The Isle of Skye

The Isle of Skye is the largest and most northerly of the Inner Hebridean Islands. The island is longer than it is wide and has a coastline that is so heavily indented that you are never more than a handful of miles from the sea. The Island is one of the most heavily visited parts of the Highlands and has much to offer the visitor. If you have visited Skye before then you could remember your trip for any of a long list of reasons: the coastal scenery, the road to Uig ferry bound for the Outer Hebrides, Bonnie Prince Charlie, the ferry (not any more), the rain, the Skye beer, the toll on the bridge, the 'other' ferry, Portree, Talisker's distillery, the weird rock formations in Trotternish, the midges, Sligachan Hotel, and of course the Cuillin range in the south.

For those in search of the mountains the clearly it is the Cuillin range that is the main attraction. This range is located in the south of the island and over its 8 mile length includes a total of 20 Munros and Munro tops. The mountaineering here is like nowhere else in the United Kingdom - a long succession of narrow ridges, several sections can only be gained by rock climbing and virtually all of the rest require a high level of scrambling in order to reach the top. The scenery is dramatic - whether it is viewed from near or afar, from the ridge or the corrie - and it is no surprise that this region is held in such regard.

However the Cuillin is not the only attraction for the walker and mountaineer. The Red Hills across the valley from Sligachan offer a range of slightly lower, more rounded tops with high ridges between them. Bla Bheinn at the top end of Loch Slapin is another high ridge that offers an enticing and exciting expedition to the visitor. In the north of the island is the long high ridge of Trotternish that hosts the weird and wonderful geology of The Storr and Quiraing. All these areas offer the prospect of excellent days out in their own right and should not really be held over until the main Cuillin ridge is covered in mist or the day is wet.

The coastline is long, highly indented and also offers a wide range of walks. The path from Elgol around to Loch Coruisk is long - at least 4 hours one way - and rates as one of the best coastal outings in the UK. For those not wanting to exert so much on a walk can choose to take the ferry into the head of the sea loch and walk out - or do it the other way round. The drive on the road to Elgol is stunning - with one of the most impressive views across the bay to the rugged crags and ridges of Bla Beinn.

With the Cuillin ridge such a major undertaking a trip to Skye was definitely off the agenda whilst the children were small. Camping on Skye is not an easy option either. The two most convenient sites are at Glen Brittle, just above the shoreline, or a Sligachan just over the road from the hotel. Both sites are comparatively small but are notorious for plagues of midges. There are other sites, one at Portree on the Trotternish road, but we have not been tempted to visit under canvas. We made a couple of forays onto the Island in 1995 whilst based in Kintail and enjoying some hot and sunny weather. One day was a full day outing to gain the summit of Sgurr nan Gillean, the second day more of a tourist visit taking in The Storr.

But an exploration of the high Cuillin ridge was an ambition. With the extreme nature of the ridges and the variable nature of the weather we were concerned about the logistics of getting up and down safely. We also wanted to include an ascent of the Inaccessible Pinnacle on Sgurr Dearg - that preposterous blade of rock that stands up from the ridge to overtop the adjacent top. This is the only Munro that can only be climbed with the aid of a rope and to get everyone in the family to the top was set as the target for a week long visit to the Island. So, we hired a guide and booked in at Bed and Breakfast for a week in August 1999 and crossed the new Kyle of Lochalsh bridge in anticipation of something special.

The Mountains