I camped with some friends beside Loch Scavaig on the Isle Of Skye over May Day bank holiday weekend. Under the snow-plastered vertiginous beauty of the Cuillin ridge. Two (wet and windy) nights, with a day between, during which I walked along Loch Coruisk and then up Sgurr Na Stri.
Sgurr Na Stri is 497 metres high. Not much more than my ‘local hill’, Pule Hill, which is 437 metres. There are big differences though:
The ‘true’ elevation gained:
Sgurr Na Stri rises from sea level next to fresh water Loch Coruisk. It feels like a climb for sure.
Pule Hill does have great views but Sgurr Na Stri’s are some of the best you can soak up.
The time taken to get there:
I can walk to Pule Hill from my front door in 30 minutes or so. Coruisk / Sgurr Na Stri is an eight hour drive then an exhilarating twenty minute RIB (rigid-inflatable boat) trip from Elgol.
We had travelled up from a snowy Marsden early on the Friday morning. Eight hours or so later we were at Elgol harbour ready to cross the water to Loch Scavaig jetty (near the Coruisk Memorial Hut).
My walk up Sgurr Na Stri was to be a solo jaunt and one of those ‘have your cake and eat it’ times. I’d had a social trip up to Skye, culminating in an evening sat around a fire, sipping whisky by the edge of the sea. Good company and good for the soul. Just as nourishing though was some time to walk alone in a wild place.
The walk day
My buddies on the trip to Skye had awoken in the drizzle and pretty much all headed up the Dubh Slabs, to then climb the Cuillin Ridge. Which I had ruled myself out of, what with my ‘if it needs rope it’s probably not for me’ rule. As it turned out, they had a robust twelve hour epic of a day with moments of satisfying (so they say) actual jeopardy.
Instead I headed north along Loch Coruisk for maybe 30 minutes then headed to my right, uphill on clear path up to Loch a Choire Riabhach. And from there stayed on the same contour but headed back south gaining about another 200 metres in height as I headed for the summit of Sgurr na Stri. The previous well used path disappeared in places.
My junior jeopardy moment came as I traversed up a snow-filled gully without spikes (they would have been useful). Up to that point the going had been steady across soggy heather and some peat/mud sections. Which was familiar boot-soaking terrain to me, akin to my local moors walks. And the rocky sections were on nicely grippy gabbro. Being, I think, the main constituent of the hill. And not so familiar to me, what with my local gritstone tending towards sudden psychopathic slippiness in the rain.
But what I lost in derring-do I gained in clear skies and solitude. The higher Cuillins above Loch Scavaig and opposite where I stood had remained in freezing cloud all day. Adding to the ‘ambience’ of the day for my compadres. But I had relatively open skies with wide vistas. I had read before the trip that Sgurr Na Stri affords you some of the best views in Britain. This is true. Loch Coruisk was a stretched gem of blue and green, with its salty sister Loch Scavaig a pewter green.
And I could see the distant coast and neighbouring islands of Soay and Rum although it was a bit hazy in that south-westerly direction.
Sgurr na Stri is I’m led to believe Hill Of Strife. I think the name has its origins in clan disputes and not linked to the terrain as such. Either way it didn’t live up to its name (a good thing). Hill Of A Longer Walk up Than You Might Think or Hill That Punches Above Its Size On Views would also suit.
Near the top I saw a couple of rumbustious ptarmigan, remonstrating as they barreled away across the snow when I rounded a corner. If I had remembered to bring my DSLR with me (on the hallway table, I realised 10 miles up the road) I would have spent a while ptarmigan-bothering.
But as it was, I just had to use my biological standard issue lenses and sit and soak up the views. I did have my go-pro wth me which I used to make the film featured on this blog post.
Biophilia a go go
When I was back at the camp, that lack of DSLR meant some enforced at-a-distance appreciation of the local seal and red deer population. Both were observers of our campsite to-ings and fro-ings. I got a real kick out of being so close to these captivating animals.
The camp engendered an almost biophillic overload in me. I found myself wandering around from shore line to the rocks above the camp and back again – oscillating between the domains of seal and deer. I blame biophilia and not age for the reason I kept forgetting why I has stood at a particular spot, only to look to a pair of passive Phocidaen or Cervidaen eyes for help (Google it, I did). After a minute of regarding each other I would wander back to the other domain.
At one point and whilst waiting for the water for my coffee to boil, I took in three red deer, a pied wagtail, three oystercatchers, a couple of gulls and four of five bobbing seals. Add to that the powerful waterfall of Allt a’ Chaoich with the peaks of Sgurr Dubh Beag behind it, powering with white spume and noise into Loch Scaviag – you’d find it hard to find a more vital scene.
Whilst Team Ridge were toying with hypothermia on the Cuillin and I was walking up Sgurr Na Stri, Jeff had been looking to catch us some supper. Which he did, under the curious gaze of the seals, and in the shape of a sea trout. I’m not a ‘fishy’ person but eating a couple of pieces of that fire-cooked fresh fish that night, with whisky flask to hand, was an excellent experience.
There were plans for a walk the next day, once we had skimmed our way back to Elgol on the RIB and then driven round to Sligachan. However the pre-arranged pick up for around 9 a.m or so drifted more towards midday. We had packed up camp and much standing about was done, looking out for the boat.
Which suited me (for a while) with my seal-deer-seal-deer-oystercatcher species ping pong revelry. Although after an hour I really wanted a cuppa. Which happened thanks to the guys from the Jacobites Mountaineering club who had been using the Coruisk Memorial Hut (seen in some of my photos). They invited us in for a brew. Lovely people.
By the time we got to Sligachan it was around 2pm and the weather was turning from wet and windy to Really Wet and Really Windy. Three of us pitched our tents and the other chaps lined up their vehicular dormitories to give us some shelter from the wind. All talk of an afternoon walk had abated.. we all had our eye on The Sligachan Hotel and a hot meal. And a beer.
I had already planned to head back the next day with Richard. As it turned our we left the campsite around 5:40 a.m, earlier than planned. My having the wet tent pressed to my face all night by gale force winds meant I was awake. And Richard hadn’t slept much with his car buffeting wildly in the wind.
The 8 hours drive each way to walk up a hill was totally worth it. It was a great hill with epic views. And hanging out with mates let alone seals and deers .. excellent. If there’s a next time I’ll maybe head up the Dubh Slabs. Or check out the Bad Step, the wet conditions had put me off doing that alone to be honest. But the above experiences were plenty wonderful to make it a great trip.
A short film I made about Loch Coruisk
(and inspired by a journal from 1027 – see film for credits)