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A perfect Skye Trail experience

A perfect Skye Trail experience

Postby IanEzzi » Mon Oct 24, 2016 9:38 pm

Route description: Skye Trail

Date walked: 01/10/2016

Time taken: 7 days

Distance: 125 km

Ascent: 5900m

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I'm a recent convert to Skye, mostly because I've had so much to occupy myself with on the mainland, and also because I hadn't really been aware of the backpacking potential.

Thankfully this changed for two reasons - an overdose on big Munro routes recently left me sated with summits, and the dawning realisation after a hectic summer that what I really really wanted was some chilled out coastal daundering, and if there were some pubs en route then so much the better!

This is where the Skye Trail came in.

The Route

I tinkered and tinkered with my route but eventually just downloaded the Walkhighlands sections and planned to follow the route in its entirety.

One thing I was sure of was that I was doing it south to north, I saw no appeal in starting at the wildest point and travelling back south! That being said, for many it might appeal to get the Trotternish Ridge out of the way on day 2, with fresh legs. Had I approached it after 5 days of wet and windy weather, I may well have bailed.

I had time to kill on day 3 so took in the Loch Coruisk detour, for the fun of revisiting the Bad Step if nothing else.

Other minor detours were to Tianavaig Bay for lunch on Day 4, a nice wee picnic bench out of the wind with an otter to entertain us.

I also got lucky and made it to the Spar Cave at low tide so couldn't resist visiting this spectacular feature!

I had planned to include Blabheinn and Ben Tianavaig but in both instances it just seemed like too much bother, I started off with a big rucsac full of firewood etc. and after two days this had blunted my legs a little so I stopped seeking out any unnecessary climbing...


I was sceptical about the usual claims of Golden Eagles and Sea Eagles filling the skies and otters fighting off Basking Sharks in the sea, but other than the reclusive basking shark I'm happy to say I was spoiled with the company of Otters, Golden Eagles and Sea Eagles, as well as numerous Jack Snipe (or, it's just occurred to me, possibly Woodcock? I didn't hear the famous pig impression so hard to know), Goldfinches, Heron, Oystercatchers, Canada Geese and the usual chorus of LBJs. I may even have seen a basking shark or something similarly big, but that distant murky grey shape under the waves through my binoculars could have been anything...

Sheep being pecked clean by crows was also a new one on me...

A scene straight from the African savanna

Sea Eagle fly by, cast some awfully big shadows as they flew overhead!

The Weather

I could imagine that the weather could play a huge part in your enjoyment of the trail, I can't imagine much joy in any of the walking between Portree and Flodigarry in mist and rain.

So what I suggest is that everyone just does what I did, pick a cloudless, sunny, midgeless week with a nice fresh breeze to keep things interesting. Simple!

Obviously you should still pack for the worst, which is why I ended up with 3 merino base layers, a fleece, a chunky merino jumper for inside the tent and bothies, plus a thermal liner for the sleeping bag and the aforementioned extra burly tent in the assumption that much time would be spent hunkering inside out of the elements. No wonder my shoulders ached!

Day 1- Broadford to Camas Malag

Having made the symbolic march across the bridge from the Kyle of Lochalsh train station, I then immediately jumped aboard a bus to Broadford, it was already 2pm and I was in no mood for a forced march along tarmac whilst trying to make it to Camas Malag for sunset.

Skye Bridge

The path up through the old marble mines was good easy going and the mines themselves fascinating. Not as fascinating/haunting/moving or just plain special feeling as the cleared township of Boreraig however.

I spent a good while here, imagining how the village would have looked (not difficult when the path follows what was probably the main 'street') before going off in search of water and finding fossils!



I rounded the headland and enjoyed the relatively easy track from here to my campsite at Camas Malag.

There were ample flat grassy pitches at Camas Malag and lots of evening sunlight before it dipped behind the Cuillin.

