Thursday 31 October 2019

Skye. Bioda Buidhe 466 Metres. The Quiraing. Staffin. Uig.

                                               ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN.
On the same day that we climbed the hill above Portree in the morning then I shot up Am Meall at lunchtime while Alex and John were in the shops I also found time to do some quality photography in the afternoon. They were intent on bagging Bioda Buidhe,466 metres, a long rising slope on the Trotternish Escarpment above the picture postcard village of Staffin. I hadn't committed to that yet but was happy just to be there in an area we do not visit that often. A handful of times in 40 years. Once everybody in a club has bagged the major Munro summits on Syke, plus getting older with less same age friends still keen on the hills, the opportunities to visit here get less. Also, with fuel costs ever rising, and Skye's notoriously fickle weather it's not always guaranteed to get fine conditions if you do go. The summit of The Storr, above.
So when Alex and John unexpectedly stopped off for coffee and a bun at a posh restaurant/ cafe in  Staffin village I shot off again on my own as I didn't have any great distance shots of the classic Staffin views with the cliff escarpment rising steeply behind. One of the great Skye panoramas in Scottish calendars sent worldwide. It was dry where I was at lower levels but occasional heavy rain bands swept in across the heights, like here.
Wait five minutes though and they cleared away to leave it sunny again. Perfect for photography. Coffee shops are not really my thing compared to this experience- my own caffeine/ adrenaline hit. Slightly anti- social admittedly but also knowing I might never be back here again given the statistical probability, or have this rare photographic opportunity again at my age if I didn't grab it now, in reasonable weather. The cliffs of The Quiraing, above. Amazingly, in 40 plus years, I've only been here twice, considering Skye is only 5 hours drive away from Glasgow. It was usually 4 day bank holiday weekends when we arrived on Skye to go hill-walking or rock climbing and the often iffy weather coupled with summer midges and long traffic queues on the way back, put us off to some extent once we'd bagged the major summits on the island. But it is very spectacular here. The path in climbs up between the pinnacles to an elevated grassy platform. Little did I know, taking this, I would be up there in a few hours time.
Part of the Trotternish cliff edge escarpment walk. Away from the tourist honeypots of the Storr and The Quiraing it's an empty, wild and remote experience.
A lone isolated cottage with a small section of the escarpment behind.
A distance shot of Staffin and The Quiraing. Rain shower over the summit.
Local sheep caught in mid munch. What The ****!!!! it seems to be thinking here.You could have waited until I stopped eating!!!
Some of the houses in this district had an unusual dappled effect.
Like dalmatians. In this area a garish multi-coloured Disney style house would look completely out of place so this is distinctive but also more suited to the general area.
Fox moth caterpillar. A familiar small woolly bear of the Scottish upland mountain landscapes, often seen in October or November, totally coated in ice or frost yet still moving. Must have antifreeze in its blood. No idea what they do to change into a moth as I've never seen the transformation stage yet.
The equally remarkable Sron Vourlinn above Flodigarry where the Trotternish Walk usually ends or starts if you want to finish it in Portree. So many amazing, still little frequented, places on this island and only one lifetime to explore it properly. Most folk are fixated on the Skye Black Cuillin ridge line, as we were in the early days, but there is so much more to this fantastic and beautiful island.
Digg/Dunans- where the escarpment fades slowly into the sea. Dozens of great separate day walks in this northern half of Skye. All of them little known.
It was at this point in the afternoon that I met Alex and John again, fresh from their coffee shop 30 minute stopover and we motored up to The Quiraing Car Park. When I'd first visited The Quiraing with Alex and George, early 1980s, the car park hardly existed at all, just a few lay-bys and space in total for perhaps a dozen cars where we parked back then, lower down the road. We walked up a beautiful grass slope starting close to the graveyard, and met about three other walkers in total that day, despite fine conditions. Only a faint grass path some of the way in or no visible path at all.
Now, at the road high point, a substantial 50 plus car park is available and a £1 per hour meter charge is in place- which is not too bad- on a good day. Even in late October, in wild, misty conditions the place was mobbed. Car park almost full, and tour buses delivering eager passengers every few minutes it seemed. Good money to be made on Skye these days. 80 percent of folk were not dressed for the conditions outside however - heavy sudden rain showers- hailstones- windy and fairly chilly. Some didn't even have jackets, coats, warm hats or any waterproofs with them- so they lasted about five minutes then jumped back thankfully onto the tour bus again after a very brief selfie of dark shapes looming out the mist.
In summer on a good day it must be heaving here with visitors and I noticed they had widened the road over the top of the pass substantially, allowing more parking and new meters along it for some considerable distance with signs of a second large car park being built perhaps, going by the mud in this photo above- space for hundreds of cars. Skye has a real problem nowadays with worldwide popularity and cars churning up roadside verges and limited parking spaces over the last ten years in popular hot spots like The Quiraing but they are addressing these problems- which costs money. Like the Lake District though that means charging for car parks where they used to be free and The Highland Council recently approved similar measures across the Scottish Highland Districts.

