Every year I say I’m going to visit the Isle of Skye.
I have been saying this since my parents took my brothers and sister to Skye when I was away at university. It struck me in one of those moments you have in the shower that it must be nearly 20 years – and that, quite frankly, is far too long to keep saying you’re going to visit somewhere.
This is a lesson in booking out some time in your diary and doing the things you’ve been dreaming of. I had very little time to pull off this trip and very little spare cash too, but I’d made up my mind, I was going to just load up the car and drive myself up there.
You know, you don’t always have to do loads of research before you go on a trip. Often there’s the temptation to read as much as you can so that you don’t miss out anything important. I chose simplicity for this trip; I’d discovered Glenbrittle Campsite through an internet search and then used Ralph Storer’s 50 Best Routes on Skye book to see if there was a walking route out of the campsite – and thankfully there was. I would only have one full day in Skye so I chose the walk from the campsite leading up into Coire Lagan and then up the steep banked sides to the Cuillin ridge. Of course, until I actually got to Glenbrittle Campsite, I had no idea just how much I had lucked out in picking one of the best places in Skye to base myself from to see the beautiful Cuillin hills.
I’d drive up during the day on the Tuesday then camp the night. On Wednesday morning I’d wake up and walk up to Sgurr Dearg and then on the Thursday morning I’d drive the two hours or so across to Torridon, do some stand up paddleboarding on the loch there and then spend a luxury night in the The Torridon hotel to recharge. I’d then make the long drive back south on the Friday, getting back home to Oxfordshire on Friday night in time to move house the next morning (is life like this for any of you?).
If you’re going to drive to the Isle of Skye in a day then you want to do it in a car that’s comfortable. When I entered the post code for the Glenbrittle Campsite in the Discovery’s sat nav system, it told me it was 523 miles away and it would take me 10 hours and 20 minutes to drive there.
I tried to travel as light as possible, packing a tent, table, chairs, inflatable mattress, sleeping bag and a bag for food and cooking kit. The biggest items I carried were two inflatable paddleboards (review here). One thing that’s brilliant about the new Discovery is that you can press a button and the rear seats automatically fold down flat. If you’re a regular adventure goer and want to load and unload kit in and out of the car then this feature saves an incredible amount of time and faffing.
By the time I got to Glasgow I had a couple of options route-wise. I chose to go up past Loch Lomond and then on through Glencoe and to Invergarry. The Discovery’s easy-to-use cruise control took a lot of the pain out of the motorway driving. You can drive along and simply blip the button back and forth to change your speed. Having the HUD shows your speed and the speed limit nicely in your field of view meaning I could relax, see my speed and then have lots more attention to keep an eye on traffic around me and where I was going. The benefit of this was particularly noticeable the more tired I got.
Seeing amazing scenery certainly takes away some of the pain of a long drive as the closer I got to Kyle of Lochalsh, the town just before the Skye Bridge, I got more and more excited. In fact seeing the tops of the Cuillin Hills was a real moment for me, something I won’t forget.
Crossing over the Skye bridge felt like it marked my arrival in Skye, however even from here I still had about an hour’s drive over the island and its snaking roads to get to Glenbrittle Campsite. This was all part of the adventure though; staring out and spotting so many new places as I drove along, but with no time to stop and properly investigate, instead just enough time to enjoy the thought only to replace it with another just a few miles further on.
The road down to Glenbrittle was single track so you weave your way down pulling in to the passing places. It was 5pm by this time and families and couples parked up near the famous Fairy Pools were making their way back meaning I was swinging the Discovery in to every single passing place on the way down. It wasn’t an issue and the sight of the Cuillins towering up in to the blue sky was breathtaking. I’ve seen all of the hills in the UK, but Skye was something else. In many ways I was more in awe of them than the Himalayas on an Everest Base Camp trek back in 2002.
Rolling in to the campsite I could see the beach to my right and the rising Cuillin Hills to my left; the most picturesque campsite I’d every seen. The reception closed at 6pm, so I parked up outside and went in to pay for a pitch for the next two nights.
Pitching a tent up takes no time at all. I know that a lot of people worry about arriving somewhere late in the day and think they have a marathon ahead of them to set up camp, but within half an hour I was sat on my chair with a mug of tea and my maps spread out on the table, planning where I was going to walk the next day.
For dinner I couldn’t do the usual trick of a Google Search because there was no mobile reception. Instead I jumped in the car and headed for the small hamlet of Carbost. I saw signposts for the Oyster Shed, but this was closed in the evenings, so I was left with The Old Inn, which didn’t disappoint. I opened up the door to a warm, cosy hubbub of conversation and the smell of beer and fish and chips.
The drive back from Carbost was memorable, mainly because of the setting sun. By chance I drove past the Talisker whisky distillery overlooking the loch. Back at the campsite I couldn’t wait to get in my sleeping bag. It had been a long day, up at 4am and now getting to sleep at 11pm.
