The Skye Trail: Introduction, Itinerary and Kit List

When the Vikings came to Skye in 795BC the native Picts and Gaels took their belongings and went inland into the great buttressed crags, steep coned mountains, and by the icy dark lochs all shrouded in mist. They concealed their herds in the twisted, warped waves of the Trotternish Ridge and waited on the black, gnarled slopes of the valleys. They knew already the effect the island would have on the invaders.

The Norsemen were instantly confused and disorientated; here was no lush land nor great sweeping forests. The island was turbulent, rough and brutal; pinnacles rose out of the earth like mythical spires and the land itself weighed heavily to one side. Between the bogs of a purple moorland and the great basalt peaks that churned the howling winds, it took a long time to breach the natural fortress they had arrived at across the Minch.

And through all their attempts, the fog hung low and on no two days was the landscape ever fully revealed to them. They would have no idea how long a valley would be or how tall a mountain; the low, grey cloud concealed the depth of the rivers and the density of the mountains. Eventually, as was their legend, the Vikings took the island and branded it in their sagas as Skíð – ‘The Misted Island’.

The whole island is one of music; of the running streams and calling winds, crying eagles and mournful seals. Storms froth with their entire assembly and waves crash against the resolute headlands. If anywhere was ever the influence for centuries of folklore and fantasy; of the magical and mystical island, it would be the jarring, generous, geological cacophony that is the Isle of Skye.

The Skye Trail is an unofficial trail between Broadford and Rubha Hunish. When ventured from south to north, it travels along the southern coast, by the ruins left after the Highland Clearances, up through the great Sligachan Valley between the watching summits of the Black and Red Cuillin, and out to the sea at the east. Then up, and up again, into and over and along the demanding and undulating slab of the Trotternish Ridge before a long descent via the humped Quiraing to Flodigarry and a final northern coastland walk across boggy moors to the tiny bothy at the headland that stares out across the sea to the rest of the Hebrides and not very much else beyond.

At times I would be be like a lost Dane in a completely unfamiliar land, overtaken by the mist and drenched in rain that can’t be seen. The trail was known to be a challenge, and it was also known to be completely extraordinary.


Image from The Hiking Life

The Skye Trail is an unofficial route which means there are several variations of it. Alternative versions see an ascent of Bla Bheinn rather than following the coast around Elgol, an approach to Sligachan via Loch Coruisk rather than through Glen Sligachan, a high route from Portree to Storr and a low route around the Trotternish ridge. I walked the most frequently travelled route, with the exception of heading northbound rather than southbound.

The reasons for this directional decision were threefold. Firstly, it would have already taken me twelve hours to get to Broadford and frankly I’d rather not be stuck waiting on anymore public transport timetables. Secondly, even though I am normally fairly dismissive of holding prevailing winds a priority, in some cases it makes sense and exposed Scottish islands with high ridges are one of those cases. Thirdly, it just seemed better to start in civilisation on easier paths and work up to the remote and glorious fantastical landscapes of the north. It is often said there are far better views the normal southbound way but just, like, turn around every so often?

I walked for five days, wildcamping on four nights, and spending the night of my finish in the Rubha Hunish bothy.

My itinerary is below:

I had initially planned for six days, and given myself seven. As often happens the original plan goes out the window fairly quickly when pen to paper becomes foot to ground. For the two days I had left on the island, I wildcamped on one night and spent the other at the campsite in Torvaig.

Elevation profile for a southbound route

Kit List

*Cats not included

It is now September and it was no use planning for the weather to be lovely. In fact, it was initially predicted to be an absolute horrorshow and I intended to be fully prepared. Thankfully much of the additional clothing I would be wearing on a daily basis so the weight of it would not be felt the same as if it had been carried. However, I also carried a more heavy duty sleeping bag, rather than the two season bag I had been able to blithely skip around with in the months prior. I had briefly dithered around and tried to make excuses to continue going stoveless into the autumn, but the idea of sitting in a howling gale and possible torrential rain up on the ridge, tent fly rustling furiously all around, with a couple of cheese sandwiches was just too pitiful.

September may mean I no longer have to bring sunscreen, but I absolutely still brought insect repellent and added one of those super glamourous headnets. You cannot trust that the Scottish midges are going to bugger off anymore until well into October and the advice from those that had hiked it even the week previously was that the little bastards were still everywhere.

There was one more addition to the already rapidly growing load. After the tragic news of the deaths in recent months of Sarah Buick and Esther Dingley, both very experienced and competent hikers, I was now in possession of a Garmin InReach and navigation system. As a fairly analogue person and borderline luddite, the absolutely bewildering journey of selecting one, setting it up and trying to learn how to use it is a whole funny story in itself, but ultimately the additional security and peace of mind only weighed in at an additional 213g.

 50L Backpack  1095g
Tent plus extra pegs 1031g
Groundsheet 139g
Sleeping Pad 369g
Sleeping Bag 890g
2L Water Bladder 80g
Trekking poles 390g
Clothes Bag:2 x shirts 
 2 x leggings 
 2 x hiking socks  
 2 x liner socks 
 3 x pants 
 Sports bra 
 Down jacket 
 Rain shell 
 Liner gloves 
 Weatherproof gloves 
 Camp shirt 
 Camp shorts 
 Camp shoes 
Wash bag*:Toothbrush 
 Camping soap 
 Tissue pack 
 Wet wipes 
 Microfibre cloth 
 Hair ties and clips 
 Insect repellent 
Electrical bag:Power bank x 2 
 3 x charging cords 
 Watch charger 
 Wall plug 
Guidance and Leisure:Guidebook 
 Journal With stamps and pen 
Miscellaneous:First aid kit 
 Electrolyte tablets 
 3 x small binbags 
Water purification tablets
Bumbag:House keys 
 Garmin InReach and Navigation device 
  Base Weight = 7.3kg
Food bag:Stove and fuel 
 Instant pasta meals x 4 
Instant noodles x 3
 Instant mashed potato x 2 
Sachet mushroom soup x 1
 Grated cheese 
 Funsize chocolate multipack 
 2L water 
 Pack Weight = 11.5kg
* All toiletries are mini or travel sized

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