North and south hills

28 November: Meall Tuath and Meall Deas are the rocky hills (or possibly “lumps”) which overlook Rubha Hunish, Skye’s northern tip. I was here in the summer, scrambling down the cliff-face to reach that grass-topped rocky tongue of land. Today, we’ll be content to take in the vista from these superb viewpoints. On Meall Tuath, there’s a former coastguard lookout, now equipped as a mountain bothy – could be a great place to spend a short midsummer night, but not in late November. Once again, we’re on our own out here – apart from the sheep and the seabirds – and golden eagles. There were two or three above us as we parked the car, gone by the time we were out – but then, as we made our way along the path, there was another. A grab shot will have to suffice for illustration – they may be big, but they’re hard to find in the viewfinder on maximum zoom, and they don’t exactly pose. A great sight on our last day out up here – soon we’ll be heading south, with fingers crossed for weather and traffic…

map

View OS map on Streetmap http://www.streetmap.co.uk/map.srf?X=141484&Y=875643&A=Y&Z=120

Quiraing

27 November: It’s one of the most spectacular landscapes in the British Isles – and the path to the Quiraing from the top of the pass, between Uig and Staffin, is one of the most enjoyable. Its popularity makes the first part of this walk difficult in summer – largely because it’s almost impossible to find anywhere to park. But on a Sunday morning at the end of November, even with such amazingly good weather, there are just six other cars. I’ll meet other walkers along the way, but it is truly quiet here today. The only sound for much of the time is that of the waves breaking on the shore at Staffin, perhaps a mile and a half distant.

The last few times I’ve walked along the path below the Quiraing, I’ve been with others who wouldn’t be persuaded to scramble up into the rocky stronghold, but today I’m alone, so it’s up the steep crumbling slope, behind the needle, through the cleft and onto the table, a remarkable small grassy  plateau completely enclosed by the crags. A couple of young walkers are here (one is a “Staffinite”, according to his companion), enjoying the photographic opportunities, but I get the impression that many, if not most, casual visitors give this part of the walk a miss.

The descent back to the contouring path is possibly more difficult than the ascent, but I’m down again, walking on towards Sròn Vourlinn (yes, we were here in August, on the path from Flodigarry) – and I discover the downside to November exploration. I knew that the early sunset would limit my time up here, but hadn’t thought about the effect of the sun’s low angle – much of the path beyond the Quiraing is in deep cold shade. It’s worth it for the additional views that open out eventually – to the north and west, where Lewis and Harris are prominent across the Minch. Can’t afford to hang about though – I’d better get back… What a great day it’s been!

map

View OS map on Streetmap http://www.streetmap.co.uk/map.srf?X=144673&Y=869436&A=Y&Z=120

Reieval

Skye: 24 November: Poor thing! With a summit just 299m above sea level, it seems to be classified as a “tump” (whatever that may be). Classification notwithstanding, it’s a hill, and a very pleasant one too on this fine afternoon. I’ve walked down the road from Linicro, and followed a track up from the Totescore road end. There’s no-one else here (and precious few sheep) – it’s quiet, really quiet, and most enjoyable. Descending, I join the road from Staffin towards Uig, where the ferry is loading, before turning back along the main road above the bay.

The waterworks road

Weds 23rd, afternoon: That’s exactly what it is –  a rough-surfaced road to the little cluster of buildings on the spring line, providing a quick route to a quiet, empty hillside. Beyond, we follow the route of an old road which must once have served a long-vanished settlement to the east of Kilvaxter, north of Uig on Skye’s Trotternish peninsula. We’ll return via Kilmuir’s village hall, along the single-track A855, which is quieter than many a country lane on this November afternoon. There wasn’t time for anything more – the sun’s already setting behind Waternish.

Portree

Late November – we’re at our northern office, so to speak, for a few days. The Skye weather is unexpectedly good, despite the short hours of daylight – any outings will need to straddle lunchtime (have to take it with us…).

Weds 23rd, morning – I’m in Portree, killing time (waiting for a bus!) – it’s hard to imagine a better time and place, despite the morning’s hard frost. I’ll start with the Lump (what a charming name!) – the island capital’s little park on a rock above the harbour –  then I’ll work my way around to the other side of the harbour and look back. I could happily have spent longer, but the bus won’t wait (and what a great bus ride!). Time (and light) permitting, I should be able to get a leg stretch this afternoon too.

Later that day

28 August ctd: Taking it easy, at Uig pier, and later at Camas Mor.

There would have been more photos of this year’s trip. On our last day, the wind was blowing strongly from the south-west, and the west side of Trotternish was misty and grey. Perhaps we can get out of the wind down the east side, at Rubha nam Braithairean? Yes, we could – not only was it sheltered, but bright and sunny too – a perfect spot for a brief exploration. But I’d forgotten to put the camera in the car…

Alone on Rubha Hunish

28 August: Last time I was here, there were others about. This time, I paid my visit to Skye’s northernmost tip before lunch, and had the little rock-rimmed peninsula to myself – and the gulls, and the cormorants. Wonderful! I’m on my own because my usual companion on these little outings would be quite unable to manage the very steep rocky path down the cliff between Meall Tuath and Meall Deas – it needs a good head for heights. After a most enjoyable hour or so, I’m on my way back, and now there are others on their way down. They’ll enjoy their visit, I’m sure, but being alone on Rubha Hunish feels a little bit special…

 

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Staffin shore: Orcas

27th August ctd: After our visit to the Loch Shianta, we drive on to Staffin slip, park the car and wander across the saltings to the rocks. Rather than remain at our usual spot, we continue along the grassy upper shore below the cliffs. Soon, we can go no further – the jumble of huge boulders makes the shore virtually impassable. We stop for a while, and gaze out so sea – what’s that? Large fins break the surface… Glimpses of white patches identify them as orcas, also known as killer whales. There are no acrobatics, but they’re there for the best part of 20 minutes (the YouTube video below contains the edited highlights…).

Later that day, we’re back on the west side of Trotternish, watching the sun setting behind Harris, in an almost-perfect demonstration of the curvature of the earth.

The enchanted loch

27th August: The sign at the little parking place describes Loch Shianta as “The Enchanted, Holy or Magical Loch”. There’s certainly something magical about the water in this well-hidden pool – it’s the clearest water I’ve ever seen, with a curious turquoise tint. Is it something in the water, or just its rocky bed? Sadly, neither the depth nor the clarity come through in the photos – it has to be seen to be believed.

The path down to the loch is short and well-made, with little plaques every few yards, mostly in Gaelic. “Gabh seo, a ghaoil” seems to translate (Google) as “take this, love”. Is that perhaps too literal? Though it’s late in the season, this is a colourful walk, with plenty of knapweed and scabious, not to mention a patch or two of ragwort. Just off the path. there’s a super small colony of fly agaric (“flying Eric”, as my nephew once misheard), and as ever, there are great views of islands and the highlands.

Staffin Ecomuseum

View OS map on Streetmap http://www.streetmap.co.uk/map.srf?X=147067&Y=869865&A=Y&Z=115

Showers and sunsets

26th August: there could be a few heavy showers today, and we need to attend to some domestic duties. A little after 5pm, there’s a dramatic sky over Uig; by 7.30 it’s a beautiful evening. The clouds are melting away, and the rocks at Camas Mor provide a perfect viewpoint as the sun descends behind the hills of Harris.

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