7th May 2012 – Drumfearn road-end to Armadale Pier: 18.1m – 2,800 ft – 6 hrs 10 mins
I set out on the final day of the Skye Trail without the assistance of my brother, which was more upsetting than I thought it would be. I got to the car park at Armadale pier about 40 minutes before the bus arrived and I had some time to mooch around and take some photos; I missed the usual banter and the companionship.
The little blue bus arrived dead on time at 09:20. Despite it being a Bank Holiday, he’s still running the usual Monday service, which was good news for me and something I’d taken great pains to ensure was the case. It had taken about 10 phone calls to different places to check that snippet of information.
I paid my £1.95 for the 15 minute journey, three stops up the road to the Drumfearn road end and the guy even dropped me right at the road end, rather than the couple of hundred extra yards up by the bus stop. Every little counts.
The sun was shining, but it was cold and a slight wind added to the chill in the air. There had been a frost on the ground this morning when I’d woken and looked out the window on the croft. As it was I set out in long sleeve baselayer and my Paramo Velez jacket. I had the mid layer in my pack along with a spare fleece in case things got seriously cold later. The weather forecast had pretty much determined my completion of this walk today.
I had planned to complete the walk tomorrow, to coincide with Rambling Pete starting out from Armadale on the same day. We would pass each other at some point on the route and I would symbolically pass on the baton as it were.
The weather forecast for tomorrow was awful though and for today it was good until later in the afternoon. There was also the consideration that there is no defined path for this section of the walk, certainly not for large sections of it. There was always the chance that we would not even see each other as we passed, choosing different routes along the trackless sections.
I decided to go with the weather.
It’s about two miles from the bus stop to the place where I last left the path at the little harbour at Drumfearn, but there was no other way to get to it than walk. I tried to hitch a lift with the only car that passed me along the road for those two miles. The lady driver looked very apologetic as she drove past me and shrugged. I didn’t blame her; I would be quite upset if my wife started giving lifts to complete strangers in the middle of nowhere, you just can’t be too careful any more.
So I yomped it along the road, making the best time I could while I had a good surface. The previous section of the Trail had shown me how awful the conditions could be along the coast. At Drumfearn the temperature had risen enough to shed my coat and don my mid layer. The sun had increased in strength too, so I stuck my Tilley on my head and struck out along the coast.
I don’t mind rough walking; if you do enough walking in the Yorkshire Dales you inevitably end up doing a fair amount of trackless heather bashing, crossing narrow rivers, finding your way up and down craggy faces and so on. The thing I hated about walking this section of path was the not knowing.
You never know which is the better route to take – higher up, inland a ways or hugging the coast and taking your chances with impassable rocky headlands. I started beside the sea, following a well-beaten sheep track, but was soon forced up through the heather to find a path higher up. This then dropped down as I was faced with an impenetrable clump of trees. This process was repeated for about two hours.
As I climbed up I could see the Mussel lines down in the bay and I now realised the source of the huge barrels I’d seen littering the coast line. The Mussel lines are supported by them, huge plastic floats which obviously get loose during bad weather and wash up on the coast.
For a while I managed to roughly follow the deer fence, it cut across some of the headlands, essentially short cutting some of the coast. I had to drop into two or three very steep ravines and climb out the other side, but I think this was still better than struggling on the uneven, rocky surfaces along the beach and being forced inland to avoid impassable sections.
The views of the Cuillins improved all morning and the visibility today was excellent, with only a slight haze in the air. After a while the fence headed left up the hill and I knew I’d lost its assistance. Ahead was a fairly dense looking forest of natural growth trees, not pines (but that’s as much as I could say about them). I found what looked like a little path leading into them.
I had been following sheep trods all morning, as long as they were going roughly in the right direction I was happy to take any help I could get. The sheep seem to follow the coast too. I was pretty sure the path I took now was picked out as the best route through the trees, by the sheep. The problem, I considered, was that sheep are only about three feet high and they could creep under significantly lower branches and through smaller holes in the undergrowth than I could.
The path through the trees was intermittent and not a great help. I remember reading a couple of journals that said the higher route through the trees was better than the coast, so I stuck to my task through here. The only place I had a real problem was at Garbh Alt. This is a deep wooded ravine, the southern bank is sheer and the northern side I was on wasn’t much better. It was screened with dense growth so I couldn’t see an easy way down. I walked inland for several hundred yards, climbing higher to see if the ravine bottomed out. It didn’t, so I reversed back down the slope towards the coast. I eventually found a thinner clump of trees and scrambled down to the burn. A steep ascent was required on the other side, but I eventually made it. The best advice here, is to cross as close to the beach as possible, especially if you’re going south to north as that southern face is impossible higher up.
At one point in the wood I found a green shady bowl with a hangman’s noose suspended from a branch in the middle. I thought about Deliverance and the Duelling Banjos song appeared unbidden in my head. I moved swiftly on.
