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A 69 year old wild camps on the Skye Trail

A 69 year old wild camps on the Skye Trail


Postby westgate » Tue Jun 04, 2019 12:54 pm

Route description: Skye Trail

Date walked: 13/05/2019

Time taken: 7 days

Distance: 128 km

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This is my report on completing the Skye Trail in May 2019. I am aged 69, was travelling solo and camping all the way, two nights on campsites and four nights wild camping. To prepare, I read the useful Cicerone guide book, the reports on this site which proved very useful, purchased the Harvey map and sought advice from two wild camping groups on Facebook. I completed it over seven days, but did not follow the stages suggested in the Guide which are designed for people wanting to reach a roadhead at the end of each stage. If wild camping there is no need to finish at a village or by a road, indeed why would one want to? I split the lengthy and arduous second stage along the Trotternish ridge, which I would advise anyone who is wild camping to do. It is a long way carrying all your gear. Far better to enjoy a camp on the ridge and split the stage in two. However, this means either adding a day, or doing as I did and completing the last four stages in three days, which does make for long days. Of course, it all depends how fit you are. At my age I am slower than most.

I travelled to Skye on a Sunday and stayed at Carrick B&B in Broadford with the delightful hosts Riet and Piet, a Dutch couple who have been running the business for 17 years. They allowed me to leave my car on their parking for the week (with a bag of clean clothes and a bottle of beer in the boot), ready for my return.

Day one. Broadford to Portree to Duntulm to Rubha Hunish to Flodigarry.

My bus from Broadford to Portree was not till 11.15am, so Piet kindly offered to bring my rucksack to the bus stop which allowed me to walk in earlier and wander round unencumbered. Once Piet had delivered my rucksack (and full water bottles) I was sitting in the bus shelter waiting for the bus, when a man (who turned out to be the manager of the hostel in Portree) offered me a lift. My original plan had been to spend the first night at the Rubha Hunish bothy, but my lift meant I was able to catch an earlier bus than planned from Portree, and he also told me it gets crowded in the bothy as it is very popular. Having gained some time, and not wishing to spend a night in a crowded bothy, I changed my plans before I had even started, and decided to press on through to Flodigarry.

I caught an earlier bus from Portree, with a friendly driver who knew exactly where I wanted to be dropped off - 'By the phone box'. And so I started the walk proper, heading out to Rubha Hunish, the northernmost point on the Isle, and an old coastguard lookout post, now used as a small bothy. (Just three proper bunks.)

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Rubha Hunish bothy

I left my sac in the bothy and went to explore the route down to the headland. But it was a steep descent (and then return ascent), and as I had now decided to press on to Flodigarry I gave it a miss, returning to the bothy for a short break before setting off along the coastal cliff top path. It was 3pm by now and the wind had picked up, but it was a beautiful walk in glorious sun looking down on a rocky coastline.

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North Skye coast

Four hours later, I arrived at the Flodigarry hostel where I was going to camp. It was a glorious sunny evening and people were sitting outside the whitewashed building, relaxing, reading and having a drink. The campsite is a small neatly mown area behind the bothy. There were three other tents plus mine. The fee allows free access to use the hostel facilities including toilets, hot showers, a large kitchen and a lounge. One looks out across the bay to Flodigarry island.

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Flodigarry Island

Day two. Flodigarry to Bealach Chaiplin (about 7 kms before The Storr on the Trotternish Ridge)

The next morning I awoke to another lovely sunny day and after a shower in the hostel I set off for the Quiraing and the Trotternish Ridge.

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Sunny weather

It was a long uphill trudge towards the spectacular rock formations of the Quiraing.

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The Quiraing

As I approached the Quiraing I was surprised by the crowds of people swarming along the path. The nearby car park allows day trippers to explore the area without having to exert any effort in walking up there. I headed across the car park and the road, keen to return to solitude and natural beauty. I was pleased to find a small trickle of a stream to fill up my water bottles. It was hot and dry, and underfoot, normally boggy and marshy areas were baked bone dry. I headed onto the Trotternish ridge in glorious warm weather.

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The Trotternish Ridge lies ahead

It was hard walking. It is not a flat, straight edge, but undulates and meanders, requiring careful navigation and strenuous effort. But it is a beautiful walk. I did not progress as quickly as I had hoped, and I was running low on water. So I had some anxieties as I found a spot to set up my tent.

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A beautiful sunny spot

I spot two other tents pitched slightly lower down on the hillside, and later that evening three people ( a German and her two Canadian friends) from these tents appear and we chat. They also are low on water. As the evening sun sinks the wind dies and I slip into my little tent.

