer and even then you have to change once."
Clancy took it upon himself to find out. He had spied the timetable displayed on the platform.
"We change at Birmingham. There's a train all the way to Fort William from there."
"That's the one. At Fort William we take another train to Mallaig after breakfast. Once in Mallaig the plan is that we then take the ferry to Armadale in Skye where we will be met by Mr Durrant and Mr Wallace who will take us to Staffin Lodge where we are staying".
Satisfied, the boys boarded the train to Birmingham.
"Okay, boys, you have two compartments between you. It's going to be a long journey and so settle down. Clancy, Morgan, in those bags are your evening meal, some sandwiches and pop to be getting on with. I will be just next-door so I can hear everything that is going on. Everything, is that understood?"
The boys quickly split themselves between the two compartments, their first priority being to tuck into the substantial picnic supper of cold sausages, sandwiches, cake and various cans of pop. Captain Porter briefly put his head around the door to each compartment and was satisfied that things were under control before he took up residence in an adjacent compartment, content to let the boys look after themselves. Pip was in a compartment with the Johnson twins, Clancy, Owen and Jonathan. Peter had taken Sacha into the other compartment with him and sat him in the corner. Sacha knew better than to argue with his older brother.
Clancy opened up the bag containing the food onto the small table. The boys settled into dividing up the food, eager to eat whatever had been provided. However, Captain Porter soon found his reading interrupted. The Johnson twins opened their cans of Coke. Kit's can gave out a jet of brown foam. It hit Jonathan.
"Hey! What are you doing?"
Jonathan felt retaliation might be in order. He went for his can of lemonade. Pip sitting next to Jonathan, retreated into a corner behind a book. He disliked Coke at the best of times and certainly did not want to be sprayed with it. Jonathan put down his comic and began to shake his can of drink as the twins struggled to contain the fizz in their cans.
"Ready when you are."
"Really, you lot are so juvenile."
Clancy glared at Jonathan and the twins. Just at that moment Captain Porter entered their compartment, alerted by the rapid rise in noise and immediately spotted the twins were armed with two cans overflowing with fizz.
"You two, what the devil do you think you are doing?"
"Oh nothing, sir, really. It was fizzy when we opened the cans."
"Don't give me that nonsense. Give me those cans and sit down quietly. Any more trouble from the pair of you and you will be on a train straight back to school. Understood?"
The twins looked a bit sheepish. Jonathan carefully put his can down so as not to lose his drink as well. In reality it was an empty threat since the school was now some distance away and there was no one to escort the two thirteen year olds back in any case. After that, things calmed down. As afternoon became evening, some of the boys dozed off until finally the train pulled into Birmingham New Street station just before 10 pm. Captain Porter stood the boys on the platform.
"Stay here and don't move. I am going to collect some provisions."
The boys duly waited until Captain Porter returned from a stall with some hotdogs and despite his better judgement, more cans of pop for the thirsty boys.
"Best eat and drink before we get on the next train as this is the sleeper and we are on it until tomorrow morning."
"Yes, sir, thank you, sir."
The boys eagerly tucked into their hotdogs and drank the cans of pop. Finally, after a wait of about thirty minutes, the boys joined the sleeper. The train pulled in apologetically slowly into a far platform with very little sign of life. Captain Porter walked along the train until he found what he was looking for.
"We have all of coach F to ourselves. Apart from my compartment at this end, you can sort yourselves out in the others."
The boys looked around and then made a mad rush to get the compartment of their choice. For the Johnson twins, it was easy; they were naturally going to share a compartment. Sacha had no choice. His older brother glared at Jonathan and Pip.
"Sacha, come with me."
