A long walk on the Isle of Skye 2012

Day One: 8th May

Weather: Starting off chilly, overcast, with a hint of rain in the air. A couple of showers.

Route: Armadale to Ord - 12.6 miles with 1970ft of ascent

 

Day one started off in the village of Arisaig at the ‘Old Post Office’ guest house. A nice leisurely breakfast in front of the wood fire, and out to look at the weather – a 100% improvement on the forecast of a day ago, with some blue sky showing in the distance, so I was ever hopeful of a dry day. A short 10 minute drive away to the ferry at Mallaig, and a 30 minute sailing over the Sound of Sleat to Armadale pier and the beginning of a new journey. The ferry wasn’t too busy and we were first on and first off, apart from the local fisherman who was ushered to the front in a blatant show of favouritism – there’s a lot of fish restaurants on Skye, so I suppose he’s a busy man. I was meant to be meeting Stuart (Lonewalker of Walking Places) today somewhere along the route, and knew he was parking his car at Armadale, so I’d made a spoof parking ticket from Caledonian MacBrayne ferries. Imagine my disappointment when his car was nowhere to be seen, plan A gone down the pan – although we did meet later in the day.

I’d plotted a out a route from various sources and looked at Google Earth a lot these past few weeks to try and anticipate a dry line over the hill and faraway. Immediately off the ferry road I turned right at the road towards the Armadale Castle visitor centre (past Armadale Castle, once the ancestral home of the Clan Macdonald) and up through the woods to higher ground. I was delighted to see it was a well defined track through the trees, climbing gently, passing over a bridge, and past a ruined cottage. It was well signposted up towards Armadale Hill, and turns off the track uphill to a small stand of pine. It’s well maintained for the quad bikes and clay pigeon shooters, with plenty of felled trees cleared to open up views. Once out onto the hillside I began to see the true nature of the land here – big tussocky grass, abundant moss, with lots of heather mixed in, and if you were walking here after a prolonged wet spell ( British summertime) it would become hard work.

There were great views back across the Sound of Sleat to Knoydart and the mainland, with dark looking clouds as a backdrop. Out on the open moorland the prominent knoll of Armadale Hill comes in to view and the track is good all the way to the top. It’s marked by a few posts on the summit, and whilst I had a quick sup I admired the views back across the water to Mallaig and Knoydart. That was it as far as the path was concerned and it was now off-piste down to the river in the glen below. This was one of those moments to drink in the solitude, listen to the sound of silence and smile contentedly.  From the top of Armadale Hill I headed from a minor knoll before turning north to follow a secondary ridge down to the Abhainn a Ghlinne Mheadhonaich, the river that runs down to the water of Loch a’ Ghlinne. There were feint tracks, no doubt made by sheep, and they went vaguely in the right direction, although I veered off a little too far right. I was using my walking poles as I’d anticipated a spot of bog hopping, but really they were more use as a set of stabilisers for me. This was the worst bit of the day with some knee high heather to negotiate, the odd hole in the ground, and some soggy, mossy walking. Halfway down the hillside I had to climb over a deer fence (there’s no avoiding this, and it's a recurring theme for a day or two) so I chose a suitably sturdy pole that had a supporting sloping pole attached to it. This took the strain of my weight off the fence and it was an easy up and over. Then it was a short haul down to the river where I knew there was a good track to follow. After all of the pre-trip worries about rough land it turned out to be reasonable, but it was dry and on a different day I suppose it could have been very hard work in places, and very, very wet. Crossing the stream proved to be dryshod at every ford, maybe 6ft across at the most and only a couple of inches deep - that’s what happens when it’s been dry for a month. Before I got to the delightful woodland I was passing the ghosts of crofting remains returning to nature, with a lone croft sporting a small chimney, with an old tree keeping it company. What a setting down here in the glen, very quiet and untouched by the human hand for so long. Into the native woodland of Coille Dalavil , where peace and tranquility rule, with a large stand of mature Scots Pine – my favourite trees at the start of the path through the woods. I think that the fishermans quad bikes travel through here on the way to the coast so the path is quite well defined. Once more the overgrown remains are passed, with birdlife a plenty flitting in and out of the broken down walls – a big flock of long tailed tits very noticeable, and very quiet. There is a lot of dead wood lying around with plenty of birch saplings regenerating the forest floor. Plenty of loud cuckoos calling, and even louder woodpeckers, their knock knocking reverberating around the woods – the loudest I’ve ever heard. The surface of the Loch was a little windblown today, covered with golden reeds, but none of the water lillies that grow here in the summer – just a lonely dead deer lying out in the reeds.

