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Walking the Skye Trail


 

I have walked many long distance paths over the years, in the UK and overseas. I had considered designing and walking a long distance path on the Isle of Skye nearly twenty years ago. I was inspired by this amazing area of the British Isles with its spectacular coastal and mountain scenery, at least when it wasn't obscured by mist and rain!

I spent days poring over ordnance survey maps, designing a trail from north to south. I knew it had to begin or end at Duntulm but had the crazy idea that it could run to the southern tip of the bog-ridden Armadale Peninsula.

I guess it might be achievable, but it seemed an overwhelming endeavour and I kept putting it off. It was never completed. In 2010, however, the idea was rekindled when I saw Cameron McNeish's book 'The Skye Trail'  detailing an unofficial long distance route. Someone else had done the work.

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I determined to undertake the trek as an unsupported backpack and so, in October 2014 I, and my good friends and walking buddies, Tim and Raff drove to Broadford at the end of the trail. We parked our car and took a taxi to Duntulm on the northern tip of Skye.

It was warm and sunny.. yes warm and sunny in Skye.. in October! We set out in the opposite direction to our eventual goal to visit the northern coastline, per the Trail map.

After a few miles we turned and headed south to the northern rise of the Trotternish Pensinsula. The name alone conjurs up images of ancient pagan rituals being practised in a strange northern land. Well it does for me, anyway.

 
 

We trekked through the twisted rock and pinnacles of the Quirang and found our first nights camp sight just shy of the photographer's viewpoint beyond The Prison, the finale of strange rock formations of the Quiraing. Our first days efforts were rewarded with a spectacular sunset and we woke to an even more spectacular sunrise.

The weather continued to smile on the second day although, under the weight of our bags, the ridge seemed to continue forever. Occasionally our days-end destination, The Storr (719m) came into view but never seemed to get any closer. We planned to camp just beyond it that night.

The bags, general lack of fitness and my dodgy knees saw us stopping to camp sooner, just beneath the gentle summit of Hartaval (668m). I couldn't face another steep descent without some rest and we found a water supply in a small lochan.

High winds had developed with the encroaching darkness and pitching the tents became something of a nightmare. It was only when we had fixed the guy ropes, unpacked our bags and lay down that we realised we had a mountain (of lumpy grass) in the tent. We were too tired and it was too windy outside to consider adjusting it, so we settled into a restless nights sleep buffeted by winds that threatened to rip the tent from its anchors.

 
 

The following morning stayed dry although it was much cooler and there was a gentle sunrise through heavy cloud. As we reached the last few miles of the day's trek, we were greeted by rays of sun through the clouds illuminating the Red and Black Cuillin Hills in turn and ahead lay Portree, Skye’s principal town, and our destination for the evening. In Portree we were rewarded with a hotel stopover and we resupplied with food parcels and clean socks, left there strategically on the first day.

Day four dawned bright and sunny once again and we had enjoyed dinner, bed and breakfast in substantially more comfort than the previous couple of nights.

The Trail required a long walk, mostly along roads to the campsite at Sligachan. The purists amongst you had better look away now! We lounged around Portree harbour, drank coffee and then took a taxi to Sligachan campsite.

I will not tell a lie, we were tired and utterly uninspired by the thought of humping large backpacks along an eight-mile stretch of road after the wonders of the Trotternish Ridge. I will dwell on Day Four no more.

 
 

Day five saw a long yomp through Sligachan Valley and the heart of the spectacular Black Cuillins to Elgol. We arrived at a cafe looking forward to a nice cup of hot chocolate and a piece of cake. Its just as well we did not want a takeaway; soup or sandwiches because a notice in the café announced: “PLEASE NOTE: WE DO NOT DO ANY TAKEAWAY; WE DO NOT SELL SOUP; WE DO NOT SELL SANDWICHES.”

The owner could not have looked as us more disdainfully if we had been smothered in fresh horse manure! We were served nonetheless and moved on, refreshed.

We struggled to find a suitable campsite and were given permission by a friendly landowner to camp in a field in Tomp. We encountered similar difficulties the following day, Day six, although we eventually found adequate wild camping at a stream in Glen Boreraig.

The final day saw us yomping along the coast and amongst the desolate ruins of various dwellings abandoned during the Highland Clearances in the mid-1800s before the final push over the hill and back to our parking place at Broadford.

 
 

The Skye Trail was great fun and I enjoyed the company of two close friends for over a week. As a long distance walk of distinction, however, it fell short. The second half of the walk simply could not match the challenge and amazing views of the Trotternish Ridge and I have no regrets about cheating on Day four. If you are considering doing this trek and feel compelled to do the entire Trail, I strongly recommend that you start at Broadford and build up to the Trotternish Ridge for a true wilderness experience and spectacular finale.

In total we had walked 62 miles.

All photos on this page were taken with the tiny Lumix GM1 and 12-32mm f3.5-5.6 lens.