Overnight I muse my water situation. I had 500 mls, so was not going to be in serious difficulty, but without the prospect of any more on the ridge, I needed to get to The Storr and down to lower ground to refill. But I had hoped to stick to the higher level alternative route at The Storr, and continue along the ridge to Portree; but not without additional water.

Day three. Bealach Chaiplin to Ben Dearg (about 8 kms before Portree on the Trotternish Ridge)

I overslept and missed my alarm, waking at 8.15am. But it was good fortune. First a German camper stopped for a chat. I had met him previously at Portree campsite the previous night. He too was low on water. Then the three nearby campers I had met last night emerged over the cliff top. One of them had descended last night to get water, and they offered to refill my bottles!! They gave me 1.5 ltrs, to add to my 500 mls. How kind. The camaraderie of wild campers. This resolved all my doubts. I now had enough for today, and could press on along the upper route of the Trotternish ridge beyond the Storr all the way to Portree. This had the advantages of being shorter, more remote and scenic and arriving at the campite outside Portree from the north, thus avoiding a wasted 1.5 kms uphill trudge at the end of the day, having then to retrace your steps the following morning. I set off in good spirits in glorious weather again. Is this Scotland?

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Great weather

It is tough walking carrying a full pack, nothing overly challenging, but neither is it a relaxing path.

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The undulating Trotternish Ridge

I stop for a late lunch break before ascending Hartaval the highest point on the Trail. I am feeling quite tired and am not going to make Portree tonight. My water from this morning has not all been drunk, but there is not enough for another night camping and then a day walking. But as I descend from Hartaval into the dip between it and The Storr (Bealach a Chuirn) I hear the most wonderful sound - running water! There is a flowing stream where I can refill all my bottles. I am now safe to continue beyond The Storr on the high level ridge route, and I do not need to make Portree tonight, I can have another night camping on the ridge. I detour slightly to get a view of the Old Man of Storr and the Needle.

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The Old Man of Storr and the Needle

I press on with renewed vigour, and plan to walk till about 6pm, but when a fine camping spot presents itself, before a steep uphill, I decide this is my place for the night; and for the first time the midges arrive. It is completely still and peaceful.

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Camping on the ridge

Day four. Ben Dearg to Portree

I wake early to a morning chill, the sun shafting through the clouds. It is so still and peaceful. Not a sound except for a cuckoo. No people, no intrusions. A peak experience. And then an eagle soars gently along the top of the ridge edge close to my tent. It doesn't get better than this.

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The early morning sun

I set off full of the joys of walking. The official route turns a sharp right along the contours below the summit of Ben Dearg before turning sharply back on itself to ascend the ridge line. But there is a direct route straight up to the summit which is much shorter. Should I take it? I decide to give it a go. I have fresh legs and am in good heart. It is steep but with good grip at first. Using my poles for extra leverage I am progressing steadily. But then it gets even steeper and looser underfoot, and I am reduced to scrambling in a precariously exposed position with my rucksack making me unbalanced and unstable. As I near the top it becomes too risky. I traverse right to a slightly less steep route and eventually make it over the edge to the summit. I feel elated, though with hindsight I would not recommend it.

From the top of Ben Dearg I start the descent to Portree. Today is only a short day walking, with a rest afternoon exploring Portree. It is downhill but over rough ground and with no clear path. Most people no doubt take the main route below The Storr. By late morning I arrive at a road and follow this a short distance to the Torvaig campsite north of Portree. The campsite is relaxed, attractive and with good facilities. I luxuriate in a hot shower after two nights wild camping on the ridge. I am amused by the sight of a 'camper van' on a car roof rack!

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Well, that's different!

Once freshened up, I head downhill into Portree, delighted I did not have to walk up the road to get to the campsite. Portree is a lively town with an attractive fishing harbour.

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Portree harbour

I treated myself to fish and chips, bought a spare gas canister just in case (which of course meant I did not need it), had a wander round, coffee and a cake and then headed back uphill to the campsite. Because I chose to have a half-day rest in Portree, I now have to do four of the official guide book stages in my three remaining days, and I am actually aiming for doing 1.5 stages on each of the next two days. So an early night to prepare for two long days.

Day five. Portree to Loch Dubha (about 6 kms after Sligachen)

I had been warned that the next stage to Sligachen is the most boring of the Trail, and it was suggested I miss it out completely; but I wanted to do the full Trail so chose to include it. It is far less exciting than the Trotternish Ridge, though has some pretty sections, but does include a lot of road walking and a tedious slog of some 5 kms along the bank of Loch Sligachen.

I set off in good spirits from the campsite downhill into Portree and out the other side. The short section which skirts the salt marshes was beautiful; the smell of sea air and the view across the water were delightful.

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View across Loch Portree

But soon one joins a minor road which continues for some 8 kms. Bluebells line the roadside and cuckoos can be heard regularly, so it is pleasant if undramatic. The small village of Braes commemorates a battle between local crofters fighting for greater rights and a force of 40 police from Glasgow. Following ongoing pressure and civil disobedience the crofters finally won better rights in 1886.
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The Battle of Braes memorial


Finally leaving the road, the long and tedious slog along the shore of Loch Sligachen begins. The white hotel building is visible in the distance at the head of the Loch but never seems to get any closer. I began to doubt I would be able to do walk much further after Sligachen (which is the end of the stage in the guide book) and was tempted by the campsite. Finally at mid-afternoon, I arrive at the hotel and settle into the Seamus bar; friendly, welcoming and with good food available all day. I relax, eat, drink (non-alcoholic as my day is not over yet) and use the facilities. An hour later I am revived physically and mentally and ready to depart, still in glorious sunshine.

The next section was one of the best. It is walking along Glen Sligachen with the magnificent Black Cuillin hills on the right and the Red Cuillins to the left. The path is comfortable walking, the bright sun is starting to dip towards the horizon, the views are wonderful. After my energy sapping efforts through the morning I am re-invigorated.

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The Cuillin hills in the background

I walked on for another 3 hours to my planned overnight stop, but struggled to find a suitable camping spot. The ground slopes down towards the river and the terrain is covered in gorse and heather and rocks. But I eventually mange to locate a small area and in no time my tent is up.

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My spot for the night

Day six. Loch Dubha to Loch Slapin

It rained in the night but was only drizzling by the time I got up, but the weather had turned to dull and grey after enjoying glorious uninterrupted sunshine until now. I continue the beautiful walk along Glen Sligachen.

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Morning view

Camasunary bay comes into view which would be a marvellous spot for wild camping, but sadly my schedule did not fit in with this. The old bothy is a ruin but a smart new one has been built slightly further along. I pop in to inspect and find two walkers completing a multi-piece jigsaw they had started the previous night.

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The new bothy

The next stage to Elgol was another challenging and tedious one. The guide book describes the cliff edge path as 'vertiginous' with 'high vertical drops'. It is not exaggerating. The path is eroded and narrow and right on the edge of a drop to the rocky seashore. It takes time and great care. As yesterday, by the afternoon I am finding my energy levels dropping and doubts creeping in as to whether I can complete my plans to get to near Torrin, or should I just stop at Elgol.

Finally reaching Elgol, I settle in the small, friendly cafe and shop. There is only a limited choice of food (sandwiches and cakes) but I relax, revive, eat and drink, and my spirits rise again. So I am ready to continue to Loch Slapin.

The path continues on road or a track so I make good progress. Bluebells abound and the ever present sound of the cuckoo is with me. I have an encounter with a magnificent long-horn bull, but give him a wide berth. He shows little interest in me but is standing right in the middle of the path.

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I decided to detour

I pass the house where Iain Anderson of Jethro Tull fame used to live and then a long slog uphill alongside forestry commission land to the abandoned village of Kirkibost, a result of the Highland clearances. I press on at a fast pace on the long downhill section, some 5 kms, to reach Loch Slappin in the rain at 8 pm, an eleven hour day. I am well into routine now, and my tent is quickly pitched and food underway. It is surprising how quickly spirits revive.

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My spot for the night by Loch Slapin

Day seven. Loch Slappin to Broadford
My final day dawns with light rain but it clears up through the morning. I walk round the head of the Loch and into the village of Torrin, which is tiny. The Blue Cabin cafe is completely closed at present, so anyone planning on eating here should check the website. The road leads to the sea and then follows a path uphill above the coastline.

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Just before the descent to sea level

At the southern tip of Skye it dips down to sea level and I stop for a spot of lunch sitting on boulders by the seashore. I am looking forward to a bath, comfy bed and a beer.

On this southern coastal stretch one passes through Suishnish and later Boreaig, deserted villages, abandoned by their inhabitants when forced out by the Highland clearances. A poignant reminder of this sad episode in our history.

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Highland clearances

The home stretch heads inland, travelling north for some 8 kms, initially uphill and then finally picking up the route of the old marble line railway used to transport stone from the quarry into Broadford, but closed in 1912. It is a steady downhill walk on an easy path, though it does seem to go on and on before finally Broadford hoves into view.

