Back in August 2020, I had just finished my walk from Dover to Cape Wrath. My wife, Emma, was driving all the way up from Norfolk to collect me. This felt a bit inefficient, and I wasn’t quite ready to pack up my tent and go home. The Skye Trail had been on my ‘bucket list’ for years, and so this felt like a great opportunity to finally walk it.
The Skye Trail is marketed as a ‘tough, uncompromising route’ for experienced hikers. It is unmarked, exposed in places, and there is no path at all for several sections of the walk. We therefore knew we couldn’t walk it with our youngest children just yet. So after some hasty childcare arrangements, Emma managed to get a week off, allowing us to walk the Skye Trail together. The blog that follows is Emma’s account of the trail.
We followed the route description in Cicerone’s Skye Trail guide. We also carried the Harvey Skye Trail map, which shows some possible alternative routes. Wild camping allowed us to include the detour to Loch Coruisk. This isn’t included in the Cicerone guide, as it would make the stage too long between accommodation options. However, it is a fantastic addition to the route.
Day 1: Rubha Hunish to Flodigarry
Day one of the Skye Trail is relatively short. This was helpful as we’d driven over from Inverness that morning, and arrived at Kilmaluag at about 2pm. It was August, so we knew we’d have enough daylight to complete the stage despite the late start.
The little car park by the telephone box was pretty full, but we managed to squeeze our car in. We began the Skye Trail by heading north-bound to Rubha (pronounced ‘rooa’) Hunish. The Skye Trail lulls you into a false sense of security at the start, with a very clear and well-walked path to Meall Tuath. The path passes the ruins of Duntulm Castle and the remains of Erisco, a crofting settlement deserted in the eighteenth century.
Once we reached Meall Tuath, we headed for the hollow with a stile. We then climbed down to the Rubha Hunish headland itself. This is a detour from the ‘official’ Skye Trail, but is well worth the additional effort. The climb down is definitely not as difficult as it looks from the top, even with a full pack.
We walked a circuit of the headland and the views were simply stunning. You can see the turbulence in the water where the seas from each side meet, and the sea stacks on the eastern side of the headland were full of seabirds. We didn’t see any whales though – even though August is a good month for whale spotting!
After a break for a late lunch, we reluctantly left this special spot. We climbed back up to the lookout bothy on the cliff top.
The Mountain Bothy Association now run this bothy, an old coastguard lookout. It was open on our visit, and had incredible views in all directions. The bothy sleeps 3 or 4 with one sleeping room and one day room. It would be a wonderful place to spend the night, but we needed to press on to Flodigarry.
From the bothy, we continued east across the headland. There is no clear path on this section. Crossing it to reach the Cnoc a’ Chlachain car park and road end was a bit tricky. We never found the stile that is mentioned in the Cicerone route guide. Our advice is keep to the left (west) of the fence for easier going.
From here we parted company to solve our transport problem. Mark walked back along the road to collect our car from the Kilmaluag car park, while I continued on the Skye Trail to the stage end at Flodigarry. This section was lovely, and mainly easy to navigate (sea on my left, sea on my left). There were some very boggy patches, and it was much more undulating than a cliff-top walk suggests in my head!
I did make one small navigational error as I left Steall a’ Ghreip. Rather than sticking to the headland, I managed to end up on top of the crags just before Flodigarry. It was pretty clear that I hadn’t been the first person to make this mistake, as I could see a small path heading down from the crags to rejoin the headland below. It was far from ideal though, and was tough going through the waist-high tussocky grass at the bottom.
Once I reached the shoreline at Flodigarry, the carved slab was easy to find. Behind this is a well-made path up to the village itself. I popped out by the phonebox, and it was a short walk up to the main road to meet Mark. It was just as well he had waited though. Despite being in view of a transmitter, we had no mobile signal at all.
