Enter if you dare…to hear a tale of woe, hardship, and trench foot, as I attempted to hike ’round Isle of Skye in July.
The first super secret pro tip of this blog post is: don’t visit Scotland in July for a hiking vacation if you want to not have trench foot. Or if you want to have views on the majority of your hikes. Our lovely airbnb hosts informed us that the hiking season in Scotland is May or September/October. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED (though you’ll probably get trench foot regardless).
Anyway, David’s parents were exceedingly generous and invited us to tag along on their Scottish vacation at the end of July. We of course took them up on the offer, and we all met on Isle of Skye for a magical 4 days of gambling with the Scottish weather gods. The gods were merciful…50% of the time.
DAY 1: SGURR NA STRI
The weather was looking stable for our first full day on Skye, so we went all out and chose a 15-mile hike to “Britain’s finest viewpoint”, the peak of Sgurr na Stri. Sgurr na Stri is located in the Cuillin range on Skye, which has the most impressive and imposing mountains on the island. These little guys might not be particularly tall, but many of the rugged summits can be reached via scrambles or rock climbing only!
My next super secret pro tip for this blog post is: download the GPS files off of the Walk Highlands website! Scotland seems to be allergic to trail signs; pretty much the opposite of the White Mountains in New Hampshire. We began our hike and immediately there were several unmarked forks. This would become a theme for our Scotland hiking times in general. We really only knew where to go because of our GPS tracks and the trail descriptions on Walk Highlands.
The trail to Sgurr na Stri is an unmarked but obvious gravel path cutting through the landscape. It starts out innocent enough. With agile footing we hopped over the puddles and around the mud on the path. Eventually the mud and puddles became less avoidable. Then they pretty much became the trail. My feet were compromised about 2 hours in to the 9 hour hike. Gore-tex had no meaning. Life had no meaning. I started splashing through the water instead of trying to avoid it. My boots became permanently brown from the caked-on Scottish mud. I PRESSED ON.
After another 2 hours of listening to the squishing in my boots, we finally reached the summit of Sgurr na Stri. The trail peters out well before the top of the mountain, so we spent a decent amount of time meandering around and following boot tracks instead of the GPS track. 3rd pro tip: follow the GPS track, because it is smarter than the person who came before you who decided to take the MUDDIEST WAY POSSIBLE TO THE SUMMIT.
Summit achieved, we admired the rugged peaks of the surrounding Cuillin range to the north, and views of the ocean to the south. But was it the BEST VIEW IN BRITAIN? I will update you when I finish ~100 or so more hikes in the UK, for a fair assessment.
TRENCH FOOT: 1, LAURA: 0
DAY 2: RAIN DAY… WOMP WOMP
DAY 3: THE STORR
On day 3 we had another good weather window so David and I joined his parental units (Kim and Karen) for a hike on the northeast side of Skye. We hiked up to the “Old Man of Storr” rock formation, then up to the summit of the Storr plateau for some lovely views of ocean, rolling hills, and of course, sheep.
The hike starts out on a very wide and obvious path (IT EVEN HAS A SIGN). This is because there is a short plebe path up to the rock formations, after which 99% of the crowds will proceed no further. We made quick work of the highway-like path, then swung to the right for our loop up and over the top of the Storr. Super secret pro tip #4: Get there before 9am if you want to actually park in the parking lot, and laugh with judgement and glee as you end your hike and witness the insane circus that is 500 tourists trying to park all over a 1-lane highway so they can take the plebe trail up to the Old Man of Storr.
The path was easy and fairly flat, with only a very short section of a slight scramble, and the added excitement and adventure of stepping over a barbed wire fence that happens to be in the middle of the trail (thanks, Scotland!). From the Storr we saw the mountains of the island of Rassay, grassy cliffs, grassy hills, and sheep eating grass. We even saw some sunshine (GASP).
The downhill has long sections with no obvious path, so follow those GPS tracks, folks! There was a short, steep, rocky section on the descent very reminiscent of some of the rockier White Mountain trails, but besides that, most of the hike is on smooshy grass or smooshy dirt. And just in case you thought you could make it through this hike without getting your feet wet: FEAR NOT. The last stretch of trail is through some grade-A bog and my boots were once again soaking, never having fully dried from our Sgurr na Stri slog 2 days before 😀
TRENCH FOOT: 2, LAURA: 0
DAY 4: COIRE LAGAN
For our last day on Skye, Kim and Karen departed north for the Orkneys, and we were scheduled to depart south to Fort William. The weather was looking stable again so we tried our luck and decided to do a short hike before driving down. Coire Lagan is a straight-forward hike to a small lake with awesome mountain views. OR SO I’M TOLD, BECAUSE I DIDN’T SEE ANY OF IT.
Thick clouds hung low on the mountains and we knew as we were driving to the hike that it was going to be a major bust. As a bonus, it started raining about 20 minutes after we set out. We hiked to the lake anyway, and I saw grey. Grey to the north. Grey to the south. GREY GREY GREY. Then it started raining harder and the rain pelted our faces as we jogged down the trail. I’m pretty sure I swallowed a fair amount of snot as the rain washed it down my face. I didn’t take out my camera because duh, so here is an artist’s rendition of the hike:
Pro tip #5: THE WEATHER FORECAST IS A LIE. EVERYTHING IS A LIE.
TRENCH FOOT: 3, LAURA: 0
Stay tuned for part 2: Hikin’ ’round Scotland, Fort William edition! Enhanced with MORE RAIN!