I walk the along the High Street heading to my B&B, feeling tired after three hard and long days, but also exhilarated and fulfilled. I have completed the Skye Trail with no mishaps, in mostly glorious weather and without much of a problem from midges.

Postscript

With hindsight, I found completing the last four stages in three days was hard, and if I did it again I would add an extra day. But I would strongly recommend breaking the Trotternish Ridge stage, as Flodigarry to The Storr in one go, especially if carrying camping gear, would be hard. Take sufficient water if it has been dry, as there is none on the ridge. Camping spots are not hard to find, though some parts of the route are less suitable than others so some planning is worthwhile. The Portree to Sligachen stage is the least interesting, so you could miss it out if you are not concerned about completing the Trail in its entirety. In bad weather, I imagine the higher parts would be exposed and difficult, but I hit lucky with glorious sunshine for all but the last couple of days. In many places there is no path, so only attempt it if you are experienced and you can read a map.
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Re: A 69 year old wild camps on the Skye Trail

Postby rohan » Tue Jun 04, 2019 1:39 pm

As an almost 65 yr old (in 2 weeks) currently walking the Watershed of Scotland in 4-5 day, wild camping trips, I can assure you you are not slower than me!. I am looking forward to walking the Skye trail after I have finished the 'Shed and your report is great with many resonances with the Watershed; the hunt for potable water in dry weather being just one downside, lack of people but presence of eagles and great wild camps being the upsides.
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Re: A 69 year old wild camps on the Skye Trail

Postby Sgurr » Sat Jun 08, 2019 3:35 pm

Interesting walk. This May seemed like a normal August...wait, no it isn't, it rains all the time in Skye in August.

Oldies rule OK

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Re: A 69 year old wild camps on the Skye Trail

Postby westgate » Sun Jun 09, 2019 2:34 pm

Thanks for kind comments. Glad to know there are other oldies out there. Well done Sgurr at 80.
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Re: A 69 year old wild camps on the Skye Trail

Postby Alteknacker » Sun Jun 09, 2019 10:51 pm

That's a great report, and a long walk for an "oldie" - though, as others have already remarked, there are a few of us about...

You certainly had great weather for it - "I set off in good spirits in glorious weather again. Is this Scotland?". I'd already had the same reaction by the time I'd read this far. I've often wandered around Trotternish and thought about walking the ridge , but haven't yet got around to it. One day perhaps...

As a keen ridge walker, I really did sympathise with your water shortage - in decent weather it's often THE problem. Good that you had some kind fellow-walkers nearby.
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Re: A 69 year old wild camps on the Skye Trail

Postby westgate » Mon Jun 10, 2019 2:08 pm

Thanks Alteknacker

You clearly have done some great walks and routes. Thanks for your encouragement.

I had looked on the map for water sources before departing, but it was so dry the normally wet areas were baked hard. Yes, I was grateful for the kindness of others. I would have survived, but been thirsty, and would have had to come down off the ridge early.
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Re: A 69 year old wild camps on the Skye Trail

Postby JohnBSnr » Mon Jun 17, 2019 3:42 pm

Well don on completing your walk and writing up this very informative report.
I suspect there are more of us ‘oldies’ roaming about the hills than we perhaps realise. I am, like you a bit slower but always get there in the end, it took me 15 hours to complete An Teallach with two companions last year. I’ll be 69 this August and am about 42% (120/282) through my Munro round having started in Jan. 2017 and am trying to compleate by age seventy.
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Re: A 69 year old wild camps on the Skye Trail

Postby westgate » Tue Jun 25, 2019 2:04 pm

Well done JohnBSnr. To complete all the Munros will indeed be a feat - at any age. Good luck.
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Re: A 69 year old wild camps on the Skye Trail

Postby markhallam » Mon Jul 08, 2019 5:48 am

Fantastic walk David, and nice account and photos. Makes me want to return to Sky again, not having been for around 30 years! best wishes, Mark
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Re: A 69 year old wild camps on the Skye Trail

Postby Colind4 » Sun Dec 29, 2019 6:10 pm

A great story - and well told! your organisation and planning paid off. I admire you for carrying all the gear! :clap:
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Re: A 69 year old wild camps on the Skye Trail

Postby Mountainlove » Sat Jan 11, 2020 1:34 pm

Excellent report and it shows you are never too old. Brilliant and you have been so lucky with the weather. Nothing beats wild camping on days like this.
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