stravaiging on suardal

Sat, Oct 23, 2010

Not feeling up to a big hill, I jumped in the car and drove round to the start of the Marble Path, the old rail line from the marble quarries in Strath to Broadford and headed up onto Ben Suardal, a long, pleasant, trackless, grassy, heathery ridge romp. It’s one of the best viewpoints on the island with the Cuillin on one side and the vast blue sweep of Broadford Bay in the other direction.

Broadford Bay from Ben Suardal summit

There was a bit of a kerfuffle in the bay yesterday as the Royal Navy’s newest and most expensive, not to mention most technologically advanced nuclear submarine, err, well, ran aground. I was half expecting a large bang from the other side of the hill as apparently it requires a constant supply of sea water to cool its reactor and it was sitting out of the water with a vigorous jet of steam shooting out the top! It’s not the first either as another sub ran aground here in 2002. Skye seems to attract them!

Today though was a superlative day of cold northerlies and stunning visibility and the views of Blaven were just out of this world. The slopes fall off very steeply so the feeling of airiness is superb

Blaven from Ben Suardal

There’s a little church in the foreground, Cill Chriosd (Christ’s Church) which is well worth a visit. If you know the history of this glen, it’s an emotive place as it witnessed one of the worst clearances in Skye. That of Suisinish in 1854. Boreraig and Suisinish are now ruined townships on the Strath peninsula, opposite Sleat. Where once families tended the land and children played, now bracken grows over ruined houses and the sea washes up to abandoned boat nousts. Cill Chriosd bore witness to the stream of abused humanity who were evicted and the procession was witnessed by the famous geologist, Sir Archibald Geikie:

“As I was returning from my ramble, a strange wailing sound reached my ears at intervals on the breeze from the west. On gaining the top of one of the hills on the south side of the valley, I could see a long and motley procession winding along the road that led north from Suisinish. It halted at the point of the road opposite Kilbride, and there the lamentations became long and loud. As I drew nearer, I could see that the minister with his wife and daughters had come out to meet the people and bid them all farewell. It was a miscellaneous gathering of at least three generations of crofters. There were old men and women, too feeble to walk, who were placed in carts; the younger members of the community on foot were carrying their bundles of clothes and household effects, while the children, with looks of alarm, walked alongside. There was a pause in the notes of woe as the last words were exchanged with the family of Kilbride. Everyone was in tears; each wished to clasp the hands which had so often befriended them, and it seemed as if they could not tear themselves away. When they set forth once more, a cry of grief went up to heaven, the long plaintive wail, like a funeral coronach, was resumed, and after the last of the emigrants had disappeared behind the hill, the sound seemed to re-echo through the whole wide valley of Strath in one prolonged note of desolation. The people were on their way to be shipped to Canada.” (The Highland Clearances by Eric Richards)

On such a sunny day as today it was hard to imagine people being driven like cattle up this glen to a foreign country. My neighbour told me about the Boreraig clearance and how the evictors tried to drown twin boys, one of whom ended up living in my village. When you realise the history that abounds in this part of Skye, with 8th century cells facing each other across the loch, one in Ord, the other in Boreraig, used by St. Comgan and the vast numbers of villages teeming with life, what’s left is just rock and bog. Round the corner on Beinn nan Carn there is literally chest deep heather on what is apparently the old coffin route from Boreraig to Cil Chriosd. I’ve never seen heather so deep! And yet, once you pop out near the top, there’s a small ruin at about 200m on the hill. Where people once lived. Curiously, the Boreraig and Suisinish clearances aren’t mentioned in the Clan Donald centre museum, Curiously as it was Lord Macdonald who did it.

Blaven and Cille Chriosd from Ben Suardal

I dropped steeply off the summit and had some nice scrambling on the limestone outcrops on the way down to the glen and then returned along the Marble Path. This is the line of the old railway that took marble from the quarry to Broadford and is now an excellent footpath through Strath.

Beinn na Caillich from the Marble Path

All in all a grand day out! You can see all the pics here.