10 Nov 2014
“We certainly live on a blue planet.” I said looking out over the Sound of Raasay. The skies had cleared this morning, so ‘making hay’ as they say, we were on route to the Quiraing, the spectacular mountain range at the northern end of Skye. Following the narrow coastal road, we passed through amber and gold rolling hills and whitewashed cottages huddled together. Dominating the view was the vivid blue sea and sky, with the northwestern highlands as pastel ghosts on the horizon.
The road passed down through Staffin Bay, with its remote sandy beach. I wondered if, in summer, it’s warm enough to swim here without a wet suit? Just after the village we turned onto the single lane mountain track and started to snake up into the hills. Sheep grazed absent mindedly next to the road. After climbing the steep narrow pass we arrived at the car park and to a gorgeous view.
We were doing the Quiraing walk, a circuit around unusual rock formations in the Trotternish range.
Heading north from the car park, the path started with a steep scramble up a grassy incline and up above the escarpment. It was fairly easy to scramble while we were feeling fresh and overwhelmed with the views out towards the highlands across the sound. Frustratingly the view into the sun made it impossible to capture the layer upon layer of mountain ridges disappearing into the distance.
“We’ll just have to commit this to memory” said David as he used his hand as a sun visor. Of course he was right, and fighting my compulsion to photograph everything, we stood catching our breath and committed the hills to memory.
Following along the cliff top, the path led through a field and disappeared into spongy, soggy grasses and peat. It was difficult to walk through while still ascending the range. Soon enough we emerged at the high point of the escarpment. The view from the edge looking down was a surprise, suddenly we were looking onto the bright green grassy ‘Table’ with its unusual rock formations. I waved to the tiny fellow walkers who had climbed onto the table. “Hello tiny wee man” He waved back. I think it’s interesting how people wave at each other, unknown strangers in the distance, yet in cities we studiously ignore each other.
The earth was still damp so we kept away from the edge in case of land slides. We passed a cairn marking the peak and continued along the edge of the cliff admiring the view over the fells into the most northern tip of Skye. The trail so far had been a tracks of desire-lines of flattened grass fanning out across the hill top, rather than a landscaped path. Eventually the path was so hard to find we were forced to admit that we’d lost it!
Consulting our map (app) and the land formations around us, I suspected that we had walked too far into the saddle and had missed the switch back. We fanned out about 20m apart and sloshed through the damp grassland in search of some sort of path. It was slow going.
“Well, this isn’t fun anymore.” I muttered to myself, wishing I was wearing winter boots rather than my summer hiking shoes, hopping from one grass clump to the next.
“Over there!” My mountain man had found another cairn. He sloshed straight through any terrain in his new ‘greatest boots known to man’ while I tried not to sink below my shoe laces.
At the cairn the path was surprisingly obvious and easy to follow. I sighed with relief and started to enjoy myself again. The views down into the valley and the sea beyond were lovely. My good mood had returned in full force.
At the switch back we climbed a stepladder over the sheep fence and descended steeply down a track that has been worn knee-deep. The track wound down into a lush bright green hidden valley surrounded by close peaks. Strange granite boulders lay scattered around the valley floor. It was strangely intimate and alien, scale and perspective had shifted.
“I feel like we’ve shrunk!” I said to Dave in a hushed voice the valley seemed to require.
“It feels like Orc territory”. He’s right, it did feel like a Tolkien landscape.
The path continued along the base of the escarpment and with each corner rounded, the view seemed to be more interesting than the last. It all contributed to a thrilling sence of excitement. The peaks and pinnacles were strange and alien around us. One formation looks like a castle ruin. Their names are fitting: The Needle, The Prison, The Table. The path climbed high on the hillside providing magnificent views down the strange valley and out to the Sound. Around one corner we could see tiny climbers on top of one of the peaks, silhouettes against the sun.
As the path started to decent we could see the tiny car park in the distance and realised we’d better get moving before we lost the daylight. On the way down our thoughts turned to dinner. Whilst discussing the delicious meals David was considering cooking, I started to quicken my pace, using the bouncy shuffle we observed in Glen Coe. I was nearly at a flat run, by the time we reached the car. I felt good. Fit. Like I could keep going. It must be all the walking and jogging we’ve been doing lately. Remember this feeling, Carol.
We had plenty of time to stop and admire the view on the drive back to Portree, I particularly love the ghostly blue line of the northwestern highland peaks on the horizon. Fifty shades of blue.
David cooked up a storm in our little cottage: Chilli Con Carne served with avocado chunks, shaved parmesan and natural yoghurt. Dessert of ginger steamed pudding and vanilla bean custard. We shared a bottle Bordeaux and listened to Faure’s Piano Quartets. Exactly perfect after a long day on the Fells.
A magnificent day.