Skye Trail: Day One

28th April 2012 – Duntulm to Flodigarry: 9.4m – 2,600 ft – 4 hrs 30 mins

I slept quite well, which is unusual for my first night in any strange place, but perhaps that was because of the whisky and the late night. I was awake at my usual time of about 7am though; some habits are hard to break.

The sunlight streaming through the window looked very promising though, so I dressed quickly and went out.

I’ve been really quite worried about the recent weather, not least because of the bog factor involved in walking on Skye, but also because I didn’t particularly fancy walking in driving rain and howling wind for a week. The sight that greeted me then, as I stepped out of the croft was fantastic, and such a relief. Beautiful blue skies, a cool, but not bitter breeze and warm sunshine.

The back door of the croft opens onto a small rocky beach and I stepped out, mug of tea in hand to inspect the view. I could see for miles, across the sea to the isles of Uist and Lewis and along the north west coast, with dozens upon dozens of hills stacked up one behind the other.

Panoramic view from the croft

Panoramic view from the croft

We had a hurried breakfast, polishing off most of the tiny loaf we’d bought the night before, and as I’d pretty much prepared my pack in advance of this morning, I grabbed what I needed and we were off out. I didn’t want to waste any of this good weather with unnecessary unpacking.

I apologise in advance for the amount of route detail I’m going to try and include in this journal. But as Rambling Pete and I have found, there are almost no walkers’ journals for the Skye Trail out on the Internet and anything I can add to that resource will hopefully help out other folk who decide to walk the path in the future. I’ve included what links I could find on the walk’s home page.

My walk begins at Duntulm Castle, only about five miles from the croft, so we were there in no time. We parked in the non-existent car park and clambered over a wire fence beside the locked gate and headed out to the ruins of the castle. There’s not much there and what there is, is fenced off and falling to bits, some of it into the sea. But I did the dutiful thing and wandered around for a while taking pictures and admiring the sea view.

MacArthurs' Cairn at Duntulm Castle

MacArthurs’ Cairn at Duntulm Castle

According to local legend, the castle was abandoned after the infant son of the chieftain who dwelt there at the time, fell from the arms of his nursemaid out of a window and was dashed on the rocks below. As a punishment, the nursemaid was set adrift on the North Atlantic in a small boat.

Looking across the broken remains of Duntulm Castle towards Harris and Lewis

Looking across the broken remains of Duntulm Castle towards Harris and Lewis

Starting out at Duntlm Castle

Starting out at Duntlm Castle

Duntulm Castle

Duntulm Castle

Duty done, I headed back to the road, the car and the bulk of my gear which was waiting in the boot. I shouldered my pack and with a wave to Roger and Molly the dog I set out along the road, just a short distance to the track that runs around the base of Cnoc Roll. This would take me to the little settlement of Connista, which would be the launch pad for my assault on the boggy wilderness between there and Coire Mhic Eachainn.

Looking back to Duntulm Castle from the road beneath Cnoc Roll

Looking back to Duntulm Castle from the road beneath Cnoc Roll

Initially, beyond the gate from the road, the path is along turf and easy to follow. It skirts around the lower slopes of Cnoc Roll, but it would be easy to climb up to the summit from pretty much any point along the path. After a few hundred yards the path drops down to a long line of bath tubs – feeding troughs for the cattle that roam this hillside and valley.

Skirting Cnoc Roll, heading for the pointy buttress

Skirting Cnoc Roll, heading for the pointy buttress

The path had been great to until I came to this point, but the cattle had done their usual job of turning fields and paths to a muddy, shitty mess and from here on I was doing the dance of mud avoidance.

The path now climbed the opposite side of the little valley; churned and boggy from the cattle and I wasn’t sad to reach the point where I’d decided to cut away from it and head across country. The point of exit is fairly natural, the path performs a cut back on itself and instead of following it I kept going (for planners this point is NG 42367 73195).

Away from the path things actually improved and I was soon skipping through ankle high heather with short grassy sections between. There is no defined path across this bit, but there are sheep tracks that go in roughly the right direction and the going isn’t troublesome at all. I crossed a couple of low fences and also crossed the path of two new fences in the process of being built. They looked to be sheep height rather than deer fences, so even when installed I doubt they’d cause a walker too much trouble.

