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