I dropped down to the coastline again, but at Bagh an Dubh Ard I was forced inland. I saw a couple of walkers higher up the hill and made the best route I could up towards them. I figured they may be on a path. I was right too. After a tricky scramble and a steep ascent I met them. We exchanged route information; they were walking out of Ord, just seeing how far they could go and were pleased to tell me of a little path running across the headland of Rubha Dubh Ard which they pointed out; running along the line of trees on hillside opposite us.
I followed the path around the inlet of Bagh an Dubh Ard; almost certainly created by sheep again. It petered out as I climbed up to the knoll of Rubha Dubh Ard but then became much more obvious as I turned south, from where I could see the desolate beach house at the head of a small bay. The path became more obvious as I dropped down to the house, set on a green patch of oasis amongst the scrubby moorland around it.
The house looks well maintained, it’s garden a sanctuary for sheep, but no-one appeared to be living there. Behind the house is a rugged 4WD track that cuts across the next headland to the back of the village of Ord. I used this rather than the coast. About 12:15, before I reached Ord, I stopped for some lunch on a rocky outcrop. I knew there was nothing in Ord, so no point going further in the hope of a shop or anything. It was warm and sunny now and I decided not to stop for too long, to take advantage of the sun while it lasted.
Ord is a lovely little place, lots of tiny cottages and a tiny harbour. The views from the harbour are absolutely stunning; the Cuillins are laid out across water of Loch Eishort. The whole jagged range leading the eye towards the magnificent Bla Bheinn. I could see the path I’d walked along on Day Six, beneath the bulk of the great mountain and even closer, across the bay, the coastal path from Suisnish to Boreraig.
I followed the road – you have no idea how much I delighted at the thought of road walking – through the village and out the other side. There are four miles of road to Achnacloich and it’s not heavily used. It’s a bit like a rollercoaster though, climbing and falling all the way, which makes for quite hard going, but still so much easier than the previous four miles or so.
To give you an idea of how much easier the road was; 4.9 miles from Drumfearn to Ord took 2 hours and 20 minutes (2 mph), whereas the 4.3 miles along the road from Ord to Achnacloich took 1 hour and 20 minutes (3.2 mph).
I arrived at Achnacloich just as the weather started to cloud over. It became slightly colder and I looked at the coast line around Sithean Beag with dread in my heart. I have to admit at this point I decided on the easy route – for the first time on the Trail so far (if you discount The Storr, where I had no legs for the ascent). There is a road alternative between Achnacloich and Armadale. It’s no shorter and if anything there is more ascent than the coastal route, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend another 3 or 4 hours hacking my way up and down between the coast and the high ground, avoiding headlands and trusting to luck to find the way. The road walk seemed like the much easier option and with the weather looking to start deteriorating I took the easy option.
As I was walking up the first steep climb out of Achnacloich a car pulled alongside me and the passenger side window rolled down. “Are you wanting to walk?” the lady driver enquired of me. “I am” I replied, “it’s a decision I’m probably going to regret when it starts raining, but I’m going to walk”. She wished me luck and drove off up the steep incline.
That’s the sort of place Skye is. People stop and ask you if you want a lift! It’s been the most friendly place I’ve ever walked (or driven). Courtesy becomes important, especially on the little single track lanes where you have to look out for approaching vehicles and pull over and let them pass. Everyone acknowledges that with a wave. Even people walking on the road wave as you pass, especially if you’ve slowed down for them. I love Skye. I love the friendliness of the people.
A couple more cars passed me on the road, but none stopped. They all waved, but none offered me a lift. I’m sort of glad too; my resolve was slipping as the weather began to worsen. The wind picked up and my Tilley became ever more precarious. Beyond Loch Dhughaill the road climbed steeply again, but after a while I reached the summit and could look down into the valley beyond.
It rained, for the first time on the walk it actually rained on me. More than just a few drops at least. It wasn’t hard rain, just spitting and I didn’t need to put my coat on. It stopped after a few minutes and within a few minutes after that I was dry again. By Rambling Pete’s Rule, it hasn’t rained unless the drops have joined up, so in this case it hadn’t rained! I followed the road down to the A851 at Kilbeg and turned right towards Armadale.
The last two miles or so were done in increasing wind and cold. I watched the ferry from Malaig arrive across the bay and 20 minutes later I arrived there myself. The Skye Trail was complete!
Again I missed the presence of my brother, so I had a big ice cream to console myself and to celebrate. I took a self-portrait with the front facing camera on my phone and got into the car as the rain began to fall in earnest.
Eight days of mostly magical walking was over. 100+ miles of some of the best scenery anywhere in the UK, possibly even the world. Some of the friendliest people you could hope to meet and what is instantly my favourite long distance walk of all the ones I have done. I will certainly come back in the future and do this walk again.