By contrast- away from The Munros and selfie hot-spots Skye is empty and you can park no problem with few other visitors around. Just depends where you go on the island. Same with Scotland in general.
Alex and John were heading up Bioda Buidhe, a steep grass trudge to the summit with waterproofs on, and frequent rain showers, but I thought I would have much more fun following the 'selfie swarm' and so it proved. For one thing it was a flat hike into The Quiraing and not such a brutal ascent so I could concentrate more on good images, like these.
I had full waterproofs on and my hood up as the showers were intense and driving but most folk were not so well prepared for these conditions and I would say 80 percent of the visitors turned back a short distance from the car park. The hot food van was doing a good trade.

At times it did clear for ten minutes or so before the next squall hit so it wasn't relentless and the better prepared with waterproofs and warm gear made it all the way in. You had to be determined though. In some ways it was good it was only properly dressed hill walkers this far in as the path was narrow and steep in places with some easy scrambling across a gully and conditions were slippy and semi adventurous. Large waterfalls pouring off the cliffs in places I've never seen waterfalls appearing before and visibility into driving rain pretty limited. 
Being on the opposite side of the road I also managed to get good photographs of John and Alex in dry moments, climbing their hill of choice. That looked a good summit view as well but less folk up there and not as sheltered.
And a view of them as tiny figures higher up on the escarpment.
The path into the Quiraing.
A hug in the mist.                                   'Singing in the rain.'
A proud selfie with The Prison as a backdrop, one of several notable landscape features up here. It was just after this point that my own camera started acting up, impregnated with water damage so that was my last clear shot before a foggy set of snaps. It was higher into the mist level after this point anyway and hammering down with ferocity so no great loss. I had to wait until I was back in the car before it cleared inside the lens and I got it working properly again.
On the return we went over the pass and around by Uig, seen here, for more great views.
Uig again in sunshine.
A clifftop hamlet. Conditions were changing every five minutes.
A remote headland on the neighbouring smaller island of Raasay. A great trip and thanks to Alex and John for the company and the invitation to go.... to be continued.....It's an EPIC!!!

Thursday 24 October 2019

Am Meall. (The Lump.) Portree Gallery. Skye.

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On the descent off the hill in the last post I noticed this little hill and stone tower, seen above, yet I'd never visited it despite being in Portree half a dozen times over the years, but only with other hill-walkers. There are always pros and cons in any group and you have to compromise at times. The up sides are good company, laughs, shared adventures, shared petrol money, useful exchange of info, and a common purpose- downsides in my case are a love of everything scenic- not just climbing hills, but low level stuff and urban walking as well. I would never have enjoyed so many walking and back-packing trips around Europe with friends in the past if we had not shared travel costs, safety in numbers going to remote areas where English speaking locals are thin on the ground, and a heightened level of adventure, knowing someone has your back when rock climbing/caving/mountaineering/ exploring. And just for companionship/security/ mutual support in strange unfamiliar lands with different customs, especially if you have an accident or fall ill abroad.. I have howled in silent protest however when we have raced through interesting foreign cities to get to the hills, usually spending just a day or a brief night in alluring places like Nice, Berlin, Rimini, Milan,Geneva, Turin, Paris, or Toulouse when a week was required to see them all individually in full. It has to be that way though on holiday trips when we always have limited time to cram it all in before returning to work or other commitments. Two to three weeks maximum on any holiday.
Back down off the hill and lunchtime in Portree... down by the harbour at this waterfront Fish and Chip shop. In past decades getting takeaways in the Scottish Highlands  has always been a mixed affair with some pretty dire offerings encountered. I've made my own chips and fish and pies in the house over the last fifty years via deep frying, microwave, or oven chips- and never made a meal I didn't like that way with these few ingredients. You can't really go wrong as you are only heating stuff up yet I've lost count of the number of times, some covering decades of disappointment, when food has been very substandard in certain areas. And I do not have particularly high standards, happy with mince pie and beans, oven chips, steak pie or smoked sausage- just basic tasty cheap grub really. So I'm pleased to report this particular fish and chip shop on the waterfront in cream and blue in the above photo, is a belter. 10 out of 10 for beautiful crisp, light, soft, and perfect chips and frying methods. As good as the Lake District chippies and that's high praise indeed. If you are in Portree this is the place to visit if in need of hot take away grub.

