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Stargazing on Sgurr na Stri



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Standing only 494 metres high, Sgurr na Stri on the Isle of Skye sits well and truly in the shadow of the mighty Cuillin hills but that doesn’t make this small coastal hill any less interesting. It’s famed for possessing arguably the best view in Scotland and after my first trip there recently to wild camp on the summit, it’s safe to say I strongly agree.

When walking the Skye Trail at the end of summer, I planned to take a detour to visit the summit of Sgurr na Stri en route to Elgol. Unfortunately though, the day we left Sligachan was the worst weather of the whole seven day trip. With no views to warrant hiking up Sgurr na Stri for, we walked straight down Glen Sligachan and the day was cut short by spending the night in Camasunary Bothy. While that was a great experience in itself, I still felt I was missing out by not getting up Sgurr na Stri to take in this widely renowned view for myself. I was finally able to remedy that though as I was in Skye for a few days again recently and the weather was much more fitting for spending the night at such a viewpoint.

I had the option of starting at Elgol and walking the cliff path back towards Camasunary then onto Sgurr na Stri or taking the more traditional route from Sligachan, passing by the monstrous Munros of the Cuillin. Seeing as I didn’t get good enough views of the Cuillin last time out, I opted for the route from Sligachan and I was not disappointed.

Having only been to Skye a few times as an adult, I hadn’t been lucky enough to see the Cuillin properly, so with clear weather ahead of me I took great advantage of it, stopping continuously for photographs and staring in wonder at the majestic hills surrounding me. The only issue was the fact I was lugging my old DSLR camera, two lenses and a tripod up the hills for once along with my camping gear too. It was a big change from just carrying my small compact Olympus Tough TG-4 which usually fits snugly in my pocket without a worry but I feel like the effort was worth it for the shots I got.

Having walked here in cloud and rain while doing the Skye Trail recently, the great view was much appreciated!

Having walked here in cloud and rain while doing the Skye Trail recently, the great view was much appreciated!

Sgurr na Stri can be seen as the distant triangular summit just left of centre.

Sgurr na Stri can be seen as the distant triangular summit just left of centre.

Bla Bheinn dominating the view on the left of Glen Sligachan.

Bla Bheinn dominating the view on the left of Glen Sligachan.

Upon reaching a fork in the path about four miles from Sligachan, I took a right to veer towards the beginning of the Sgurr na Stri ascent. This area of the hill was littered with huge white bags full of boulders that had been airlifted in to fix the path which was showing a lot of damage from the thousands of feet that must trample up and down it every year, with it being such a popular viewpoint. While this ongoing work spoiled the view somewhat, it will do a lot of good for future so it’s entirely acceptable. I was more concerned about the view from the top anyway and whether the clouds would clear enough for some stargazing later at night.

Once I ascended a few hundred metres, the landscape changed entirely. I was no longer on the boggy floor of the glen with streams and marshy ground to navigate without getting wet feet but instead in the centre of the rockiest terrain on which I’d ever stood. The more I ascended, the more the landscape opened up around me, showing the countless sharp peaks and deadly summits of the Cuillin Ridge. I’ve been hillwalking for five years but never before have I felt so amazed by my surroundings and eager to reach the summit to uncover even more. The weight of my pack was also bearing down on me and my legs were demanding I reached the top soon. The hours I spent the previous day at the Quiraing as part of my interview to be Columbia’s next Director of Toughness had obviously taken its toll on me more than I originally believed.

Gaining enough height to get my first proper look at the Cuillin Ridge.

Gaining enough height to get my first proper look at the Cuillin Ridge.

After finally dragging myself to the summit, I hunted for about half an hour for the perfect spot to pitch my tent on and ended up right below the summit, on the flattest patch of grass I could find without rocks that would poke into my back overnight. The great part of the pitch was that it was merely 10 seconds walk from a flat cliff edge that would serve as my photography base for the rest of the night but also my dinner time view. And what a view it was! I had imagined this day for years since I first heard of this wondrous little hill on the coast and eventually I was there with the summit and the expansive views all to myself.

Unfortunately, the sun was setting too low behind the Cuillin so the sunset I hoped for didn’t materialise but I still had the stars during the night and the sunrise ahead of me to fully enjoy if I was lucky.

What a place!

What a place!

One of my better wild camping pitches.

One of my better wild camping pitches.

Never before had I attempted to photograph the night sky other than a few random shots of the moon but you have to start somewhere and what better a location than this to take my first steps. At 1:30am my alarm went off and I was up and outside within seconds as soon as I realised the sky had cleared dramatically since I went to sleep. The good thing about camping at this time of year is that going to sleep soon after the early sunsets, means it’s relatively easy to wake up again early for some night or sunrise photography.

