Tuesday, 16 October 2018

A holiday on the Skye Trail

Pauline and I have done bits and bobs of the Skye Trail over the past few years running mostly out and back routes from various points but for quite a while we’ve wanted to cover it all over a few days especially now we are involved in organising the Skye Trail Ultra. https://skyetrailultra.uk/

A holiday home in Portree was booked and we were lucky that Ken, Val and Allan were joining us, Gillian was meant to come too but an injury scuppered her running and wasn’t recovering as quickly as she’d hoped so she decided to cancel her leave and save her holidays for when she would be able to have adventures. They were happy to fit their walking, cycling and photographing around dropping us off and picking us up. Doing it at the beginning of October meant the weather could throw a spanner in the works, we weren’t worried about doing the route top to bottom, just fitting the sections around the best day for the Trotternish Ridge. We planned to do it over four days and we had to shuffle things about as the weather changed, Andy joined us for the two big days.

Day 1 - Blaven car park to Broadford, 14 miles

Ken dropped us off then headed for a walk and to watch the golf in the Broadford Hotel where we’d meet him after our run.

It was a sleeves up, sleeves down, sunshine, showers and a smattering of rainbows kind of day.
A straightforward run on road to start with, then a rough track and along the shore to the ruins of Boreraig, a village abandoned during the Highland Clearances.

(race day tip - it can be tricky to know where to turn away from the shore in the hours of darkness but if you see the standing stone, that’s where to head up the hill.)

The showers had been quite short and not too heavy until we were on the Marble Line, it was stotting down, Pauline wondered whether we should stop and pull on our waterproof breeks, I was sure I could see the end of the shower and with only a few miles to go, I shouted to just keep going which might not have been right choice, we were drookit by the time it eased off! But the wind was fairly strong and dried us out a bit, at least we’d stopped dripping by the time we reached Ken at the Broadford Hotel.

Day 2 - Sligachan to Blaven car park, 20 miles

We had originally planned to do the Ridge today but heavy rain and low cloud was forecast so we decided to go from Sligachan, Andy drove down and left his van at the house then Val dropped Andy, Pauline and myself at Sligachan before heading to Elgol for a walk and to take photos. Ken and Allan cycled around Sligachan for a bit then went out the Moll Road until the “pot hole” and back.

We had arranged with Val to pick us up at the Blaven car park at around 4.30pm but Andy shot off like a puppy let free, I laughed and said to Pauline we’d better phone Val and make it 3.30pm! Andy soon settled the pace down to something we could keep up with, even assisting Pauline over steppy stones!  

A beautiful route through Sligachan Glen surrounded with magnificent mountains, Sgurr nan Gillean, Marsco and Bla Bheinn to name just a few, views to make your heart skip as well as the legs and I was really quite surprised the deer didn’t scamper off when they saw us.

The rain had been spitting on and off through the wind as we approached Camasunary, we went into the bothy for a wee breather and to put on waterproofs, we’d be moving a lot slower from here. Heading to Elgol, it was a bit boggy to start with, then a wee steep climb to the narrow path above the the shore, it’s fine as long as you’re careful, Pauline isn’t too happy with heights, and it didn’t help that I was behind her giggling at her leaning to her left on the more exposed bits, so I went in front, but I could still hear her make the odd squeak!

The rain was now torrential, my camera was pretty wet so I stopped taking photos just before Elgol, there was no point but here’s what you can see on a dry day.

We nipped into the toilets and I spent longer than normal under the hand dryer, no chance of getting dry but nice to feel the warm air. From Elgol it was mostly just a soaking slog on tarmac for eight miles to the car park, it’s probably a lovely road to run on a nice day but after stunning Sligachan Glen it wasn’t my favourite bit, the rain never let up, eventually we could see Val sitting dry and cosy in her car, We had left bags with a change of dry clothes with her in the car but it would’ve been pointless trying to change in the sideways rain, I was a bit worried Val wouldn’t let us in case our soggy bottoms ruined her seats, but she had some blankets in the boot, we could sit on them, yay, we were allowed in! It didn’t seem too long until we were back at the house in Portree for another shower, a hot one! Poor Andy had about another half an hour drive until he was back home and out his soaking gear.

Day 3 - Duntulm to Portree - The big one!
The randomness of my Garmin gave me 24.61 miles, 9.40.05 hours and 5658 ft elevation

Yep, you read that right, just short of ten hours for twenty four and a half miles! My pace will never set the heather alight and this was no race day, we were on our holidays, but even during the race the leaders take at least seven hours for this section, the times reflects the terrain and never to be underestimated.

We planned an early start, Ken drove Pauline and I up, picking up Andy with a change of clothes for Ken to take back for after the run, we were finishing at the house since it was perfectly placed just off the the Staffin Road down from the Wigwams, Andy and Karen were joining us for our evening meal.

Ken dropped us off at the phone box in Duntulm, Allan had instructions to have the bacon and egg rolls ready for his return, they were heading over to Raasay with their bikes unfortunately Ken’s bike gave up the ghost, I think they got a bit of cycling in before it died.

A nice gentle couple of miles on road for starters, then around a mile of heather bashing and bog hopping, Andy was keen to try and keep his feet dry so we picked our way through carefully, I think he was fairly successful, me, not so much, within five minutes both feet were soggy, at least I only went in up to my ankles, it could’ve been a lot deeper!  

The weather was dry but strong winds were forecast, (the travel report on the radio warned of bridges closed to high sided vehicles and to check ferrys for cancellations) I’m glad it was slightly behind us blowing us up the steep grassy climb to start with.