A second highlight occurred when hill-walking companions Alex and John decided to go to the supermarket for some supplies... and I didn't need anything. Seizing my chance for 20 to 30 minutes of free  time in Portree I shot off up this little hill. It has a pleasant halfway up balcony trail running right around it, on a narrow path, seen here, which now has a wooden safety rail, but apparently this is a recent addition looking at old photos. The vertical drop is only 20 to 30 feet straight down from this ledge but not a happy prospect if you toppled over, hence the railing.
For such a small hill views over the town are impressive and I highly recommend this short walk. Am Meall. ( The Lump.) is apparently the traditional home of the Skye Highland Games and also the hilltop location for the Skye Live Festival, hosting various music bands and events. It's only a small venue but would be very scenic and unusual. Popular I'd imagine. Link and photo gallery below. The Waterboys headlining this year. Great band. Catchy crowd pleasing songs known worldwide.

Although a natural landscape feature in origin the summit of Am Meall has been smoothed and sculpted into a flat grassy amphitheater, perfect for open air events.
Am Meall. Central grass circle. Only a few folk were around the summit slopes so a perfect time for a visit.

Cracking views over Portree Harbour. The nearest boat is a tourist one offering sightseeing tours around this large, semi enclosed, bay, ringed with cliffs. The orange and blue faraway boat is the local lifeboat covering this seaboard region of scattered islands and distant remote communities.
Autumn colours in Portree. The small yellow house is a cracker, even down to tiny details like the blue chimney pots. Although Portree sits in a lovely hilly location, a natural bowl beside a harbour, many more towns and villages in Scotland that want a lift and more tourists could easily follow this example.
A splash of colour really lifts the mood and puts a smile on your face, for tourists and locals alike. Even in ex- mining communities or deprived but scenic areas a coat of paint can make a big difference. Popular tourist places like Tobermory, Tarbert, and Portree are not any better or more vibrant than a lot of other interesting Highland, Lowland, or Central Belt towns and villages I visit on my travels- the only difference really is a few coats of paint applied in an effective manner. As I've said before now I really do think many Scottish towns and villages are missing a trick. It doesn't need to be a direct primary colour copy either or a transformation into Disneyland- the various patterns can be as wide as your own imagination. Subtle soft pastels and distinctive subdued elegance where appropriate, black and white picture stencils on buildings, vivid ferns, butterflies and flowers on gable walls.... people, places, and animal silhouettes dotted here and there, or depicting past local history through the ages in an area -so effective in East Coast Prestonpans, ('The Mural Town') and an ex- industrial community/location so not exactly your normal tourist destination. Even in large cities it can work to good effect... for industrial Glasgow cannot complete with Edinburgh for cobbled winding lanes, ancient picturesque castles, and dormant volcanoes in its heart but it does have a wonderful, ever changing tapestry of recently developed colourful murals- likewise neighbouring Paisley. It doesn't have to be expensive either for smaller communities as I've seen loads of teenage artistic talent and impressive imagination just in neighbourhood graffiti walls.

                                            A shy tunnel maiden in deepest Renfrewshire.
 I'm sure loads of local youngsters in communities would be keen as long as they got some small reward, recognition of skills, and kept the subject matter appropriate. Or there's plenty of adult unemployed or underused local artists out there in every location. Scotland has always had high levels of suicide, drug addiction, and mental health issues in all its communities and while long walks outdoors, positive upbeat visual stimulation, and a genuine sense of purpose/hobby/obsession in your life is not a complete answer for everyone it does help a great deal- especially during the long, grey, damp winters northern communities often experience. If you live in a miserable, grey damp town or village- this could be your chance to turn it around with artistic endeavour.

The natural talent, fun, and energy is always out there just waiting for a suitable opportunity to express itself. A recent walk past the Erskine Bridge that made me laugh, looking for autumn tree colours. But maybe not like this in town centres to attract discerning tourists :o)

Clifftop houses in Portree.

