3rd May 2012 – Kirkibost to Broadford: 18.1m – 2,400 ft – 6 hrs 45 mins
Something strange had happened overnight. As we left the house this morning we noticed that something resembling a huge grey blanket had obscured the sun! We were both shocked and dismayed. We asked a local what it was and he called it a “clowd”. He said it like crowd, but with an “L”.
Fortunately today’s start point was 45 miles from the house and during the drive and the change in micro-climate, normal sunny conditions had resumed by the time we reached the car park, just outside Kirkibost. The longest day of the walk so far was ahead of me and if the temperatures of yesterday were repeated, I could struggle.
I left the car with my short-sleeved baselayer on beneath my soft shell jacket which I think of more as a wind proof than anything else. I still packed my Paramo in my pack, just in case the conditions turned either cold or wet – you can’t be too careful in Scotland 🙂
The first mile or so was along the road, but as I approached the plantation at Keppoch I followed a row of power lines beside a fence up the side of the trees. There is no path here, but the fence is easy to follow and keeping it to my left I made the height easily, through the heather.
I spooked a couple of young deer who bounded away ahead of me. Unfortunately they headed straight into a dead-end caused by the deer fence to my left and another fence that came in from the right. As I neared the dead-end they went completely ballistic. I’ve seen deer get spooked before, but they generally have an easy escape route and bound off. These two were trapped by the fence ahead and me behind. They threw themselves senselessly at the fence, as if it would let them through if they tried hard enough. One deer tried to jump it and after two or three attempts managed to get over, but it went over head first after catching its head in the top level of the fence – only its momentum carried it, head over heels, over the top. It seemed unharmed though and bolted off over the hill ahead.
The remaining deer continued to thrash about into the fence, dust, fur and heather were flying everywhere and I couldn’t help feel a bit guilty that I’d forced them down this cul-de-sac. I kept as far left as I could and eventually the deer figured out that it could run down the right hand fence and escape.
All this excitement distracted me from the ruins of Keppoch around me, the remains of the cleared settlement are still visible, but slowly being eaten up by the heather and Old Father Time. Better examples of cleared villages were ahead of me though, so I carried on, over the tall stile and along what was now a discernible path in the heather.
The view ahead was dominated by the double top of Beinn Dearg. The middle of the mountain was clad in a band of cloud, with the top and lower sections both clear – a most interesting view.
The path continues beside the plantation until an ancient, wire-wrapped post is met, at which point it cuts across an open section of ground that could be boggy after rain, but was lovely and springy for me. The path gets easier to follow once it crosses a little stream and the views of Beinn Dearg get better and better. Bla Bheinn appears to the left, looking absolutely massive with a bewildering series of ridges, corries and crags.
I reached a gate and just beyond that the path became excellent, apart from a series of fallen trees that caused me some problems. One or two completely blocked the path, and I had to scramble over, under and around them as best I could. The path eventually dropped down to the car park for Bla Bheinn. I’d loved this little section of the walk, that bypasses a very busy section of the road, but it was now over and I was back to walking beside the road.
This is busy, but there is room beside it to walk safely. The views are stunning. I was walking around the end of Loch Slapin, surrounded on three sides by high mountains and the loch on my right. I walked with my camera out, constantly amazed by the views, enhanced by the shifting clouds above and those clinging to the slopes of the massive hills, some of which were tumbling spectacularly over a corrie on Bla Bheinn.
After a while I reached Torrin. On my way into the village I saw half a dozen people getting into a minivan with a Dutch number plate and then I recognised some of the party – they were the Dutch walkers I’d seen yesterday at Camasunary. I stopped and had a brief chat with them while they packed gear into the van. They were off to Loch Coruisk for the day. I told them my brother had also decided to take a boat-trip out there today, with Molly. I wished them a calm sea and a fine day and said my final farewells to them.
