British Isles

Some of our British backpacking trips but also other hikes, climbs, sea kayaking and cycling.

Scotland

Sample Scottish trips here from a lifetime of outdoors bits and bobs!

England

2023 2020 2019 South West Coast Path (section hikes)

2022 Cumbria Way 70-80 miles across Lake District National Park

2016 2015 Coast to Coast Trail 190 miles across northern England through the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors National Parks.

Lake District climbing and fell walking

Cornwall and the south west climbing

Wales

2021 Pembrokeshire coastal path (4 days)

1999 1996 1995 1991 1990 1989 Llanberis and Anglesey climbs and hill walking

Ireland

1999 Donegal sea cliff climbing

1999 Connemara hill walking

1999 Dublin Dalkey quarry rock climbing

The Skye Trail September 2022

Introduction For all Martina and I’s backpacking over the years, we have actually done very little long distance walks in our home country of Scotland. I guess one of the reasons is that we have explored Scotland extensively as part of hillwalking, climbing, kayaking and other trips such that there is less of a sense of discovery for us here. Not to say that Scotland isn’t fantastic with its beautiful mix of hills, sea and islands, ever changing light and accessibility throughout the year. And there is still plenty new for us to see, particularly around the coasts. But Scotland also does have challenges for backpacking over many days, with principle adversaries being wet weather with boggy underfoot conditions and, in summer- the midge!

The Isle of Skye though has a potentially wonderful backpack of about 7 days duration and 80 miles (130km) called the Skye Trail. Brian thought he would give it a go in the autumn of 2022….

Skye Trail Map from Cicerone

What’s it like? The Isle of Skye sits off the north west coast of Scotland. Its both mountainous and has a rugged coastline and the trail goes through both. There are some tremendous landscapes and, maybe I am biased, but the scenery is world class in places. In the south are the Cuillin mountains which are the most rugged in the British Isles. In the north is the Trotternish Ridge where the trail traverses a long undulating ridge with splendid views and other worldly rock formations at either end. The coastal sections are equally good, particularly around Elgol in the south and Flodigarry to Rubha Hunnish in the north. That’s a lot of excitement to pack into 7 days! I have a short description of my hike below as well as some notes on planning further on.

My hike south to north

Day 1 Broadford to Torrin This was a short easy day. I started late from Broadford around 4pm but still made it just short of Torrin to camp at the bay of Camus Malag before joining road. The trails are dry making for relaxed walking over to the coast at Boreraig, with its town ruins evidence of Highland Clearances described in Walkhighlands. There is a lovely coastal path round to Loch Slapin and the views of the mountain Blabheinn (pronounced Blaven) in particular are spectacular. A really enjoyable mellow start.

Day 2 Torrin to Elgol to Camasunary This is another short guidebook day and I hiked on from Elgol for an extra few hours to camp to the north at Camasunary Bay. I started with a road walk through the small settlement of Torrin (the cafe was closed unfortunately!) and round the head of Loch Slapin. Good views to the mountains here and there is roadside camping opportunities next to the sea but you may need to share with campervans. The route leaves the road at the Blaven trailhead following a trail south for about 4km to return to the tarmac.

[Note that you could do a wild alternate here by hiking to the summit of Blaven, then down its south ridge to Camasunary. The panoramic views are great, but its a 3000 feet climb with rough ground on the descent and some scrambling. One for good weather. Maybe on balance I would recommend the Coruisk – Sgurr na Stri alternative below instead].

I had showers and rainbows as I hiked through Kirkibost [a shortcut alternate takes you direct to Camasunary from south of here on a landrover track but its not as good as the normal route]. then a series of again viewful tracks south above the coast to near Spar Cave. I didn’t visit the cave but I think it would be a superb diversion-note you need a low tide to access it.

Another quiet road headed east over to Elgol. More great views out to sea and across to the Isle of Rum here.

I stopped at Elgol for a late lunch before turning north on a excellent trail to Camasunary. This was the best section so far as I headed along the, at times exposed, trail looking to the Cuillin mountains. You could camp at Glen Scaladal, there is some beach plastic ‘flotsom and jetsom’ but its still a good spot. I stopped beyond at Camasunary Bay to camp (there is also a popular bothy here you could stay at). Superb day.

Day 3 Camasunary to Sligachan The normal route here is straightforward following Glen Sligachan north on a good trail. This provides everchanging views to the Cuillin peaks above but stays low in a valley and misses the Cuillin’s themselves which is a pity.

I took a somewhat more interesting route round the coast to Loch Coruisk via the ‘Bad Step’, then along the south of Loch Coruisk, up over the Cuillin ridge at the pass Bealach na Glaic Moire then after some scrabbling scree descents I connected with trails on the west of the mountains to Sligachan. Description and map of the options below

My day started with a crossing of the river west of Camasunary over some stepping stones about 300m inland from the sea. I managed to stay dry which was a bonus as I have been soaked here before as it’s tidal and the river rises a lot during wet spells. Next up was a grand rough trail round the coast to the outlet of Loch Coruisk. This is atmospheric territory and reaches a crescendo at the ‘Bad Step’ – a sloping slab of rock perched above the sea. It is short and requires a Grade 2 (US Class 4 maybe) scramble using a crack line as a hand rail. Once past that I followed a faint trail through a short section of boulders and deep vegetation before exiting out over a shallow pass to Loch Coruisk. This was a fantastic spot with the loch walled in by imposing mountains.

