Day two of a week’s walking holiday in the north west highlands. After a night of heavy rain and gales we were in no rush to leave our Plockton guesthouse, so instead enjoyed a leisurely breakfast chatting with the owners and guests. Hopefully a decent weather window would arrive later in the day from the north west, so plan A was to head to the Isle of Skye for an afternoon walk.
Always exciting heading to Skye, first glimpses appearing invitingly on the entertaining single track road to Kyle. Cloud was down over the Cuillin whilst lower areas looked far more inviting. We discounted a few walk options along the way before choosing north Skye as the best bet. Nearing Portree the Trotternish Ridge was already enjoying perfect blue sky and we began to regret our late start. The Quiraing had been on the to-do list for ages but we always ended up diverting elsewhere. We wanted to do it justice in good weather but whenever good weather appeared we rarely made it past Sligachan. In poor weather we’d end up at the coast especially the northern point of Rubha Hunish. Today we didn’t have time for anything higher so just hoped the weather would hold.
- Distance = 6.5 miles (10.5 km)
- Duration = 4 hrs 50mins, (can be done quicker if you can resist stopping often)
- Total Ascent = 2,000 ft (610 m), max height 1,689 ft (515 m)
- Start/Finish = Car park at high point of Staffin to Uig road off scenic coastal A855
- Date = Friday 3rd October 2014, start 12.35 – finish 5.25pm
- Click on my Social Hiking Route Map below to zoom in/out
Turns out the Quiraing consists of a long section of sheer east facing cliff with the Table & Prison a diversion in the middle. There’s a path along the top of the cliffs looking down and a path along the bottom looking up. It’s different in some ways to the Storr with a surprising watery rock step along the tourist path. Most people seem to take the lower path as an out & back but we wanted to do the full circuit starting up the higher route along the top then joining the lower path back to the car park. We added in an extension in the middle going further out on the ridge to Sron Vourlinn, (with hindsight we should also have added a small diversion to the highest point, Meall na Suiramach).
After driving up the A855 we turned off at Brogaig, opposite Staffin Bay, signposted Quiraing & Uig. The car park commands one helluva view across the dramatic east edge of the Trotternish Ridge, a unique jumble of fascinatingly eroded landslips. Breathtaking.
We started at 12.35, firstly crossing the road to follow the main path north east for a few yards before leaving it for a small grass promontory and more photos. Here’s some trivia, apparently Michelle Pfeiffer was once at this spot filming Stardust.
We rejoined the path then almost immediately diverted north along muddy tracks going straight up the hillside for the high route. Views back are pleasing.
We somehow managed to lose the upper path going a little too far north then swinging north east to pick it up. It goes through a gate and eventually branches in two with the main path taking a direct line, whilst we chose to carry on following the cliff line path giving more interesting views. The wind prevented me getting too close to the edge, it’s very sheer with dramatic drops so do take care taking the compulsory photos.
The Table is a section of grass topped volcanic cliff that long ago detached slipping down. Apparently cattle were taken there to be hidden from the Vikings. We saw no cattle and no Vikings in fact no one at all down there. Hoped to be standing on that grassy mound later. Soon the path swings north and we passed up an opportunity to divert inland to the uninviting looking trig point of Meall na Suiramach. This is in fact the highest point in this area and apparently despite the flattish ground gives views to the north and west of Skye. We carried on skirting the cliffs along the path which started gently losing height whilst providing an impressive panorama over the east coast. On a clearer day the north west mainland would look wonderful from up here.
The path reaches a gate to meet the low path rising from the south, however we carried on north then north east to follow above rising cliffs towards Sron Vourlinn.
It’s then just a matter of broadly following the skyline northwards out to the furthest point of the ridge Sron Vourlinn. Breezy up here so a little caution on the sheer Trotternish cliffs.
Sron Vourlinn is the most northern point of the Trotternish Ridge (just) and although lower than the main ridge is still a decent quiet spot for a sit down and scan with binocs. Few people seemed to come out here which was nice and it did feel worth the effort. (Rubha Hunish is a recommended short walk & the best place in Skye for whale spotting).
Crossing the fence there’s a short eroded muddy descent opening out on to a more level path heading south south east below the cliffs. The interest gradually increases.
We had a food break at a sheltered spot then sauntered along the scenic path which soon met another path coming up from north east. The cliffs looked black as the cloud thickened, we had been lucky so far but our weather window looked to be disappearing. Eventually the path swung south west and the features spotted earlier all suddenly came into view. Towering cliffs and eroded columns to the right, it’s definitely a stiff neck time. A cairn marks an obvious spot to ascend for a look around the pinnacles and Table. Looks easy in the photo below doesn’t it, but the ground was still damp and the path an eroded earthy fine gravel which moved in places, the surrounding grass was little better.