I also got my most disappointing experience on Skye in the village of Torrin. I had been hoping to sit in the Blue Shed Cafe and have some tea and cakes as an early lunch. It opened at 10:30 according to the sign on the gate and I arrived at 10:29 according to my phone’s clock. So I walked through the gate and approached the front door, expecting to have to wait for a minute or two.
As I closed the gate behind me and crunched across the gravel a man came out of the cafe and said “Can I help you?” In the sort of tone you reserve for annoying salesmen at the door, or someone who walks across your garden. I was a little peeved at his attitude. “I was hoping for a brew” I said. “We’re not open yet” he replied “we had some car problems this morning and we’re running late”. At that I expected him to say come in, sit down, wait a few minutes and we’ll get sorted out. But no, he disappeared back into the cafe and shut the door.
I was quite annoyed at this. I turned and walked out the gate. Another couple were waiting there and asked me what he’d said. I told them and they turned away as well. I hasten to add the guy was English, not a local. I couldn’t believe his lack of foresight, or hospitality. As we walked away he came back out and shouted “I can do you a take-away coffee if you like!” I ignored him and carried on up the road.
Perhaps he’d had a bad morning and didn’t have his best attitude on, but I was peeved at this. For a business that relies on passing trade, to turn us away in such a brusque manner was just foolish.
I left Torrin, still on the road and turned off, onto a much quieter road at Kilbride. From here the road heads to the coast of the loch where it becomes a rough 4WD track. The track climbs gently beside the loch with fantastic views back to Bla Bheinn, until after a couple of miles it drops down to the abandoned settlement of Suisnish. There are several old, ruined buildings here as well as a more modern ruined house and some modern farming sheds, obviously still used.
The 4WD track ends at the sheds and I headed up hill, through fields to find the coast path. It hugs the lower slopes of Carn Dearg, well-trodden and clear to follow. There is a circular walk that takes in the whole of this peninsula and although I’d seen a couple of cars at the end of the tarmac road I’d only seen one walker, and him distantly on the route so far.
Like all the paths I’d walked so far (and indeed those to follow on the next two days), apart from those at Storr and Quiraing, I couldn’t help but think that they are “maintained” more by sheep than by people. There is plenty of good walking to be had on Skye but so few people walking the paths.
The next mile or so along the coast path from Suisnish was brilliant. Not as spectacular as Glen Sligachan, but the path is wonderfully exposed and rocky. It drops down to the beach and then climbs back to hug the base of the cliffs.
Little sections have fallen away to leave tricky, narrow paths above the rocks. All the while the scenery ahead and to my right was breath-taking. The ever-present marine litter was here too; so many plastic bottles and the large grey and blue drums.
I collected some water from a stream that fell from the cliffs to my left and took a long, cool drink. I’d brought my water filter bottle especially for this reason. It saved me carrying a full bladder of water all day. There are plenty of water sources on most of the sections of the Trail and the filter in the bottle ensured that I could partake of almost all of it.
I soon arrived at Boreraig, another cleared village. Much more impressive in size and scale than anything I’d seen previously. The remains of the houses were mostly still clear. You could walk in and out of the houses, stepping over the low walls in places, or using the doorways. Other settlements I’d passed had been overgrown with heather or long grass, but these were much more exposed. The green pastures were kept short by the sheep that had replaced the people.
Boreraig, lying in a green and fertile glen, sheltered and south-facing, is a fine example of a traditional, pre-crofting baile or township. It was forcibly cleared by the agents of Lord MacDonald to make way for sheep in 1853.
Many of the inhabitants, mainly crofters, emigrated after they were evicted. The Scottish census reveals that, by 1851, in the parish of Strath, Shire of Inverness, approximately one hundred and twenty men, women and children lived in Boreraig’s 22 households. Not every adult’s occupation was recorded, but where the census taker kept a record, he described most individuals as crofters, agricultural labourers, or farm servants. Among them he also recorded a few weavers, a fisherman, and a house carpenter.