As if to make the decision final, Peter lifted his brother's kitbag and took off down the carriage, Sacha scampering after him, to find an empty compartment. The rest of the boys quickly began to pair off naturally. Captain Porter counted the twelve boys on at one end before making for his own single compartment at the near end of the carriage. Pip, for once slow on the uptake, realised that his first plan to share a compartment was not going to happen. Sacha was already being towed into a compartment with Peter firmly gripping him by his wrist to stop any further discussion on the subject. As Pip walked down the narrow corridor he found himself pulled inside one of the compartments. It was not Owen, as he half expected, but Jonathan.
"Come on, Pip. Captain Porter is not checking. He counted us onto the train as a group not by compartment."
Pip looked down the corridor. There was no sign of Captain Porter. He was already unpacking his night things, including a hip flask of scotch for a decent nightcap. Both boys knew this could mean trouble if they were discovered, but a quick glance showed that Owen had moved into the compartment next door with Clancy. As the sleeper pulled out, Captain Porter went down the corridor knocking on each door.
"Okay in there?"
"Yes, sir," Jonathan answered.
Satisfied, Captain Porter moved on. For the first time since last term, Pip was alone with Jonathan. He reached for his sponge bag and joined the queue for the washbasins at the end of the corridor, Jonathan behind him. On his return Jonathan slid the door shut and locked it. There was comparative silence.
"There, no one to disturb us until morning. I've never done a sleeper. This should be fun!"
The boys explored their compartment. There was not much to explore, just two bunks already made up and a narrow space with a shelf under the window. Their rucksacks went on a shelf above the top of the corridor. It was all rather neat. Jonathan climbed the ladder to the top bunk. He was keen to take it.
"It's okay. I prefer the bottom bunk," Pip lied.
There was a silence. Pip felt a wave of tiredness come over him. "Well bedtime, I guess."
Jonathan quickly climbed into the top bunk and discarded his clothes, which he threw down to the end of his bunk before pulling on a rugger shirt as an impromptu nightshirt. Quickly and quietly Pip followed suit, donning his pyjamas and climbed into the cocoon-like interior of his own bunk. Any thoughts of further adventures that night were overtaken by the overwhelming desire to sleep. Pip looked up. Jonathan was already unconscious on his stomach, a hand hanging down. Pip sighed, put Jonathan's hand up under the bedclothes, switched out the light and fell swiftly to sleep to the swaying and clacking of the night-sleeper taking them all the way to Scotland.
By the time Pip awoke the next morning, the train was north of Glasgow, travelling through the wilds of the Highlands en route to Fort William. Jonathan was already awake. The younger boy jumped down from his bunk and padded out of the door barefoot.
Jonathan returned five minutes later, hair wet from wiping his face and brushing his teeth.
"There's no one else about. It is still too early."
Pip stirred as Jonathan sneaked in, half dressed in just a slightly too small rugby shirt and underwear, as though he was at school and not on the train. Luxuriating in the warmth of their compartment, Jonathan stretched up both arms above his head and stood on tiptoe and then in turn pulled up each leg by the ankle. He walked an imaginary line as if on a tightrope. Satisfied, Jonathan turned to Pip. "You getting up yet?"
"Where are we?"
Pip was trying to force himself fully conscious as Jonathan, spotting a space, knelt on the end of his lower bunk and released the blind. It shot up to reveal a scene of intense wet green emptiness.
"It looks like the middle of nowhere. I can't see a thing. It's all misty outside and we are not due in to Fort William for over an hour yet. There's no one around at all."
The unvarying green emphasised Jonathan's point. The younger boy concentrated his attentions on the empty landscape outside. Eventually Pip rose out of his bedding and joined Jonathan at the end of the bunk. Together they shared the moorland view out of the window. Bracing themselves against the rocking of the train as they knelt shoulder to shoulder, Pip enjoying the sensation of warmth of another boy close at hand.
"I hope it clears up soon. It would be awful if it rained all the time we are here."
"Well we have some way to go and Clancy said this was the wettest place in the country. Fort William, I mean."