It was now about 7pm, and we were ready for dinner. Mark had eaten enough dehydrated meals in the last few weeks to last him a lifetime, and he wanted a proper meal. As we had the car, we drove from Flodigarry back into Portree (the main village on Skye). We found a great little Indian restaurant, the Prince of India, tucked away by Portree Harbour. The service we received was fantastic, and the food was plentiful and very tasty. Highly recommended.
After dinner, we couldn’t face finding somewhere to wild camp and the hassle of putting up the tent in the dark. We decided to drive back to the Old Man of Storr, which is where we would be finishing tomorrow. We slept in the car there. Our plan was to leave the car here and use a taxi to take us back to Flodigarry, where we ended stage one.
Day 2: Flodigarry to Old Man of Storr
This is the longest and most challenging stage of the Skye Trail. I was feeling both excited and nervous about it in equal measure. The Trotternish Ridge I knew would be stunning, but I was also aware that Mark had been walking 20+ miles every day for the last two months, and I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to keep up with him! I did consider sneaking some rocks in his pack to slow him down a bit, but in the end we managed fine. In fact, we were the oldest people we saw walking the ridge that day by a good 20 years – and we overtook most of the younger ones! Perhaps this was because we were able to walk this section with day packs rather than a full load.
We had an early start, and our pre-booked taxi arrived as promised just before 6am. He dropped us back at Flodigarry, and the drive up there gave us a fantastic view of the ridgeline we would be walking along.
The taxi dropped us at the well-marked footpath to Loch Langaig. This section of the walk through the cliffs of the Quiraing was breathtakingly beautiful. We were lucky enough to be the only people around.
As we got nearer to the Staffin / Uig road crossing, we began to see a few people. We climbed up after crossing the road and reached the first main summit of the day, Bioda Buidhe, at 466m. I wish my photograph did justice to the views from here.
From this point on, navigation became more challenging than it appears on the map. The path is intermittent on this section, and the ridges run off in many directions. In poor visibility, it would be very easy to start following the wrong one. We had the most beautiful clear weather, but still it was tricky to decide the best route to ascend or descend some steep sections.
The climb up Beinn Edra was a steady slog to the summit at 611m.
After Beinn Edra the ridge was a rollercoaster of ascent and descent, some of which was very steep. I was glad I wasn’t carrying a full pack here. We were rewarded with incredible views of the western side of Skye to our right, and the islands of Rona and Raasay and mainland Scotland to our left.
The last stretch of the ridge, up to the highest point of Hartaval (668m) and The Storr, is really tough. Make sure you’ve got something left in your tank for this bit! You don’t have to summit The Storr (unless you really want to), but you do have to climb pretty high up the flanks of it before you can safely contour round.
The Trotternish Ridge is the most spectacular day walk I have ever done. Even though it was the August summer holidays, the peace and solitude was just magic. However, this just made the shock of the last section of the walk even more difficult.
Once you have contoured round The Storr, you descend on a clear path and pop out by the Old Man of Storr. The path here is heavily eroded and there were people all over the place (even when we got there, at about 5pm on a Monday evening). The path then takes you down to a massive car park, and we walked back to our car.
Before we walked the Trotternish Ridge, we weren’t sure if wild camping would be an option. Wind would certainly be an issue, but we passed plenty of suitable (if exposed) camping spots. The ridge takes a good 12 hours to walk. We saw only a couple of possible exit points, so it pays to be sure of the weather before committing to the whole ridge.
Despite the shock of the ending, this was an incredible day’s walk and one I will remember for a long time. Once back at the car, we drove back to Portree and treated ourselves to fish and chips. Mark still couldn’t face the tent, so we slept in the car again, in a lovely spot just out of the village overlooking the estuary.
Day 3: Old Man of Storr to Portree
Yesterday’s taxi to Flodigarry had been enormously helpful but had nearly bankrupted us, so today we took to the excellent local bus service. We left our car in Portree and took the first morning bus (the 56A northern circular route) from the main square back to the Old Man of Storr car park.
