The Skye Trail on the Isle of Skye in Scotland had been on my list for a very long time. I had visited Scotland a few times already and set foot on Skye just briefly many years ago. Last year I finally took the leap and flew to Scotland with my father and brother to begin an epic adventure on one of the toughest hikes in Scotland. We had to fight hard to climb the cliffs but the rewarding views were absolutely worth it! This is the story of our adventure.
The Isle Of Skye
Isle of Skye is situated on the west coast of Scotland and is the largest island (1.652 km2) in the Inner Hebrides. It is connected with the mainland with a bridge. With about 11.000 inhabitants it is not heavily populated.
The island is windswept and ruggid with high mountains and steep cliffs. The weather can be harsh with many cold, wet and cloudy days. There are not many trees and the landscape is dominated by grasslands, moors and swamps.
You can reach Skye by flying to Inverness or Edinburgh and take a train or bus to Kyle of Lochalsh and onwards to Portree, the main city on the island and perfect as a base to start your hike.
The Skye Trail
The Skye Trail runs from north to south through the island. You can do the trail in both directions but we decided to start in the north. The total distance of the trail is about 128 km. It is a unofficial trail so that means there are no signs or waymarks to show you the way. You will have to use maps and a gps or gps app on your mobile phone.
Expect steep climbs and descends with dramatic views and towering cliffs. You can camp in the wild along the way or if you plan it right you can stay on a campsite or in a B&B in small villages. We decided to camp in the wild.
We did not do the complete trail but choose the most exciting sections with the central mountains, The Trotternish Ridge, being the highlight of the hike.
Day 1: Rubha Hunish to Flodigarry (16km / 6-8 hours)
We got dropped off at the telephone box at the Shulista road end. You can take bus 57c from Portree. From here the trail is quite obvious. We hiked north towards the cliffs of Rubha Hunish that offer an amazing vista of the coastline. After a short hike down towards the most northern point of Skye we continued onwards back up the cliff. From the top of the cliff we were heading east through the meadows and from time to time crossing small creeks. There is no real trail so I was using my gps app to make sure we were on the right track. You can’t really go the wrong way if you stay close to the coast. On the other side we met the ocean again in the village of Balmacqueen. This is a great place to chill if the weather allows it.
From Balmacqueen we were just following the coastline going up and over cliffs with amazing views. I can imagine this being a rough place when the winter storms come in. When we caught the first glimpse of Flodigarry around the corner our legs were growing tired. The plan was to camp at the small lakes just beyond the village. Just follow the main road up for a while and then there will be waymarks sending you into the Trotternish Ridge. We camped at Loch Hasci, about 1 km up the trail. There are not many places to setup a tent or a tarp here. It might be better to camp at the lake just after the carpark or to continue a bit further on the trail. There is always the option to stay in a guesthouse in Flodigarry.
The first day was already quite tiring but little did we know what the next day would bring. It was a battle!
Day 2: Flodigarry to Hartaval (20km / 7-9 hours)
We set off early in the morning when the first sunlight just started to peak over the mountains. The air was cool but it promised to be a hot day. The first part is uphill on a rocky path towards The Quiraing rock formation. The views are spectacular. After a long descend we met the road and the viewpoint overlooking the valley below. It is a popular stop for tours so there are quite a few people hanging out here. This was the easy part.
Accross the road the trail goes up and up and up. Quite steep at some points. The terrain is a mix of grass and rocks. From here it was 15 km off up and down while crossing 8 mountains. It seemed neverending and the sun was burning strong high up in the sky. There was hardly any shadow. Finding water is very important on this part of the trail, escpecially on hot days. Whenever we had to chance to fill up on small creeks and rivers we filled up. Make sure to bring a water filter or purifying tablets. After a few kilometers and a few steep climbs and descends you can see a river with a small waterfall in the distance on the right hand side. Perfect for a refreshing dip on a hot day!
The vistas from the top of the mountains and down the cliffs are unreal. We wanted to continue to The Storr but the after the 8th climb we were dead and decided to call it a day and camp on the saddle between Baca Ruadh and Hartaval. A beautiful camping spot with a spectacular view down the valley.
Day 3: The Storr to Portree (17km / 5-7 hours)
When I woke up in the morning my tent was shaking because of the strong wind. I peaked my head outside and realised I couldn’t see more than 2 meters because of the fog. I didn’t expect this at all after such a calm evening with a beautiful sunset. But the weather can change very quickly in the mountains. It was difficult to make breakfast and break down the tent with the strong wind but with a bit of teamwork we succeeded.