In silence they watched the moorland landscape pass by until it gradually transformed into coastal scenes. At that point they could hear noises outside in the corridor as a series of door knocks approached closer as Captain Porter issued a standard order to his charges.
"Twenty minutes to Fort William. Up and ready in fifteen minutes."
The knock reached the door. Jonathan held his finger to his lips. Pip remained silent.
"Yes, sir. Just getting dressed now." Jonathan made sure that only he responded. As they dressed, Jonathan asked a question that had been on his mind since the game of British Bulldog in mid-term had alerted him.
"What do you see in Sacha Morgan?"
It was a very direct question, but then that was Jonathan.
"Oh not a lot really. He can be quite funny sometimes."
Jonathan turned to look Pip in the face. "I've seen you looking at him often enough. He's not that funny looking. I mean look at Owen or me if you want funny looking."
"You're not funny looking. I mean apart from your hair that is."
Jonathan instinctively reached up to his hair, feathery as always.
"There's nothing wrong with my hair."
Pip backtracked. He more than most knew Jonathan was more sensitive about his hair than people realised. Jonathan hated it when people commented on its colour or anything else.
"Sorry, I didn't mean it like that."
Jonathan paused, not sure he should say this to Pip.
"You know, Sacha looks out for you everywhere. He is always asking if I know where you are. I mean always, like I am your keeper."
Pip was silenced by this last comment. It took him a while to work out the right answer. Wrong and it would be awkward, even with Jonathan.
It was the only one, which even half worked.
"Yes, really. If you're in sight, he keeps his eyes on you, in assembly, in the dining hall, everywhere. He's no good at hiding it. I think he's got a thing for you."
'Thing' needed no further interpretation. Jonathan had noticed something going on. So who else had? Pip felt his world shake.
"Oh no, what makes you say that? He's a year below me."
"So am I, remember."
"No, it's not like that. I just like him like I like you. Friends."
"Like you like me? Close, like brothers? Like Peter is with him?"
"No! I am not his brother. Peter is."
"I don't think Peter's that close to him, you know. I don't think so. Look at the way they had that fight in the gym."
"Didn't you fight with your brothers when younger?"
"No, the age gap was too big, even with Christopher. I was more like a plaything than someone to fight."
The noise from the neighbouring compartments increased. Another knock on the door.
"Ten minutes everyone, then we have to get off and change trains."
Jonathan pulled his rugby shirt off over his head.
"Come on, best get going."
The sound of Captain Porter's voice hurried the two boys, but then he could be heard rushing off to deal with yet more hi-jinks from the twins at the far end of the carriage. In the clamour Pip and Jonathan exited their compartment without anyone else noticing that they had been sharing.
As the train slid into Fort William, Pip and Jonathan made for the two carriage doors at opposite ends. On the station platform the unsuspecting Captain Porter greeted the boys. He officiously had his clipboard and pen at the ready, marking them all off. The first thing Pip did, without making attempt to hide it much to Jonathan's amusement, was to look for Sacha. There he was, looking very sleepy, standing next to his brother. Sacha was dwarfed by his navy kit bag, which he had slung unsteadily over his shoulder. Jonathan nudged Pip.
"See, I told you, you can't stop looking for your little friend."
Pip gave Jonathan an enormous shove, which Jonathan returned with surprising vigour.
"Ooh! Who's the sensitive one then?"
After Pip had regained his balance, he chased Jonathan down the platform.
"You just drop it. Drop it."
Jonathan laughed. "Hah! You just wait and see. I am watching, Pip."
Captain Porter shouted after them. "You two stop right there and wait for everyone else."
Order restored, the boys marched off to the café in the station and had a cooked breakfast whilst they waited for the train to Mallaig.
"Since it is Scotland, how about some porridge?" To Captain Porter's disappointment, Clancy was the only taker.
On the small train taking them to their final destination Pip resisted the urge to sit near Sacha. Sacha himself looked a bit puzzled, but Peter quickly grabbed his brother and took him to another set of seats.