The trek continues through the trees around the hillside staying above the waters edge to emerge at the remains of the cleared village of Dalavil. One more remain intact has a corrugated iron roof, red with age and shelter to sheep in the worst of the climate. There are traces of RunRigs (ridge and furrow) below the old settlement, and further away the water course has been straightened out in the past – I couldn’t see it from Dalavil, just evident on the OS map. I sat and refreshed amongst the mossy remains before starting up again. The islands were clear to see – Rhum and Egg, Bacardi and Coke.

After Dalavil the path diverges to the coast, while my path curved around to the north to meet the coast a little north of the estuary. What a shocker it was to see all the flotsam and jetsam across the shoreline, brought in by high tides and stormy seas of the winter. It looked like a plastics recycling centre. Someone had been around collecting it up and had piled it up below some crags ready for collection. Amongst all this rubbish were also several steel floats, big iron balls about 2ft diameter – these sat well amongst all the iris growing (I think it was Iris) and hopefully I got a couple of good snaps. I followed the coast for a short distance before heading up to higher ground as there were some deeply cut ravines to cross, and further inland made it easier to cross without detours up and down the hillside. Up on the clifftop there were occasional sheep trods that led me in the general direction required, but it was mainly pathless heather hopping, which on a normal day on Skye would have been a bit of a bogtrot. Not today though, even if it was energy sapping at times it was a joy to be walking north with the cloud covered Cuillins as a backdrop – moors, cliffs, sea, beaches, mountains – what a great mix. I didn’t see much wildlife but in the distance a tall stranger appeared on top of the prominent Sithean Beg – I knew in an instant that it was Stuart come to say hello. He couldn’t see me and turned away, so I let out a loud whistle which set off a few sheep running, and thus caught Stuarts eye. What a great gesture to take the time to come and meet me as he had finished his Skye Walk yesterday – he thought it was going to pee down today! So we shook hands and I gave him his parking ticket which he enjoyed – he might not of if he’d found it stuck to his windscreen. We spent a pleasant 30 minutes chatting away as we made our way down to the beach at Gillean, passing some great coastal path, then dropping down to the boulders below and across the stony shore. I had a breather and a refreshing cold can of coke from Stuart, then said my farewells without trying to cadge a lift to the end. I explained my theory of if it was raining or not - unless the dots are joined up it's just spitting down. As it happens it started to rain a short shower after I had walked up to the headland.

The remaining 4 miles of today's route were all road work starting with a sharp uphill pull above the beach, which led to a sublime much photographed view of the Cuillins behind the small settlement of Tarskavaig – it's a shame there isn’t any B&B here that would cater for the 'Skye Walk' walkers. It was a real roller coaster of a road, a B minus road that was very rough in places. There were plenty of stunted birch trees lining the kerbs and occasionally a really nice bit of prime real estate, with deer fences all around the landscape. Up over a headland passing Loch Gauscavaig and down to a lovely bay. There is a castle remains at Dun Scaich that I could have nipped out to see, but from the road I could already tell that there wasn’t much left of it and Stuart had told me that it was gated off anyway. So I contented myself with that view and plodded on. Between Tokavaig and Ord the road becomes even more wobbly, steeply up down and around – nice woods either side of the road with fresh yellow/green leaves on the oaks contrasting nicely with the bright green of the birch. There wasn’t much traffic here, just a few from the ferry taking the circuit around to Tarskavaig and Ord and back to Broadford. Plenty of wind bent trees that looked like they’d been coppiced, dry feet, and grassy sheep cropped verge with terrific views of the Cuillins, especially of Bla Bheinn which I hope to climb on Thursday.