Boats in Portree Bay.
The view from Am Meall.
Another Wild Wabbit. Highly trained to keep the grass short. Low cost lawnmowers and tasty too in a nice hot roll or soft buttered bap. Bunny in a bun....Legs, ears, and fluffy tail sticking out the edges, an optional choice. Yum Yum. Loads of them on Skye.
And a zoom of The Storr rock pinnacles.
The stone tower, a 19th century folly with a metal spiral staircase inside, offering excellent panoramic parapet views.
Skye suburbia. Portree.
The Storr summit from Am Meall Tower. A distant view.
Uptown Portree. A cracking wee walk my hill-walking orientated companions sadly missed out on.... as they would have liked it as well.  Worth a visit if you are in this vicinity... and the day was still young..... to be continued....

Monday 21 October 2019

Skye. Sithean Bhealaich Chumhaing. The Sunseekers.

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When we awoke in the hut on Saturday morning the sight of the Black Cuillin on Skye was one of early morning clag over the jagged peaks. Well named. It was black alright. Gabbro tends to repel any vegetation growing on it.
Fortunately, the older members of the group had bagged all the Black Cuillin summits before now so while some younger club members set off undaunted into the mist, full of youthful enthusiasm, we motored out of Glen Brittle in search of lower hills below the clag level... and even some sunshine.

With age comes experience.. and hopefully wisdom... so on an island as varied and large as Skye we hoped to bag an alternative summit in semi decent weather.
We headed north, towards Portree- The Sunseekers.
And managed to find it. Red Cuillin here. Also well named.
Our journey took us through the main Skye town of Portree (the photo above is of Achachork, a smaller nearby community), which we passed on the way to Torvaig. From here a faint path leads across fields to the slopes of Sithean Bhealaich Chumhaing. A bit of a mouthful but a fantastic hill nonetheless.
There was a bit of a hesitant traverse from a farm, trying to keep to the right gates and gain rough ground in a proper fashion but after that it was easy and obvious. Uphill and towards the edge of 'the great escarpment'. This starts more or less at Ben Tianavaig, seen above and continues past Portree up the northern edge of the island for over 30km to end at Rubha Hunish at the very tip of the northernmost headland. It's really several parallel waves of rising escarpment  cliffs- a lower edge running from the Sligachan Hotel area past Portree to Inver Tote, around 300 metres, 1000 foot high mark, falling straight into the sea... and a higher ridge-line escarpment running further inland around 400 metres to 700 metres, containing highlights like The Quiraing and The Storr. Away from these two popular tourist honeypots the scenery is still spectacular but rarely visited except for more serious hill-walkers as it requires slightly more effort, planning, and navigation.
The full Trotternish Ridge walk from Portree to Floigarry is a marathon all day hike of almost 30km ( 18miles) of up and down switchback summits- a small section of which can be seen here.
However we were more than happy with our choice today. Portree in the background.
As we climbed higher views became more impressive with a cliff edge dropping one thousand feet to the sea below, on the left of the photo. The almost island peninsula of Ben Tianavaig behind Alex and John here and the Red Cuillin Peaks in the distance.
Looking down off the cliffs at a commercial fish farm below- probably salmon. A couple of wildlife boats also run tours across this bay for seals, seabird, dolphins and sea eagle watching. All of which are fairly common here.
A closer view of how rugged the land is in detail. Wild Skye at its finest.
Me being me I like the little things around me as well though.
The often equally dazzling complexity of the micro worlds underfoot.
And the colours they bring to the party.

A fish cage and service boat with fish visibly jumping up for food.
Autumn colours. Scottish Highlands.
The path. Sithean Bhealaich Chumhaing. 392 metres. 1286 feet high. I found myself wondering how many sheep tumble off the cliffs here as some could be spotted in very precarious positions and sheep, unlike goats and baboons, are not exactly nimble dancing across cliff edges generally.
A distant view towards Torridon district.
Panorama of the area. Red Cuillin spread out in the distance.
On the way back down off the summit I took this shot of Portree and it was with a fair degree of surprise that I realized with incredulity that I'd never been up or noticed this folly/ tower on the hilltop before. Normally, turning up in Portree, in a climbing club car, we are there for food or drink, a fish supper, essential supplies, or just for the buzz of a scenic town on a wet day when the hills are out due to pouring rain or misty conditions. This time I was determined I would seize my chance to explore this unknown little hill  better if the opportunity presented itself.... to be continued.