TYE ON SKYE
I woke up very bleary eyed. First things first, I looked out of the tent and see what the weather was doing. It wasn’t as clear as the day before and I could see the summits of the Cuillins swathed in cloud. It’ll burn off, I said to myself. Despite having had fish n chips the night before I was hungry so quickly put on the stove to make hot water for a tea and porridge.
I treated myself to a shower, to wake myself up more than anything, thankfully the shower block here is clean and they’re hot. I hadn’t got a packed lunch, but by the time I got in to the campsite shot they’d completely sold out of the fresh bread delivery. Instead I bought a can of Heinz soup and hoped that the snack and protein bars and crisps I’d brought with me would be enough to keep the hunger pangs at bay (they did).
As I set out the clouds were burning off and the sun felt strong. It felt good to be walking up the trail out of the campsite and every 10 minutes or so I would stop and turn around to see the height I was gaining.
Up ahead I could see the cloud base lifting and some of the Cuillin Hills spikes were now ripping their way through the clouds.
I could hear jets; must be Typhoon jets dogfighting somewhere. Ten minutes later there was an almighty jet scream which scared me and I saw him, low in the valley below me. He then pulled back in to a steep climb with afterburner on. That would have perhaps been me had I stayed in the air force. Would I swap places now? Hard to say. At the present moment I’m in the fresh air with a whole day ahead of physical activity. The pilot’s fun would be over for the day in half an hour’s time when he landed back at Lossiemouth. Either way, it was a thrill to see he come through so low and pull up high in to the sky.
Can you see the Typhoon jet?
Nearing the bowl of Coire Lagan I felt it was time for a mug of tea, so I sat down, pulled out my ancient epigas stove and boiled some water up while I took in the view down to Loch Brittle and the beach. It was very hot and sunny now, so I put on some more cream then just sat there, soaking up the heat like a lizard.
I packed up my rucsac and filled up my shiny Klean Kanteen bottle from water rushing over volcanic rock. The bottle was a Christmas present and comes on all my trips now. It’s become a bit of a tradition to fill up from a stream with it every time I go somewhere.
Heading further up, the climbing eventually levelled out to a beautiful tarn and more rocks, one of which looked like the ship out of the Man of Steel Superman film. The morning cloud had burnt off by now and I stared up mesmorised by the scale of the hills surrounding me. I loved looking at the map and the names of peaks, places I had read about over the years, and now I was able to actually look up and see them for real.
The contours on the map are very close together and when I looked at the way up to the Cuillin Ridge and Sgurr Dearg, which was my aim, I started to think that I might have bitten off a bit more than I could chew for a day’s hike. There seemed to be two ways up; either take a diagonal route up following the natural rockline or attack it straight on up a huge scree slope. I opted for the first option and was happy I took that and not the scree (as I discovered when coming down on the scree).
It felt good to scramble my way up, like it was a proper adventure without the comfort of a trail or a path. It was hard work though, my feet often slipping down on the loose scree. This went on for an hour or so with the scale of the place making it hard to judge just how much further I had to go to the ridge line. When I finally got to it, I had a sudden feeling of being very exposed. I looked over the other side and the view I saw blew me away. You may have read about it in guidebooks, but until you get yourself up here and standing on the top, you won’t ever be able to imagine the feeling.
Mountain guides with the clients started passing me as I sat there eating a bag of Kettle Crisps (Sea Salt & Balsamic Vinegar) and it dawned on me I was getting funny looks for being up here with no helmet, no rope, no harness. I had planned to go on up to Sgurr Dearg but it was late in the day and it actually, it did look pretty hardcore, especially without even a helmet on. I decided I’d be best to start working my way back down. I was sad I didn’t have more time to explore and go on up, but made a vow to myself that I’d return with the right kit and more time on my hands. Either way, I’d scratched the itch of wanting to see the Isle of Skye and I’ll be back.
At around 2pm then I started making my way down the huge scree slope down the side of Coire Lagan. I was pleased I had my tough Meindl boots on for this otherwise my feet would have taken a bashing. The sun was burning, my forehead sweating and I kept plodding on, realising now that I was actually pretty tired and my legs were aching.
By the time I passed the spot I’d had the cup of tea in the morning, the route back was starting to feel long. And when the campsite finally loomed into view at around 5:30pm in the afternoon, I was ready to sit down, have a hot shower and seek out a good meal.
After said shower I jumped back into the comfort of the Discovery and set off for Sligachan, aiming to eat in the hotel there. The hotel restaurant is jammed, but the nice girl on reception tells me to walk along to the hotel’s Seamus’ bar. Inside I find a table next to the woodburner and after seeing Haggis, Neeps and Tatties on the menu, head up to the bar to place my order. While I wait I admire the hundreds of whiskies on display; the entire length of the wall up to the ceiling.
Driving back to Glenbrittle I was once again mesmerised by the clouds swirling their way around the Cuillin Hills. When the light changes up here, the mountains change with it and as I pass the Fairey Pools for what seems like the tenth time I’ve driven down this road I feel my first twinge of sadness as I’ll be leaving Skye in the morning and driving on to Torridon.