Because of the fog we couldn’t see the trail or where we were headed. Luckily I downloaded a gpx for the whole trail so I could follow that for route finding. But it was still not easy and we had to backtrack a few times to make sure we were on the right track. Be very careful and prepared for when it’s foggy. There are steep cliffs everywhere. Take it slow and step by step and if you don’t know where you are going just stop and try to orientate yourself.
After 2 hours the sun slowly started to evaporate the fog and when we reached The Storr it cleared up so we had a nice view of this magnificent rock formation. The car park was packed and there were a lot of people. On the trail itself you will hardly meet anyone but at the popular viewpoints you will probably run into a people.
We followed the road and crossed the dam at Loch Leathan towards the coast. Here the trail continues south towards Portree. The sun was out again and the clouds were disappearing. You have two options here. You can follow the trail ontop of the rim all the way along the coast or you can go a bit more inland and make your way to Torvaig through the grassfields below. Over the rim will be a lot of up and down again. Down the valley below the rim will be difficult because there is no real trail to follow with swamps and grass. When it has been raining a lot I suggest to go over the rim. We went down into the valley and once we reached Torvaig took the main road towards Portree.
It is possible to set your tent up for free at the spit in the harbour of Portree. But keep an eye on the tide. We had to move our tents up a bit and pitched them up near the benches on higher ground. In the evening the tide came really high and we were happy that we moved our stuff.
I did a small hike later in the day following the Scorrybreac loop around the cliffs east of the city. After a welcoming shower in the youth hostel and a hearty dinner and some beers while watching the Champions league final in a overcrowded hotel lobby we slept like babies!
Day 4: Rest day
On day 4 we took the bus to Carbost to visit the Tallisker Distillery. Carbost is a sleepy village except for the tourists visiting the distillery. It was nice just to chill out and watch the ocean. After the distillery tour we hitchhiked back to Portree where we had some dinner and prepared our gear for the next day.
Check here for a the local bus schedule: Stagecoach
Day 5: Sligachan to Camasunary Bay (14 km / 3-5 hours)
Side trip: Camasunary Bay – Loch Coruisk (10 km return / 2-4 hours)
We took the first bus in the morning towards Sligachan. The weather was awesome again with a lot of sun and nice temperatures. The hike itself is very straightforward. There are many creeks and rivers to fill up on water or to have a refreshing dip on a hot day. Take your time and take it all in.
There are two options to reach the bay. Coming from Sligachan you can go right after 6-7 km towards Loch Coruisk. This trail goes around Sgur Na Stri and is quite steep at some point and there are a few sketchy cliff crossings. If you like adventurous routes and you have time and energy to spare you can take this route. The other trail just goes straight and is the easiest route to take.
Camasunary Bay is a beautiful wide bay facing the Atlantic Ocean. There is a MBA bothy at the end of the beach. You can camp anywhere and there is driftwood to collect if you want to make a fire.
We arrived quite early in the afternoon and I decided to hike towards Loch Curuisk and back. This is a really cool hike right next to the shore line on the cliffs. It is quite challenging from time to time with steep drops and the famous “Bad Step”. If you don’t have sturdy footing and have fear of heights I would suggest not taking this route. But if you like a challenge, go for it!
After a great sunset dinner at the campfire and a midge attack we hit the sack. There were some curious deer hanging around for most of the evening. It was also a bad idea to sleep under my tarp. Once the wind was gone and midges found out I was there I had to move to the tent together with my dad.
Day 6: Camasunary Bay to Elgol (6km / 2-3 hours)
We woke up to another sunny morning. The midges were out again in full force and it was a battle making breakfast and packing our stuff. I think I ate quite a lot of the f*ckers trying to down my granola.
We set off following the coastline towards Elgol where we would start our trip by bus back towards Inverness. The trail is quite adventurous with a few points where the cliffs drop steep down right next to you. There are not many busses leaving from Elgol and you have to plan it right if you want to make it back to Inverness or Edinburgh the same day. Take the earliest bus possible. Just check the schedule on the websites of Stagecoach and Citylink.
The first bus took us to Broadford. We did a quick stop at Loch Ness on the way. and from there it was onwards to Inverness. After a welcoming shower and the mandatory beer and dinner we called it a night.
The next day we would be heading home again! The rain came back in the evening as well. We were lucky enough to have a week of sunshine behind us! It was great spending time in the wild with my father and brother. Up to the next one!