29th April 2012 – Quiraing to The Storr: 14.2m – 4,800 ft – 7 hrs 45 mins
I’ll be brutally honest I was more than a bit worried about today. It’s been the day I’ve trained for, for the last three months and I wasn’t completely sure I’d trained hard enough, especially after the day I’d had yesterday. I’d felt unduly knackered after what, for me, would be a mid-length day walk.
I was so worried in fact, that I considered leaving this second days walking until later in the week when I felt stronger, putting off the inevitable if you like. I had a quiet word with myself and given the superb weather, I decided that the only thing stopping me walking the Trotternish Ridge was myself and that was unlikely to change with time and there’s no way this weather is going to last for two weeks, so I’d end up with a worse day and probably never walk the ridge at all.
One other thing to mention is that the Trotternish ridge isn’t. It’s not like any ridge I’ve ever walked before. It’s a tortuous series of lung-bursting climbs and knee-cracking descents, with rarely a flat section in between. I couldn’t help thinking that the Marilyns, HuMPs and Grahams that are sprinkled along the ridge must be furious that they are classed together as a ridge walk.
The full length of the ridge is about 25 miles, from Duntulm to Portree, but I’d done part of the route yesterday and I was only going as far as the Storr today, so this bit is about 15 miles long and undulates about 4800 feet along its length. That’s almost a full mile of upness and 15 miles of longness. It was going to be a tough day.
I slept really well again and was awake just before the alarm at 06:30, with the intention of getting an early start. A quick look out the window revealed beautiful clear blue skies again, a shufty down at the beach with my mug of tea and piece of burnt toast (I’m still trying to get the hang of the browning selector on the toaster) identified a complete lack of wind and a crisp frost from overnight.
I’d walked all but the last couple of hundred yards to the Quiraing car park yesterday, before turning back on myself and walking the lower path to Flodigarry, so we arrived at the Quiraing car park as today’s starting point. As I expected, it was deserted, even for a Sunday morning it was too early for most people. I had half expected to maybe bump into someone else walking the whole ridge, but they must be few and far between.
I set out as I expected to continue, by climbing. There are 10 separate ascents and 10 descents, the first two and the last two are the toughest, so I tried to save my legs by taking it easy. Unfortunately my brother was watching from the car park, taking photos, so I couldn’t take it too easy.
I gained relative height very quickly, as the ground to my left dropped away as I progressed. The views behind were superb, with the Quiraing looking fantastic in the early morning light and the lochs below glistening. By walking south I would be walking into the sun all day and this tends to make photographs of the path ahead washed out or over exposed, while photos of the rear view were splendid.
The views to my left were precipitous; dramatic drop offs and a broken and rugged landscape below me, contrasting sharply with the grassy, monotonous, monochrome grasslands of the footpath and the moors to my right. I say footpath, but there wasn’t much of a path to follow. There is a path as far as Bioda Buidhe, which I soon reached, but it doesn’t look like many people progress much further than this, because any path soon peters out beyond this summit and only returns intermittently from here on.
I could see nearly all the way along the ridge ahead, and this was somewhat dispiriting at times. There were so many peaks on the ridge and they all looked wickedly steep from this perspective. The conditions underfoot were great though, no bogs, very few wet sections and even the wet bits were much drier than they perhaps would be normally, this is a ridge walk you could do in approach shoes or fell runners without worrying too much about losing them in peat.
At Bealach Uige there is an ancient fence line, with no wire between the posts, but a path has developed, whether from sheep or walkers I don’t know, but it leads you nicely up the slope towards Beinn Edra, it follows the cliff edge, seemingly going the long way round, but the path still follows it. I guessed the short cut across the face of the hill would be boggy and rugged, so I stuck with the fence and cliff face and was rewarded with a mostly grassy path. The final, very steep ascent to the trig point, is up a rock strewn face with remnants of snow in the shaded gaps. The trig point is surrounded on three sides by a low shelter, into which I sat to take a quick break. I got a phone signal, sent a couple of tweets, made a call home and sent a couple of texts, before pushing on.
I’d arranged to meet Roger at 3:30pm at the Old Man of Storr car park and although I was under no pressure if I ran late, I didn’t want to keep him waiting too long. If I made good time now I could also spend some more time exploring the Old Man.
