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Skye Trail Solo in August w/Video

Skye Trail Solo in August w/Video

Postby dmanno » Mon Jul 10, 2023 5:23 am

Route description: Skye Trail

Date walked: 05/08/2022

Time taken: 6 days

Distance: 134 km

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I should start by saying that I was lucky - very lucky - to not have had worse weather, and to have had such great people on the island to help me out. My *great* experience doesn't mean another person would have had the same a day later.

My takeaway (from a somewhat typical Skye Trail trek) is that the weather should be taken seriously, and it is a necessity to prepare a pack with gear for cold, hot, wet, dry, and windy days. Additionally, there were absolutely no beds available during my time there, and even the restaurants were all booked up days in advance, so finding shelter in an emergency might be difficult. But, that said, it was the loveliest experience of my life, and a year later I cannot get over how amazing it all was!

You can see my cheesy trip video here:

Day 1 - Duntulm to Trotternish Ridge

I spent the night in Broadford at the Hostelling Scotland hostel, and hired a taxi the next morning to bring me to the trailhead. It was wildly expensive due to the distance (£100+ I think!?), but the driver was great chat and I would recommend him to anyone who wants to get started early (Staffin Taxi, Tours and Transfers - 07384 284 373). It was my only indulgence, and very much worth it. The weather that day looked grim on the ridge, and moderate wind and rainy mist was a constant along the coastal trail. I made my way down the cliffs to the tip of Rubha Hunish (an option explained in the Cicerone guidebook), which I would recommend if you have the time, as it was the first sense of isolation I felt. The trail down looks impossible but you quickly realize it is very manageable. Alongside some stray sheep I was able to watch the rain come in forcefully as the gulls dove and swept along the cliffs. All told it was probably a little over an hour of a diversion. Back on the cliffs it was a soggy, soft, easily navigable coastline. Because of the nature of the trail and the farmland it crosses, I found it easier to use the book after taking a vague bearing in order to cross the headland and make my way to the church as the trail leaves the coast. The book is better for managing little specifics like stile crossings and small way markers. But I quickly found out that the Cicerone book needs some updating, as the stiles, fences, and waypoints it uses are rather temporary and change as farmers put up new fences. However, it was clear enough of a day that I could make out the church, and from there had no real issue navigating again. The trail heads through some civilized areas as it slopes towards the coast at sea-level, and then climbs up along a beautiful, dramatic coastline of cliffs, sea caves and loud sea birds. I continued like this until, after navigating a descent down the cliffs further on, I found myself eyeing the Flodigarry Hotel (and taking a few falls in the slick grass). Though I booked a night in the hostel, I wound up relaxing with a fun German couple for a few hours, refilling my water and watching them hammer down beers until the weather cleared on the ridge - to my surprise it looked hikeable, and it being only about 5pm I had more than enough time to get through the Quiraing and up on top of the ridge. I wound up stomping though the muddy Quiraing and up the wet slopes of Trotternish Ridge as the sun began so set and the skies cleared. Since the forecast was for a perfect night, I made a somewhat newbie decision to camp directly on the edge of the cliff. It was a spectacularly beautiful night, but as I found out later on the trail, a quick change in windspeed and I could have found myself in a different situation. That night was terribly cold (probably under 10C, or 50F) and my down quilt barely cut it. I stepped out several times to admire and marvel at this bizarre landscape and the height of the cliff that was a few feet from my head.

Can you see my tent?