Toying around with various angles and settings, I was able to get some shots I was somewhat accepting of. I still have a lot to learn about astrophotography and maybe some new gear will also help but this first attempt was something I had great fun doing and already looking forward to building on with another attempt soon. Even without a camera, the sky was one of the best I’ve ever experienced. Everywhere I looked was filled with stars like never before, and with the Cuillin faintly lit up by the amazing light show above me, I was instantly calling this camping trip a success.

A first attempt at photographing the night sky over the Cuillin.

A first attempt at photographing the night sky over the Cuillin.

I was up again around 6am to get packed up for the long trip home to Stirling but mainly to catch the sunrise. After the clear night, I had high hopes for the sunrise and it did not disappoint. The views across the water as the sun rose from beyond the mainland were astonishing. It was definitely the best view I’ve had while cooking and eating breakfast. The higher the sun rose, the more of the Cuillin was bathed in its stunning orange light. I wanted nothing more than to spend the day there soaking up every last second of one of the greatest sights I’ve ever had while hillwalking but unfortunately I had to leave at some point if I was ever going to get home that night. Not before taking countless photographs to remember the day by though.

Breakfast with a view, looking towards the mainland.

Breakfast with a view, looking towards the mainland.

The Cuillin from Sgurr na Stri summit; the best view in Scotland.

The Cuillin from Sgurr na Stri summit; the best view in Scotland.

Interactive panorama from Sgurr na Stri summit (click and drag).

On my way back down towards Sligachan, I stumbled across a small herd of deer right by the path much to my surprise. I was under the impression there weren’t many of them on the island but here were a handful of them wandering around in the shadow of Sgurr na Stri. I didn’t get too close as I could see the stag looking down on me from above with great interest but managed to capture some shots from a far, I knew I packed that telephoto lens for a reason.

The whole time since leaving the summit, I could hear and see a helicopter circling around the area high above me. I immediately assumed it was a Sea King but on closer inspection I realised it was something different, a Sikorsky S-92; the Mountain Rescue’s new replacement for the ageing Sea King which has for so long been part of our Mountain Rescue service. It was quite a sight to see it pass by the steep, rocky summit of Sgurr nan Gillean against the clear blue sky behind it but hopefully they were just on a training mission or out admiring the views like myself.

I don't know who got the biggest fright here.

I don’t know who got the biggest fright here.

Scotland's new Mountain Rescue helicopter; the Sikorsky S-92, passes by the summit of Sgurr nan Gillean.

Scotland’s new Mountain Rescue helicopter; the Sikorsky S-92, passes by the summit of Sgurr nan Gillean.

Back down in Glen Sligachan, the sun was splitting the sky and the paths were becoming busier with other walkers, most of them walking in the opposite direction to me, just beginning their adventures for the day. With only a mile or two between me and Sligachan, I took a break to replenish my energy and enjoy one final view of Glen Sligachan before making my way back to the car. I couldn’t leave without taking the standard Sligachan Bridge shot with the Cuillin in the background too though.

A tasty snack to refuel after my morning workout.

A tasty snack to refuel after my morning workout.

Sligachan Bridge with the Cuillin.

Sligachan Bridge with the Cuillin.

The weight I carried up Sgurr na Stri was much more than for my usual camping excursions but I would do it all over again in an instant if I knew I would be lucky enough to get those views one more time. The walk down Glen Sligachan with the Red Cuillin on one side and the Black Cuillin on the other, the final steep scramble to the summit of Sgurr an Stri and the other-worldly views from the top in all directions made this a trip I will never forget. I can’t imagine a better viewpoint in Scotland after all.

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6 Comments

  • Reply
    BIG BAD BILL
    18th November 2016 at 11:43 am

    Fantastic report Ross and some amazing pictures. Well done

    • Reply
      Ross
      30th November 2016 at 10:13 pm

      Cheers Bill, it was some trip! πŸ™‚

  • Reply
    Anne Sackman
    3rd February 2017 at 4:22 am

    Beautiful pics! The narrative was excellent! Thank you for sharing your ART! (I am an artist, a retired person, who loved camping when I was younger, and miss it a lot! This helps!)

    • Reply
      Ross
      4th February 2017 at 12:34 pm

      Thank you for the very kind words Anne! I’m glad reading articles like this helps. I don’t know how I’ll manage when I can’t do these things anymore. I’ll just need to come back here and read them all again! πŸ™‚

  • Reply
    Zander Rutherford
    5th February 2017 at 10:10 pm

    Great report, highly informative, inspiring and engaging to read. Cracking photos too! Cheers!

    • Reply
      Ross
      8th February 2017 at 9:45 pm

      Thanks a lot Zander, I can’t believe I never thought to send you a link to this when you asked me about it previously. Good luck on your wild camp on top. Looking forward to seeing the photos! Cheers

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