The Skye Trail
So I'm pretty sure my serious travel-blogging days are behind me. Definitely long gone are the frantic runs through dusty Zambian villages, trying to catch the rapidly departing truck, after tracking down a rumoured one-room netcafe with a couple of 386es with 28.8 modems, to squirt the prior day's photos and reflections out on the wire… Gone too, perhaps, are the days of spending a week or two writing up trips in exhaustive detail, a year after the fact…
In fact, on this one, I didn't even take a camera though, in fairness, a phone is about as good these days and genuinely didn't make note one in my notebook, nor ever even took it out of my bag. (I can hear Tim and Mark yodelling in rage: “And we missed this!!?”) This was all probably part of my current project to try to experience life a bit more, while chronicling it a bit less (whilst also focusing on writing that will be a bit more enduring, not to mention pay the ole rent).
But, along the way, on this one, I did toss the day's best photos up onto our de facto public commons, mainly because it's so easy to do. I'm taking the time now to rescue them from that walled garden, not least because I'm laid up with some fell lower respiratory infection, which is exacting the usual price of a lost week of life (or at least productivity), all for the offence of touching the wrong door handle. Anyway, forthwith, probably the best photos, and a tiny bit of commentary, from our Skye Trail trek of last month.
The Skye Trail is a challenging, unofficial i.e. un-waymarked long-distance (128km) route, aimed at experienced hillwalkers, which takes in some of the finest landscapes on the celebrated Isle of Skye, and indeed in the whole of the UK. Skye itself, I can report aside from let's call it a little challenging to get to, and from is just absurdly beautiful; and its people are beyond ridiculously lovely and kind. Oh, the stories I could tell. As it is, you'll just have to have a pint with me and hear them in person. (Okay, maybe just the one: a single one of the keepers of B&Bs we stayed in:
- drove us into the nearest thing like, well, anything, so we could get dinner, the night of our arrival;
- picked us up again when we were done;
- drove us 8.5 miles back down the coast to the trailhead in the morning (as there was nothing remotely like a place to stay between the two trek segments);
- when she found out we were booked at the one (very posh) restaurant at our next stopping point, informed us that they were badly overpriced and the portions tiny, and so made me a butternut-squash-and-chickpea curry with rice to take with me for the next night.
On with the show.
Day 0: London → Broadford, Isle of Skye
(via Edinburgh, Inverness, and Kyle of Lochalsh…)
These were just taken from the train trains!, lots of them but the views grew progressively lovelier.
Day 1: 20km Broadford → Torrin
(lodging at Skye Hobbit House!)
Day 2: 18km Torrin → Elgol
Day 3: The Dicing with Death / Deathmarch Day
21km Elgol → Sligachan
Via the "Bad Step" Alternative Route
The name probably should have been our first clue. Basically, by the combination of a badly timed injury, unexpectedly dodgy terrain, and slightly sketchy planning that gets so many people dead, we almost stumbled into a bit of danger. Because I'm a genius with impeccable timing, I managed to roll my ankle (usual method of falling off the back doing flower or sheep photo-portraiture or some such, rushing to catch up, then wildly overestimating the flatness of the rock at bottom of a two-foot hop down) right before the Bad Step. Normally, a rolled ankle is not a trip-killer, as long as you take care to protect it a while. But because the Step was substantially dodgier than we'd been led to expect, I had to focus on not dying, the ankle be damned. Then we had a surprise 400m brutal ascent due to a slight misreading of 15m elevation lines on the map as 5m lines followed by an unforgiving descent, both on shifting rock scree that kept reinjuring the ankle. If it had got to the point where I couldn't put weight on it (and/or if the weather had turned on us, which it usually does around here), we would have been in a mountain rescue situation. As it was, we got down safely, then had a multi-hour death march through a long valley to get back to civilisation. (But, hey, what trek ever had a day without an endless day-ending death march?)
[Andrew not to mention his loved ones will appreciate me noting the above is dramatized somewhat for effect. We were never in any real danger - certainly, he never was. ]
Day 4: The Long Amble Down an Absurdly Idyllic Country Road in Yet More Implausibly (for Skye) Perfect Weather
18km Sligachan → Portree
Day 5: The Lovely and Vertiginous Traverse of 400m Sheer Cliffsides Day
14km Portree → The Storr
Day 6: TROTTERNISH RIDGE
29.5km (with 1.75km total ascent)
Old Man of the Storr → Flodigarry
This was definitely where the rubber met the Skye Trail a crushing series of unrelenting ascents (and, equally murderous on the knees, descents) of six sections of ridge line, all of it accompanied by the kinds of views (and kind of feeling) you can't get any other way. I was worried about this one because the whole segment is remote and exposed with few escape routes another injury, or bad turn of the weather (we were sure due for one), would have been problematical. In the end, it all went perfectly thanks mainly to Ames's godlike map- and terrain-reading skills (I've decided his superhero name is Dead Reckoning!) and instead I should have been worried about the steep, sustained climbs and the mileage. (I was trying to think if I've ever done a trekking day with both that much distance and that much elevation change. Pretty sure the answer is no. Maybe the pass-crossing days in Nepal but maybe not.) When we finally got in, nine hours later, I'd sworn off ever walking anywhere again, never mind going up another mountain. Then again, I've made that promise before. And it's amazing how quickly the body recovers with a great deal of food, booze, and sleep.