Croft tenancy records dating back to 1823, now held by the Clan Donald Centre at the Armadale Museum of the Isles in Sleat on the Isle of Skye, indicate that the twenty two households were spread across ten landholdings, each of 6 acres. Many of the inhabitants were related. Anglicised death records indicate a good number of the inhabitants had maternal or paternal forebears born with the surname MacInnes.
The Boreraig evictions coincided with the high water mark of the Highland and Island Emigration Scheme(HIES). During the few years it operated, the scheme resettled some 5000 highlanders and islanders in Australia. By 1853 the HIES had accepted at least 8 of Boreraig’s 22 households, or just under half the occupants of the cleared village, for sponsored resettlement. [Source: Wikipedia]
There is an obvious exit from the sheltered valley and I headed uphill towards this, passing the single standing stone that looks like it marked the centre of the village. As I climbed the path became more clear and left the green pastures behind for scrubby grass and heather. At a gate it changed completely, becoming a stony track through some of the most wonderful heather clad hills I have ever walked in.
The wind had increased steadily as I climbed away from Boreraig, and I was now walking mostly north, straight into it. I crossed a stile announcing I was entering the Beinn Nan Carn native woodland project. I couldn’t see any trees though, just a lovely path climbing through a wide, open valley covered in deep heather. I eventually reached the summit cairn and the views ahead became staggering. Beinn an Caillich standing head and shoulders above Beinn Dearg directly ahead and looking slightly left I could see Bla Bheinn in the distance, sitting above Torrin far below.
The more exposed path now felt the brunt of the strong wind, and I dropped down to the old marble quarries that used to be worked here. Some evidence still remains, foundations for winch gear, old tracks for the trucks and other detritus. It reminded me of the old lead working remains in the Dales. Adding something to the surroundings rather than marring them.
Beyond the marble quarry I passed through a gate and the path changed into a well maintained 4WD track, now with small information signs telling walkers how far they had to go to various points of interest. The one I was most interested in told me I had 4.3km to Broadford.
I could see the path stretching out ahead of me, dropping gently to begin then climbing gently again. I was tired now. The wind was taking its toll on my reserves and my Tilley was becoming a problem. I couldn’t take it off because the sun was too strong. I don’t wear sun cream, I hate the stuff, its just not conducive to sweating heavily and it runs into my eyes and feels awful, so when it’s sunny I have to wear the Tilley. But the wind was adamant it didn’t want it on my head. I resorted to the draw cord around my chin – giving me that “special” look, all I needed now was mittens on strings.
At least the path was easy to follow, so I put my head down, using the wind to keep the hat on my head and plugged onwards. On the outskirts of Broadford I passed a tiny gypsy encampment, two or three caravans parked in a layby, the kids playing in a nearby gravel pile. I was soon in Broadford and looking for a cafe.
Roger had chosen today to take a boat trip into Loch Coruisk. I had a long day and the start point was close to Elgol, so it worked well for both of us. He was expecting to be in Broadford about 4pm, and I had about 30 minutes to kill before he arrived.
I found a small cafe beside the Post Office and spent an incredible £5 on a can of Irn Bru and two small cakes, which I wasted no time in polishing off.
A couple of minutes later Roger arrived and I dropped happily into the passenger seat, allowing him to drive us back to the croft. He told me he’d met the Dutch walkers beside Loch Coruisk. He had no idea who they were of course, but they deduced who he must be – mainly from the dog I guess, but also because he does look a little like me. He took a group photo of them and promised to pass on their regards to me. I hope they had as good a time on Skye as I did – they certainly had a good window of weather!
This had been a wonderful day, one of the best day walks of the year so far, only eclipsed by the previous day, but that’s the nature of the Skye Trail, it’s one fantastic day after another, different scenery with a common backdrop; high hills, beautiful lochs and (for me at least) blue, cloudless skies.