Skirting Cnoc Roll, heading for the pointy buttress

Skirting Cnoc Roll, heading for the pointy buttress

I followed my nose, a short quad bike track and then the lie of the land to reach the bridge (not marked on the OS map) at NG 43292 72820, that crosses the Kilmaluag river. The river is wide enough to be a problem if it was full of water – certainly too wide to jump and upon inspection the banks look quite deep too, so I’d been forced to rely on the bridge during my planning stages.

I’ve done a fair amount of Internet searching for information relating to the section of path beyond the bridge, but there’s very little information out there to indicate which is the best route to take. Even Geograph, normally a great source of information, had drawn a relative blank. So I was very nervous about this next bit.

The bridge (not marked on the OS map) across the Kilmaluag River

The bridge (not marked on the OS map) across the Kilmaluag River

At the bridge I donned my gaiters, in preparation for a potentially dreadful bog-fest. I headed slightly left away from the bridge, sticking to the high ground where I could and using the tussocks to avoid the sphagnum bits in between them. It was nowhere near as bad as I was expecting, in fact even the track around Cnoc Roll earlier had been dusty in places, not an indication of recent heavy rain.

My original plan for this bit had been to aim for the western edge of the Coire and follow the bottom of the ridge to the back of it, exiting Fir Bhreugach and up to the summit of Meall na Suiramach. However, even from this distance, I could see that the eastern edge of the Coire looked much easier to ascend; had a better looking surface and so that was where I aimed for. There are no paths across this section, but there also seems to be no better or worse line, so just pick your exit point on the hill ahead and go for it.

Grassy path to begin, just beyond the bridge, beside Lon Horro

Grassy path to begin, just beyond the bridge, beside Lon Horro

Leaving the bridge I kept left of the Lon Horro burn, following the grassy sections as much as I could, aiming roughly for the 94m “highpoint” at NG 43834 72220. The grass soon petered out though and I picked out the least wet path I could. It was remarkably dry, and for this I was eternally grateful. It would be very wet after a lot of rain, that was obvious, so prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

Just before reaching the 94m spot height I was forced to divert left and back on myself, a long waterlogged ditch cut across my route and I crossed and re-crossed a broken fence line looking for a dry route. A careless moment a little while later found me doing that moon-bounce stride that you have to do across saturated bog – one foot went in almost to the knee – but the gaiters protected me from the worst of it.

Wet boots are inevitable across this section

Wet boots are inevitable across this section

I hopped and skipped for what seemed like an hour, but was in reality only about 55 minutes! The eastern edge of the Coire has a reasonable path up beside the tiny burn (unnamed, but the right hand one of the three when looking at the OS map, the path begins at NG 44564 71545). Having crossed the wasteland pretty much dry-shod, I reached the foot of this path and climbed up through the heather with the burn tinkling and gurgling to my right.

I aimed for the green 'path' up beside the left-most burn on the saddle

I aimed for the green ‘path’ (centre shot) up beside the left-most burn on the saddle

Following what path there is, up into Coire Mhic Eachainn

Following what path there is, up into Coire Mhic Eachainn

Looking back across the soggy wasteland to Cnoc Roll

Looking back across the soggy wasteland to Cnoc Roll

I lost the path at about NG 44719 71220 and crossed the tiny burn, now using my nose and eyes for guidance, striking my own path through the Coire. The ground looked easier on my right, closer to the western edge, so I changed course again and cut right. It became fairly boggy again, across the bottom of the Coire, but not too bad at all. I kept as high as I could against the western wall using the occasional sheep track, but mainly just following the contour. If you weren’t visiting the trig point and the summit of Meall na Suiramach, you would have a much easier time of it. There is a visible path on the eastern side of the Coire; part of a circular walk for the Quiraing and I could see a couple of people on it, far off and tiny, swamped by their immense surroundings.

Looking back across Coire Mhic Eachainn as I climbed up

Looking back across Coire Mhic Eachainn as I climbed up

The beautiful landscape of the Quiraing ridge, beneath and behind me

The beautiful landscape of the Quiraing ridge, beneath and behind me

I found a reasonably shallow exit point from the back of the Coire (NG 44782 69990) which gave me good access to the trig point and summit and I huffed and puffed my way up the hill to reach it.