Day 2 - Trotternish Ridge to Bearreraig Bay

Waking up after very little sleep is no fun, but it was made bearable by the majesty of the sunrise, which prepared me for a day of unfailing views and an epic landscape. I was off early at 7am and immediately slipped several times in the cold, wet grass. The entire rest of the day until The Storr was a constant bombardment of amazing places along the most beautiful cliffside I have ever seen, though tackling each hill was a challenge, as the conditions underfoot prevent one from making gains quickly. I found that switchbacking, frequent breaks, a few all-out charges and fair amount of swearing got me through to the peaks more quickly than I had expected. For this most magnificent and long of the days on trail, there is really nothing more to say (when the weather is good) - I simply kept the cliffs on my left and moved on, completely alone. I should say that, even though the sun was burning my skin, the temperature went from very cold and windy to very hot and still. The number of layers I constantly put on and removed was nothing like I had experienced before, at one point wearing my hat, buff and fleece under a rain jacket, the next just a t shirt and sweating bullets.

The trickiest bit of the regular trail (which doesn't go up The Storr) is the descent from the hill just before The Storr (the name escapes me now). You find yourself looking down steep slopes, trying to find the least steep. What I found was that circling the hillside clockwise and heading west, the slope became manageable and I employed some switchbacking to make it down. At this point I had some gumption in me and decided to tackle The Storr. Oh how difficult it was. There was plenty of water at the base of The Storr, which I filled up on and, after an energy bar, went whole-hog up the mountain, complete with its false summits and arid, rocky north slope. I must say, though, that the top is spectacular, though not quite a highlight of the trip. If you have the time and energy, it is fun, but after a day of amazing, more amazing is anticlimactic. Additionally, this is when the tourists show up on the trail, and it's nice but also a bummer to be around those who aren't sharing your experience. Making my way down the Storr to the Old Man was simple, and the path got more and more tourist-friendly, with steps and flat stones. Interestingly, a woman injured her ankle while I was there, and a huge Coast Guard helicopter took a few passes before landing directly at the Old Man lookout point. It made for a more interesting visit than a typical tourist attraction, and I hoped she was OK as she was flown out over the sea to the mainland.

I decided to check out Bearreraig Bay as a camping spot, having read about it somewhere online. I would recommend it, as it is beautiful and weird. The tricky bit, though, is that it requires crossing a river that flows from a reservoir with a dam. As such, at any point that river can go from a trickle to full spate very quickly, and, as the signs around it point out, you never know when that will happen. So it's always a risk getting to the bay, as you might not make it back for a long time. I pitched a tent as the midges settled in around me and got a nice night of sleep in. However, I had my first injury when, attempting to leave my tent quickly enough to prevent midges from getting in, I ripped off most of my toenail and had to cross my fingers that it wouldn't prevent me from hiking the next day. Thank God for tape, plasters, and luck. But boy did that hurt.

Camping at The Bay

Day 3 - Bearreraig Bay to Portree

Thankfully, despite the bog water and miles on foot, my toenail stayed somewhat on and the pain was no bother. Hiking this day was intimidating, as the trail disappears and moorland occupies the majority of the day, with a wide loch between you and the nearest road. However, after stomping through the bogs for a few hours, falling into streams, and taking wrong turns through the mounds, I enjoyed finding my way up the various levels of cliffs, through passes that are fun to figure out (and easy to see - I'm no mountaineer). Though the entire day was overcast, cold and windy, I was amazed by the fjord-like look of the coastline, and the cliffs rose to, I believe, around 1000 feet. Higher than the Cliffs of Moher, and all to myself. Having reached the southernmost point of the cliffs, the map clearly shows a way to get down and around the sheep farms and into Portree. I, however, saw nothing clear about it and obviously took a way that no one had ever intended a human to take. I walked - sometimes jumped - down through high grass and found myself alongside farm fences that lacked stiles or maintenance, with dead sheep and bones strewn about. I forget exactly how it worked out, but I spotted a truck at some point and headed towards what I assumed to be a road. Thankfully, that road had the only way marker I saw on the entire trail, and it pointed towards Portree. A few miles along a well-used tourist path and I found myself lining up behind day hikers, families with ice cream cones, and an endless traffic jam of camper vans heading to resupply.

