We woke up early to see the sunrise from our clifftop bothy at Rubha Hunish, where we spent the previous night. This also allowed us a very early start to the walking on our first full day on the Skye Trail. The start of the trail was very boggy in places but nothing we couldn’t manage with careful footing. Even though I was equipped with my new Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX boots I didn’t want to risk getting my feet soaked through on the first day of the trail. Jack on the other hand, was embracing his new waterproof boots and just powered on without so much as a second look at where he stepped!
The long endless views across the cliffs to the infinite sea beyond were a great reward for the slog this early on a Sunday morning. The northern slopes of the Trotternish Ridge were covered by a low layer of thick cloud so we were more than happy looking out to sea for our dramatic views instead. By 10am we had already covered enough miles to be halfway through Stage 1. We were going to push on though, for much longer if possible, to cut into the massive distance required along the Trotternish Ridge on Stage 2. We had plenty of time though because of our early start so found a great old ruined building to sit down in and cook our porridge for a late breakfast and discuss the task ahead.
Although the views on our left were the same rugged coastline for every step we took, we never tired of staring out to sea and admiring the steep, jagged cliffs. The north coast of Skye really is a beautiful place. I got excited at every steep cliff edge I deemed safe enough to stand over and Jack got extremely uncomfortable every time I did so while asking him to take a photo of it!
We would stop often to look at the countless sheep, cows and birds littering the clifftops. The birds being the most interesting as they swirled around in the powerful gusts of wind before suddenly diving straight down towards the ground repeatedly. Or as they just hung so still in the sky, counteracting the wind so perfectly as if to be floating stationary above us.
Before we knew it though, this short and simple first stage was almost over. As we rounded the bend of the north east coast, Staffin Bay came into view and with it, our first glimpse of civilisation after a day on the coast seeing no-one at all other than the people we left behind us in the early hours of the morning at the bothy. There were a few short downward scrambles to negotiate and then a bit of to-ing and fro-ing to find the right path that would lead us to Flodigarry Hostel and the end of Stage 1 by 11:30am.
We were well chuffed with our efforts to be finished Stage 1 before midday so went to the Flodigarry Hotel for refreshments. Even though we were feeling extremely proud of ourselves for the great time we had made so far, it was still way too early in the day – and the trail – for alcoholic refreshments, so we opted for crisps and Coke instead. We had barely stopped that morning for food so the moment that first crisp touched my tongue was instant satisfaction multiplied again by a huge gulp of ice cold, sugary Coke.
The sun was shining and we had walked a lot in a short time so we were quite happy to rest for a few hours before making our start to Stage 2. I had originally hoped we would make it to the Quiraing car park by the end of the day which was another three miles ahead from Flodigarry so that was our goal. After reaching it, we would then look for somewhere nearby to set up camp for the night. I just wasn’t sure how good the weather would be or how far we would be able to press ahead so we were very much winging it for this part of the trail.
Once we finally got going again, the weather had cleared up completely and the day had turned into a scorcher. I even decided to change out of my boots and into my Salomon Speedcross 3 trail running shoes to give my feet a break and save them for the long week ahead. Stopping first at Loch Langaig just up from the road, we found a great wee grassy spot, perfect for camping on the banks of the loch which many people have probably done before. We had much more energy left in our legs though and time was on our side so we kept on walking, through the seriously impressive cliffs and spires of the Quiraing.
At this point, nothing could dampen our spirits. Everything had been perfect so far and we were surrounded by stunningly beautiful scenery. Considering we had started just a few hours earlier in the bothy at Rubha Hunish, we were making great progress into Stage 2 and managing to see some great sights while the weather was so suited for it.
For the whole walk from Flodigarry, Jack had been drooling at the thought of the snack van that apparently stops the the Quiraing car park sometimes. I kept telling him not to get his hopes up incase it wasn’t there but he wasn’t having any of it. And those high hopes were finally quashed when he spoke to a man passing the opposite direction. He told Jack he didn’t see the snack van when he left the car park so our hopes for a roll and egg at the end of our long days walk were all but gone.
We were getting close to the car park and our hopeful final destination for the day now but still had so much time and energy left in us. We decided we would at least push up to the first summit of the Trotternish Ridge – Bioda Buidhe – to find a good camping spot for the night, away from the hustle and bustle of the car park.
As we rounded the corner and the car park came into full view in the distance, something amazing had materialised; the snack van was there! Jack actually started running at this point, it was the most energetic he had looked all day. It only lasted a few seconds though, as we hadn’t eaten much all day and were running on pure adrenaline and excitement so needed a much deserved energy boost in the form of a hot roll and another can of Coke. We made the final walk up to the car park, leaving the Quiraing behind us and headed straight for our well deserved refreshments. We sat on some nearby soft grass stuffing our faces while looking back where we had just come from and then on to our next challenge up ahead of Bioda Buidhe. It was quite a surreal experience, to be sitting there in one of the greatest viewpoints in the whole of Scotland, surrounded by tourists, while enjoying a hot roll and cold drink from a snack van. It felt like we were cheating by eating food like this but we figured we would have enough days of wild camping and hard work over the next seven days that we may as well make the most of it while we could.
We finished up our food then began to head up towards our next target. Not before visiting the snack van again for an ice cream cone. I can definitely say it’s the first time I’ve been hillwalking while eating ice cream! By this time, the flurry of tourists had settled down and we were left with the Skye Trail all to ourselves again. We were now on lookout for places to camp for the night too. The endless steep cliffs proved to be an ongoing distraction for us though and before we knew it, the clouds were rolling in from the sea. Every step we took up Bioda Buidhe seen the cloud and mist thicken around us. So thick had the mist got that when we did reach the summit, there was nothing to see at all, not helped by the fact that it is a flat and featureless place at the best of times.
With no views worthy of stopping for and plenty of daylight left, we thought again that we may as well just keep going. On the south side of Bioda Buidhe, the path had all but disappeared so we were basically just wandering down the hill side aimlessly on grass that was getting more and more boggy by the step. Swapping over to my trail running shoes didn’t seem like such a good idea now!
We decided we would keep on following the trail until we found a flat grassy spot to set up camp on. And so after 14 miles of walking and nearly 12 hours since we set off from a clifftop bothy on the coast to a third of the way along the Trotternish Ridge, past the amazing landscape of the Quiraing, we finally found a place to stop for the night in Bealach Uige.
We set up our tents facing west towards Uig, the Fairy Glen and the setting sun. It was a great spot and a fantastic way to end the day. Skye has some unbelievable scenery and at this point we felt like the luckiest and happiest guys on the island for experiencing such a huge variety of it on such a beautiful day.
We had put six miles extra walking in, reducing Stage 2 along the Trotternish Ridge from 18 miles down to 12. We were feeling extremely positive as even in our wildest dreams, the day couldn’t have gone any better. If only we knew what the weather had in store for us the next day…