(Also worth adding that not only was I the only one worried about this segment, I was also the only one crushed by it my other nickname for Ames is The Pack Horse: however heavy the load, however murderous the terrain, he just keeps hauling, at a rather brisk pace…)
Day 7: The Gentle Meander Up to the Northern Tip of the Island to Finish the Trek Day
11.5km Flodigarry → Rubha Hunish
This short-form chronicle would be wildly incomplete without endorsing, without any conceivable reservation, the lodgings we enjoyed on Skye (and their ridiculously lovely and fascinating proprietors). Basically, every host was as nice and giving as the one described above, and every accommodation fantastic. I honestly wouldn't be the least surprised if all of their competitors were equally lovely (as the one above replied when I enthused about how totally lovely everyone we'd met had been: “And rightly so. Why wouldn't they be?”), but these are the ones who were so nice to us, and to whom we owe a deep debt of hospitality. (I wish I had the time and energy to describe them all, everything they did for us, and everything we learned from them. Just go and find out for yourself!)
- Carrick Bed and Breakfast, Broadford
- Skye Basecamp, Broadford
- Skye Hobbit House, Torrin
Okay, I've got to say a couple of words about Paul and Becky, starting with: THANK YOU!! They're so awesome, and the Hobbit Houses are hilarious and homely labours of love, as is the caravan (which they rented us for £5 for the night, basically because it had coffee for the morning), and they've created all these lovely rental properties on the croft (Scottish for farm) mainly so beleaguered trekkers who've had their tents blow away will have someplace to stay, and could charge a lot more, but don't, because, “why to buy more stuff you don't need?”, and have two amazing rescue dogs on the property (one of whom failed his sheepdog training, which made his owner very cross and he abused him), plus a games room, and one with a pool table, and Paul used to be a fisherman in the local industry and still does a handyman-type service (bathrooms and kitchens) on the side, and the sublime craftsmanship on display in his own buildings, all of which he built, is amazing, and Becky is a jobbing artist (I have a small print of one of her paintings, a lovely tryptich), who had just finished putting on an exhibition of her work, and has a great big artist's space where she also teaches art to the island's children, who love it so much the class has a waiting list, and I really could go on and on, but you really should just go stay with them. Oh!! Becky bought and started reading one of my books before we got there, and I inscribed it for her! I was well chuffed, plus humbled. →
- Garsbheinn B&B, Elgol
Oh! There was also only one restaurant anywhere nearby, and it was posh and meaty, and so Mairi (and her husband) cooked us a gigantic veg curry, with like multiple courses and a lovely and proper dinner seating, and gave us each a big can of Tenant's lager (which they weren't allowed to sell us, but I was gutted that there was noplace to drink in town), and laid in soya milk just for me, and the breakfast, also in multiple courses, with oceans of fresh fruit and hot pressed coffee and freshly squeezed juice, was just to die for oh, and she's a painter, too, the house decorated with her amazing canvases! The upstairs room, looking out over the sea, is also super-lovely.
- Sligachan Hotel
Expensive, but also the only anyplace to stay remotely in the area, and the restaurant is fab, and the staff totally lovely, and the attached walkers' pub has an amazing array of beers and ciders, definitely try the Thistly Cross if you're a cider drinker.
- Portree Independent Hostel, Portree
- Beinn Edra House B&B, Valtos
Yes, okay, it was the amazing Rachel at Beinn Edra House who did all the bottomlessly kind stuff for us noted above. Believe it or not, I haven't even covered everything that was great about staying with and meeting, and interacting with her. Just go.
- Dun Flodigarry Hostel, Flodigarry
Neal, who runs the joint, was a particular boon and joy. They also run a small shop, to keep you from starving (or going broke, plus starving, dining at the nearby Skye Restaurant, which happily is an outstanding place to drink, with a delightfully quirky bar). So great (the hostel) we stayed there are our last two nights, making our way back from the walk's terminal point, for our last night on magical Skye.
I did a fair bit of research, and we definitely learned a lot along the way, so if you have questions about the Skye Trail, by all means get in touch.