From here, we followed a minor road towards the dam and the outflow for Loch Leathan. On the way we passed an interesting golf challenge – I wonder how many golf balls are in the loch?
After the dam, the route heads up the hill towards a wooden post. There was a bit of a track so navigation wasn’t a problem, and it was easy to avoid the worst of the boggy bits. We aimed south towards a clear but steep grassy gully in the cliffs ahead. There was a vague path on the ground, even though it isn’t marked on the map. The views from the top of the cliffs back towards the loch and the Trotternish Ridge were amazing (I am running out of adjectives for the views!) The Old Man of Storr was also visible for most of today’s stage.
The path remained pretty distinct all the way from here to Portree. It was easy grass on the top to Fiurnean, and then we kept right on the cliff edge to reach the trig point at Sithean Bhealaich Chumhaing. It would be easy to miss this summit as the path contours around the edge, but it is well worth the climb up to the top. From here we could see across the Sound of Raasay to Raasay, Rona and the mainland beyond. We could also see tomorrow’s route around Ben Tianavaig, down to the Braes, and even the Cuillins in the distance.
The cliff tops got more undulating after the trig point as we headed towards Portree Bay. It was a steep descent down a gully completely mashed by cows, then back on a clear path all the way to Portree itself. The views of the harbour along here are lovely, but it is quite busy with people. This was a surprise, as we had hardly seen anyone on the cliff tops.
The Skye Trail doesn’t seem to be as busy as other long-distance walks we have done. We saw perhaps 3 or 4 couples or groups with backpacks, and all of them were much younger than us! The exception was the Old Man of Storr. We could see the packed car park for much of our walk today, and yet we were in glorious solitude enjoying spectacular views. There is so much fantastic walking on Skye, but people seem to be heading to just one or two over-populated spots.
Portree itself was absolutely heaving when we visited in August. We hadn’t booked anything in advance, as the trip was so last-minute and we weren’t sure when we might need accommodation. We quickly realised we didn’t have a hope of finding anywhere to stay, so we enjoyed a lovely meal in the Isles Inn before resigning ourselves to another night in the car.
Day 4: Portree to Sligachan
The weather definitely took a turn for the worse today. We woke to pouring rain, and the forecast was for strong winds later in the day, building all night. Luckily most of today’s stage was road walking.
So after a lovely breakfast in Portree (with an extra muffin for Mark – he still needed the extra calories after his Dover to Cape Wrath walk) we headed out of town on the main road. Once we reached the Aros Centre, we dropped down on to the shores of the estuary. This little path is a bit tricky to spot – but it’s by the 30mph speed restriction sign, just past the cemetery. The path across the salt marshes was easy enough to follow, although it was low tide. We then reached the Varrigill River and the path was a little more overgrown here.
When we reached the road, we left the river and headed east to Peinmore. This was the start of a long road section, through Cornordon, Lower Ollach, Upper Ollach and the Braes. The rain had really started by now, which made this a bit of a slog. We passed some lovely properties though.
Once we reached Peinachorrain we finally left the road and joined a clear path along the edge of Loch Sligachan. It was quite rough going in places, but the views across the loch to the Cuillins were lovely. I also enjoyed watching the Raasay ferry zig-zagging about to Sconser. At one point, there was even a golden eagle soaring around above us.
However, the absolute best thing about today’s walk was that I finally got to see a family of otters in the loch. There were four of them bobbing along quite close to the shoreline. They had clearly spotted us but didn’t seem bothered at all. It made my day.
Once we reached the end of the loch the path became easier to follow. There were a few stream crossings, but none caused us any major problems. However, the Cicerone guide book makes it clear that some of these can be impassable after heavy rain.
The path into Sligachan goes right past the campsite (closed on our visit, due to Covid restrictions I think) and then pops out on the main road right by the Sligachan Hotel and the bus stop. You can catch a bus from here back into Portree, making it possible to stay a few nights in the same accommodation if you wished. We did exactly that – only our accommodation was our car! We compensated for our rubbish accommodation with a delicious meal at the Portree Hotel.