I dropped down a steep windy bit of road into Ord, took my pack off and sat in the shelter of a yacht perched above the beach. I’d had about 10 minutes rain all told and that wasn’t enough to wet my pack. Overall a fantastic day out, leaving me with the thirst for more – day two is a trackless plod for at least 7 or 8 miles, and I’m hoping it’s not too taxing – we’ll see.

 

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crossing the Sound of Sleat to Armadale - looks like rain at sometime

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well signposted around the estate - Cnoc Armadail here I come

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looking back across the Sound of Sleat to the hills of Knoydart on the mainland

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up through the woods on a well marked track

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passing the ruins of an estate cottage with attached kennels

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turning uphill through some mature trees

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led up towards the open moorland and Cnoc Armadail

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still on a good track with great views back to the mainland - it would be fantastic on a clear day

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the end of the recognisable tracks stops here at Armadale Hill, and a glimpse of the distant Cuillins

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pick a route and away I go - following the ridge between burns. You can see the path down in the valley

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halfway down is a deer fence to negotiate, then some rougher ground - Loch a Ghlinne in view to the west

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down in the valley and looking back up to Cnoc Armadail

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dry crossings thankfully

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looking back you can see the track I followed. The hill behind is Cnoc Armadail

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the hills up to my left were the original route taken by Paterson in his 'A Long Walk on the Isle of Skye'

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ahead of me the idyllic woods at Coille Dalavil to the right of the Loch a Ghlinne - no surprise there were settlements along here

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the end of the track marked on the OS map - a lonely tree stands sentinel over a ruined croft

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a great spot for some refreshments

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from here the path winds up to the right before the woods

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more clearance remains becoming swallowed up in birch saplings and braken

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the start of Dalavil woods - majestic Scots Pine

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tall majestic beech trees dominate the woods

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until they finally fall - thankfully the route is cleared by whoever it is that uses this way

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out of the other side and I leave the woods and loch behind

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the good track continues along the base of the hillside towards the ruins at Dalavil

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which soon appear distinct against the skyline. Rum and Canna in the distance

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slowly returning to nature

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a few more winter storms will take care of the roof - rust never sleeps

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after Dalavil the track disappears as I walk around the corner to the coast at Inver Dalavil

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and around the corner the first view of the cloud capped Cuillins

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neat and tidy - a lot of detritus around the coast here. Being slowly collected and stored for disposal

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big steel balls and flag Iris - wished I'd moved that yellow box

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the coast at Inver Dalavil

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around the corner and the views opened up to the Cuillins - Bla Bheinn is on the right

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a panorama taking in the whole vista - fantastic

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an artfully placed mooring rope, with Rum in the background

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crossing the deep cut of  An Garbh-allt, the outlet from Loch Nighean Fhionnlaidh

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showers came and went over the Cuillens, while I high stepped along the headland

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ahead lay heather clad slopes which weren't too bad to negotiate. In the distance is Sithean Beag where I met Stuart

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looking back along the headland

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the bay at Rubha Sloc an Eorna - turned right here to to cross over a valley then followed the headland around

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high on the cliffs above Rubha Sloc an Eorna on my way around to Gillean

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the path here is quite narrow and needs some care - Achnacloich is across the bay at Gillean

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I didn't put it here, it was just waiting for me to take a snap from Gillean beach

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here comes the rain after a refreshment stop in Stuarts car

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away from Gillean and up the road Tarskavaig appears below, with the Cuillins as a backdrop

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you could make a loop if you fancied,but not for me

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the Cuillins draw the eye constantly

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its pleasant walking along the verges - Loch Gauscavaig

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plenty of up and down to keep the interest

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down towards the bay at Ob Gauscavaig where the castle of Dun Scaich sits, in front of an island fort at Tokavaig

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hoping it stays dry until I finish

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 the bay at Ob Gauscavaig with the castle of Dun Scaich on the left of picture

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the castle of Dun Scaich with a backdrop of Cuillins

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the road winds along as does a line of white pebbles

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typical landscape - no paths through here which is a shame

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some steep bits thrown in as well

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as I approach Ord here comes the rain drops - you can see the rise and fall of the land the road crosses

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down towards the end of the day and the Cuillins are closer

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the hamlet of Ord comes into view

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my shelter as I await my transport back to Breakish

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the road into Ord

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Ord beach - a nice to spot to appreciate the end of a grand day out

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