"This way, sleepyhead."
Sacha sat leaning into his brother Peter, content to have his brother's arm wrapped around him. Pip sat with Clancy, Jonathan and Owen looking out of the train window at the scenery, the other boys exchanging tales of the night before whilst Pip kept to himself, lost in his own thoughts until they arrived at the end of the line in Mallaig, the tiny ferry port serving Skye.
"Come on, boys. The ferry is waiting."
The boys walked the short distance, climbed aboard and Pip finally caught up with Sacha as the two boys met on the top deck of the ferry crossing over to Armadale.
"Top or bottom bunk then?"
"Bottom bunk of course. Peter said I would fall out of bed. I didn't sleep much. I prefer flying. It doesn't bump around so much."
The boys tasted the salt air.
"It's going to be fun up here for a few days."
"You think? I bet it's all Spartan, cold showers and long forced marches across endless peat bogs and mountains."
Their conversation came to an early end as Captain Porter called the boys together. Obediently Pip and Sacha trooped down to join the other boys and watched as the ferry docked. There to meet them were Mr Wallace and Mr Durrant, having driven up separately the previous day. Also there in his Landrover was Captain Porter's younger brother.
"Hello, boys, welcome to Skye. Had a good trip?"
There was a ragged chorus of 'yes, sir' before Mr Porter continued. "We've got lots of things for you to do. So I do hope you will enjoy your stay with us."
Pip, still determined to prove to Jonathan that he did not have something on with Sacha, sat diagonally opposite the younger boy in the back of the Landrover. The boys sat in silence looking out of the windows at the stunning scenery as they made out way to the northeast part of the Island beyond Portree, the tiny brightly coloured capital. As they journeyed to their destination, Pip noticed that Sacha had put his duffel coat against the window and shut his eyes. He was catching up on his lost sleep.
Staffin Lodge was at first sight a disappointment, a long low squat building, hiding in a hollow about two hundred yards from the cliff top. The position in the hollow was a wise move to protect the building from the wind and rain. Despite its protected location closer inspection revealed a building crumbling at an alarming rate.
"I bet there are ghosts."
Owen was concerned; it looked a miserable cold place. More than one boy thought that, but kept it to himself. The building did seem rather daunting from the outside, the white painted exterior streaked black with pieces of masonry missing in several spots. As they approached, bags in hand, seeking shelter from the relentless wind and a sudden squall of rain, the impressive double black doors opened. The doors were opened by Christopher Porter, the twelve-year-old son of Mr Porter. With his father Christopher herded The Rocks party in quickly before slamming the doors shut, not without some difficulty. Suddenly it was a lot quieter.
"It is surprisingly warm when the fires are lit and the boilers turned on. Outside it can be a bit fierce this time of year. The rain here is mostly horizontal."
Christopher had a ruddy complexion and windswept hair. Pip was disappointed. Christopher was not wearing a kilt, and indeed he did not even sound particularly Scottish, but then neither did his father. The boys followed Christopher as he took them upstairs to two dormitories set aside for them. They were split into two groups. Pip found himself with Owen, Clancy and three other boys. All the remaining boys including Jonathan and Sacha were put in the dormitory opposite, Peter keeping Sacha with him. Pip was beginning to realise that Peter had already decided that Sacha was to be with him this entire trip.
"You can put your kit here. You won't need anything until after lunch. Come down in half an hour. There will be some food then."
Christopher headed off in the opposite direction to his own room in the attic, which had a window overlooking the sea. Left alone, the boys looked around their allocated dormitory, sizing up their accommodation, and then made a mad dash for the beds. Pip let himself be called over by Owen, who had bagged two beds in an alcove next to the window overlooking the sea in the distance. Pip was not so sure this was a good location; it was at the far side away from the one radiator that provided the only source of heating.
Bags unpacked, the boys made their way downstairs en masse.