TO THE TORRIDON HOTEL
It didn’t take me long to pack up. As I’m taking down my Vango Odyssey 300 (given to me as a 30th birthday present) I start to see it’s showing its age and after eight years of use it might be time for me to invest in something new. It’s drizzling a bit and I feel smug that I managed to get my walk in on one of the clearest and warmest days Skye has had in a weeks.
If I was facing a two hour drive in any other car to Skye I think I’d be dreading it, but this new Discovery really is comfortable, quiet and capable. After putting in close to 700 miles I was really starting to get a instinctive feel for its handling. Needless to say on the quiet winding roads from Skye to Torridon I was able to switch it in to Sport mode and enjoy myself. Some of the roads I drove on were actually part of the North Coast 500 route and the Torridon Hotel I was heading to is a named hotel on the NC500’s list of places to stay at. I’d first heard about this hotel at the start of the year when I wrote about its ‘Adventure Packages’ under Adventure 52’s Rustic Retreat category.
Parked up in a lookout over Loch Torridon
What appeared to be a two hour drive turned into three. A stop at a mountain bike centre made me realise just how tired I was and that the drive home the next day was really going to be hard going. But just like most adventures to beautiful places, it’s the scenery and seeing new things that keeps you engaged and upbeat. Coming in to Torridon was a real treat, lovely winding roads lined with rocks, heather and pine trees, leading me in. I felt relief to see the posh signpost for the Torridon Hotel and turned in making my way up a beautiful driveway to see the spired turret of the main hotel building.
I parked up outside, feeling (and looking) worse for wear to be checking in to a luxury hotel in my hiking kit, but this is the kind of place that has seen it all (and worse) before. I’m given a really warm welcome by Laura the receptionist. My room wasn’t quite ready, but she said I could go into the drawing room for the Afternoon Tea that all guests get on arrival.
I fell in to the deep couch opposite a wide window with views of the loch and the mountains and shovelled a scone with jam and cream (the jam was so fruity and fresh), washing it down with a blend of tea specially made for the hotel.
The sugar hit helped and I told Laura I’d be back in an hour or so – I thought it was time to head out on the loch on the Red Paddle stand up paddleboard that I had brought all the way up here. The hotel offers a Boat House to rent out so I wheeled my SUP the half mile or so down the track near to the Boat House to find somewhere to launch from. I didn’t want to get too close to the Boat House as a family was staying there and paying good money for the peace and tranquility, so as quietly as I could I unrolled the SUP out of the carry case and started pumping away.
You can carry the stand up paddleboards like a rucsac or you can wheel it along
It was my first time using an inflatable SUP. I’d had a go on them in Geneva last year and had seen a girl arrive with her own inflatable one, so now was my chance to see how practical they are. I’ll be posting a proper review on here in due course, but for now, take a look at some of these pictures. I had the most serene experience paddling out on the water to a tiny island. It would have been even better sharing the experience and finding some extra bravery to explore a bit further. By the time I’d packed up I realised I’d spent about an hour and a half.
Back in the room I switched on the TV and enjoyed the bliss of laying on be after a hot shower. I was on a ground floor room with a tall ceiling and purple-coloured tartan decor. Before I knew it I’d drifted off into one of those naps that you wake up from and wonder where you are. I decided to have a wander around the grounds, ending up exploring the hotels’ Kitchen Garden where they grow a lot of the herbs and vegetables that they serve in the restaurant. I hadn’t booked dinner in the hotel, instead I’d booked up the pub next door, called the Torridon Inn, which is also owned by the hotel. This nicely decorated bar is a nice place to end a day’s hike in with a group. Walking back to the hotel I couldn’t have been more grateful or satisfied. Before bed, there was one thing left to do and that was to try one of the 365 whiskies in the hotel’s incredible whisky room. Needless to say when I did get in to bed I fell asleep instantly.
THE DRIVE HOME
At breakfast I pondered the 620 mile drive home that I was about to embark on. The Torridon certainly knows how to make a cooked breakfast and eating this while looking out at the views of the mountains was one of those experiences that seems quite everyday, but it’s actually stayed with me.
I felt a twinge of sadness pulling out of the driveway of The Torridon, but I felt like I’d achieved a lot in a short amount of time.
The Torridon has its own outdoor activities team – and this lovely Defender 110
Heading home I decided to go via Loch Ness and the Cairngorms letting me see more of Scotland and on faster roads. Despite leaving at 9:30am, it was about 3 o’clock in the afternoon before I got past Glasgow. It really did feel like a slog to get home. Thank goodness for the Disco. I really do think that in any other car I would have been feeling even more haggered and strung out. I made it back into Northamptonshire around 8:30pm, almost 12 hours since having that wonderful breakfast.
The beautiful Loch Clair
Time is always marching on. We all get busy in our day-to-day lives. If you want to go somewhere and do something then you just have to block out the time in your diary and go do it. And when you do, there’s no better feeling.