Alan went up first but found his boots increasingly sliding so decided to come back down knowing the steeper ascent ahead had to be retraced. My boots were only just satisfactory so I continued on up, relying on my poles for added support. It was a slow slippy ascent and steeper than it looked from below.
I had no clue what was ahead and there was little evidence of reassuring fresh boot prints.
Contouring around the Needle I spotted a rock cleft so clambered carefully through. Again the ground was steeply crumbly and certainly no one had been through there today.
One of those moments when you hope to find a better way down. Anyway once up I’d now breached the cliff barrier guarding a maze of rocks, pinnacles, columns, grass and paths. Still no clear view of where to go next so followed the path below snaking up to the skyline.
Once at the skyline I realised this was one amazing maze, not as straightforward or flat as it had looked from above. Wish I had more time, but this was just a quick exploration.
The Table loomed behind looking unreachable so I skirted around northwards thinking I’ll just nip up then quickly head down. This would have been a lot easier had I gone south.
Totally alone up here except for a few surprised sheep, not the best of times for the sky to darken and suddenly start to rain. The prevailing weather was blowing in quickly from behind the cliffs so it was impossible to tell what was next. I couldn’t find an easy way up to the Table so grabbed a last photo before turning round.
My concern was the slippy descent slopes getting worse in the rain, so dashed back to the rocky cleft which turned out ok in a hurried descent. Returning to the base of the outer cliffs the rain suddenly stopped and the sun came out. I went further right to try a slightly better line of descent carefully down the slippery steep knee aching slopes.
The diversion had taken nearly 50 minutes, it would need longer to explore properly. Back by the Prison I collected an Alan and set off south east on the lower path, soon coming to a cairn taking the lower left path heading in a straight line for the now visible car park.
Some parts of the path had irritatingly been badly churned up by nearby cattle. Then we came to a surprising rocky step across a small gully with water streaming over the hand holds. We were quickly over and it’s probably easier after less rain but a surprise on a ‘tourist’ path.
Back to the car at 5.25pm after a 4hrs 50 min walk, this could certainly be done much quicker but there’s plenty of places to linger so why rush. Rather than drive back the same way we went south west across to Uig and the faster A87 route back to Portree.
Luckily still enough time for a pint at the iconic Sligachan. Often a disappointing bar but this time I was determined to enjoy their hearty highland hospitality….
Ok plan B, walk around to the more staid MacKenzies residents bar, staffed by two friendly ladies and with real fire and comfy old worn settees. The history of this bar though is worth the visit including Collies lounge where the early Cuillin climbers such as Norman Collie, John MacKenzie & Charles Parkinson would assemble. Even more interesting is their mini museum of local climbing memorabilia charting the history of the hotel, a very pleasant surprise and worth a look.
Food was once again at the highly recommended Plockton Shores Bistro, followed by beer at the Plockton Hotel. Tried a sampling of 3 x 3rd pints, sadly none of which hit the spot.
The Storr v The Quiraing – which is best/easiest? Both are fascinating areas visited by mixed groups of walkers, tourists and families. Some thoughts on comparisons;-
The Quiraing is a harder route in my opinion with paths traversing steeper grassy slopes & a rock gully step across a burn which would stop some families especially in spate or iced. There seems to be a lower car park which would involve more ascent but misses out the bad step. Trying to get up to the hidden pinnacled area is harder than it looks and has to be reversed, so most people stay on the lower path. For a hiker it’s an excellent circular walk using both paths which can be done either way, with an option to Sron Vourllin.
The walk to the Sanctuary on the Storr is a higher ascent than the low path on the Quiraing, but a very straightforward one and provides both easier and more choices to explore its more spacious pinnacled areas. Care still has to be taken in parts but if I was in a family group I’d choose the Storr. Note my description here is only to the area around the Old Man. The longer walk up and around the cliffs to the Storr summit is a different matter and is more suited to hikers. We did it on a greyed out cloudy day with no sight of the Cuillin or mainland, it was ok but you need the views as a reward.
Both need boots if you want dry feet and outdoor clothing including a waterproof. Weather can change rapidly in Skye and you may not see it coming from behind the high cliffs. Both best done on a fine day with clear distant views which will give an excellent experience. Only downside there’ll be loads of people doing the same so maybe choose early morning/ late afternoon/evening and it’ll be quieter with more magical light.
Which is best? Well they both are of course 🙂