bert timmermans saskia van der loo
Tantalus' Ordeal is alive - some would claim the same of Elvis, but we got hard proof: it's the Old Man Of Storr. The walk was not that long (12km) and at the end, you had the option of climbing to the Old Man. We'd studied the map and an additional walk from the Sunflower-series, and had decided that, if weather permitted, we'd climb all the way to the Storr onto the Trotternish Ridge. The Old Man was our beacon in the day to come.
The weather forecast had again been dead wrong for Skye and indeed it was another blueskied sunhot day, with not too much wind, which would come in handy once upon the cliffs. We set out before 9 and stopped in town to get a new panoramic camera. It was a Kodak, but APS, which must be the stupidest system on earth: if you want a normal picture you just take it, and if you want a panoramic one you slide some frame around viewer and lens so top and bottom get cut off the photo: voila your panorama. I mean, 5,000 years of civilisation to get to this?! Anyway, the panorama's I put together with two normal pics from our Olympus look way better - take a look at lovely Portree harbour under a soon to be blue morning sky:
After having phoned the taxi to pick us up at the Storr car park at 17:30 instead of 16:30 and passed by the tourist information, we finally got on our way. At last, another pathless walk - addiction to the moors, anyone? - so we were eager to get up the cliffs as soon as possible. After having made a small detour by the absolutely enchanting waterfall of the River Chracaig, bathing in green elfin light that filtered through the foliage, we started climbing practically straight up, to the first high point - Ben Chracaig, where we got our first glimpse of the cliffs (picture). The directions were fairly concise, mentioning only that you had to climb four high points - Bealach Cumhang, then up to Sithean Bhealaich Chumhaing (392m), and then gradually down over Craig Ulatota and Fiurnean. Not that one needed anything more - once you're on the cliffs and Torvaig fields come into view (picture), it's pretty clear where not to go. Or so we thought. Not everyone can be supremely bright all the time, and furthermore, some people, when confronted with a choice for which the right decision to make is not very well described by an authority figure, make the wrong one, despite all evidence, just to prove their point. Unconsciously so, one might add, in a futile attempt not to look like a complete moron. All this said, the path to follow was not very clear, so we descended to the lower Torvaig fields, i.e., back to the coast. It was pretty, but it mad us lose a considerable amount of time, and especially energy, since the climb back up was physically and morally exhausting.
But what the hell, as we came to our first top, we saw our Goal again: the Old Man (picture) - climbing further and approaching the cliff edge, some rather unbelievable colours shot at us from sea&land (picture).
And we noticed an additional supreme quality of basalt cliffs: they are not moist! As soon as you go a bit inland leaving the cliff's edge, there's moorland up to your ankles, but never so on the sheep- ànd rabbit-mown cliff tops. Looking back from Sithean Bhealaich Chumhaing over the Sound of Raasay, we could see some of the Cuillins in the distance, but more importantly we saw the whole of south Skye slowly but surely getting covered in clouds, which meant only one thing: we would not escape. It also meant clair-obscur (the black peak is Ben Tianavaig, on the other side of the Portree bay):
The north was looking splendidly summerous however, and my mind went completely out the window as I decided to strike a Braveheart pose, hid away my pretty ridiculous hat (those crispy ears!) and found myself looking sturdily out over Raasay and the faraway hills of Applecross, which we would visit some two weeks later -
We continued in the bright sunshine for a while, but, as we topped Fiurnean, it, rather paradoxically, was dawning on us that it was getting dark very slowly. After Fiurnean, we suddenly (well, we had been able to make it out from the map the day before, so it did not come as a surprise) found ourselves faced with the cliffs that curved and ran inland, meaning that we had to get down. Theoretically this didn't pose any serious problems, but in reality the difference in height between where one stood and where white specks moving about were only supposedly sheep seemed a lot, especially in the rapidly shifting light, in which bright specks became ever rarer. Moreover, as we looked up towards The Goal, the feeling of Being Tantalus got to us, since both the Storr & the Old Sock were hiding in the clouds, ever lower every minute (you can see the second, lower layer of coastal basalt cliffs continuing north along Skye's east coast, while Loch Leathan tries hard to look like it was conceptualised especially for lying in front of the Storr on this beautiful spot):