"I bet it's haggis," some wit struck up as they descended the stairs. Christopher joined them for an early lunch of stew and treacle tart in the impressive wood panelled dining room. The meal soon filled them up. As they ate, Pip was not alone in looking outside to see great gobs of rain splat against the windows. This was a most bracing spot for anything resembling 'fun'.
"What do you do here, I mean, when it is like this?" Peter queried.
"Oh the rain passes quickly enough. The trouble is, you never know when the next lot is coming."
To Pip this trip was beginning to feel less like an adventure and more like some sort of endurance test.
After fetching their outside gear from the dormitories, Pip and the others made their way downstairs to the hallway wrapped as warmly as they could. Pip moved towards Sacha, who was wearing as many clothes as he could, but before he could arrange to walk with him, Peter moved in and gave Pip a look that meant 'clear off' and led his brother away. Pip, thwarted, found himself with Owen who was surprisingly enthusiastic.
"They've got some great cliffs here, much higher than back home."
'Home' presumably being The Rocks. It was an odd way to describe it, but Pip knew what Owen meant. For boys at boarding school, the parental home seemed less like a real home than school where they spent most of their time and where their friends were.
Duly corralled, the boys went off on a bracing walk along the cliff tops to the ruins of a castle on a headland nearby. As the other boys milled around trying to seek shelter, Pip eventually spied Sacha half hidden, muffled against the cold looking out to sea, braced against the wind. Only his nose and piercing inquisitive eyes were visible under an unruly windswept fringe, mostly hidden under a ski hat. Pip looked around. Jonathan and Peter were with another knot of boys looking over the edge.
"Enjoying it, Sacha?"
Sacha was not one for small talk when tired and cold as he was now. "If you want to know, in truth no."
Pip persisted, wanting some kind of response from the younger boy. Pip pointed at a spire of rock emerging from the wind tossed waves.
"It's certainly grand. Not even Land's End looks as grand as this."
Sacha still refused to offer a positive response.
"Really? It looks all wet and horrible to me."
Sacha turned away and huddled further into what shelter he could find and descended into miserable silence. After a few moments Pip gave up and joined a mixed group of boys tossing pebbles at the sheltering seabirds who took flight in a burst of angry squawks and excrement. Eventually boring of this game, the boys continued their walk over the next stile and wondered down to a cave. The other boys ran on, enjoying the echoes created by their shouts of glee. Pip returned to Sacha, still seeking shelter from the wind. Finally Sacha consented to talk.
"It's barren, it's wet and it's cold. It's bad enough this time of year in Cornwall, but why did we have to come here?"
"It's not always like this. They have nineteen hours of sun in summer."
Pip looked on the bright side. Sacha hadn't thought of that, but then it was not really important at the moment. He had no intention of coming back next year to this god forsaken spot.
"In summer, yes, but why did we come all the way up here in April for goodness sake?"
A cold blast hit both of them as the wind turned suddenly. The boys braced themselves again and looked down from their vantage point at the others make a noisy racket below. Their cheeks were turning red. Pip could feel his nose running in the cold.
"It's supposed to build team spirit and that sort of thing. Like being in the army."
"Well, I'm certainly not going into any army. Are you planning to?"
"No, I don't think so, not unless there is a war or something."
The last big war was some twenty years ago. Pip's father had been in the services throughout, as had all his uncles and even one of his aunts. Sacha's parents were too young for that. Their war years had been spent as children, evacuated to the safety of relatives in the country. His father was at St Finian's, the predecessor to The Rocks. Sacha was more aware of what was going on than Pip. "Oh there is one on right now."
"Vietnam. The Tet Offensive, a few weeks back."
"Oh. That one? I don't really pay much attention to the news."
Pip paused and tried to remember some details of the war that he occasionally noticed on the front cover of the newspapers in their common room.
"It's a long way away."
"Not when you are in Hong Kong. We get a lot of US Forces on leave sometimes, GIs."