View from the tent at Camas Malag

Day 2 - Camas Malag to Camasunary

This felt like a long and varied day, much time was spent footering about on the coast trying to cut out some tarmac walking between Camas Malag and Torrin. Ultimately it was probably worthwhile for the extra scenery but those less inclined to skite about on wet coastal rocks with a heavy rucsac might just want to follow the tarmac to Torrin.

From Torrin I was mostly distracted by the scale and topography of Blabheinn, and then by the otter casually fishing out in the bay. I stopped for a while to watch him before continuing on around the head of the loch.

The section through the forestry was wet and marshy, but then opened up into a nice hillside path which was a nice detour from more tarmac bashing.

I dropped down to the coast at Kilmarie and got talking with a local gent through whose land some of the trail passes. He was friendly and good chat and advised that if I hustled on I should make it to Spar Cave whilst the tide was still out. Challenge set!

Drinan road

It seemed a shame to rush this section, especially when my inclination was to just stroll and soak it all up, but a chance visit to the cave was a tempting bonus so I kept a move on.

As it happened I arrived with plenty of time to spare and despite overcautiously scoping out my 'exit' in case the tide came in, I had time to explore the depths of the cave before returning to my pack further up the hill for lunch. My first true cave, in as much as I needed a headtorch and genuinely felt a little out of my comfort zone, whilst still entirely safe.

Spar Cave

I still had to get to Camasunary though and was feeling pretty knackered! The view of the Cuillin from the road up and over to Elgol must be one of the classics, but better yet was the view I got when I dared occasionally lift my eyes from the fantastic, thin, clifftop path between Elgol and Camasunary.

Path views

I eventually reached the famous Camasunary bothy, and the reason I had been carrying a rucsac 1/3rd full of firewood and coal for the first two stages. Except the new bothy has no fireplace! And it was empty. Lovely spot but I should have done my research :crazy:

Day 3 - Camasunary to Sligachan via Loch Coruisk

A well trodden route this one, most of which I had done a few weeks previous on a day trip to escape the midgies of Glen Shiel.

The Bad Step was extra interesting with a heavy pack on my back and one hand in a splint!

Loch Scavaig

i had plenty of time to enjoy a lazy lunch on the shore of Loch Coruisk before hiking up and over Druim Hain and down to meet my dad in Glen Sligachan, before convening to the pub for the evening.

The Sligachan campsite was virtually empty and very windy, thankfully I'd brought my 'big' tent which shrugged off the worst of the gales, justifying its 2kg weight...

Day 4 - Sligachan to Portree

My dad had met me the day previously in order that he could join me for this stage. I felt it was probably the least interesting of the seven stages, but it was convenient for public transport and accommodation (dad doesn't camp or bothy!) so it seemed the best choice.

The lochside section alongside Loch Sligachan was interesting enough, although we didn't bother looking for any bridges at the head of the loch the river was low enough to ford dryshod. The lochside path was initially a little tricky to find but once we got established was easy to follow. The scenery gradually got better as we got further away from the road on the other side of the loch and the views over to Raasay and Dun Cann opened up.

We also saw a curious wall of spray out on the loch, at first we assumed it was a strange localised rain shower, but as we started to climb up and over to the end of the Braes Road, we looked out and saw the effect repeated. The wind was obviously eddying so ferociously out to sea that it was almost creating a small waterspout, as we watched spiralling sheets of spray would rise and fall, gradually getting closer to our shore until we were buffeted (almost off my feet!) and wetted even up on the hillside.

After that excitement it became a pleasant plod along the road for a couple of hours. The plan had been to climb Ben Tianavaig but I think my dad was harbouring doubts and once we finally saw it I realised it looked a bigger and steeper climb than I really had the appetite for either!

We decided to detour down to Camas Tianavaig for lunch and enjoyed a beautiful steep wee path descending amongst the bracken and rowan trees which were incredibly well endowed with berries, the local bird population obviously not pulling their weight!

Lazy birds...

A little more road plodding after lunch and then we turned off the road to follow the banks of the river Varragill to the Aros Heritage Centre. This was another nice change of scenery and we were scarcely aware of the road until we crossed it just before the cemetery.

