Ah Skye. The famously misty isle. Scowling cloud, surging winds, driving rain. And that’s on a good day when the midges are sent into hiding.
At least this is how it normally is until I turn up anyway. For my visit an overhead canvas of blue flecked with fluffy white made for perfect walking conditions. The additional bonus was a constant breeze, which kept the nibblier of Skye’s residents at bay.
A little too glorious and lacking in serious drama for landscape photography if I’m being fussy, but I’ve long since learned to just be happy walking the hills, not letting photography, or more specifically lack of, bother me any more.
The remainder of this post follows a straightforward stroll down Glen Sligachan to a camp on Sgurr na Stri, but with a few time shifting side trips off the path in order to round up a few images that will possibly only just languish in stock galleries. You may as well have a look at them.
At 494m, Sgurr na Stri isn’t the loftiest peak I’ve ever hauled my tent up, but as anyone who has perched atop the summit will attest, it punches way above its weight in terms of views.
In one direction in particular they are very special indeed, and it is this one view I had in mind as I packed up one camp for the next, and began the uncomplicated 8 mile slog down Glen Sligachan into the wide blue yonder.
Actually the term slog is doing the walk a disservice. Although not the most interesting walk in terms of terrain, the scenery is of course spectacular. This is Skye. Though the peaks to either side of the walker are almost constant in their presence throughout – Marsco and the Red Cuillin to the left, and the terrific pinnacle of Sgurr nan Gillean and its Black Cuillin neighbours to the right – it’s interesting to see how they change in personality as the walk progresses.
Sgurr nan Gillean in particular becomes a more fearsome prospect as you progress down the glen. From the well known postcard view beside the Sligachan Hotel, the ridges approaching the summit appear to taper gently to an almost rounded peak; the serrated teeth of the Pinnacles blend unseen into the background.
As you reach the far end of the glen, its true nature as an airy dentate spire is revealed – any summit approaches beyond the grasp of the standard hill walker.
I’m led to believe there can often be several boggy sections and a few river crossings as the walk progresses, but to be honest the place was parched. I’d have happily stayed for a two night (or more) camp around Coruisk with more planning and more time, but with even the main River Sligachan reduced to a trickle, I was unsure whether any mountain tributaries would supply me with enough water.
This was to be my first wild camp on Skye so a one night recce would do for now. It wouldn’t exactly be the remotest adventure to say the least, but I’m a Lake District boy and even if my normal camps are at higher altitude than this one, they’re usually only a mile or two away from the nearest valley or hostelry if things go awry.
This trip would feel a bit more remote and exciting, even though the weather promised little in the way of drama.
As you begin to pass the grass carpeted hulk of rock that is Marsco to the left, more of the Black Cuillin ridge begins to appear to the right over the entrance to Harta Corrie. To the left, the first glimpses of Blabheinn.
Soon afterwards the path splits, the eroded right hand fork leading to Sgurr Hain impossible to miss even in lesser weather.
Commanding my attention wasn’t this path however, but the impenetrable ramparts of Blabheinn which above Loch an Athain to the left. Even on this day, under a rapture of blue, swaying cotton plants beneath, it still impressed. However, I look forward to seeing it in a foul mood under swathes of cloud next time.
With a heavy pack on, the path up towards Sgurr Hain is the only really tedious part of the walk. The loose rubble underfoot is akin to walking on shoddily crafted marbles. As you finally begin the ascent you came to do, all expansive vistas ahead are lost temporarily.
Mercifully it’s not the longest climb, and with the better views to your back, well, why not stop now and then to admire them. These are DEFINITELY NOT rest stops. They are admiring the view stops.
Eventually, with much sweating and satisfying cursing, the top of Druim Hain was reached and hints of the that terribly beautiful amphitheatre of rock and sapphire blue abruptly appear.
This was only my second time here, but even with two hundred more I don’t think I’d lose the tingles of excitement at seeing it once again. I will always love the Lake District, (he says, trying to convince himself) but I’ll admit that after nearly 30 years walking the same fells you can lose a little of the buzz. Hence the concerted effort this year to see more new mountains.
Continuing to skirt around Sgurr Hain, (you can clamber over it if you prefer the added exertion) the path begins to peter out as you drop down a little before the final climb to the summit of Sgurr na Stri. It’s surprisingly a more complicated little thing than you expect, even in fine conditions, but the line of ascent doesn’t matter too much – just keep going up.
There are numerous clefts off to the left, and both times I’ve climbed it I’ve naturally gravitated to the right. It’s an abrupt drop, but at least it’s a more constant edge. Also. That view.
Underfoot, the terrain is also mixed. A messy composition of boggy grass and inconsistent rock; what should be large solid sections of gabbro appear to have been shattered with a giant sledge hammer, leaving only a few solid sections nearer the top to get a good run on.
Unfortunately that messy composition also has a bearing from a photographic point. I found getting a clean and unfussy foreground to be hard work both times I’ve been here.
Annoyingly no matter where you seem to place yourself, or how far out you lean out it never quite seems possible to squeeze all of Loch Coruisk in; the nearer shoreline is always masked by the edge of the edge of the summit. I like each element of my scene to have its own space.
Despite the warm sunny valley walk, the forecast had been for possible snow flurries in any precipitation on higher areas. Here on the summit, looking out towards Rum, the buffeting sea breeze was definitely more than just a breeze. Hat, gloves and several more layers were donned.
The temperature difference was marked, and given the time it would take to find a) a soft spot which wasn’t too boggy and then b) clear a tent sized space by scattering rock, I decided to retreat about 10 minutes back down towards Sgurr Hain.
The views direct from the tent wouldn’t be quite as spectacular, but sometimes a summit camp for summit camp’s sake isn’t really worth it. I’d now be able to sit outside the tent and just gaze at the geological eye candy, rather than having to snuggle up inside to keep warm.
The shot I was making the 24km round walk for was reliant on the angle of light at dawn rather than dusk, so with a something past 4am alarm call (who the hell decided a trip to Northern Scotland in June would recharge the batteries?) I zipped out the view and had an early night.
Back on the summit the next morning, it unsurprisingly hadn’t got a great deal warmer. I was also going to have to wait a while for direct sunlight. Patchy cloud was blocking its ascent route over the horizon.
Just as I was beginning to write things off… a painted stripe of deep pink appeared…
…. then a little bit more. The cloud lifting but thankfully not scurrying away too quickly…
I still can’t decide which of these I prefer. But you can view a couple larger amongst my other favourite work from Skye in the gallery.
Apparently a couple of hours had passed. It was time for another little nap until the appealing comfort of warm sun dragged me from the tent once more, and convinced me it was time to start the return journey.
As you can see, it was another rotten day…
The route back is simply the way you came, and sadly you can see the end in sight with about 5 miles to go. It just takes some time before it begins to look any closer.
I had all day to get back before an evening session messing around on the river, so made plenty more of those ‘admiring the view’ stops, before finally arriving back at Sligachan before a quick repitch and then to Portree for some fish and chips and laziness (beer) in the afternoon sun.
I imagine that view will entice me back down the glen again one day. Maybe when there’s a frosted foreground and those background pointy bits have been dipped in white
You can see the best images from this and previous Skye trips here.
For now, here’s a round up of the rest from in and around Sligachan.