Briefly Pip tried to imagine what Sacha's home was like with Peter, Samantha the older sister, and presumably parents, father working, some sort of businessman, mother at home most likely. He imagined a large house and it had some sort of park nearby. Sacha had mentioned it to him, 'The Peak'. It was in an area above the rest of Hong Kong the way Peter had once described it to him and then there was Sacha's old school. What was that like? Not a boarding school and mixed, that was all Pip knew.
At long last, the walk was deemed to be at an end as Christopher gathered the boys together.
"There is always some tea and cake at four."
Led by Christopher, they all made their way back to the Lodge. As they walked in, a combination of the wheezing central heating system, a network of fires and the animal warmth of a group of energetic boys had raised the temperature to comfortable. After a welcoming tea the visiting boys had returned to their quarters, showered (hot to everyone's relief) and then gathered downstairs. Mr Durrant and Mr Wallace split them up into pairs and gave the boys the task of navigating a route over the mountains to the port of Uig using the maps provided. Pip always loved maps; he was soon absorbed with Clancy in working out the easiest route, estimating the time it would take. Initially the twins appeared to have won, having come up with a route that involved a descent down a waterfall. Mr Wallace was not so sure.
"We would dive off it, sir."
"I don't think so." Mr Wallace pointed at the rocks at the bottom. With Clancy helping, Pip was pleased to find that their route was deemed to be the best compromise as they presented it to the other boys.
In no time at all it was time for a large supper in front of a roaring fire. Suddenly Staffin Lodge seemed like a decent enough place and their hosts amiable even if a bit rough around the edges.
After supper the boys slumped on sofas in three and fours in the comfortable baronial style sitting room, surrounded by reminders of the Lodge's former role as a hunting lodge mounted on the walls around them. Captain Porter, reinforced by a large shot of malt whisky, proceeded to entertain them by reading some of The Hound of the Baskervilles to the assembled boys.
"I have in my pocket a manuscript," said Dr James Mortimer.
"I observed it as you entered the room," said Holmes.
"It is an old manuscript."
"Early eighteenth century, unless it is a forgery."
"How can you say that, sir?"
"You have presented an inch or two of it to my examination all the time that you have been talking. It would be a poor expert who could not give the date of a document within a decade or so. You may possibly have read my little monograph upon the subject. I put that at 1730."
"The exact date is 1742."
The boys were soon entranced at tales of demon dogs on the high moors of Dartmoor, only slightly uncomfortable in the knowledge that they were currently located in a similar location. Pip had squeezed onto a sofa with Owen and Jonathan next to the fire. Sacha was the other side of the fireplace with Peter and the Johnson twins. As Captain Porter continued to read to the boys, Pip found himself keeping his attention on Sacha. Uncomfortably, he recognised that Sacha and Peter were close despite their constant fighting. As there was not nearly enough room, Sacha was sitting on his brother's knees. Peter in turn had an arm enclosing his younger brother and had allowed Sacha's head to rest on his shoulder. Sacha's eyes, reflecting the flames of the fire, were beginning to shut; eventually he dozed off. In truth, Sacha was not alone. Owen was snoring none too softly already.
Sensing he was losing his audience, Captain Porter brought proceedings to an early close.
"Come on, boys, an early start tomorrow. We have a little adventure planned for you all!"
Accompanied by a chorus of groans, the boys slowly unpicked themselves and made for their bunks. There was no need to call for lights out as a much more profound quietness rapidly descended onto Staffin Lodge.
The next day started bright. Fortified by a large cooked breakfast, the nature of today's adventure was revealed. Mr Porter bustled into the dining room.
"We are going on a little trek up to the Man of Staffin and then over the far side to a rendezvous point where the cars will be waiting with a packed lunch for you to enjoy. To make it a bit more exciting, you are going to be split into four teams with a task of collecting pennants using grid references and clues to find them."