Day 5: Sligachan to Loch Coruisk
It was finally time to ditch our habit of retreating to Portree for huge dinners, and start wild camping. I couldn’t wait. This was the stage I had been most looking forward to, and we were both adamant that we wanted to add the detour to Loch Coruisk to our Skye Trail walk. The weather definitely hadn’t improved though, as this view of Loch Sligachan from the car window will testify.
We drove from Portree to Broadford, and left the car there ready for the end of our walk. We then got a local bus back to Sligachan with full packs and our tent, ready to head off into the more remote parts of Skye.
From the Sligachan Hotel, we crossed the bridge and began a long stretch of soggy walking following the river down Glen Sligachan. The path was clear all the way along, and didn’t pose any problem larger than which stepping stone to choose on the numerous stream crossings.
The glen got narrower and steeper the further we ventured into it, and soon we were in the midst of the majestic Cuillin Hills that we had been able to see in the distance for days.
Lochan Dubha was an interesting spot, as it marks a watershed in the valley. The two lochs are almost adjacent, but one flows north back into the River Sligachan, and the other flows south to Loch Scavaig and the sea.
Just south of Lochan Dubha marked the start of our detour from the Skye Trail ‘proper’, and the part of the walk I was most looking forward to: Loch Coruisk. The trail junction is impossible to miss and it looks like the council have spent a fortune on the path heading up into the Cuillins. It was a pretty easy climb on such a wide, well-maintained path, certainly easier than the contour lines on the map suggest! The view across to the Munro Bla Bheinn was truly magnificent. What a mountain.
Once at the cairn that marks the summit of the pass, there is a less distinct (and far less maintained) path that heads down and over to Loch Coruisk. The loch itself isn’t visible until you are nearly upon it, and it is so worth the wait. The gloomy, mizzly weather just added to the remote and awe-inspiring atmosphere.
Once we had descended almost to the shores of Loch Coruisk itself, we picked our way around the edge towards the stepping stones and the Scavaig River. Our map showed a path, but it was difficult to see on the ground. However, it was easy enough to find a route to the flatter ground we could camp on at the south end of the loch.
We found a great camping spot by the river. Although it was in tussocky grass (potential midgey hell), there was enough of a breeze to keep them away. After a rinse in the river and a leisurely meal, we sat watching the sun set behind the Cuillins with a glass of wine. An incredible spot that I feel very privileged to have visited.
Day 6: Loch Coruisk to Torrin
We awoke to blue skies, which was a good thing as today we had to pay the price for visiting this remote and beautiful spot. We had to tackle the Bad Step.
Perhaps foolishly, I had done some research on this awkward rock slab crossing before deciding to take this route. As a result, I was pretty apprehensive about it. However, backtracking up to the pass summit, down to Glen Sligachan and then down the valley to Camasunary didn’t appeal either! You could avoid the Bad Step this way, but it would add a massive mileage total to your day.
In the event, it wasn’t actually that bad. There is no clear path from the loch to the Bad Step, but it’s pretty obvious which way you need to go (keep the sea on your right!) This section is slow as there is quite a bit of boulder-hopping.
You cannot mistake the Bad Step once you get to it. It is a huge, sloping, smooth rock, with a fissure running across that gives a chance of hand-holds. What you can’t see in the photographs is that the fissure runs right through the rock, so when you are on it you can see all the way down to the sea below. However, the positive side is that the rock is not very high, so I worked on the principle that if I slipped, I would plop into the sea for certain, but I probably wouldn’t damage much more than my lunch and my pride.
Once over the Bad Step, and once my legs had stopped shaking from the adrenaline, the route to Camasunary was straightforward. At times, there is even a clear path on the ground. The only difficulty was tearing my eyes away from the view across Loch Scavaig to the Cuillins and the island of Soay long enough to check I wasn’t going to trip.