Portree salt marshes

We shared a room in a local B&B (Avonlea, just out of town, very nice, lovely owner) and wandered back into Portree for dinner and drinks. What struck me most was how busy it still was, on a Wednesday in early October! I guess I already knew how popular Skye was but for the streets of Portree to feel like a city centre was an eye opener!

Day 5 - Portree to the Storr

It took me a fair while to even get out of Portree in the morning, nothing to do with the Guinness the night before, but more for a ridiculously length quest to find some tall white candles to take to the Lookout Bothy for the final night (I'd at least done my research this time and knew there was no fireplace at the Lookout).

In the process I dropped into the Emporium Whisky shop where the very friendly owner and I got chatting and she offered me a dram of her current favourite whisky, a young Lagavullin (she surmised) called 'Smokehead'. Smacking my lips I left to see dad off on his bus. While we waited a worried looking couple came and asked if we were also waiting for a tour group, they were concerned that despite having been there on time they had somehow been stood-up or the trip had been cancelled. They eventually wandered off to the Tourist Info, and soon after a white bus turned up with a slightly fraught looking driver, which turned out to be the tour bus (only half an hour late...). I asked her to guard my bags while I ran off and found the couple in the tourist info. They were delighted with this serendipitous turn of events and I left with a warm glow hoping they would leave with stories of friendly helpful Scots (although hopefully they'll omit the detail of my having whisky breath at 11am on a weekday morning... :D ).

The headland immediately north of Portree and round to Torvaig is a lovely wee section with lots of interesting birdlife overhead and some impressive scenery looking back south.

Looking back south to Ben Tianavaig

My abiding memory of the next 10km to the Storr was excellent clifftop scenery, slow progress, and always staying a meter or two back from the edge due to the strong gusty winds!

The warm sunshine was glorious but I found it difficult to find anywhere to sit and bask that was also out of the strong cold wind.

It seemed to take a long time to reach the dam above Bearreraig Bay, and once I got out of the wind I started to feel the heat of the sun, magnified by the reflection off Loch Leathan.

I was glad to reach the shade at the foot of the path to the Storr and sat for a while chatting with tourists and taking on board some much needed lunch and chocolate. I was quite surprised that on such a busy sunny day there was no sort of catering van at the layby, I could have done with a cheap and nasty cheeseburger or at the very least a cold can of coke!

After luxuriating in the Portree B&B the previous night it was back to wildcamping tonight. The stage officially ends at the foot of the Storr but despite my prevaricating in Portree I had still got there for 3pm! So I climbed up and looked for a pitch higher up. After dismissing many excellent looking pitches in amongst the rockfall of the Storr, I eventually settled for daft ledge on the steep grassy slopes on the backside of the Storr, my reason being mostly that it was now 6pm and it had the perfect ratio of remaining sunlight vs. exposure to wind.

Slopey! Another reason I was glad for my big sturdy tent.

Day 6 - The Storr to Flodigarry

This was due to be a big day, but thankfully I'd gained some extra height by camping high the night before. Still, it was hot and I was tired so I took it easy!

The ridge from the Storr to the Quirang was a long, undulating stage with constant fantastic views, each coire seeming different and distinct. I also started to meet some other backpackers and enjoyed some good chat along the way. At one point as we were comparing nights in various bothies the gent I was chatting to casually pointed behind me and wondered what the enormous bird was. Turns out I'd almost missed a golden eagle soaring by between the cliff faces! As I turned back to continue our chat another one flew by and I almost missed that as well... :crazy:

The most impressive scenery was reserved for the area of ancient landslip beneath Bealach Uige, to the west was the distant view of the Fairy Glen, and to the east and immediately beneath the cliffs were the unnamed towers and pinnacles beneath and between Bealach Uige and Bealach nan Coisichean.

Finally I crested the last rise of Bioda Buidhe and descended towards the melee of cars and tour buses at the Quirang Viewpoint

Looking back, all downhill from here!

