Monday 10 August 2009

Skye Sun, Skye Rain

A good weather forecast sent me off to the Isle of Skye at the end of last week. In August fine weather often means hazy conditions not conducive to sharp, clear pictures. However this forecast was for a mix of sunshine and showers with very clear air so if correct it sounded like an excellent opportunity to take some of the photos of the Cuillin that I need for various forthcoming books.

I considered camping at Sligachan or Glen Brittle, the two campsites that serve the Cuillin, but as soon as I saw the packed ranks of caravans, campavans and tents at the former I decided to head into the hills and camp wild. That evening I walked into Coire na Creiche and had a peaceful camp where the only sounds were the trickle of the burn and the gentle swish of the breeze, which was just strong enough to keep the midges down. At the head of the corrie the mountains glowed dark red in the setting sun. The wind faded during the night, allowing the midges to strike early the next morning. Breakfast in the tent and then a hurried packing meant I escaped with only a few minutes of irritation as clouds of them swarmed round my head and only a few bites where they found spots of skin I’d missed dousing with repellent.

Cutting round the shoulder of Sgurr Thuilm I was camped again within two hours, this time on a breezy site in Coire a’Ghreadaidh. Leaving camp I headed up little Coir’an Eich and onto the ridge of An Diollaid and then Sgurr na Banachdich. I stopped often to take photographs of the massive west face of Sgurr a’Ghreadaidh, which is well seen from this route. As I reached Sgurr na Banachdich great clouds poured up from the south-west, enveloping the peaks. Hoping these would be temporary I sat and ate lunch and stared into the greyness. Every so often the clouds would thin and part and there would be a flash of the bright blue of Loch Coruisk far below and the pinnacles and cliffs of peaks steep and dark against the pale clinging sky. Slowly the air cleared and just shreds of mist hung round the summits. Only Sgurr Alasdair, the highest peak in the Cuillin, remained cloud-capped, though all the peaks to the south stayed dark and dull under a sheet of high cloud. North and east though the sky was blue and the hills shone in the sunshine. I stayed on the summit ridge an hour taking pictures and watching the mountains. It was my first visit to the Cuillin in almost a year and I was, as always, amazed at how rocky and complex these remnants of ancient volcanoes are and how savage and contorted they look.

Back in camp I was able to sit outside and have some soup and coffee without the midges being much of a bother. In the evening I walked up Coire a’Ghreadaidh to the narrow notch of An Dorus. Again the evening light was lovely and the slanting light showed up the intricacies of the rocks. The great boiler plate slabs curving down from the upper corrie are magnificent and also make for easy walking, the rough gabbro very secure underfoot. I didn’t want to find a way through these slabs in the dark though so I went no further than An Dorus and returned to the tent just after sunset to be met with clouds of midges as the breeze went with the sun. A supper of ramen noodles was cooked in a closed porch and eaten in the tent.

After a few hours sleep I was woken by the hammer of heavy rain on the tent and the noise of wind shaking the nylon. Hoping it would pass I dozed for a few hours. It didn’t so I roused myself to the careful task of boiling water for a hot drink in the porch while the flysheet flapped and billowed in the wind. Outside the cloud was low on the hills and the burns roared and raced down the hillsides, fresh with white water. This time I packed inside the tent to avoid the weather not the midges. With no sign of a clearance I hiked out back to the car. The rain continued most of the way home. But the day on Sgurr na Banachdich was inspiring and invigorating.

Photo info: Camp in Coire a’Ghreadiadh. Canon EOS 450D, Canon EF-S 18-55mm IS@18mm, 1/125@F5.6, ISO 100, tripod, raw file converted to JPEG in Lightroom 2.4


  1. A fine trip, Chris. Reading your posts about Scotland always makes me want to come there immediately! Maybe one day, hopefully this autumn or next spring.

  2. It's good to go to the hills to photograph them - it makes for a completely different route selection and gives you time to sit and savour the place.

    Having said that, I would be very careful where I would be camping - that picture looks like you chose a midgie paradise; slightly sheltered and all boggy long grasses! I might have been tempted to take the two extra Scarp poles and camped up nice and high; somewhere more breezy!

    (Ooh - this is me seemingly trying to teach my Granny how to suck eggs! I'll stop now! And get my coat...)


  3. You are of course right Alan! The site wasn't actually very sheltered - as I discovered during the storm. As I wanted to wander from corrie to corrie - the different route selection you mention - a higher camp would have been inconvenient. Also, the Cuillin isn't really the place for very high camps and I didn't fancy a stony bivouac. I'm glad I wasn't high up in the storm!

  4. Looks very peaceful and re-energising.
    Is that tent more than just a one man tent? Looks quite large! Unless it is my monitor!!
    I took Sue to Dartmoor the other day, wow, did that bring back memories, how I forgot how wonderful open spaces are. I can see myself walking up the mountain behind you, looks a grand walk.
    Is that where compasses don't work?
    If so, might get lost!
    Best wishes

    PS - the midges put me off!!

  5. Tony, the tent is a Scarp 1 and it is a solo tent. It's quite roomy though and has two porches.

    Compasses don't work in some parts of the Cuillin if you hold them near the rocks. Taking a few bearings away from the rocks usually works though. You do need good route finding abilities in the Cuillin as the terrain is so steep and rocky. Go wrong and you can quickly find yourself in difficult and dangerous situations.

  6. So Chris,
    Has the Scarp replaced the akto as your tent of choice...?

  7. Paul, not necessarily! It depends on the trip. Also, I am still testing the Scarp. I wanted to see how it performed when the midges were biting as I wondered if midges would come in under the raised flysheet. They didn't, at least not in any significant numbers. And a smoking mosquito coil soon cleared them.

    If heavy snow was likely I would choose the Scarp with the crossover poles as it is more stable than the Akto in those conditions. However I still prefer the larger porch on the Akto and the down to the ground flysheet.

    I also have other favourite shelters - the GoLite Hex 3/Shangri-La 3, the GoLite Cave and the Kathmandu Trekking Basha-Tent - though I wouldn't use any of them in midge season.

  8. Ok, so let's say I want a one man tent that is light but roomy - which would I choose?
    I don't by the way, but someone might LOL ;-)
    Maybe one day I will head off into the hills and give Sue some peace.
    Enjoy your next trip.

  9. Depends when and where you are going to camp Tony! Outside of serious winter conditions the Akto is excellent and very tough and long lasting. The Scarp is better in snow and weighs less without the crossover poles. The Hex 3/Shangri-La 3 are incredibly roomy but not suitable when the midges are biting.

  10. Sounds like my attitude to buying things anyway then LOL ;-) I tend to get something and think oh that's better for a given situation and get something else!!
    Just as well I don't need to make that decision ;-)
    Thanks Chris.
    Best Tony