Bealach followed summit, followed bealach, but the next three summits were minor compared to Beinn Edra and as I dropped down from Flasvein I met a wall! This was the first wall I’d seen since leaving Duntulm yesterday. In the Dales or Lakes you can’t move for walls, but they are rare enough to deserve an exclamation mark in this region. I’m not sure of the reason for their scarcity, perhaps there were fewer boundary issues in the wild expanses of Skye, or perhaps there weren’t the resources to build walls, but this one was an impressive sight, made of huge old stones.
As I crossed it I was joined by a young lad, half running and half walking up behind me. He’d come up from the valley, rather than along the ridge. He asked how far I was going and I told him. He was interested to know how to descend from the Storr down to the road. Having tried to ascend that way previously, he’d got so far, but then the path had disappeared and he’d decided to turn round. I showed him the map I was using and the notes I’d written, based on the Trailblazer Scottish Hills route. It seemed easy enough, and loads of people must do the trip every day – so how hard could it be?
The lad ran on ahead and I continued to plod up to the summit of Creag a’Lain. The descent from here was wickedly steep and by the time I got to the bottom the lad had disappeared. Young git!
I cut the corner on Sgurr a Mhadaidh Ruaidh, I was beginning to feel the strain of the previous climbs and didn’t really want to add to my mileage or height gain. I climbed directly up to Baca Ruadh instead and managed to get another phone signal, so took another small break. I was stopping more often now, short 5 or 10 minute breaks and they were helping.
From the summit I could see two more bealachs and two more big climbs; Hartaval and The Storr. My feet were beginning to hurt now. The descents were hard work, they were all so steep and I had to stop and tighten my boots to prevent my feet from slipping inside them. I could feel the ball of my left foot beginning to rub badly and the big toe on the same foot was very sore.
The scenery today was impressive and contrasting, it was rugged and harsh on my left, with impressive crags, cliff faces and vertigo inducing drops – and to my right; sweeping moorland, dropping down to crystal blue seas in the distance. The backdrop to all these views were high hills, jagged and many of them snow-topped. Some of them were under some serious snow blankets and the sun was striking off these and turning them into distant beacons.
The descent from Hartaval down to Bealach a Chuirn is harsh, and not that easy to determine which is the best way down. There’s no obvious path and it’s very craggy, so care is needed. I went down slowly, not least because my knees were groaning. I went even slower up the other side too.
From Bealach a Chuirn to the summit of the Storr it’s 230m of ascent. I managed 110m. I was shot. I couldn’t manage the final 120m. It was steep and hurty and my calves were aching, not to mention my feet and my legs were refusing to do any more upness until they’d had a good, long sleep.
The 110m I managed, were enough to gain the contour level with the exit point off the hill. A small cairn marks the exit path, which cuts steeply down and then back on itself, into the wonderful Coire beneath the Storr. It’s a beautiful bowl of a Coire, strewn with boulders and with the majestic walls of the Storr rising on the right, craggy and imposing and wonderfully broken and jagged.
The path is clear and easy to follow and bends around the right hand wall and down out of the back of the bowl. A tricky scramble drops the path into Coire Scamadal where it crosses a fence and turns a corner and reveals the imposing pinnacle of the Old Man of Storr.
I spent a few minutes admiring the architecture and dropped gradually down past the Needle and the Old Man to reach the gate into the forested lower slopes of the Storr. Roger was waiting here, with his dog and chatting to a couple with their own dog. We walked down to the car park together. The guy was very interested to hear about my walk and admitted to being a Coast to Coast veteran of the late seventies, not long after AW had devised the walk. I told of my own crossings and we compared our journeys.
As the path reached the bottom of the hill I was quite shocked to see the amount of tree felling that’s gone on here recently. The devastation is awful. We stepped out of a lovely shady tree-lined path into a wilderness of stumps and shredded vegetation. I know this is a crop and the trees are now being harvested, but the sight is harsh and unwelcome. I can only hope some work goes into restoring the area into something a little more pleasing to the eye.
At the car park we said farewell and I finally managed to get my boots off. We went into Portree and decided to eat in the Isles Inn before heading back to the croft. They have superb WiFi in the pub and if you’re sitting in and eating you don’t pay for it. We watched the Tottenham v Blackburn game and caught up on emails, twitter and the like. It’s amazing how much you come to rely on a good Internet connection 🙂
The food is great in the Isles Inn, the bar area isn’t particularly comfortable, it’s quite cramped and the chairs aren’t really designed for relaxing. But we had an enjoyable 2 or 3 hours in there. I had intended to write up this day’s journal and get it posted, but I was shattered and all I really wanted to do was get back and have a shower and put my feet up. So I did.