This is a tremendous area of 300m cliffs, wild ocean and a good concrete track which took us out to the Lighthouse in 25 mins or so – a great spot for watching for whales and dolphins. But really, the scenery is the thing. Unless it’s the dead of winter, you will not have Neist to yourself but it’s one of those places that seems to rise above the stream of people enjoying the vistas. Plus there are plenty corners to relax in all to oneself.’Neist’ as a word translates possibly from the Gaelic for ‘gelded horse’ – though why gelded (or castrated) I don’t know! From certain angles/distance the Point does resemble a horse’s head.
We drove out to Neist on a gloriously warm and sunny day in July, everything quieter because of Covid though the car parking area was still pretty busy at 12.30pm.
There had been fog banks earlier, and these were only just clearing from Waterstein Head itself. The ocean, way out, was still very hazy.
No matter how often I’ve been out to Neist it still takes my breath away. Even the drive over the last section of single track road reminds me that I’m in for something special. After some hard days of mountain hiking, we were both keen to do something easy and short. And despite the stunning views we had from those mountains, Neist did not disappoint and did not feel like a ‘lesser’ option.
Got parked, glared a bit at one very selfish driver who’d taken up two spaces by inconsiderate parking (why do people do that?. Maybe it’s because of ‘Covid times’ but I find myself being more judgemental these days in general. Suppressed anger and frustration no doubt.) But really, in that landscape of emerald green, sparkling sapphire seas, the scent of summer in the air – from the grasses and wildflowers – who could be annoyed and grumpy for long?
We headed straight for the steep concrete staircase with its iron safety railing(looking rather rusty these days) and which took us down below the craggy hillside and onto the good path heading to the Lighthouse.I would never do this walk for the Lighthouse itself – it’s nice but the buildings around it have fallen into disuse and look scruffy. A shame, because they were once a very unusual B&B set up which we spent a night enjoying. A walk in of 25 mins or so but not a problem.
I was hungry and keen to demolish our packed lunch so we headed for the big flat rocks – a huge area – below the Lighthouse itself. These make for a comfy, quiet place to sit and contemplate the eternal swell and crash of the ocean. Not this visit, but on our last we spotted a Minke whale feeding offshore at the tip of Neist Point. Orca are sometimes seen too but Minke are more common. Waternish Point is another good spot for whales, dolphins and porpoises.
A couple of young men fishing a short distance away, another family having a picnic and that was it. Way above and behind us, on the high outcrop that overlooks the Lighthouse, were tiny figures clambering up its slopes, all intent no doubt in getting a good ‘selfie’ in. We were in more relaxed mode today though!
Half an hour of peace and just sitting, the sun beating down, T-shirts and shorts weather – not always what’s possible during a Scottish summer! It felt like a little slice of paradise. The only disappointment was the fog bank way out on the horizon, blocking views of the isles of my heart – the Outer Hebrides.
To extend the walk, which is very short really, we headed for the coast and walked over the grass and rocks, exploring the very edges of the Point. I was surprised to come upon two lovely little stretches of tiny coral sand and we sat there enjoying the clear water and the great prow of Waterstein Head rearing up in front of us.
Then back up to find the main track again, past the sheep with their earthy smell. I’d thought the spectacle was as good as it got by that point but something made us wander out to the very edge of the cliffs, below the Lighthouse.What an incredible view we then had of the layers of vertical rock, swathed in fog at times despite the sunny blue skies.It was unreal, slightly unearthly and now a spot I would always make for when visting Neist. How strange I’d never seen it before or realised the view. Or perhaps it was those particular conditions which added to the wonder of it all.
It’s a wee slog back up the staircase but very short and soon we were back at the road , more people arriving all the time. It can be very difficult to beat a hike up into the mountains but when the coast is as good as it is on Skye (and elsewhere along Scotland’s famed western seaboard) then the sheer joy of the scene can equal that of the mountains. More benign, less challenging but an equal balm for the soul.