Portree was probably a quaint little town at some point - and surely still is during the off-season - but, as any hiker can attest to, crowds and traffic, even in small beautiful places, are not the most fun experiences on a trek. That said, it is such a small place that I found the Co-Op easily, and even got a fully booked restaurant to serve me at an adjacent bar that night. I should say that, if you're up to it, you can easily move further than Portree on this day. I would have had I not needed to tend to my foot, resupply, and dry my clothing. I also had a bed booked at the independent hostel there (great place). I am so glad that I stayed the night in Portree, and had a few hilarious hours joking around with the French couples in my room. AMAZINGLY, at about 10 at night, a woman came into my room who had the bed above me booked, and it turns out she lives around the corner from me back home in Brooklyn, NY. I still see her on the street and we chat! Just amazing. Anyway, we all passed out and I was up early to assess the changing circumstances.

En Route to Portree

Day 4 - Portree to Sligachan Campsite

Bad weather excites me, so, while pouring down and blowing around in a fury, the rainy, windy haze that swept across the streets and town square of Portree that morning added some fuel to my fire. After a quick breakfast at the hostel and a chat with some travelers, I was out the door and trekking along an A road, stopping at a gas station for some candy. At some point, the trail descends from the A road to the river and marshland a dozen or so feet beneath it. There was no real trail, and thorns pricked at every expensive, beloved piece of clothing and equipment that was exposed, while the decline was so muddy that I slipped at every step for a good ten steps. And I mean slipped and fell down into mud. Extreme caution didn't even help, and I was delivered onto a rocky riverbank. One might think that the 1500 foot cliffs or the raging river crossings or the turbulent ocean would be the obvious dangers of the Skye Trail. But it was this little bit - this walk along uneven, round, slippery, wet rocks that could have - at any moment - broken an ankle - that was the most dangerous by far. And nobody would find me for a long time, lying in the rain, since there was no trail to get there from the A road, and who walks down the slopes off an A road? I envisioned myself lying in a salt marsh while countless camper vans passed mere yards away until, at some point, a kayaker would find me bobbing around the incoming tide. I took this part very carefully, and to be honest it felt too dangerous to recommend doing as part of the trail. The only other option, however, was walking an A road in terrible weather with less than perfect visibility, so I was stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Thankfully, this section ends rather quickly, though the tributaries were moving at a fierce pace, and I found myself walking past hundreds of sheep unaffected by the rain and wind. I strode along more roads, past countless houses showing off their huge windows, and past some *apparently* beautiful views, however the visibility was so bad I didn't even know there were mountains just past the water. The really fun part came when the road ends and the trail rises and dips down to Loch Sligachan, a magnificent sea loch with choppy waters quickly flowing into the open ocean. The trail hugs the hillside, and passes across countless burns and streams, some with beautiful waterfalls. Soaking wet and getting cold, I descended to a large salt marsh that comprised the delta where Loch Sligachan meets the river Sligachan (in Glen Sligachan, no less). This part of the trail defies mapping or description, as the water and land change so frequently and abruptly that the Cicerone guide says only to make your way with the water on your left and hills on your right. For me, due to the heavy rain and overwhelmed streams, that meant wading through some burns up to my waist, in water red from the peat. I enjoyed it, though, and smelling like Lagavulin all day isn't that bad for an Islay fan.

This is where my lack of experience began to play a dangerous part of my trip. The Sligachan campsite is easy to get to, large, with amenities and a very friendly caretaker. However, the wind at the campsite must be 10-15 mph faster than the wind yards away, which itself is faster than the rest of the island. My armchair meteoroligcal assessment is that Glen Sligachan cuts through the entire isle, meaning that pressure on one side in the form of wind is funneled through the glen, which acts as a corridor of least resistance, a straight line for the wind to traverse the island. Anyway, I can't explain why the campsite itself was so windy. No one could even hear their own words, they were whisked away by the gusts. The forecast had gusts of up to 37mph elsewhere on the island, and having been in a fair number of hurricanes I would imagine these gusts were 45mph and up.

