The quiet wilds of Skye
Thu, Jan 24, 2019
With the winter starting at last as a cold blast came down from the north west and draped a white sheet over the mountains, we headed up the potholed main road, past the emerging crash blackspot at the Sligachan junction, through the quiet streets of Portree to a small car park just north of Loch Fada, our goal a bimble along the southern part of the Trotternish ridge to The Storr.
A couple we passed who had been stopped in the road, blocking the carriageway photographing coos pulled in as we booted up and asked my good wife how long it would take to “get up there”. They assumed this was where the path to the Old Man of Storr started but that’s further up the road and is now apparently a 10m wide social media worn scar through the felled conifer wastes of brash and stumps. They were “doing Skye in a day” and, despite the vast size of the island he claimed it wouldn’t be a problem as he was “a fast driver”. It’s only January and they’re out and careering round the island bagging likes and shares.
Fortunately the pathless bog across to the ridge was frozen and we had some sport on the frozen crags to the north of Bealach Mor, forging a near vertical ascent through the dark band of the Great Wall of Peat, popping out onto the broad snowy ridge in blazing sunshine.
The walking was good, the air warm with winter-sun and the snow firm but pleasantly loose for getting a grip. Sunlight sparkled in the iced grass and fox prints led every which way across the broad ridge. At one point they converged on a tiny bank of solifluction terracing, lots of disturbed snow round a small hole in the bank, a telling tale of a night of drama, possibly not ending well for the occupant of the hole. It made me think that while I may have been contemplating the silence last night as the hills shone in their snow shrouds, a fight to the death was being played out up here, in this beautiful place. Seeing the debris of what had happened brought connection, heightened by the lack of people. Such a tiny place, such a vast view of the world from it stretching from the far north west highlands, deep-white and silent, across the Skye-blue Minch to the mountains of Harris and down to the hazy walls of the Cuillin. A hole with a view but perhaps occupied no more. I hoped it still was.
The ridge rose over a couple of small tops as we edged along the top of the impressive cliffs and behind, the Black Cuillin were washed and drying in the afternoon sun.
The visibility was so good we could pick out the Five Sisters over at Kintail.
A final pull up the steep slopes, warily peering over the iced up cliff edges of Coire Faoin, salivating at the ice falls coming down from the summit, sparkling and enticing in the sunlight. Oh for the whack of the axes, the snick of the front points, the gasping rush of wispy spindrift, the old days of ice climbing now mostly fireside memories, embellished of course by a tipple or two of peaty Talisker. The final few metres ot the top were very icy, our boots only scuffing the surface and I made a mental note to stick well to the west on the way back to avoid any runout from a slip that would end a long way down the coire.
The summit is one of the best places on earth to sit and contemplate one’s life, exploits and dreams, moving memories across the azure Minch to the hebridean ringed horizon. The surfacing whaleback of Heabhal on Barra leading on to the flat plains of South and North Uist, then Berneray and up the Golden Road to the mountains of Harris. The eye then following the Shiant Isles back to the Skye shores, down the Staffin coast and back out over the lighthouse at the north end of Rona with the jaw-dropping backdrop of Alpine mountains in the Fisherfield fastness. Goosebumps?
How can the world be this beautiful, still? The oceans full of plastic and chemicals, the clear blue skies full of warming gases, the popular hills to the south crowded with boots on the must see trails. Could Beinn Alligain above Diabaig hold the answer?
Or perhaps Liathach dwarfing Torridon village?
I don’t know but as we sat on the top, beyond the reach of the social media crowds slowly eroding the Old Man down in the coire, I looked north along the Trotternish ridge, across a vast and silent land where foxes crossed unseen and ravens croaked in a mountain sky and felt a deep sense of gratitude. That these places exist.