A last challenge before reaching the beautiful Camasunary Bay was the river crossing. The river is wide here and would cause a significant problem in spate, but today it was in calm spirits. We walked up river a little way to the stepping stones, crossed with ease, and then backtracked downstream to an old bothy (now derelict) for a mid-morning snack.
From Camasunary, the path was clear to Elgol. It hugs the cliff edge, and is quite eroded in places, so it’s probably best avoided if you don’t have a head for heights. The views though… I’ll let the photographs do the talking.
Elgol harbour made a great little lunch stop. We aimed first for the little shop at the far side of the village, but it was closed that day as they were preparing for the bank holiday weekend. The owner helpfully directed us down the (very) steep road to the bustling little harbour, where there was a shack selling sandwiches, coffee and snacks. The lobster rolls were delicious. We sat in the sunshine enjoying our food and watching the ferry to Loch Coruisk zig-zagging around.
From Elgol we had a short stretch on a very quiet road up past the transmitter to Glasnakille. We then headed north on a mix of clear tracks and paths past some of my favourite properties on the whole of Skye. There was also a short stretch through a rare patch of woodland.
Once we reached Kilmarie we joined a slightly busier road – in fact, it’s the only road to Elgol. It wasn’t too long a stretch though, and we soon headed up on a clearly marked footpath.
This led us to a fantastic new car park, information shelter and toilet at the start of the Bla Bheinn path. It was such a good camping spot, and the weather had made a turn for the wetter, so we pitched our tent on a flat area of grass with a spectacular view of Bla Bheinn for company. There are plenty of wild camping spots on the way to Torrin, pretty much anywhere in the loop around the northern end of Loch Slapin. However, it obviously does get busy as we could see lots of tents dotted around from our high position.
Day 7: Torrin to Broadford
Our final day on the incredible Skye Trail unfortunately started as a midge-filled nightmare. The wind that had blessed us the day and evening before had completely died, and the little buggers were literally everywhere. You couldn’t even inhale without getting a lungful of them. I frantically put my headnet on, and between us we threw our stuff back in our tent and headed off at a run.
The road stretch around Loch Slapin to Torrin was a bit of a slog, to be honest. There was nothing in Torrin worth stopping for (the lovely-looking cafe was closed as we passed it quite early).
Things got much more interesting once we had gone past the quarry, and joined a farm track down to Camas Malag. Ths is a gorgeous little bay, and judging by the signs on the way, it’s a popular wild camping spot.
The track then turned to a footpath, which was steep in places and quite boggy. It was clearly marked on the ground, though, and is obviously a well-walked section.
A highlight was the ruined village of Boreraig, which was cleared in the 1850s to make way for sheep. It’s a moving experience being amongst the remains of the buildings, and in total silence. We had lunch here, and our biggest problem was the midges. It certainly gave us a sense of perspective of what life must have been like in previous centuries for this community, and we can only imagine the horror of being forced to leave.
The path from Boreraig took us almost back to Broadford. It is very well marked but was quite wet and boggy underfoot when we walked it. Eventually the path joins the B8083 road, and it’s an easy stroll from here into Broadford itself.
Broadford has some good services (and a big Co-op), and we found a lovely little cafe for a coffee and a snack. It certainly isn’t the most inspiring spot to end such a magnificent walk, especially when you compare it to the incredible start at Rubha Hunish. However, it is practical and it was simple to collect our car and begin the very long drive back home.
It is a mark of how incredible the Skye Trail is that even after walking over 1,000 miles from Dover to Cape Wrath, Mark still rates this as the best walk he’s ever done. And for once, I agree with him. The Skye Trail has it all: glorious beaches, remote valleys, majestic mountains and sea views to die for. Even Portree captured my heart, and I hate crowds.
Yes, it is definitely a route for experienced walkers. This is nothing like the West Highland Way or the Pennine Way, and route-finding is challenging in places. However, properly equipped and with a sensible head, this is the walk of a lifetime.
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