My colleague who recommended that I go hiking in Scotland recommended that I go to the Cuillin Hills. These “hills” are widely regarded as the most rugged terrain in all of Scotland and are located on the Isle of Skye. Considering that they are only about 3,000 feet in elevation, I didn’t believe they could be too rugged, but I was wrong. These are some serious peaks and well worth the visit for the scenery alone.
I got up around 7:00 am and left Glen Nevis, headed for the Isle of Skye. I plugged the campsite into my GPS for the van and it took me to the closest point – Mallaig. That, unfortunately, wasn’t where I wanted to go. Mallaig is where the ferry from the mainland of Scotland leaves to take vehicles to the Isle of Skye. There is now a bridge. However, there isn’t a direct road from Mallaig to Kyle of Lochalsh, which is where the bridge is located. I would have had to drive all the way back to Fort William and then head up to Kyle of Lochalsh to cross the bridge, which meant an extra 3 hours of driving. So I paid for the ferry and crossed from Mallaig to the Isle of Skye. It’s a good thing, too, because the weather on the Isle of Skye was the best I had the entire trip. I spent more time waiting for the ferry than the ride took – it’s only about 20 minutes to cross to the Isle of Skye.
I then drove into Glen Brittle, which is, hands down, the most beautiful view from a campground I’ve ever seen. I knew the campground was right on the beach, but I wasn’t expecting what I saw. Here’s the view from just above the campground:
Also, I noticed as I was driving in that there was electricity out to the campground. But the building where the campground office is located is literally where the electrical line ends. I had never been to the end of an electrical line before. Stunning and so remote. Amazing! One of the most scenic places I’ve ever been.
I arrived around 1:30, parked the van, and geared up to hike. Given the sunny skies, I had to hike, even though my heels were killing me. The campground host told me there was a hike that left from the campground that made a loop up to see some of the hills and that offered nice views. I was thinking I’d take it easy this day because my heels hurt so bad, but the closer I got to the mountains, the stronger my inclination was to keep going. Yes, going up hurt my heels, but I was also worried that this would be my only day of good weather and I had driven to Glen Brittle just to hike the Cuillin Hills.
Here’s a sample of the view I had of the mountains:
I worked my way up toward the mountains and eventually reached the bowl, which offered spectacular views of the surrounding area. Here’s a panorama from the bottom of the bowl looking toward the ocean:
Another couple hundred feet in, and you got this view from inside the bowl:
Just as I reached the bowl, two women were descending toward me. I said hello and we stopped to chat. They asked me where I was going and I told them I didn’t know, since I really didn’t. I had a few routes on my GPS unit, but I hadn’t headed out planning to summit, just go for an enjoyable walk. They suggested I climb a scree pile through a narrow canyon and summit Sgurr Alasdair, which is where they had just descended from. Other than my heels hurting, I was feeling fine. And the weather was still good. So, I decided at that point that I’d go ahead and climb to the summit this day and end my hiking portion of the trip a day early, spending the extra day as a tourist visiting castles. I crossed the bowl and headed for this pile of scree:
I hate climbing scree. It’s just loose rock and every time you take a step, the scree collapses a little, meaning you lose ground with every step. It’s great coming down, but terrible going up. Even so, I was determined. I pushed on and eventually made it to the summit just as clouds blew in! Argh! My beautiful view was gone. And this was really rugged terrain. I stayed just a few minutes just below the summit where I wolfed down a granola bar and snapped a photo as I didn’t know if it was really going to start raining. This was not a place where you want to get caught in the rain – it was rocky and there was about a 1,000 feet of scree that I could slip down. Here’s the photo of me on the summit:
I started back down the scree pile only to have the clouds clear about 20 minutes later. Here’s the narrow scree pile I climbed up and then descended:
The descent was a lot faster than the ascent. Once I was off the scree, I was a lot less worried about getting back to the campground as the weather was still nice and I was done hiking at that point. I took my time and made it back around 5:00. It was about 3 hours round trip. I’d love to come back here with more time and no blisters and do the entire ridge line, as it really was amazing. However, doing the whole ridge requires ropes and harnesses, which I’m not quite prepared to do just yet.
Here’s the route I took:
View Cuillin Hills in a larger map
I got back to my van, showered, and settled in for the night.