Walking, until there’s no more land to walk on

A week on the Skye trail, 14-22 July 2018  

The wild and remote Isle of Skye had been the setting of many climbing and scrambling trips in the past, and I was quite happy to finally be able to work on it last week. Denry (the trek manager) and I (the walking guide) met on Saturday the 14th of July, and made our way north to meet our group in Broadford, in the south-east of the island.

The group was formed by an extended and very happy Mexican family and some American friends, who had decided to get together to come hiking in Scotland, all the way from the other side of the Atlantic. We met them for the traditional welcome meal, and finalised the last details for the walk.

The next morning we were off, walking north across the length of Skye on The Skye Trail, and here’s what’s happened.

 

Day 1 – Broadford to Torrin

Distance: 20 km

The trip started off with our clients finding out first hand what hiking in Scotland is all about. Rain, mist and wind were our companions for the whole day, but this was not enough to discourage the group who, coming from Mexico and Texas, were quite enjoying the cooler temperature. They even started researching all the different types of Scottish rain and the relative terms used to describe them, and they were quite amused by how many there are!

Straight from the start we also had a taste of what the trail would be like on the following days, with rough and sometimes inexistent paths and breathtaking sea cliffs.

Starting in Broadford, we walked south to the Loch Eishort shore, and continued around the coast to reach the small town of Torrin. The first 20 kilometres were completed by everybody in the group with no particular issues, and the spirits were high for the next day.

 

Day 2 – Torrin to Elgol

Distance: 16,5 km

On the Monday morning we started our walk with a hint of sunshine between the clouds. It would be the most sunshine we would see all week, but we didn’t know that yet!

From Torrin we walked along the road around Loch Slapin to the Bla Bheinn car park, and from here continued through forests and fields around the headland, until we cut through along a minor road to Elgol.

With the weather being better, we started keeping our eyes opened to look for signs of the amazing wildlife that Skye has to offer. We focused on both the sky and the sea, and our efforts were rewarded with the sight of a red kite. Not a bad start!

The highlight of the day, however, came a little later in the day when, walking towards Elgol, we came across a house with a sign which couldn’t be ignored: fresh homemade ice cream. We stopped, and a lovely couple gave us all a tub of their amazing ice cream, which gave us the energy to finish the walk for the day.

Good views over Eigg and Rùm.
 
The small village of Elgol with the first glimpse of the Cuillin ridge in the distance.
 

Day 3 – Elgol to Sligachan

Distance: 18 km

Day three started off with a pretty challenging narrow path half way up the sea cliffs between Elgol and Camasunary. Our eyes were scanning the sea again for wildlife, and we did see an otter! Once at Camasunary, the group had their very first Scottish bothy experience, having lunch in one of the best maintained bothies I have ever visited.

After lunch, and after leaving the bothy to another party that arrived after us, we started the long walk along Glen Sligachan. This valley, situated between the Cuillin Hills on one side and Bla Bhein and the Red Hills on the other, is one of the remotest parts of the walk and certainly one of the wildest.

After a lot of walking and some deer spotting on what was the longest day on the trails, our efforts were rewarded at the Cuillin Brewery, the end of our stage, where we stopped for a drink and some food before moving onwards to Portree.

The group walking along Glen Sligachan.
 

Day 4 – Sligachan to Portree

Distance: 19 km

A shorter day, but unfortunately most of the walking was on tarmac. We started from the Sligachan hotel and continued along the north shore of Loch Sligachan to the small village of Peinachorrain. Lots of seal and jellyfish accompanied the team on the only off road section of the day, before we started walking north to Portree, the main town on the island.

Our feet were sore by the end of the day, but we were happy to know that we were leaving the last section of road walking behind. From tomorrow, it would all be path, tracks and soft grass.

Having reached the halfway point, someone started feeling the kilometres adding up, but the spirits were still high and everyone was ready to start the last push to the end.

 

Day 5 – Portree to the Storr

Distance: 14 km

A nicer day than expected, even though the stronger winds meant a slight temperature drop. From Portree, we made our way to the coast and followed the cliffs north, with stunning views of Raasay, Rona and the Torridon peaks. The walk along the pathless clifftops was pleasant, and definitely easier underfoot than the previous day.

The highlight of the day was, once again, some wildlife spotting. We spotted some buzzards, circling together above the cliffs, which we could recognize from their unmistakable call. But what really left us breathless was a golden eagle, which we could only see for a second, flying off from the cliff side and around the corner.

Happy and satisfied after what was one of the most enjoyable days on the trail, the team made their way to the Storr car park, surmounted by the incredible rock formation of the Old Man of Storr, where Denry was waiting for us to drive us back to Portree for the night.

The team on the highest point of the day.
 
Looking back along the cliffs.
 

Day 6 – Storr to the Quiraing car park

Distance: 23 km

We finally got to the most feared and challenging day on the Skye Trail: the Trotternish ridge. This amazing ridge line, considered one of the best in Britain, includes ten summit along the way and more than 20 km of pathless and exposed walking. Unfortunately, we had a less than optimal day for it.

Once we arrived at the Storr car park, we were welcomed by thick fog, rain and very poor visibility. We started our walk up to gain the ridge, and continue along it with good pace. The route finding was not easy, and required constant navigation, but the team was determined to continue, hoping that the conditions would improve a little.

After we reached the seventh summit, the weather gave no sign of improvement and the morale of the group started to go down, together with body temperature and energy level. After a quick consultation we decided that it wasn’t worth continuing, and we started making our way down west, towards Glen Uig.

What we thought was going to be an easy way down turned out to be more challenging than expected, pathless and very boggy in places. We also had to do a proper river crossing, but our feet were already so wet that it made little difference! Once reached the road we were glad to take our wet boots off and make our way back to portree for a hot shower and some good food.

 

Day 7 – Quiraing car park to Rubha Hunish

Distance: 16,5 km

We finally got to the last day of the trek. It was again another wet day, but the visibility was definitely better than the previous day. We started by walking through the stunning rock formations of the Quiraing. Rock needles and tall cliffs were our companions for a few hours, together with the many tourists that come to visit this popular place in the summer.

After reaching the small village of Flodigarry, and having lunch by the youth hostel, we started what was the very last push on the trail. Once again we started walking along pathless cliff tops, with amazing views of the main land and the Outer Hebrides. We could see the end point of the trek, and we were getting more and more restless to get to it.

As we started walking on the headland itself the weather got worst, but we didn’t notice too much, and continued walking towards the small Lookout bothy, at the most northerly top of the island. We were welcomed by two walkers, who had made the bothy their home for the night, and exchanged a few words. After some pictures and some dolphin spotting we started making our way back to Duntulm, the real end of the walk, where our bus was waiting for us to take us all back to the start point, in Broadford.

No more land!
 

Walking, for me, is the best way of visiting a new place. You have time to take in every little detail along the way, beautiful scenery and amazing wildlife. Walking the length of the Isle of Skye along the Skye Trail was a brilliant experience, and I was happy to share it with a wonderful group. Everybody had a good time and, even though it might take a while for the legs to recover, I hope they will all go home and look back at this experience with a smile. They had a true Scottish experience, hopefully the sun will shine next time.