Fairly easy we got down through a grassy gully, but clearly wetter lands were approaching, from below as well as from above. As the wind was now gradually losing control, we had to get down the last cliffs fast, which, apart from looking for a not too difficult spot, had nothing to it. It was the soil below, people! After not having been forced to trudge through exquisite bog for 3 full days, you suddenly see that nostalgia for it is just dead wrong. Well, no, I'm still in love with the moor - I should be paying an analyst for this. Anyway, one gradually learns to recognise the wet from the dry spots - thick moss is wet, but when not in a gully, might be suitable for quickly walking on (not for hopping, for that'll break its fibrous structure that keeps you from sinking); avoid shallow gullies at any time; if you must cross, do so at a point where the burns they contain form one flow, for, though it might be broader to cross here, more "upstream" are only more numerous tiny burns waiting; if the gully through which the burn drips is steep or on rocky ground, do the exact opposite; spots with cottongrass are generally wetter than a liter of water that has been especially wetted for the occasion; sturdy long grass is good for walking and if you're able to flatten it with your boots can even help you across very wet spots; never think the same of soft long grass; outcrops of heather are always dry, and thus good - aim for heather; the same goes for higher outcrops of turf (caused by peat cuttings); never immediately step down of such a turf outcrop, since a shallow gutter awaits you; never trust pure earth: it can be hard, but it can go all the way to china just as well; when suddenly it turns out that you're in wet area, never run back without looking where you go - and even then, the solid ground you just walked on will probably prove to have disappeared altogether; never just run on either, in the vain hope that some dry ground is bound to pop up sooner or later - it's always later - if you're lucky; when you find that your boots are at last thoroughly soaked, walk faster, but take just as much care, since you can almost always get wetter than you think you can, and always wetter than you are. And lastly: think of yourself as a life form that is completely dry above the knees, and stick to that thought.
All this got us relatively dry to the small road leading past Loch Leathan to the main road and the Storr car park. The rain was gently drizzling down and, although this may sound nuts, it was actually astonishing - when we looked back, we saw that clouds had covered the cliff tops and practically the whole of the land. You could almost touch the clouds and the colours became so intense that it was almost fluorescent. It was a magical, muffled atmosphere that was given an added touch of brilliance by the silver lined horizon appearing far away south (pictures).
As the last picture of the Trotternish Ridge shows, there was absolutely no point it trying to get to the Storr or even the Old Man, despite the silver lining - and the weather wasn't exactly tailor-made for waiting in. This thought led to another, when we realised, it being only/already 3pm (we'd been taking things veeery easy), that we'd have to wait for the taxi for another 2 1/2 hours. The pub-vision was suddenly very strong, so we hitched a ride in the back of a vet's lorry. The dog was berserk, but so sweet (slightly out of focus picture).
The vet stopped a bit north of Portree and the walk downhill into town was a pleasant little stroll. After a ring to the taxi and an only slightly exaggerated amount of guinness at the Isles Inn on the central town square (by the open fire!), we went to rest a bit, with the idea to come back later to get dinner here - the food looked succulent. We got only a bit of a nap - after all, the walk had not been that long and we had been taking it easy. The sky had completely cleared and during the evening stroll, Portree turned out to be a lovely little spot. The hill with the park, on which the hospital is situated as well, is simply lovely; the estuary looked calm and clean at high tide and from the roundwalk we saw the Cuillins glowing in the sun's last red rays. It ended with a bit of a bummer when it turned out that every soul in Portree seemed to hold the same opinion of the food in the pub as we did, so in the end we had another ok meal at the Central Restaurant, but what the heck - with another grand day behind and a trek that was pretty obviously a success, no matter how the last day would turn out, you just cannot care about futilities anymore. As it turned out, the last day, with a mere 9km, was to be the perfect summary of some of the things we'd seen so far, plus much more.
[If you have a fast connection, check out Armin Grewe's panorama from the Storr - absolutely baffleghasting!]
on the seventh and last day of the trek we walked from the Quiraing to Duntulm
weather on this day (midnight before the walk) : 850hPa temperature / pressure