Anwyay, I walked a few miles past the campsite looking for a place to stay along the river, but everything was wet mud and I was getting cold. So I decided to head back to the campsite and pitch tent for the night. However, whereas everyone at the campsite was car camping and using huge, strong, heavy tents, I had a lightweight backpacker tent made of gossamer. I pitched the ground tarp and the poles, hung the inner netting up and watched as it all bent past 45 degrees. "Amazing how flexible and strong this stuff is" I thought to myself. And the second I went to put the rain fly over the tent it acted like a sail, providing the wind gusts with enough ammo to flatten my tent. In a split second I watched as a pole broke, snapped the elastic within it and pierced a 12+ inch tear in the rain fly. In a breath my whole world changed, and I calmly knew that whatever I thought was going to happen was not, and it would be a long time before I could be warm and eat. As it was past 6:30, the local buses were no longer running, and I befriended the campsite caretaker who took some cheerful sympathy to my situation. He called all of the hostels and hotels he could, with no luck. At this point I was shivering and couldn't think straight, trying to keep a smile on my face for this great guy, while secretly wanting to tell him how desperate, hungry, cold and scared I was. Some college kids said I could sleep in their van if I had to, but they only had a small minivan and were sleeping in it themselves. When I asked where exactly I would sleep in the van, they realized that they hadn't thought that far. And so the caretaker - in between helping everyone else with their needs - wracked his brain and remembered that the campsite had a broken down trailer that was used as a trash can, a depository for all things at the site that leaked, broke, or no longer worked. And its windows were blown out.

Thank God for this turn of events. I still wonder what would have happened had I not been offered this junked trailer because, that night as the wind blew hard and loud, the whole thing rocked back and forth and I got a sense of the eeriness of the island and its hidden chaos. As I wracked my tired brain and warmed up (my temperature had dipped to 96) I thought about every possible next step - should I go to Inverness and buy a new tent? Should I go north and find a cheap AirBnB? Everything was booked in all the highlands and, given that the Edinburgh Fringe was going on, everything in the cities seemed to be booked as well. Without divulging too much, my financial situation was not great, and any extended period of time outside of a tent could waste my minor savings away entirely. And then I decided to return to the idea of fixing the tent. Without getting into the specifics, I used precisely all the gear tape I had, all of the duct tape I could find in the campsite office, and spent a few hours threading elastics, and put the thing back into what appeared to be working order under the glow of my headlamp, as the trailer creaked and shook in the gusts. To test my Frankenstein tent in the wind, I pitched it the next morning at first light and let it get beaten around while I ate, filled water bottles, thanked the caretaker, and tried to find all of my gear strewn amongst the trash that the trailer held (and in which I slept like a baby). After two hours it all looked good, and I couldn't think of a reason not to carry on. Excitedly, and to my amazement, I did.

Junked Trailer Saved My Life

Day 5 - Sligachan to 2 miles before Elgol

You can't have much of an actual spring in your step when slogging through wet moorland, but whatever the moorland equivalent is, I had it. Glen Sligachan is truly magnificent, with beautiful highland hills, black volcanic mountains, several lochans and a few misty waterfalls to take in as you realize you have an entire world to yourself. The conditions were sloppy underfoot, and never got better - as I approached the coast I took one step and fell up to my waste in a bog. Muddy bog water covered me throughout the day. Camasunary Bay is truly breathtaking, and though I was there on a very overcast afternoon, it was no less majestic than I had been told. The bothy, which I only stopped in to check out, has an amazing view of the crashing waves and the staggering Cuillins. Amazingly, as I walked from the bothy towards the cliffs, several alert heads of grazing deer appeared among the rocks. Five in total, with three adults and two fawns. I clicked away with my camera as quickly as I could and they pranced past me, with the crags of Camasunary as their backdrop. My usually snide brother commented on the photos, "That's dramatic" and he wasn't wrong. I love deer in general, but seeing them in this environment was like nothing else.

