FORGET Sunshine on Leith, when there’s sunshine on Skye you have to cancel all other plans.
The Misty Isle is usually typecast. The normal mountain adventure here is undertaken under low cloud and a fine drizzle at best, making the fearsome Black Cuillin seem even blacker and more fearsome. But when the sun shines, it’s a different story.
A few years back, a group of us arrived at Sligachan for a week climbing the Skye Munros. The first day was overcast and drizzly but then the sun came out and we were blessed with weather more suited to a Mediterranean resort for five days in a row.
The baking heat brings its own problems in these mountains - the lack of water for one - but rather that than stumbling and slithering around in gloomy wetness. The rock feels more secure when it’s dry and the drops don’t look so vertiginous as they do in your imagination when you can’t see more than a few feet in any direction.
So with the forecast showing a ball of sun over Skye, I travelled out of the misty, damp conditions of the east and headed west. I based my stay in Dornie just a few miles from Kyle of Lochalsh, just in case the forecasters were being too optimistic. Then, if the sun was shining I could head over the bridge; if it wasn’t I didn’t have too far to travel for an alternative.
The first day I took the minor road towards the Kylerhea ferry and tackled three hills, two on one side of the road then one on the other. It was sunny and the views were wonderful but the wind was bitter.
Day two saw the mercury rising and the sun beating down from blue skies. This was perfect for visiting The Storr, with its weathered rock stacks of all shapes and sizes, including The Old Man.
After a wander amongst this scenery, the summit comes as a shock, a crumbling trig point set in what looks like a sandy golf bunker amid a sea of short-clipped greenery. A swift visit to the next peak, Hartaval, and then I was back to book a spot in the basin of rock sculptures known as The Sanctuary for lunch in the sun.
It seems half the world wanted to visit The Old Man. I met a couple from Singapore, then another from Croatia. After that Germans, Dutch, Italians and Americans. It was five hours before I heard another Scottish accent.
I broke the drive back by stopping at Sligachan to try to capture the Cuillin peaks in their snowy spring attire.
The answer to the question: What’s black with a white bib and very dangerous? is not, as you might expect, a penguin with a machine-gun. No, it was Sgurr nan Gillean looking even more menacing than normal sporting the remains of its winter coat.
By day three the Misty Isle had decided to revert to type, but although distance views were scant it was still dry, clear and with good visibility at close quarters.
Beinn na Caillich belies its modest height, its rocky slopes towering over Broadford. It’s a constant uphill push but the advantage of no respite is a swift arrival at the summit which holds a massive cairn said to be the burial mound of a Norse princess.
The walk over to Beinn Dearg Mhor is simple and a steep scree descent takes you down fast for the final climb up Beinn Dearg Bheag. The only disappointment was the lack of views over to the Cuillin. But as Meat Loaf once said: Two out of three ain’t bad. Especially on Skye.
(First published Daily Record, April 10, 2014)