The views behind as I was ascending were stunning, the sea was so blue it looked like a kids painting, with the rocky islands dotting the surface. The views ahead opened up as I climbed and before long I got my first view of the Cuillins, jagged and harsh on the horizon, with a smattering of snow on the high tops. More daunting though, in the immediate distance was the Trotternish ridge, it looked immense, it looked massive, it looked bloody frightening. That was my challenge for tomorrow and it was twice as long and twice as high as today’s walk.

Approaching the Quiraing trig point on Meall na Suiramach

Approaching the Quiraing trig point on Meall na Suiramach

The Trotternish ridge and the distant Cuillins behind the trig point on Meall na Suiramach

The Trotternish ridge and the distant Cuillins behind the trig point on Meall na Suiramach

I left the trig point and headed for the cliff edge, following a worn, grassy track towards a large, low cairn. From this viewpoint I could look down and see the Table, a grassy platform a couple of hundred feet below, large enough to land a small plane (possibly), or host a football game for die-hard heroes. The Table is surrounded by jagged pillars of rock towering above it and the result is seriously impressive, in fact the whole of the Quiraing path is jaw-droppingly beautiful. Trying to describe it here though is a bit like trying to explain what the sky looks like – you really need to come and walk it.

Looking down on the Table from the path above it

Looking down on the Table from the path above it

The view north

The view north

The Table

The Table

Tomorrow's ridge walk!

Tomorrow’s ridge walk!

The upper path from Meall na Suiramach runs parallel to the lower path and it was this that I was aiming for, as I descended gently at first, then more steeply until I came to a gate in a fence line. The view of the Trotternish ridge from here was incredible, the path from here was awful. It was almost completely eroded in places and seemingly not maintained at all; a huge groove in the grass was the best bit and then that turned into a steep descent of broken turf, loose soil and a knee-sapping gradient.

The dreadful, eroded path down from to the lower Quiraing path; when wet, this must be a nightmare

The dreadful, eroded path down from to the lower Quiraing path; when wet, this must be a nightmare

In the end I made the lower path and this turned out to be much better, a fine path in fact and one that I absolutely loved. It twists and turns through the glorious architecture of the Quiraing, picking out the best bits and taking its time in doing so.

Along the lower Quiraing path the scenery is breathtaking and the path is great

Along the lower Quiraing path the scenery is breathtaking and the path is great

A walker stands admiring the Prison

A walker stands admiring the Prison

The Needle and the Prison, seen from the lower Quiraing path

The Needle and the Prison, seen from the lower Quiraing path

As the path turns north the valley encroaches on two and then three sides - splendid

As the path turns north the valley encroaches on two and then three sides – splendid

I’d agreed to meet Roger about 2pm at the end of the path, beside Loch Langaig, where the car would be waiting and we could go and do some shopping. I passed the path that allows one to walk up to the Table, a steep twisty defile that looked a bit too steep for my current leg strength, so as much as I would have liked to, I decided to continue along the path. Just before I reached the small Loch Hasco I met a German couple looking for the circular path that runs around the Quiraing. I pointed them in the right direction and wished them luck. They didn’t seem well prepared for what was quite a big walk; it was getting late in the afternoon and if they were struggling to find the start of the path I didn’t have much hope for them finding the rest of it.

Roger and Molly the dog playing beside Loch Hasco

Roger and Molly the dog playing beside Loch Hasco

Looking down on Loch Hasco

Looking down on Loch Hasco

I soon saw Roger, playing with Molly the dog, in Loch Hasco. I think he’d been expecting me sooner, but I’d been taking my time over the last section, enjoying the views and taking in the majestic rock faces and structures.

Back to the car and then food, beer and whisky

Heading back to the car and then food, beer and whisky

I felt surprisingly knackered back at the car, it had only been an 8.5 mile day, but my feet were quite sore and I certainly didn’t feel like I could have done it again. I worried about how I would cope with the long ridge tomorrow.

We went into Portree and did a big shop in the huge Co-op supermarket in the town. We stocked up on junk food, beer, wine and lots of bread. Back at the croft we got properly squared away, it’s only a small place, so organisation makes things much easier.

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