Missing Skye

A few weekends ago we set off on a women-only road trip to Skye. As soon as we were north of Fort William we cast an eye over the mountains, breathed in a huge sigh of highland air, exhaled and just relaxed. Real Scottish wilderness has that kind of effect on you. The views only get more dramatic as you wind between the mountains, then over the bridge from Kyle of Lochalsh and, finally, onto the Island. 

Skye is the largest and northernmost of the Inner Hebrides. The island is a playground for hikers, runners, and outdoor enthusiasts of any variety. In the north, the rocky pinnacles of the Trotternish ridge dominate the landscape. Then the Cuillin hills cover the centre of Skye: the twelve basalt Munros of the Black Cuillin range provide mountaineers with some of the most challenging climbs in the country (including the full ridge traverse, which will take you 12 hours); whilst the southern granite Red Hills are rounder but surfaced by sliding scree. 

It is below one of these Red Hills- Glamaig (a Corbett)- that we made our home in Sligachan campsite. On arrival we set up camp then took off on a wander past the Sligachan bridge, winding between Cuillins and the sheer face of Glamaig. The midgies were out in full force but the romantic misty views more than compensated. 

Sligachan Bridge

Later, whilst we waited for the last of our party to join us, we hiked the other way out from the campsite towards the water. I took off my shoes and walked in my socks, stepping in and out of salty rivers headed back to sea, avoiding the tiny pink flowers that had sprung up when the water receded,  trying not to step on the crab shells that littered the inlet, and keeping a respectful distance from the worried ewes and their fast-growing lambs. 

After a hearty meal in the Sligachan Hotel to celebrate the arrival of our last tentmate, we crept into our sleeping bags early, with light still slipping through the tent, and quickly dozed off.

Saturday was Skye Half Marathon day. We ran late making campside porridge and finding everyone's shoes, so even though the start in Portree was easy to locate we were a little rushed in registration and pick up. The crowds were so much thicker than expected, and I met a tonne of repeat-entrants. We found the others from our university team and daubed on the all-important facepaint. The race began 15 minutes later than expected, with a mile out of Portree then up on to the hills. 

The Skye Half-Marathon is a choose-your-own adventure experience: either you run the worst 13 miles of your life bemoaning the hilliness and the midgie infestation surrounding your head; or you surrender and work at the hills whilst enjoying the views. I chose option 1 for the first 4 miles then option 2 for the rest. After 4 miles my legs were already trashed, so I chose to chat to people and look around me. Beautiful place. Friendly people. My time was nothing to write home about, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself. 

Can you really complain with views like this?
The half is all on road, but it gains and looses a lot of elevation- the first 6 miles climb, then there is a drop to 8 and a flat to 9 (weirdly most of us found this the hardest part), then a climb to 11 and a drop all the way to the finish (although the finish line is uphill, cheeky). You can see so much of the landscape all the time, as there are just no buildings in sight. The supporters were fantastic- I was particularly touched by the enthusiastic rural schoolkids who had volunteered to hand out fuel to suffering runners in the middle of nowhere. 

Skye was the antithesis of the big-scale commercial Liverpool RnR, but its organisation and supplies were large-scale: there were water, gels, and electrolyte drinks every couple of miles and finishers received a technical tee shirt, medal, and drawstring bag in addition to the mandatory water and banana. The University team performed spectacularly, heading home as the 1st men's team and 3rd women's team, with two individual guys placing 2nd and 4th.

After the race we grabbed lunch with the team then left to explore Portree harbour. I loved the cute postcard-appropriate fishing boats, and the candycane houses that flank the harbour's edge. The seagulls were in classic form, dive-bombing tourists for their Fish and Chips. As we had a big lunch we stocked up on snacks for an evening under canvas, and headed back to our tents to get cosy. 

The rest of the evening was lost to cookies and crisps paired with laughter, worries, and other endless chatter. The race and fresh air combined to knock everyone out and we were sound asleep by 10pm. I took four books with me to Skye and read half of one. 

Luckily that meant that when Sunday dawned bright and clear J and I were awake at 5am to take some shots of our stunning surrounds. Skye is gorgeous even in the mists, but clear morning air reveals the true drama of the peaks. As the sun began to warm up, Sgurr nan Gillean shone, with only a twist of mist hiding Am Basteir. 

Glamaig, on the left 
Early morning sun on Sgurr nan Gillean
Sgurr nan Gillean behind Sligachan bridge

Sadly, Sunday saw us heading back to Glasgow, but we had a date with a hill before leaving Skye behind. We packed up the tent and our gear into the car and headed to Camastianavaig beach. Our plan was to head up Ben Tianavaig, a small hill with a huge view payoff. The hike is easy in good weather- from the beach follow the tiny signs for a hill path then hug the edge of the escarpment on indistinct sheep paths all the way to the summit trig point.  

The 1355 ft high hill nonetheless sits in a spectaculr vantage point on the Skye coast- look out towards Rasay, or south to the Cuillins, or north on to the Trotternish ridge and the Old Man of Storr. You can also see Portree harbour far below. For a small exertion, you are completely spoilt with your choice of spectacle. 

Ben Tianavaig trig point

Portree harbour

You can come back the way you came but we decided instead to cut down the sea cliffs to the shoreline. This is an established route but the path is ill-defined and we were never quite sure if we were on it or walking in the footsteps of adventurous sheep. Despite some sketchily steep sections we made it to the sea unharmed. The Ben Tianavaig cliffs hit right at the water, so it feels like you are the only people in the world down there. All you can see are rocks, vegetation, water, and Rasay far in the distance. Between the warm sunshine, sweaty bodies, and completely protected waterfront with no-one in sight, we only had one option... we went for a wild swim in the water. It was bone-achingly cold, but so refreshing. This is one of those memories that will live on for a long time.

After we had finished splashing about (K), and squealing at the cold (me), and scaring some seal-watchers who had unexpectedly boated around past us (all four of us), we dried off in the sun and wandered along the undulating but clear path back to Camastianavaig beach and our trustworthy vehicle. 

Our drive home was bittersweet- we were all pleasingly bone-tired from a weekend of island air, exercise, and sunshine; and were full of fond memories; but also were all desperately sad to be leaving such stunning wilderness and heading back into city life. 


Have you ever been to Skye? 

Post written by Scallywag and published on Scallywag Sprints on 22/06/16


  1. Fantastic!! I used to live up near there and seeing your trip has just made me yearn for a return. Brilliant post, thanks.

    1. It's so stunning. I am yearning to return too!

  2. Ohhhh those views!!! Just fantastic. I really need to do a bit more explporing of Britain I think. Well done for the epic sounding race as well!