There was a general hubbub as Captain Porter organised the teams. Pip found himself accompanied by Owen and Christopher Porter. At least Christopher had local knowledge. So Pip was optimistic that they might win. Christopher Porter took charge; he was a natural leader, much more so than Peter.
"Who has done orienteering here?"
Pip volunteered. "I have."
Pip knew he was good with maps and soon found himself assisting Christopher in following the trail to the pennants. Owen followed, puffing and red faced as he followed up behind. Despite all Christopher's energetic attempts to move the team along, they still managed to come second after the Johnson twins with Clancy.
"Well, we tried at least. Shame about heading down the wrong side of the col, though.
"Sorry about that. Just no visual clues from the sun up here in this cloud."
"All too true. Wait until summer though, but then you will get eaten alive by midges."
The twins were victorious, but the importance of who won was quickly forgotten once the boys tucked into a welcome meal of hot soup and sandwiches. After this break, the boys made the shorter walk back to the Lodge along the coastal route. To Pip's annoyance Sacha spent the whole day in his brother's company, Peter keeping anyone else, including Pip, well at bay with a wintry look if any dared come too close. An exhausting day was rounded off with a further instalment of The Hound of the Baskervilles. The boys all sat in more or less the same groups as they had done yesterday.
A visit to the neighbouring island of Raasay and two further treks, including one involving an overnight stop at a remote hostel took up the rest of the week. As they returned from their overnight trek, there was a surprise in store for them that evening.
"We thought you would like to try some haggis and, to go with it, how about some dressing up?"
It took the boys a little while to take in what 'dressing up' meant until Christopher came in with some kilts.
"There's enough for all of you, but size wise, I am not so sure."
That sparked a rapid scramble, once the kilts had been sorted. Pip found one that fitted him reasonably well. However, Jonathan and Sacha found themselves with kilts that were probably meant for much younger boys and so too short even for them, well above the knees. The boys rushed to their dormitories and changed. Downstairs, the boys assembled, with sporrans, white shirts and football socks almost looking the part. Christopher, with his own kilt and ornate sporran looked the best, with a frilly white shirt he was wearing especially for the occasion.
The meal was an elaborate feast. Fresh prawn cocktail to start, meaning a battle ensued to remove the prawns from their shells. This was followed by haggis with swede and potato. Pip was not the only boy unsure about the haggis, but he fought his way through this to be rewarded by a hot sponge in syrup topped with custard.
Captain Porter and his brother gave a little speech at the end of the meal.
"Well, I hope you enjoyed yourselves. It has been quite an adventure despite the weather."
"Or perhaps it has been quite an adventure because of the weather?"
Mr Porter made the dining room echo with laughter. However, the main purpose was to hand out the Staffin Challenge Cup for the boy who had achieved the most points on the trip using a scoring system that placed Pip in the middle of the pack. To his dismay he saw that Sacha, despite his initial dislike of the place, came well ahead of him. The cup itself went to Kit and Robbie who had fallen into a mountain stream on their final trek whilst trying to take a short cut. The twins duly went to the head of the table to pick it up.
"Thank you, sir, for a great trip and adventure. It is a pity it is such a short one."
The boys duly gave three cheers and then finished off any of the sponge pudding that remained to be eaten.
At the end of the meal Christopher disappeared from the dining hall along with Jonathan. Both boys returned a few moments later, Christopher with an Irish flute in his hand accompanied by two local boys equipped with bagpipes. Jonathan came in after the local boys with a snare drum. Together the four boys played several reels to the assembled audience. In between two tunes Pip spoke to one of the two local boys.
"Can I try your bagpipes?"
The boy looked at his friend. There was an exchange in another language, Gaelic, Pip guessed.
"Here, try mine. Stuart's is a bit fragile. It was his grandfather's."
Pip, with a little help, got little more than a drone out of the pipes. It took an immense amount of blowing to improve on that. The others queued up to try for themselves.
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