It was 5pm by this point so I was about to leave the sunshine behind as I traversed through the spectacular Quirang landscape. I hadn't realised the extent of the spectacular features and formations in the Quirang, but it goes on for several km, with all sorts of surprises hidden in amongst the tumbled rocks.

Quirang needle

By this stage though, I beginning to think only of a pint and a burger at the Flodigarry.

The Hostel was booked by a private group (booooo!) so I had to camp down by the beach and hope the roaming highland cattle didn't choose to bed down next to me. At least the very posh hotel bar was within stumbling distance. No burgers though, the barman had the decency to sound a little apologetic when he handed me the menu consisting of £30 steak and lamb dinners :shock: Still, when in Rome... 8)

I managed to resist the lure of the desert menu in favour of a nice dram of the same Smokehead whisky I had tried in Portree, before I staggered off into the night to try and find my tent amongst the cowpats again...

Day 7 - Flodigarry - Rubha Hunish

A nice easy 13km day to look forward to today 8)

I took it easy in the morning, watching the sunrise over Torridon and Assynt was pretty special, but I was also gripped by the final chapter of my book so it was a late start when I got going, partly jolted into action when a dog walker passed a couple of meters by my tent.

After a few km I bumped into a couple of Belgian guys who had been half a day ahead of me for most of the hike. They were good company and we were all obviously headed the same way, but they seemed much better able than me to stop and savour the interesting parts of the trail, so I often left them behind for periods until they caught up again.

Once we had reached Port Gobhlaigh they got a little ahead of me while I stopped to chat to one of the locals out mowing their lawn. We both noticed the Belgian guys had gone the wrong way but apparently it was a common mistake and the gent I was talking to reassured me that they would soon find the path again. It did mean they missed the old church.

Port Gobhlaig church remains

After the church I realised that I had been focussing on the wrong hill in the distance, the Lookout Bothy was not on the highest point of my horizon as I had assumed, which was a relief as I had been looking at Cnoc Roll, 2km in the wrong direction!

I bumped into a couple of German guys heading south from the bothy who reported on a crowded night the night before and some people who had stayed a second night just to get a spot inside the bothy! I had to hope not, it looked a windy exposed spot for a final night in the tent.

The cherry on the cake, a night in the Lookout, such an amazing spot and building.

The Lookout

Lookout cliffs

After several days of wind it was a real pleasure to enjoy the views and sunshine from behind the big windows in the bothy. After an hour or so though I roused myself for a quick wee walk around the point.

Rubha Hunish plant life

Rubha Hunish with distant Harris.

One the climb back to the bothy I noticed a fragment of the wee fishing rod one of the German lads had taken down to the point earlier.

Once I got back to the bothy I learned the full story, despite having picked up a cheap starter kit, and not really knowing what he was doing, within a few casts Moritz had landed a whopper!

It was *this* big!


We finished the night sitting around drinking whisky and offering Moritz advice on how to fillet and cook his trout, the Belgians even producing a lemon and making some ceviche!

Evening visitors

Day 8 - Back to Edinburgh!

I needed an early start to make the first of many bus connections for the day so left the bothy early, admiring the sunrise over Torridon.


The walk to Duntulm was short and pleasant and I didn't have to wait long for the local service bus to whisk me back to Portree. As I boarded there was a young Australian couple just getting off, not really looking kitted out for hiking but quite obviously looking forward to a stay at the Lookout.

At Portree I had time to pick up a bottle of Smokehead from the shop I had tried it in three days earlier, then it was another bus to Broadford, lunch at the local chippy, then a third bus to Kyle of Lochalsh for the long, long train back to Edinburgh after an almost unbelievably good week on Skye 8)
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Re: A perfect Skye Trail experience

Postby petert847 » Fri Oct 28, 2016 5:01 pm

great report - happy memories of going south to north like you last year.
Posts: 25
Joined: Jan 13, 2013

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