The Skye Trail

Skye in October can be brutal. Geo France asked if I would walk (most of) the 80 mile Skye trail for a week to experience island life off-season. I said yes, of course, and we did experience island life plus the dying rage of a tropical storm too. In Autumn it seems the Atlantic Ocean relocates on to the Western isles of Scotland, I did warn the writer.

The right clothes allow you front-row access to the spectacle, far beyond 99% of the other Skye visitors. You also gain empathy with the rocks as you understand how the rugged land was formed- by wind and fury. There is such a thing as bad weather but its a gift for the photographer.

The Skye Trail is a misnomer if you are accustomed to signed pathways. Trial might fit better. The route is unofficial so you have to improvise a path across moors and rock slabs, following sheep tracks if you are lucky. The route was devised fairly recently by Scottish legend Cameron McNeish to make sense of this varied island and uncover natural wonders, which it does excellently. From the ridge of the Jurassic-era Trotternish peninsula (with cosy Ruhba Hunish bothy) to capital Portree, then under the shadow of the Cuillin and finishing at the sheltered bay at Broadford.

At the Old Man of Stoer we crossed the road away from throng of tourists and began a breathtaking cliff top section towards Portree. Pools of light animated the hills and seas as we made for Portree. No one else followed us.

By day 4 the land looked raw under the cloud-wrapped Cuillin ridge. You felt like you weren't meant to be there. We were given a choice by John, our Skye Adventures expert, to either take a one-hour low road to our camp at Camasunary or take the three-hour high road over a pass before descending back to a sea-level free climb section called ‘The Bad step’. That seemed apt for my injured knee was aching. The path down resembled a boulder-filled cascade swollen by the squalls. By Loch Coruisk all worries vanished as the sun dropped below dark clouds and lit the seawater a magical turquoise. We watched in awe. 

There is space to think out in the wild but my enduring memory is of laughter. Inclement weather can be hilarious, assuming your life isn’t in danger. By sunset we were wading bare foot across a broad river in hysterics- a mix of the cool relief and agony as our feet landed on narrow pebbles. 

The writer Volker Saux is a seasoned global trekker and I won't forget his observation while we were drying off in a Broadford cafe.  He said that in the Alps, when you see a rain cloud coming, you put your rain-jacket on then remove it once the storm is passed. But that week he hadn’t taken his jacket off! 

Skye has a lot of rain in October but also a lot of rainbows. Normally you have the vista to yourself but there may be a few more intrepid French trekkers this year.