Skye, a misty isle that it can be hard to leave21st August 2008
Skye is yet another of those iconic spots in Scotland’s Highlands and Islands that continues to draw me back. My most recent spot of island hopping had me encountering the misty isle yet again, albeit briefly. The story of my most recent stay will wait for a future posting but the stopover has caused me to cast my mind back over previous visits, just like what happened after my excursion to North Argyll at the end of May. Those trips haven’t been as numerous as those to the likes of Lochaber and Lorn but Skye remains an island for which I retain a certain fondness.
The fact that it has been reasonably kind to me with the weather has helped me to see the island in its best light. That certainly was the case for my first outing up there in the last week of July in 1999. Up to that point, the month had been very grey, in Edinburgh at least, so I took my chance when I got it. Travel by coach landed me in Portree at around 17:00 in the evening and I made my way to the Portree Independent Hostel for my night’s stay. The glorious evening drew me out for a potter about the place for glimpses of the Cuillin Hills in the distance. The following day saw me hire out a bicycle and I made my way across the island to Dunvegan and its castle. The day was hot and the hills that the road surmounted, though none too impressive, did take their toll on the legs so my rest in Dunvegan was well earned. Nevertheless, roads were quiet and sights of the coastline and its many small villages kept me entertained as did the sight of MacLeod’s Tables in the distance. For the way back, I took a different route to follow the coast road to Sligachan as far as Bracadale before turning inland on a wonderful if scary narrow road though the hills to Portree. In evening sunshine, the countryside couldn’t have looked any better. The only fly in the ointment is that due to a lack of camera film, I have to rely rather more on my memory than photos for this account but that’s no bad thing. After staying in a different hostel, I reluctantly left Skye to return to Edinburgh, stopping by Eilean Donan (and annoying the coach driver on the side of the road near Dornie because my bag was in the wrong place and buried under loads of others; it’s a lesson that I haven’t forgotten: ask where to put your luggage first!) and Inverness. I may only have stayed a few days but my appetite had been whetted.
It was August of 2001 before I found my way back again, on the first of what has become my now near annual summer Scottish breaks. The weather was more uncertain on this occasion and I made my way from Edinburgh, where I had met up with a friend of mine, through some miserable wet and windy weather; it’s just as well that I was travelling in a coach and under cover at the time. The day after could not have been more different and I took my chance to savour part of the Trotternish. The views of the coast and the Quiraing were enticing enough for me to be putting my then newly acquired Canon EOS 300 SLR through its paces, even from this less ideal vantage point. My trek started at Ellishadder with my taking in a nearby waterfall cascading down the cliffs. Onward progress towards Staffin guaranteed me ample views of the Trotternish ridge. Continuing on towards Flodigarry and beyond garnered closer views of the twisted geological wreckage before I caught the bus to Uig. Its being a port might not make Uig a beauty spot but the day remained wondrous and thoughts of an excursion to Harris emanated in the brain; various distractions meant that they remained as such until recently. A bus returned me to Portree and the next day, a duller affair, saw me leaving reluctantly again with a bus taking me to Armadale and a ferry taking me on to Mallaig, from where I made my way back to Edinburgh again after a stay in Oban and a visit to Mull.
August 2002 saw me crossing Scotland ahead of a band of wet weather that was approaching from the east. A quick run to Skye resulted with my having a short walk around the the Old Man of Storr and I stayed only one night before heading off again. It was just as well because the following morning was well soggy but things cheered up as I made my way south-east again.
My next escapade, a longer affair, took place in July of 2005. In some respects, it was inopportunely timed because the failed 22/7 London bombings immediately preceded the trip. My base this time was Broadford because there was some real hill country wandering in the head. In fact, one of my hikes took me among the Cuillin and the Red Hills while the other was a crossing of the Trotternish ridge. The Cuillin ramble started from Elgol, then having a less usable bus timetable than today, and took me up a narrow path along Loch Scavaig with disconcerting drops into the sea on my left. Even so, any difficulties were more than worthwhile with fabulous views of the Cuillin Hills and Rum on offer in the wonderful sunshine. Reaching Camasunary saw me take a welcome break before continuing along the track to Sligachan under Bla Bheinn. The scenery remained wonderful with the likes of Sgurr nan Gillean and Marsco easily keeping me occupied. The sky might have clouded over by the time of my arrival in Sligachan but I was after having a very good day. Cloudiness dominated the walking the day after too, at least in the early stages. My trek started in Brogaig from where I followed the minor road up onto the Trotternish ridge. Once on the ridge, I headed south to go up and down hills like Bioda Buidhe before going down into Uig via Glen Conon. I was tempted by the idea of mounting Ben Edra and dropping into Glen Uig but I changed my mind en route. During my descent the sun came out and any glimpse back would be towards rounded humps that attempt to belie the existence of the inland cliff that forms their eastern faces. Having a spot of time to spare before the next bus, I found a quiet shady woodland spot, replete with a waterfall, where I could laze for a little while. That opportunity was much enjoyed, a perfect end to an adventurous hike. All in all, I don’t recall getting any rain during my stay on the island but there certainly was a lot of cloud about only for it to disappear at the right moments to allow Skye to display its magic. Broadford served well as a base with all of the essentials that I needed and some good views of hill country to boot. It definitely allows for even more and deeper exploration of the area about it than I did.
My having been to Skye only a small number of times has its uses: there are plenty of reasons to return. That’s not to say that Skye hasn’t been a satisfying destination for me but leaving somewhere wanting to go back is so much better than feeling that you’ve seen all that is there to be seen. After all, those yearnings for a return can generate new hiking ideas and added motivation for exploring the outdoors. I am inclined to think that Skye merits another longer trip, perhaps in a season other than summer. Only time will tell what happens but I was treated like I was on my most recent encounter with the place, it will not have been bad to me at all.
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