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A guide to hiking The Skye Trail

The Scottish Isle of Skye has become one of those ‘must visit’ destinations for adventure enthusiasts eager to explore unique and wild landscapes here in the UK. One of the best ways to see this incredible corner of Scotland is by taking on the Skye Trail – a long distance hike that can be completed in just a week. Find out what happened when we sent avid hiker and multi-disciplined athlete Marie Cheng to embrace the Scottish elements and take on this varied route for herself…

The Skye is the limit.  Steeped in mystery, legend and dramatic landscapes, there is nowhere better to experience some of the most picturesque areas of Scotland, than on the Skye Trail.

The Skye Trail is an unofficial 134 kilometre/83 mile multi-day hike along the East Coast of Scotland, taking in some of Skye’s most iconic locations – The Old Man of Storr, the Quiraing, the Black Slabs and the Cuillins.

This linear trail, which starts in Broadford and finishes approximately seven days later in Rubha Hunish, can be done in either direction.  However, with the stunning sunset that we encountered at the Lookout Bothy near one of the trailhead points, Rubha Hunish, I’d be inclined to finish your trail there!

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Finding Your Unknown

As habitual creatures, I sometimes think that many of us fall into the trap of getting stuck in the same routine of where to go and what to do.  So when faced with the prospect of planning the next adventure – new places, new routes, new challenges - we can often feel somewhat apprehensive and even reluctant to push the boundaries of our own comfort zones.

Except if there is one thing that my own journey has taught me, it is that only when we start to step outside of ourselves, our fixed views, beliefs and habits, that we really begin to learn the most about who we are and just what we are capable of.  And with it the realisation that only then do we reap the greatest rewards. 

Skye Trail Hike

Ever since I started out in the outdoors, Skye has always been high up on my list of places to visit.  I had heard murmurings about the Skye Trail in passing conversations, and as a result the route was added to the ever growing, and never-ending list of things to do!  I therefore grasped the opportunity to head up to Skye with Montane, though ever more cognisant that I was very much going to be exploring my own ‘unknown’.

Weather and terrain are big considerations when planning an adventure, particularly in an environment as temperamental as Scotland!  The very fact that the name, ‘Isle of Skye’ is derived from the Norse Skuyö or ‘Isle of Clouds’, says it all!

But as luck would have it, we were incredibly fortunate with stunning weather days – blue skies, bright sunshine and even snow.  Though I hastily reminded myself of all the times where I have experienced all four seasons in one day!

So what if we could help minimise the impact of bad weather on our adventures; what if we can trust the protection from the kit that we have on our backs.  How much more secure would we feel about committing to those plans that previously may have seemed ‘a bit too much’?

And with that in mind, Montane’s latest campaign is focussed on challenging you to get out there and ‘Find Your Unknown’.  By providing you with the latest innovative and protective clothing, it just means you don’t have to worry about staying warm, dry and protected in your kit as you embark on your adventures. 

Skye Trail Hike

Skye Trail Highlights

There is just so much to take in on the Skye Trail that to pick only one or two locations, would, I feel, do it an injustice.  What I would say is that there were many an occasion on the trip where I felt like an extra in Lord of the Rings - giant stack rock formations, dragon’s back dramatic landscapes, remote, undulating and rocky paths along rugged coastlines and secluded rock beaches. 

I am somewhat begrudging to give too much away at risk of spoiling your excitement and anticipation! Moreover, each of our experiences of ‘finding our own unknowns’ will likely differ as much as night and day.  And instead, I encourage you to take out 7 – 10 days, switch off from the constant connectivity of the digital world, escape onto the trail, and embrace being in the middle of nowhere. 

Should you be inspired to venture on the stunning trail, I include further down some suggested useful resources that may be helpful in your planning. However here are a few of my favourites!

Sunrise on the Old Man of Storr

Whilst a lot of the Skye Trail is off the beaten track, the route does take in a number of touristy but not-to-be missed honey pots. 

As you head perhaps blurry eyed towards the Old Man of Storr, you will be faced with an initial steep rocky hill, perhaps necessitating a quick power hike as you puff up the hill to make it in time for golden hour. 

We were incredibly fortunate, or perhaps more a case of good planning with timings, as we were treated to some stunning sunrise cloud inversions.  With the popularity of the Old Man of Storr and also good road access, means this hot spot can get busy as you head into the day. To experience this at its best would in my view mean a very early morning alarm!

Standing at an elevation of 719 metres the wind amongst the rocky outcrop is also noticeable and we were thankful to have with us the Phase Waterproof Jacket paired with the Fireball Lite Synthetic Breathable Down Hoodie to keep us toasty on a chilly morning. This was also particularly helpful when the mini snowstorm front came in!

Old Man of Storr

Sunset on Trotternish Ridge

To get up early for sunrise or stay late for sunset? The question on many a hikers’ minds when planning their days.  Well, the beauty of hiking the Skye Trail, especially if you decide to wild camp and split up some of the sections, is the fact that you can be treated to both out in the wilderness. 

The Trotternish Ridge from Flodigarry to The Storr, including taking in the infamous and dramatic Quiraing, makes up 36 kilometres /23 miles of the trail and is quite a tough and undulating section with a total elevation gain of c. 2400m+. 

With nothing in the way of accommodation to speak off along this section of the route, people typically split this section into two with a wild camp or bivvy on the ridge but means that you can take in sundown with your dinner!