As I ascended the cliffs, I found myself holding my breath, focusing on each step and tensely making sure to keep my balance, not allowing even the most frenzied midges distract from my footing. This part of the path is the second dangerous area, as it is all mud, all eroded, and all directly above the open ocean. Don't be fooled - the trees you see to your right are the tops of trees, trees whose roots are at the base of the cliff you are on and very well might fall off. This tense, slow-going, slippery, midge-infested section of trail opens up amazingly to a lush, green, secluded bay with grassy mounds Tolkien would appreciate. As the sun came out in full force, I disrobed and melted on the beachwood log I found myself on. This is it, I thought, no need to do any more. It was an early day, for sure, but I was a mere 2 miles from Elgol and thought what else am I here for than to take advantage of moments and places like this? I pitched my tent in the middle of the bay, just past the high water mark, and waited for a beautiful sunset and warm night. Immediately, Scotland dashed my expectations and as soon as I got into my tent the familiar sound of water droplets wafting overhead shook me, made me question again the integrity of my MacGuyver tent. With wind and rain coming in waves, I put on headphones to drown out the sounds and forced myself to sleep, having packed everything away so that in the event of a catastrophe I could bail and hide in the hills until morning.

As luck would have it, catastrophe never came and I awoke to another beautiful - though midge-infested - morning on this unnamed bay.

Camasunary Bay Deer

Day 6 - Bay to Broadford

A little worse for wear at this point, as my knee had clearly developed tendonitis (I spend my days sitting in a city, and walking across the Brooklyn Bridge is the steepest incline I attempt) and I had Hikers Rash in addition to my torn toenail, I hobbled along the airy cliffside trek to Elgol early enough in the morning that, even by the time I got to the outskirts of town, it seemed like nobody was awake yet. The sunrise over the tranquil water visible for the entire length of this leg of the trail was a beautiful, colorful, welcoming way to start the day. Though, this being the Skye Trail, perils still remained - the sheep fences forced difficult decisions, sometimes pushing me too close to the cliff edge, and other times requiring that I hop into people's front yards as they were waking up and brush past their sheep to get to the road. I decided to skip the town itself, and though I hoped to see the legendary town shop, it indeed was not yet open. The walk across the peninsula was easy and nice, lacking much to comment on. At some point there were ATV tracks to follow, at others mild trails through ferns, sometimes passing Highland Coos, sometimes going through some woodland, and all told it was a fair stroll for miles. I saw plenty of people in their morning routines, from hikers waking to tourists walking their dogs. Not that it was busy, just fair and calm.

At some point, after traveling down a road, I swear I read the Cicerone book to the letter and still got it wrong. It describes a layby with a gate at the far end across from a specific house. Now, when the book was written, there was probably only one layby with a gate across from that house, but, as I discovered after forcing myself through a gate that clearly didn't want me past it, and bushwhacking through tall reeds on top of perilously deep bogs, there were indeed two laybys, both with gates at their far end. I went through the new one that must have been put there very recently.

This section of trail follows the same mountains as the day before but from behind, and it really is quite amazing how imposing and central the Cuillin ranges are in this part of the island. They are a constant presence, a focal point, not entirely unlike the painted backdrops of old westerns that never moved. As the sun came out, so did clouds that threatened rain, and I walked across this part of the trail feeling as though I was in Mongolia or central Asia, with large, conic hills, bare and yellow, dominating the horizon line. After a quick and buggy descent to the road, the next several miles are all road walking. Beautiful road walking.

I had the pleasure of stopping at Amy's Tea Room in Torrin, after standing for 10 minutes in front of the Torrin Bunkhouse debating if I should stop or not for the day. The gentleman who owns the Tea Room with his wife egged me on, however, to finish the trail that day. His brisk, tough, nonchalant and ambitious way of talking was quintessentially Scottish to me, as plenty of people I have met in Scotland seem cheerfully fit for any task no matter the circumstances. It was twelve miles, he said, which should take just about 4 hours. You'll be done by 6. Famous words.

