How not to pitch your tent on the Isle of Skye

My long-weekend trip to Skye in late August was to be my first experience of solo wild camping, and a bit of an escape into the middle of nowhere. As it turns out, the Isle of Skye is an even bigger faff to get to than I thought: an overnight train to Inverness and another tiny, two-carriage train through the Highlands only take you to Kyle of Lochalsh, just across from Skye on the west coast of the Scottish mainland.

The Kyle of Lochalsh line from Inverness just might be the most scenic rail journey I have ever undertaken. It snakes through dramatic lochs, hills and untouched Scottish highlands for two hours before emerging on the coast to stunning blue skies, and the hazy outlines of the Western Isles on the horizon. It is no wonder Michael Palin dedicated an episode to the line in his 1980 documentary, “Great Railway Journeys” – the trip is absolutely spectacular.

End of the line at Kyle of Lochalsh. Just across the water awaits the Isle of Skye!

End of the line at Kyle of Lochalsh. Just across the water awaits Skye!

From Kyle, the new Skye Bridge has made the old ferry obsolete: just a quick couple of buses to the trailhead…right?

The Skye Bridge spanning Loch Alsh, soon to deliver me to the start of my little adventure.

The Skye Bridge spanning Loch Alsh, which would soon deliver me to the start of my little adventure.

Well, only technically right. The winding roads of Skye are not easy to navigate by bus. Particularly beyond Portree, the main village on the island, the large bus was comically unsuitable for navigating the single-lane-with-laybys road snaking its way up the Trotternish peninsula, Skye’s northernmost one. Highlights include a 9-point turn to get around one of the hairpin turns. Having arrived in Inverness at 8.30 and at Kyle of Lochalsh at 11.30, it took me until nearly 4pm to actually reach the start of my trek. But I won’t blame the bus completely for taking so long – I did also underestimate the size of Skye. When you look at it on  a map, it doesn’t look at all like it’s nearly 50 miles long and 25 wide!

Looking back down to where I started, near the coast.

Looking back down to where I started, near the coast.

And from here on, the vistas only got more dramatic. A huge landslip runs the length of the Trotternish peninsula, which I was planning to follow for part of my walk. At the fault line, huge cliffs separate West from East and make for a spectacular route – more so because there is no path here. I made plenty of good use of my map, although the weather was so good that I didn’t need my compass.

Climbing towards the top of the ridge, my companion for the next 24 hours.

Climbing towards the top of the ridge, my companion for the next 24 hours.

More sheep. They were very kind for arranging themselves so photogenically!

Nobody lives on the ridge – just sheep; a very nice change from London. They graze across the island with minimal enclosure, and each owner spray-paints a colourful mark on his sheep to distinguish them from others,

I’d planned on finding a prudent campsite away from the ridge – but once evening came and I reached ever more spectacular hilltops, I simply couldn’t resist pitching my tent right on top of one of the high points of the ridge.

I could absolutely not say no to camping here. What a view!

I could absolutely not say no to camping here. What a view!

It started drizzling just as I finished pitching. Very pleased with myself and this fortuitous bit of timing, I crawled inside – and then regretted my decision to camp just a few feet from the cliffs in one of the most exposed spots of the entire ridge as the wind and rain picked up, and up, and up, and battered my tent. It took me until about midnight to into a fitful sleep.

Maybe if I'd turned around, I would have noticed the less-than-perfect weather coming in for the evening...

In hindsight, the less-than-perfect weather didn’t exactly sneak up on me…

Fortunately, I next awoke at 3am to clear skies and complete calm, so I seized the moment and tried to get a few good shots of the night sky. Skye, after all, is known for having one of the darkest skies in Europe – the effect was spoiled only a little by my elevated viewpoint, which meant that lights from the village of Staffin were visible in the distance.

An effort to get my tent and the night sky into one picture. Trickier than one might think on boggy ground!

An effort to get my tent and the night sky into one picture. Trickier than one might think on boggy ground! Sunrise was not far off, either. (Click image for bigger version – stars don’t show here!)

In the morning, I found that my tent had held up to the wind and rain admirably – although I was glad to have used all the guy-ropes. And a view like the one below as I crawled out of my tent made it all instantly worthwhile!

Exuberant and pleased after a breakfast with this view!

Exuberant and pleased after a breakfast with this view!

More on my adventures on Skye will follow shortly. I have far too many photos worth sharing (I hope you’ll agree…) to squeeze into one post.

4 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *