One of the easier of Skye’s famous Black Cuillin peaks.Suitable for ordinary hillwalkers , posing no difficulties, but transporting you into a really sensational almost Alpine situation.The hill is 958m or 3, 143 feet and around 8 miles or 13km return.It took us 5 hours all in.It’s not a hill to do in mist as navigation could be difficult and the Cuillin ridge is not somewhere you want to be when visiblity is poor! There are few safe routes off these rocky slopes and plenty of sheer drops all around.
Start: Fairy Pools car park (or do from Sligachan.) Time: 5-7 hours return Ascent: 858m
We climbed this hill on a sunny October day, when an Indian summer bathed the Isle of Mist in unusual autumn warmth. Our choice was to start from the Glen Brittle side instead of Sligachan, as it is slightly shorter and has a higher start too.In the photo above, the mountain is the second large peak on the left.
Almost as soon as we began our trek along the rough track from the Fairy Pools car park, we spied a hill fox watching us warily from beside the forestry.I’m not a huge fox fan – they say the fox has no friends in this world – but he was looking very handsome in his dark amber coloured coat.Then he disappeared back into the trees, spooked by our presence.
The Cuillin were all around us to our right, rocky slopes looking purple and blue-grey against the rich gold and amber of the moorland.The colours of the Highlands in autumn really are a glory.
It was only about 3km ( 1.8 miles), albeit uphill, to the big plateau of moorland known as Am Mam -The Pass – and a small lochan where we stopped for a drink.We were both already stripped down to a single layer, having built up a fair old heat during the ascent.If we’d continued over this Pass, instead of heading uphill, it would have led to Sligachan. Many people do this track as a low level walk if they can arrange transport at both ends.
Then we made our way across the big expanse of moor and into the surprisingly benign bowl of the Fionn Coire (pronounced Fyoon hora) – the beautiful corrie as it translates from the Gaelic – and which lies below the final rocky slopes of the hill.
This green grassy corrie must give the hill its name overall – the Slopes of the Red Deer – as it looks the kind of place where deer would find good feeding.
The track had disappeared at this point but once out of the corrie and when the going got rougher and rockier, we picked it up again. Onward and upward, yet at a fairly reasonable angle, until suddenly we were on the ridge itself.
Wow, wow wow – oh my word, what a spot we had arrived at……
In front, was the intimidating pinnacle of the Basteir Tooth, a steep wedge of rock and the preserve of rock climbers only.The peak of Sgurr a Bhasteir swept out to the north, offering what looked like a pleasant wander.Sgurr na Stri looked much higher than its lowly 500m or so height.
Through a space between the Tooth and the wild landscape around us, we had a sensational view across the southern section of the Cuillin horseshoe of peaks.The softer Red Cuillin lay to the south, the reason for their name very obvious today.
To our north, the rest of the ridge disappeared in a series of rocky summits and slopes – most of them the domain of the climber only.But we could make out the few we had summited several years ago – Sgurr na Banachdich, Sgurr Dearg and Blaven.
There was a bit of minor scrambling now, nothing difficult and not exposed at all, which I actually quite enjoyed. One thing about the Cuillin is that the rock is very grippy.It’s called Gabbro and is amongst the roughest rock there is. Unfortunately, it also has properties that play havoc with the compass, making it unreliable, another reason to be very wary of these mountains in mist! To complicate matters, some of the rock is basalt, which gets slippy when wet.There was one short section where Chris suggested we drop down a little to avoid an outcrop but this took us onto rubbly very steep ground with a yawning drop below which gave me the ‘heebie jeebies’ as they say, for a second or ten.It was like walking on ball bearings and I tried to ignore the chasm which had appeared below us suddenly.
But then we were past it and in minutes, the summit itself came into view – a surprisingly spacious place which felt very safe and with sublime views all around.
I was so excited to reach this spot. Years before, I had climbed the mountain with my brother and his friend, but we had had terrible weather, scrambling up the very steep north west ridge. I remember my brother saying to me at one point – ‘just don’t look down!’ In fact, we were very quickly enveloped in thick cloud and mist, blocking our view of everything and thankfully, the drops. At the summit, which has a trig point, we sat in white out conditions, rain pouring down our faces, munching silently on sandwiches and very glad to descend. I now appreciate their navigation skills however, because it’s not an easy place to get down from if you are doing it blind.What a contrast to this time around! To see it now, in all its glory, was thrilling.
We spotted a tiny Wheatear perched on a rock – a summer visitor to our shores that normally flies off to the warmth of North Africa in September.We hoped he hadn’t left his departure too late! Or mistaken Eilean a Cheo, the Isle of Mist, for Morocco and the slopes of the Atlas Mountains! It was astonishing to see him so high up but I assume he was finding food, perhaps insects swept up by the thermals in the unusually warm temperatures.
Always difficult to leave a hard earned summit but after devouring a flask of Minestrone soup (a bit out of place in the summer like conditions but no way was Chris lugging a full flask all the way back down again:)) , some oranges and copious amounts of water and chocolate, it was time to head down.
The track was very busy as we descended, the good weather obviously encouraging people out onto the hill. I was glad we’d pretty much had it to ourselves with an early start.
But once we headed beyond Am Mam, we didn’t meet another soul heading back to Glen Brittle as most tackle the hill from Sligachan.
Nowadays, with the increasing popularity of Skye, and especially given the hordes that flock to the Fairy Pools walk, it will all be very different.Hundreds of people, every day, most of the year, wander down the track from the car park to see the series turquoise pools and waterfalls which sit below impressive Coire a Creiche and the Waterpipe Gully.
It’s a magnificent spot and easily reached in 25 mins or so, so it’s easy to see understand its popularity.For more on this lovely walk see The Fairy Pools
Back at the car 5 hours after we started, what a wonderful day it had been.Blessed indeed, to enjoy the Black Cuillin at their very best, in warm sunshine and flanked by miles of empty moorland in rich autumn colours of tawny and gold.Incredibly rewarding – plus we’d certainly earned our dinner tonight!
For other great Skye walks please see MY FAVOURITE SKYE WALKS