Once at the top you could feel the full force of the wind, I had to turn my peaked Buff back-to-front, the peak was blasted down on my face and hampering my vision, I was glad when we headed down into the slightly sheltered Quiraing.

We started to see a few walkers coming towards us, then loads of walkers, yep, there was a bus trip! After we crossed the road and headed upwards we never saw another soul all day.

I’m a bit of a light-weight and need my heavy winter coat and boots to make eight stone so I was a wee bit concerned about being blown off the Ridge, one reassuring thought, with being small built at least I don’t offer much resistance sideways on!  Luckily the wind wasn’t gusting much, it was just a constant fight, and we stayed well away from the edge. I could see for miles, looking over to Uig, the ferry was coming in, Andy pointed out the Fairy Glen, the Ridge wound on and we followed, we went up, we were blown sideways, we went down, we went up, we were blown sideways, we went down, we went up, we were blown sideways, we went down, with the wind chill, it was pretty cold, my hood was up and although fastened tightly, it was a deafening rattle in my ears. Progress was slow and steady, the effort arduous, but boy I was loving it, we took a wee breather from the wind behind a huge boulder, I wittered on about what a wonderful day I was having, one I was going to remember with a smile forever, Pauline turned and bellowed “What?” she had her hood up too and hadn’t heard a word “Never mind!” I answered, I’m sure she was enjoying her day as much as I was.

Time was marching on, quicker than we were, we decided that if we were eating around 8.00pm we wouldn’t have time to continue the Ridge so we descended at the Storr, for a short run into Portree on the road, missing out the “Bog of Doom” as Andy called it, oh dear, what a shame, never mind, I’ll look forward to doing that another time!  

Good food, beer and company was waiting, I wasn’t too upset about missing out a few miles, although I really didn’t want this run to end, the epic surroundings taking me beyond my fatigue. The Trotternish Ridge is stunning and I look forward to doing it again.

We had a chill out, rest day after our epic Ridge run before our final day on the Skye Trail, a low level mostly on road, not much in the way of hills, celebrating finishing with lunch in the Sligachan Hotel.

Day 4 - Portree to Sligachan 13 miles

With the weather we had for our final day it was just as well this was the “easy” section, Pauline and I left the house walking to the Staffin Road to stretch the legs before running, the bus shelter was about a hundred yards away, we went inside it to put on our waterproof trousers, we hadn’t even started the watches yet! Through Portree we stop for a wee blether twice, it was lovely to see a couple of folk we know, then opposite the Aros Centre we turned down onto the shore, the wet stones, slippy with seaweed underfoot made it slow going, just as well we were watching our feet as the cracking views were non-existent.

The Braes road was surprisingly busy with traffic, and fairly undulating which wasn’t so surprising, this is such a sheltered area that foxgloves and garden flowers were still in summer bloom, a different climate to the north west of the island.

During our runs in the rain I’d look up to the sky and say hopefully “I think it’s brightening up!” today it was just a lie, at no point ever did the rain look like it was going off, maybe not just so torrential at times but it never promised to ease up. Once off the road and onto the rough shore path along Loch Sligachan it was either boggy or if solid underfoot, a burn, we were carefully placing our feet, a lot of water flowing from the hill now required great care, we were wading through fast flowing burns where on a previous run a few years ago from Sligachan to the Braes and back we just had a skip and a hop over steppy stones without breaking stride.

We were a bit behind schedule, Ken, Allan and Val were in the hotel waiting for us, and phoned with concern, they were watching the waterfall and weren’t sure if we would get over it, and if necessary they would drive back round to the end of the Braes road and pick us up. I reassured them that we were fine, taking our time and we wouldn’t do anything daft, I’ll phone back when we were at the waterfall and let them know what we were doing. Once there we walked up and down to find the best place to cross, the flow was fairly strong but never went over our knees, Pauline phoned to say we were safely over and we wouldn’t be long.

The waterfall the last time we were here in August 2015

The path disappeared and it was another bog hop to the campsite and more wading through burns until we got to the Hotel.

Photo from Allan through the window of the Sligachan Hotel

Yay! The Skye Trail was complete (except for the Bog of Doom) in some challenging conditions and I’m not disappointed in the slightest that the weather wasn’t on our side, it was an epic adventure with memories I’ll cherish!

Once inside the Sligachan Hotel we dripped off to toilets to change, now warm and dry we ordered beer and lunch, I upgrade the Cuillin Skink (same as Cullen Skink but with mountains out the window) from starter to main course portion, it was the largest and finest Cullen Skink I have ever had. On the wall was art from local artists for sale with the proceeds going to Skye Mountain Rescue, I have admired Jeremy Rossiter's work for a long time so I treated myself to his painting of Marsco, a superb momento of an epic week now hanging in my living-room.

Flaming typical, the rain had stopped after we’d had our lunch and the following day the sun was splitting the sky, at least it was a pretty drive home! A fantastic few days in great company and stunning surroundings even though we didn’t get to see some of it this time, but that just makes it all the more special when you do.  Thank you Ken, Val and Allan for your company and making the logistics possible for Pauline and I do the Skye Trail over four days.

Pauline wondered that after we did it would we be more sympathetic to runners during the race lingering in checkpoints? Ha! Well, if you’ve ever come into a checkpoint where I’ve marshalled you’ll know I don’t do sympathy, so if you come crying into Sligachan don’t expect a “There, there, there!” from me. Just make sure you know what you’re taking on and your ability to do it justice.

1 comment:

Neil McCartney said...

Great post Fiona with the photo's capturing the descriptions of key points on the route. Brilliant.