1st May 2012 – Portree to Sligachan Hotel: 11.2m – 1,200 ft – 4 hrs 30 mins
I was awake by 6:40, with only a few restless moments during the night. We have a reasonable routine sorted now in the morning, so we were out of the house by 7:30 and sitting outside the Isles Inn at 8am, leeching off their WiFi signal so I could send the updates for Days 2 and 3. We also managed to download a couple of highlights of the game, which was a great bonus!
I was walking away from the Aros Experience by 8:15, in the warmest morning sunshine of the walk so far, with the prospect of a truly excellent day ahead. The sky was flawless blue and there was almost no wind to speak of. I was warm enough for my thin baselayer and my wind-stopper soft shell thingy.
The route notes say to look for a thin path directly opposite the Aros Experience, that drops down to the salt marshes and then picks up a path beside the river, leading eventually to the road into the Braes. Could I find it? Could I buggery. I ended up having to walk down the road, the busy main road, at “rush hour”, trying to avoid being run down by the arseholes who think as long as they don’t hit you, they’ve done their good deed for the day.
After a kilometre or so I reached the turn off and entered the much quieter single-track lane to the Braes. I was a kilometre into 6.5 miles of road walking. Now I hate road walking as much as anybody, (Oh Yeah? How much? A lot!) but this was one of the nicest roads I’ve walked on in a long time. It wanders through some lovely scenery, with views ahead to Glamaig and the Cuillins and views behind to the Old Man of Storr, now sky-lined in all its glory. Of the 20 or 30 cars that passed me on that road, almost without exception, I got a cheery wave and a courteous reduction in speed to accompany it. It was a lovely experience and I guess the locals must walk along the road themselves, so appreciate what it’s like and make the effort to give walkers a little extra room.
After about a mile I could feel a hot spot building up in the arch of my right foot, just to the right of the ball. I decided prevention was better than cure and it was better to be safe than sorry and various other appropriate parables and looked for a suitable place to apply a Compeed. I stopped in the bus shelter at Camustianavaig and did what was needed. As I set out again I felt immediately better, the hot spot disappeared immediately and I felt much more comfortable and confident.
I spotted a couple of houses for sale down that road that I would gladly live in, even if they probably only dream of fast Internet and Tesco home delivery! The views down into Raasay Sound were fantastic, Dun Caan looked like a capped volcano from this angle and all these views were back-dropped by distant, snow-clad hills.
I made a short stop at the Braes memorial cairn, I could sympathise with anyone who wanted to defend themselves from being evicted from such a lovely location, even if the lives they led were hard and spare.
Battle of the Braes, 1882: Local crofting tenants facing eviction from the land withheld rent and released sheep onto a forbidden area on the slopes of Ben Lee. Sent to evict them, the Sheriff Officer from Portree was met by an angry mob, who forced him to burn the eviction notices. Subsequently 50 Glasgow policemen, sent to quell the rebellion, faced 100 men, women and children, armed with sticks and stones. Small fines were imposed in court, but it was clear that law and order could only be enforced with military assistance. After the Battle of the Braes, the unrest spread to Glendale, Skye. The rebellion led to the Napier Commission and ultimately the Crofters Act of 1886, which brought security of tenure and the right to hand a croft on to their heirs. [Source: Wikipedia]
The road continued. At Gedintailor you have a choice; shorter and higher, or longer and lower. I chose the former, hoping for better views. I got some, but no idea if they are better than the lower route, probably just different I guess.
Glamaig got closer and more impressive, looming over the road and the houses. The higher route is much quieter; I didn’t see a single car in fact. There are no houses on this bit of road and the surface is pot-holed and broken, but much better for me. I sat on a rocky outcrop and gawped at the scenery. I got a phone signal and sent a couple of texts and saw my first people of the day. A local couple, who I guessed we’re doing a circular using the two roads – they had no packs and no water, just hand-in-hand out for a lovely warm stroll.
