The Isle of Skye. The name alone has a bit of mystic to it. It has a reputation as a place of great dramatic beauty, and this is well warranted. Some areas are flat out spectacular. I rented a Fiat 500 (tiny little car!) in Inverness for four days, and drove down to the Isle of Skye, about a 3 hour trip.
There is more forested area up in this area of Scotland than I had imagined. The higher hills tend to not have any trees, mostly grass or heather, or very high, are just bare rock.
Some of the bare rock is quite spectacular:
Ardnamurchan – the roots of a Palaeogene volcanic centre. © Patricia MacDonald of Aerographica.
The harbor at Portree, The Isle of Skye
River Sligichan, the old bridge, and the Black Cuillin mountains in the background. Skye comes from a Norse word for the island, Skuy, meaning ‘misty isle’, which seems appropriate, as it has seemed to rain about every other day. A reason it is so green?
These fluffy white flowers look like sheep’s wool that has pulled loose (which you do see around here).
I hiked up the trail along the Allt Dearg Mor stream, up to the saddle called Bealach a’Mhaim, near the Black Cuillin mountains.
One of the most striking areas on the Isle of Skye is The Quaraing. Driving to the trailhead involves a long stretch of one lane road with occasional turnouts for passing. It is well worth the effort.
Pictures cannot fully convey the great sense of space and distance here. It is grand and awesome.
175 million years ago, this area was a shallow sea, and thick layers of sediment, sand and sea creature remains were deposited. Eventually they solidified into sandstone, shale and limestone. Around 60 million years ago, this area was uplifted by movements of the plates. As North America and Greenland separated from Europe, layers of lava emerged and covered the sedimentary rocks. 10 million years later, this area tilted due to uplifts, which led to massive landslides. The Quaraing is the biggest landslide area in the United Kingdom.
Looking down from atop the tower I had climbed, I saw a backpacker ascending a lower outcropping. I later met him, a fellow from the Netherlands, hiking and camping along the “Skye Trail” that passes by The Quaraing.
Another view as I climbed down from the tower.
I climbed up into the high area near The Needle, thinking it might be possible to attain the top (not of The Needle, but of The Quaraing). The going turned from steep grassy to scree, then rocky, then to class 4 climbing (with both hands, but not needing rope protection), and then to riskier class 5 climbing that really warranted having a belay. As I was alone, and in an isolated spot where no one would find me if I fell and was injured, I decided it was prudent to go no further. An important part of good mountaineering leadership is knowing when to turn back, and to be willing to do so.
Once I turned this corner, I was out of sight. I’ve decided it’s about time to get a Personal Locator Beacon, a little device that can send a signal via satellite to trigger a rescue if you are injured and unlikely to be able to rescue yourself or be found.
A friend alerted me to the fact that I was quite near the Talisker (single malt Scotch whiskey) distillery, so I drove out to the small village of Talisker. I have not favored hard liquor, and had been ignoring the ‘single malt’ movement. But, when in the Highlands…I found that this spirit, taken in small sips, gives a very interesting ‘glow’ to the mouth. The single malt whiskies vary quite a bit in taste, from very smooth to very ‘peaty’ (smokey). Talisker is quite smokey. I decided that while here in the highlands I should sample one single malt Scotch an evening.
Well, maybe I will not try this particular bottle. In the Highlands, a small glass (25-35ml) of most Scotch cost about $5-6.
Another dramatic rock formation that is part of the Trotternish Ridge, a 300 meter thick layer built up out of multiple lava flows around 60 million years ago, includes the “Old Man of Stor” pinnacle.
You must climb up more than 1,000 feet of hillside to get close to the cliff.
The Old Man of Stor
Loch Leathan lies below The Stor
If you keep walking on beyond the Old Man of Stor, you see more of the Trottenish Ridge.
From high above The Old Man of Stor, you can see far, with the isle of Raasay in the background, as well as the Loch Leathan. Two steps back, and I would go off a several hundred meter high cliff. Scotland is very welcoming. You are welcome to walk off any high cliff of your choosing, as there are no guard rails or warning signs to desecrate the views. I like this approach.