I knew better, though, taking into account my tiredness, my injuries and the weight of my pack. After a beautiful meal of sandwiches and Irn-Bru, I kept going, not knowing when I would stop.

Once I made my way past the quarry and back to the coast, the trail revealed its beauty once more. Walking along ATV tracks, high above a glass ocean which reflected the sky perfectly, I wondered how this could all be real and right there for anyone to experience. One very touching moment then occurred as I turned a corner and saw a little dachshund barking away. A young woman was sitting with her elderly grandfather taking in the coast with their dog. In fact, they were sitting on the only bench for miles in any direction, and had come to look at a beached whale that was at the base of the cliff. A finned whale - the second largest species - had washed up and died and it lay there, reflecting the sun in piercing white rays. But it was this tableau of a young woman and her old, deaf grandfather with his shepherd's staff from when he was a farmer sitting together to see something they heard about and take in the weather that really got to me. I thought, here she could have been with friends, or hungover from partying and having a lie in, or staring into her phone, but instead was cherishing time with someone who had little left. And she was so nice, repeating things for him if he didn't hear right or if his memory was failing him, and he was happy to tell me what he knew about the island and where I was headed. I don't know, it stayed with me forever. I, on the other hand, sleepless and shaking from exhaustion, probably blathered on about the deer I had seen and how we don't get beached whales in Brooklyn.

Anyway, the trail continued to amaze with lush, green meadows and an abundance of heather. Ferns blew in the wind, and along with an old dilapidated farm and a disused shepherds cabin, the signs of human presence resided only in the burnt out towns that lie as a testament to the brutality of the clearances and of unchecked power. At some point the trail descends a rocky, ancient path and walking along the water towards Boreraig the landscape is reminiscent of scenes from Jurassic Park. At this point I was salivating at the thought of a warm bed, and decided to try to high tail it to Broadford, expecting to be let down. With cell reception as the skies darkened and rain began to fall again, striking fear into my hear from the earlier trauma of having my tent blow down, I called two of the three hostels in Broadford, which were both booked. The Hostteling Scotland hostel, however, didn't have a phone number, and with a purpose and some hope I ran across the island in the mud. This section of trail is moorland again, and I kept my eye out for camping spots with little success. There is something eerie about moorland, in that it is inhospitable and potentially deadly in an unexpected way. There is nowhere to walk, nowhere to hide from the elements, and nothing grows there except stiff, spiky plants. I contemplated this as I strode through this last bit of muddy ground towards the other coast.

As I hobbled up the stairs and into the hostel, I was greeted by the hilarious Irish caretaker I met a week earlier when I stayed at the hostel and asked him to hold onto my travel bag. He had remembered my name, found my bag, and was all set to find my reservation when I told him that, no, I don't do things like that and did he please have a bed for the night. After saying no, which I had expected, he perused some program on his computer and realized that there was, in fact, one bed left. I took it, and I don't think a room has ever smelled as bad as when I dropped all my stuff at the foot of my bed and prepared for sleep.

I think it was a pretty typical Skye Trail hike all told, with a variety of weather conditions, a mix of camping and hosteling, some sticky situations and some absolutely lifelong memories from the land and the people there. I

OK thanks for reading this windbag's account! I hope it helps someone!

The Road Walk to Torrin
Posts: 1
Joined: Jul 10, 2023

Re: Skye Trail Solo in August w/Video

Postby Bonzo » Tue Jul 18, 2023 3:58 pm

During a particularly rough night's camping at Sligachan where the wind blew hard and long I remember spending most of the night hearing shouting and panic outside whilst I attempted to sleep in comfort. On opening my tent in the morning I encountered a scene of complete devastation with tents and equipment scattered everywhere. Tents were wrapped around barbed wire fences and some could be spotted hundreds of yards away with the owners sat in their cars looking rather dejected.
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