I had loads of time in hand. I’d allowed 5.5 hours for today, but road walking is so easy I’d eaten up the miles and wasn’t due to meet Rog until 2pm. If I was too early I could sit in the Sligachan, so no problem.
At the end of the tarmac is the sleepiest village I have ever walked through, Peinchorran. The sheep were meandering across the road, nibbling on hedges and popping in and out of gardens (except those guarded by huge barky dogs, which come snarling up to a pathetically inadequate gate, slavering to get their jaws around a juicy fat walker!). I found the weirdest garden in Scotland, a title that probably hasn’t been bestowed upon the place, but almost certainly should be. Inside this garden were; a cannon, a dog hotel, several plastic dogs, a gigantic rabbit, a plastic donkey two plastic eagles and various other bizarre scenes.
I found the Scotways sign that points down the loch towards Sligachan, 3.2 miles according to this. I also followed the route notes that suggest the path is better, higher up the hill, so I cut over the heather and drying bog to find it. It was a lovely path, now one of my favourites and as soon as I got on it I could see my destination. At the far end of the loch sits the hotel, tiny and insignificant, sitting beneath the majestic Cuillins.
The path is obviously well used; probably by sheep more than walkers, but the result is easy to follow, mostly good underfoot and hugs the side of the hill, several dozen feet above the water for the majority of the way. At one or two places it drops down to meet the loch, and here you find small grassy areas, almost designed for wild campers. There are literally hundreds of mussel shells scattered in these areas too. Whether deposited by people or animals I couldn’t tell, but they are most heavily concentrated towards the eastern end of the path.
I was well ahead of schedule and so I dawdled for most of the length of the loch, taking my time to sit and enjoy a leisurely lunch, listening to the cuckoo on the slopes above me and wondering if I was wasting my time looking for otters in the loch. I did see the ferry, a serious commercial vessel, leaving Sconser and heading for the island of Raasay; a journey of about 3km across the Narrows of Raasay which looked like a boating lake today.
Now I’ve been able to check my tracklog, I can tell you that 3.2 mile section of path took me almost exactly two hours to complete and it was 2 hours well spent I can assure you. This had been one of my favourite sections of the walk so far, a highlight amongst the highlights. The weather helped of course, there’s nothing quite like sitting in the warm sun with time on your hands and fantastic mountain scenery all around.
At least a dozen tiny streams cut across the path, but none of these caused me any problems, not even the big ones closer to the hotel. After heavy rain, they could, but under the current conditions that were all easily stepped across, usually on stones.
At the hotel end of the loch, the path gets closer to the salt marshes and this could again be very boggy and potentially wet in places, but the path is always clear and I soon found myself walking through the campsite, across the road and into the hotel car park. I found the car, dumped by pack in it and, as there was no sign of Rog, I headed into the hotel for a drink and a shot on their WiFi.
After 10 minutes or so I saw Rog walking in across the car park with Molly. I walked out to meet him – I’d not been very impresses with the Sligachan Hotel – it was nothing like I remembered from my last visit – it was much too expensive and touristy. I realise now, that I was sitting in the wrong place. I was in the hotel section, rather than the walkers’ bar. I wish I’d spotted that mistake earlier.
The poor WiFi reception in the Sligachan sealed the deal for me and I suggested to Roger that we head for Portree and the Isles Inn. Once there we found they were showing the highlights from the Man City v Man Utd game, so we stayed for a while, having a lovely lunch (extra chips are not needed, but as I’d ordered them I was determined to finish them!) and then heading back to the croft.
Evening entertainment in a croft with no TV and a jury-rigged radio mostly consists of watching movies I’ve brought on an external hard drive, connected to my laptop and fed through a desktop PC monitor we brought with us for just that purpose. We tend to have a big fire going before the sun sets, as the croft is quite cold, even when the sun has been shining all day. Cold that is, except for the upstairs front bedroom which is hot enough to boil a monkey’s bum, it’s like a blumin sauna in there. So we hang our towels in there and they’re dry by the time we need them again.