I’ve finally decided which path I’m going to walk in 2012. The decision was so hard though that I’ve decided to try and walk two long paths, this journal relates to the first of the two. The Skye Trail. In fact, to be completely accurate, I’m doing both of the Skye Trails. I’m starting with the easy one, the newer of the two described routes and finishing with the older one, walking north to south, hopefully into the sun. My second long path will be later in the year at the other end of the country completely.
The Isle of Skye
The Gaelic name for the “Isle of Skye” is An t-Eilean Sgitheanach. The meaning of the name is hotly disputed and various different authorities have offered different translations. The most common are “Winged Isle” or “The Notched Isle” but no definitive answer can be provided. Until this visit to Skye, my previous encounters with the island had left me preferring another possible name; “The Misty Isle”, as I’d still not seen the summits of the Cuillins, wreathed, as they often are, in mist and cloud.
There is evidence of people living on Skye as far back as 7000 BC, at a Mesolithic site near Staffin. In fact there are very few older excavations in Scotland than this one on Skye. In more recent times, the island was dominated by two powerful clans; Clan MacLeod held most of the northern end of the island, based in Trotternish, and Clan MacDonald (or Donald) held sway over most of the southern end from their home on the Sleat (pronounced Slate) peninsula.
From the late 1700’s, through to the later stages of the following century, the inhabitants of Skye were devastated by famine and clearances. Following the Jacobite rebellions, the Scottish Clan system was pretty much disbanded and tenants and small landowners fell prey to the newly appointed land barons of the English. These found it much easier and far more profitable to use the land for raising sheep and so whole communities were cleared, sometimes forced onto ships bound for Australia and Canada, their homes burned to prevent them from returning.
The last ‘battle’ to be fought on British soil; the “Battle of the Braes” involved a demonstration by some of the last remaining tenants, against the serving of eviction notices. A number of local crofters, supported by other local people, stood against about 50 police officers imported from Glasgow to quell the dissent. Heads were cracked on both sides and the storm was partly responsible for the creation of the Napier Commission of 1884 which guarantee some rights of tenancy for crofters.
This came too late for many thousands of people though and the clearances emptied the island of much of its population. This walk passes through two or three cleared settlements and it will be interesting to see just what is left and where these people used to live.
The Skye Trail
In the latter part of the last century (1999) David Paterson published a book “A Long Walk on the Isle of Skye: A New 75-mile Island Trek” (ISBN 978-0952190844) which described a route running South to North from Armadale to Duntulm, taking in some of the best scenery and footpaths to be had on Skye. Unfortunately it also includes some pretty bleak and pathless boggy horrors, encountered in the first two days and enough to deter even the hardiest walker – never mind me. The book appears to have been so successful that later editions were renamed to “A Long Walk on the Isle of Skye: The Famous 75-mile Island Trek” (ISBN: 978-0952190899).
Then, a few years later, Cameron McNeish and Richard Else, (names instantly recognisable by 90% of my readership I’m sure), decided to re-visit and re-write much of the walk. They made some significant modifications to the route; they turned it into a North to South walk for one thing and found an alternative to the end of the walk, by completely avoiding the southern tip of the island and thereby bypassing the boggy sections that abound between their new end point in Broadford and Paterson’s southern most point in Armadale. They published a book covering the route; “The Skye Trail: A Journey Through the Isle of Skye” (ISBN 978-0956295712). I think this will become the de-facto “Skye Trail” in the future.
A great friend and fellow long distance walker, Rambling Pete will start walking David Paterson’s route just as I finish my walk, so if you want to compare and contrast the two walks then you have the opportunity. Pete discusses his approach in a recent blog posting here.
This year’s walk is going to be quite unconventional for me. I’ve rented a small cottage on Skye for two weeks and my brother and I will be sharing this for the first week, after which he returns home and I have second week to myself. He has the unenviable task of dropping me off each morning and trying to remember to collect me each afternoon at the prescribed meeting place. During the day he has the car and his dog to keep him company and we’ll have the afternoons and evenings to catch up, chat, drink and take in the sights.
I’m doing the walk over eight days, one more than is suggested by both books, but I have further to walk than both books describe and I’m not in any particular hurry. Although I only have my chauffeur for the first week, there are such good bus services on the island that I think I can finish the walk using them and my car.
- Skye Trail on Walk Highlands Website
- Skye Trail Website
- Rambling Pete’s Skye Trail blog entries, from 2012
- Dave Wood’s Skye Trail Journal from 2012
- Helen and Colin, personal journal from 2011
- An all-too brief Skye Trail journal from 2011
- Another brief personal journal, from 2010
- A Trek Through Skye (personal Skye Trail journal from 2002)