A long walk on the Isle of Skye 2012

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I Well I can’t say I’m sorry to see the back of 2011. Not a great year, but now it’s history and I’ve started the plans for 2012. Top of the list is The Skye Walk, loosely based on the route of David Paterson’s ‘A long walk on the Isle of Skye’, with a couple of alternates from myself. Logistically I’ll be lucky in having a lift from a few places back to a B&B, otherwise it would be camping on the way.  I’ll be hitching help at Ord, The Storr car park, the Quiraing car park and thankfully getting a lift home from Duntulm at the end of the walk.

Booking accommodation was a little hit and miss, as many B&B’s are closed at this time of year for booking. Many others are already filling up, whilst others suffer from the ‘Trip Advisor’ effect, where negative reviews lead to empty rooms. I could have done this walk by arranging transport with local taxi firms, or back packing (very unlikely), but fortunately for me I have been offered lifts by my other half which makes for a very easy trip…logistically.

I have chosen to walk from the south coast to the north coast as this seams to be a logical and satisfying way to complete end to end of the island. The first two days will be crucial to the well-being of my feet as the going is very likely to be boggy at best, and downright soaking wet at worse. There are no discernible footpaths and I will be walking along rocky shoreline, mossy bogs and crossing numerous burns. Plan A is to carry a pair of old walking sandals to cross the wettest parts, where boots would become waterlogged. If that doesn’t work I have a plan B which is to bring all the boots I have at home in the boot of the car, giving me a chance to be dry-shod at the start of each day (for the first few days). The other way would be to get some ‘Yeti’ gaitors, but I’m not sure I want to be clad like that – maybe the weather will decide. Of course if it gets absolutely torrential then the plans will all change as I don’t really want to be swept away with the torrents in swollen burns.

My route alternatives are really only for the second and third day, as the remaining route is pretty much the only route to take. If the first day turns out to be absolutely sodden without relenting, then I shall consider walking day 2 from Broadford to Torrin via the old rail track that served the marble quarries, rather than along the pathless coastal route via Heaste. On the third day I’m hoping for glorious sunshine so I can climb up over Bla Bheinn, and down the south ridge to the coastal path and Elgol. The alternatives if the cloud is down is to walk in from Kilmarie to Camasunary Bay and along the coastal path. By walking south from Bla Bheinn to Elgol it allows me the pleasure of taking the boat across to Loch Coruisk to walk up Sgurr na Stri once more to enjoy one of ‘the best views in Britain’, before turning north to Sligachan.



The Geology and the Landscape


Unique in the British Isles, and I think that's a fair description of the islands geology. In geological terms most of the scenery and geology of Skye is a baby at a mere 65 million years old. There are a few older bits tagged on here and there, but the predominant lava flows give rise to the very distinct and unique (in the UK) landscape of the island.

The oldest portion is a slice of Gneiss - the Moine Thrust belt nudges across the Sleat Peninsula, and the rocks here are some 1.7 billion years old, not made in a mythical 7 days. Next up at a mere 1 billion years old are the Torridonian sandstones. Not the usual red sandstone seen on the mainland, but a grey coarse grained sandstone that were affected by low temperature Palaeozoic metamorphism - changing the red to grey.

Nothing much happens to Skye for 800 million years, it just floats around as part of Laurentia which drifts around the equator and gets amalgamated into Pangaea - a big lump of land mass. Around the 200 million years ago mark along wander the dinosaurs, leaving their footprints on the ripple marks of an ancient beach at Staffin. There is a portion of Jurassic limestone along the north east coast of Skye which impacts on the landscape as it underlies the later intrusive basalt lava flows. Further south it can be seen in the waterfall at Boreraig, a beautiful location with abundant fossils on a shelf below the falls, where it interdigitates with sandstones (great word) - put your fingers together you'll get the idea.

Then the big event that created the unique landscape of Skye. In the Cenozoic period (65 million years ago) was the time of the Alpine Orogeny (the collision of the European and African plates) which didn't in fact affect very much of Britain - a few ripples in the south and Wales. It was however a period of magmatism, where the earths crust thinned and the north west of Britain was in a failed attempt at continental break up. That was ultimately successful further to the west forming the Atlantic Ocean. So Skye was nearly a part of Greenland or somewhere much further away, and thankfully for us it wasn't to be. There is up to 1800m in the Skye lava sequence, with some of the flows 120m thick. You can see plenty of evidence of this as you journey around Skye - for example the columnar jointing of the Basalt  from the viewpoint at Kilt Rock

Postdating the lava flows on Skye are the Palaeogene sub volcanic complexes and the dyke swarms - look at a geological map of Skye and it shows these well , mostly trending SE to NW. The differing geology gives rise to the distinct features of the Cuillins - the sharp and spiky black Gabbro of the 'Black' Cuillins contrast with the Granite bosses of the 'Red' Cuillins. The Black Cuillins fed the lava flows, while the Red Cuillins gave rise to the intrusive dyke swarms, which can be seen cutting through the earlier lava flows on the Trotternish ridge.

After all that lot there has been a lot of wear and tear to shape the landscape as we know it today, with glaciations playing a big part in shaping the valleys and hills of the Black Cuillins. To top it all off are great sheets of glacial till - a real mix of rock debris. Fascinating stuff if you like that sort of thing, and even if you don't you may know gaze upon the landscape and have some inkling if it's origins.

The plan


Day Zero:       Leave Manchester and drive up to Arisaig in bonny Scotland

Day One:        Armadale to Ord. 12.6 miles. Ascent - 1968ft

 Day two:         Ord to Torrin. 16.2 miles. Ascent -2330ft

 Day three:      Torrin to Elgol 10.7 miles. Ascent - 4200ft

 Day four:       Elgol to Sligachan. 10.5 miles Ascent - 2050ft

 Day five:         Sligachan to Portree  13.8 miles Ascent - 1017ft

 Day six:          Portree to The Storr. 9 miles. Ascent - 2360ft

 Day seven:      The Storr to The Quiraing. 13.3 miles. Ascent - 4837ft

 Day eight:      The Quiraing to Rubha Hunish. 11.2 miles. Ascent - 1861t

 Total Ascent at 20623ft .....Total mileage....99 plonk....Got to be one of the best yet

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