The Magic of Skye

[Words and photographs by Roy Starkey. Roy has provided so many wonderful photographs that I’ve chosen to add them as thumbnails. These can easily be expanded by double clicking on them.]

W.A.Poucher’s classic guide “The Magic of Skye” is a superb reference work for anyone planning a visit to the Misty Isle ( Eilean a’ Cheò ). We spent a fabulous week on Skye at Easter, based in self-catering accommodation at Dunvegan. Skye has a tremendous variety of scenery from towering coastal cliffs, and the grandeur of the Black Cuillin, through the more gentle profile of the Red Hills, and the basalt scenery of the northern part of the island – the Old Man of Storr and the dramatic landslips of the Quiraing. Wildlife abounds and it is not uncommon to spot an eagle soaring high overhead. Otters too can be seen in the sea lochs, and a bewildering variety of seabirds nestle on every ledge and alcove of the steep sea cliffs during the nesting season. In the SE of the island, the Sleat Peninsula offers a more tranquil and vegetated alternative to the craggy and steep ground of the mountains. A boat trip from Elgol into Loch Coruisk at the heart of the Cuillins is a very worthwhile experience, especially on a nice day!

En route to Skye we made a stop in Glencoe to catch up with Cameron & Elaine at the Clachaig Inn (one of my favourite places for a bar meal), and managed to fit in a quick pre-dinner walk up and round the Glencoe Lochan – a little known, but visually stunning artificial lochan hidden in the forestry below the Pap of Glencoe. Next we made our way northwards to visit some friends at Kishorn (they are fortunate to have Pine Martens visit their garden). We spent a day exploring old haunts around Torridon and made our way down to the beautiful harbour at Diabaig. As we arrived on Skye, the early morning mist and cloud began to disperse and we were greeted by clear views up the east coast of the island from Broadford.

Glencoe Lochan and the pap of Glencoe

Pine Marten at Kishorn


We made our way to our accommodation, unpacked and headed straight out to explore. The view to the outer Hebrides was strikingly clear form near Glendale, and we made our way on to the end of the road at Neist Point, where you can book holiday accommodation in the old lighthouse buildings – but it is a stiff walk back up to the top of the cliff each morning (or down, in the evening with your luggage, shopping and provisions!) We spent a lazy afternoon watching the sea birds playing, rock climbers inching their way up cracks in the basalt, and fisherman dodging the spray from their ledge down in the splash zone. The following day we returned to the coast and worked our way along the shore below the cliffs of Moonen Bay, hunting for zeolites (white minerals which occur in gas bubbles in the lavas). The steep grassy slopes at the base of the cliffs were covered in primroses and Early Purple Orchids – very nice to see. We also came across some pretty aggressive nesting Shags, nestled into rocky alcoves on the sea cliffs, just above the splash zone.

The Outer Isles from Glendale

Neist Point lighthouse 1

Climber at Neist Point

Moonen Bay from Neist Point

A zeolite called mesolite, Moonen Bay

Early purple orchid

On Monday we got up early and caught the 08.30am ferry across to Raasay – somewhere we’ve been meaning to visit for many years but never quite managed. The sea was dead flat calm and the island was bursting in to life with new green growth everywhere, and carpets of violets and primroses on every sunny slope. Raasay has a history of iron mining back in the early 1900s and I was interested to go and see the remains of the buildings and the adit level from which a railway ran down to the harbour [adit – a horizontal passage leading into a mine for the purposes of access or drainage.] Having inspected the few remaining buildings (opportunity missed here by the Forestry Commission / Estate – no interpretation boards or information at all!) we followed the excellent well-graded path through beautiful woodland and out onto the open moor, finally reaching the summit of Dun Caan – the highest point on the island, and the characteristic peak sticking up in the centre of Raasay, visible for miles around.

Dun Caan on Raasay

Tuesday saw us head north to Uig and following the minor road up through the so-called  “Fairy Glen” – an area of landslips, similar to, but much less extensive than the better known Quiraing. We walked on from here and followed the strange path, straight as a die, all the way to the summit of Beinn Edra – a truly commanding viewpoint on the crest of the basalt ridge running the length of the Trotternish Peninsula.

We met up with some friends near Portree on Wednesday and divided our time between the coast at Flodigarry and a walk from S to N through the amazing landscape of the Quiraing (helpful to have two cars).

The Quiraing

Thursday started off as a rather “dreich” morning (A combination of dull, overcast, drizzly, cold, misty and miserable weather. At least 4 of the above adjectives must apply before the weather is truly dreich!) and we decided to opt for a low-level coastal walk, making our way southwards from Ramasaig along the spectacular cliff scenery south of Moonen Bay, heading towards Macleod’s Maidens.

En route to the coast S of Ramasaig

Huge natural arch on the coast S of Ramasaig

Coastal scenery S of Ramasaig

Our final day on Skye was brilliantly sunny so we thought we should “head for the hills”, and decided to tackle Marsco, a superb lesser peak right next door to the Cuillins. Approached from Sligachan, Marsco has a striking profile and an unremittingly steep ascent straight up the NW ridge. It is, however, a tremendous viewpoint by virtue of its position and the range of different scenery seen in all directions from its summit. This was of course Royal Wedding day and we thought it better to spend the day on a  mountain than sat indoors peering at the TV (good decision!).

Sgurr nan Gillean from Marsco

Sgurr nan Gillean from Marsco

On the steep ridge of Marsco

Marsco from Sligachan

Garbh Bheinn and Blabheinn from Marsco 1

Garbh Bheinn and Blabheinn from Marsco 2

So, if you haven’t made it to Skye yet – make the effort – it is only 500 miles from the Midlands and you’ll have a great time ! (It does of course help if it is dry and sunny …)

Cuillins in evening light from Bracadale

Raasay from the ferry

About Roy Starkey

Roy grew up in the south of England but quickly developed a thirst for mountains and geology. Over the past thirty years or so he has visited many remote parts of highland Scotland in search of mineral specimens and photographs. He and his wife Mary have visited various mountainous areas in Europe and the USA, and climbed Half Dome in Yosemite a year or two ago (a really great day out if you have not done it). Like Cameron he has spent much time in Snowdonia, and the Lake District, but his first love is the Scottish Highlands where he tries to spend at least a couple of weeks every year – winter and summer.
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