Rubha Hunish and the stunning Lookout Bothy

You can’t not come to Scotland and not experience a night at one of the Bothies!  And there are a number of bothies along this trail including the Bothy at Camasunary and the Lookout Bothy. 

What I would say is that my contender for the most stunning bothy that I have ever visited would have to hands down be the Lookout Bothy.  Situated at the end of the trail at Rubha Hunish and the northern most point of Skye it was also a fitting finale to our trip. 

With an extremely large 180-degree panorama box window looking out to the vast expanse of blue of the North Sea waters, on a clear day it is said that you can see as far as the Western Isles and Cape Wrath.  It is also quite possibly also the only bothy where you might see whales and dolphins without having to physically step outside!

This well-equipped and very cute bothy was a former coastguard watch station and was built in 1928, it remained operation until the 1970s when it was taken over by the Mountain Bothy Association. 

For anyone eager to experience one of these special shelters for themselves, please be aware of the bothy code - which outlines how you can responsibly use these spaces.

Scottish Bothy, Isle of Skye

Five things you might not have known about the Skye Trail!

  1. In 1746, the elusive Bonnie Prince Charlie is claimed to have taken refuge in a cave on his final night in Skye before escaping. It’s possible to take a 4km out and back hike to Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Cave, accessible for a couple of hours either side of low tide from the seaside town of Elgol.
  2. The spectacular dinosaur/dragon’s back like ridge structures and lumps that you see along the Trotternish Ridge were the result of the UK’s largest known landslides which runs almost the length of the peninsular c. 30 kilometres.
  3. This ridge was also formed from ancient basalt lava flows resting on top of a base layer of softer sedimentary rocks from the Jurassic period at a time when Skye was a tropical lagoon and dinosaurs roamed the Earth. It is said that dinosaur footprints have been found in this bed of rock nearby!
  4. One for the film buffs amongst you. With its dramatic landscapes, it’s unsurprising that the iconic Old Man of Storr has featured in The Wicker Man (1973), Prometheus (2012), and Snow White and the Huntsman (2012). How many Old Man of Storr cameos can you spot?
  5. The Scotch Whisky Liqueur, Drambuie was first sold at Broadford! After the Jacobites were defeated in 1746, Bonnie Prince Charlie was helped by Clan MacKinnon to escape the British Isles. In return for their help, he passed on his secret Drambuie recipe to the clan chief, and 100 years later, John Ross of the Broadford Hotel managed to convince the MacKinnons to let him sell a batch of the liqueur! Locals named this ‘Dram Buidheach’, which translates from Gaelic as ‘the drink that satisfies’ and in 1893 the name Drambuie was trademarked.

Skye Trail Hike

Essential Kit

Phase Waterproof Jacket

A waterproof jacket is one of those essential items every eager adventurer needs, no matter what kind of adventure they’re going on. This is especially true for anyone navigating exposed trails on the Scottish Isles, where the weather can be famously changeable and unforgiving.

What better option than Montane’s Phase Waterproof Jacket (available for both men and women), which has been especially designed for walking in the hills and mountains. Made with guaranteed-to-keep-you-dry GORE TEX technology, this gives me peace of mind that I’ll be kept comfortable, no matter what the rain decides to do. This waterproof jacket is also highly packable and lightweight, meaning it is easily stashed away in a pack when things pick back up and it’s no longer needed

Anti-Freeze Hooded Down Jacket

Different people have very different core body temperatures and also what you carry will be very dependent on your adventure objective and also the speed and nature of your activity! 

As someone who either runs very hot or very cold, having the option of a warm layer in my bag, for when I stop, or when we start first thing in the morning, or for camp in the evenings, is key for me.  However, when having to carry all your kit, the weight and the packability of all my layers is incredibly important for me.

Which is why I am a bit fan of the Anti-Freeze Hoodie (again available for both men and women). Built from premium lightweight recycled materials and high quality down, it’s works as a perfect balance between warmth, weight and packability and allows me to either wear it as a standalone outer layer or underneath a waterproof shell. 

Old man of Storr, Scotland

Ineo Pants

The range of terrain which I go on my hiking adventures is quite varied and there are many instances where I need my hiking pants to be flexible and to have sufficient stretch to cater for this. The Ineo Pants are both wind and water resistant but keep the comfortable stretch fit. Moreover they are quick drying which makes them ideal for multi-day adventures!  

Useful resources

Online

The Walk Highlands Website provides a great resource for anything in the Scottish Highlands and Skye Trail.  As well as an trail overview it also includes a stage-by-stage breakdown of the suggested seven stages of the trail with GPX files, maps, trip and walk reports, photos and lots of information on official providers as well as accommodation options. 

Maps

Harvey Maps, The Skye Trail contains lots of information and is lightweight durable and waterproof

Guidebooks 

The Skye Trail (Cicerone Guides) by Helen and Paul Webster which includes a plethora of information from History, Geology, Wildlife, Accommodation, Maps and a section for each stage of the trail.  

The Skye Trail: A Journey through the Isle of Skye - by Cameron McNeish and Richard Ilse.  The Skye Trail was brought to life by BBC Scotland presented by Cameron McNeish. His illustrated book is based on the broadcast and Cameron's experiences of the trail, the island, its people and its history and environment.

Discover More

Feeling inspired to hike the Skye Trail for yourself? Take a look at our collection page to find suitable, protective kit that will help you tackle this inspiring walk with confidence.

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