There was a strong wind funneling down the loch and it was tough going along the lochside with lots of bog then a steep haul up to the high pass, Bealach na Glaic Moire, on the Cuillin ridge itself. I stopped for lunch hunched down behind a boulder from the gale force winds but the views were superb. The descent involved some (to be honest unpleasant) steep scree before I picked up a good trail above the crowded ‘Instagram spot’ of the Fairy Pools. I sped on over the pass, Bealach a’ Mhaim, with heavy rain showers preventing me stopping for a brew of tea to relax. There are beautiful waterfalls on the way to Sligachan which are quiet- unlike the Fairy Pools -and would be great for a dip if it was a bit warmer! Another superb day.

I think a better variant between Camasunary and Sligachan that I would recommend to maximise the drama and scenery is via Coruisk – Sgurr na Stri.

Red- normal route

Purple – Coruisk – Sgurr na Stri recommended variant

Purple dashes – My route September 2022

Purple dots-A better alternate to my route following the Druim nan Ramh ridge but with a scramble at the top

Coruisk – Sgurr na Stri From Camasunary cross the river and take the coastal trail to the west past the ‘Bad Step’ (Grade 2 scramble) to Loch Coruisk. Take the trail north over a pass before descending down into Glen Sligachan and the main Skye Trail. Better still is to also cut back south on a trail to the summit of Sgurr na Stri for some brilliant views. Return back to the trail to Glen Sligachan.

Sgurr na Stri summit April 2021
Looking down to the Loch Coruisk outlet from Sgurr na Stri

Day 4 Sligachan to Portree This is the least interesting day of the hike, more of a connector between the Cuillin mountains and the Trotternish ridge north of Portree. On the plus side the views can be good reducing the slightly dull 10.5km of road walking. I set off from Sligachan campsite in dark cloudy weather and followed the pleasant path along the north shore of Loch Sligachan. Views are good (again!) and you see the Raasay ferry setting off on its short voyage. Unfortunately the sky’s opened once I hit the minor road so it was heads down from there into Portree for me!

Back south to Raasay and Scalpay

Day 5 Portree to The Storr trailhead It was raining hard in Portree and checking the forecast showed more rain for the next three days so I reluctantly stopped at this point and intend to return to backpack the remaining 3 days in better weather!

I did do this section in May 2021 though. A good trail leads round Portree harbour and bay- I saw both sea eagles and golden eagles on the climb out onto the ridge to the north. Views back to the Cuillin mountains and over to Raasay are splendid. It gets a bit boggier descending north but there is a short road you meet above Bearreraig Bay. I took the steep path down to the bay past the hydro station to its cool beach and fossils. A short but excellent day with Portree bay and a ridge walk.

Portree

Day 6 The Storr to Flodigarry – Trotternish ridge Again I have hiked this ridge in the past and it is a brilliant undulating grassy ridge walk with expansive views. To the east are the hills of the mainland and the isles of Raasay and Rona. To the west are the island chain of the Outer Hebrides. At both ends are the weird rock formations of The Storr in the south and The Quirang in the north. Try and savor all of this on a good weather day.

Looking south down the Trotternish Ridge from the Quirang
The Quirang

Day 7 Flodigarry to Rubha Hunish and Duntulm A mostly cross country coastal walk to Sky’s most northerly point Rubha Hunish which has a wild spacious feel looking out across the sea to Harris.

Coast east of Rubha Hunish
Lookout and bothy above Rubha Hunish

Planning Walkhighlands has an excellent web guide. Cicerone also a has a detailed guidebook available in paper or eBook. I think the Harvey Maps Skye Trail paper map is also very useful. No permits are required, you can wild camp easily outside the towns and access to drinking water isn’t a problem. There are good bus services down the length of the island connecting the start and finish, as well as Portree and Sligachan. Check the guides or use an app such as Google Maps.

Best direction I don’t think it matters too much. However if you are flexible then checking the forecast wind for the week (see links below) and hiking with the wind might prove a good idea.

If you are not wild camping then you have a long, exposed day along the Trotternish ridge between The Storr carpark and Flodigarry in the north. It might be best to do this near the end of the trip and thus hike northwards so you have time to ‘warm up’ before tackling this stage. If you are wild camping it doesn’t matter as you could pitch your tent along the ridge.

Hiking terrain There is a huge mix! From trails, cross country along ridges and coast – and some stretches of tarmac. Expect some bog, especially in wetter periods between Portree and Flodigarry.

I reckon there is about 28km of the 130km total length on tarmac, with the longest stretch being 6.5 miles (10.5km) between Sligachan and Portree in the middle. On the plus side the roads are quiet and the views are mostly extensive, but its a bit more than I would like on a trail.

Best times I will be honest, Skye has a pretty wet climate with the prevailing weather bringing damp air from the Atlantic on south westerly winds. I had a quick look at the web and for example the town of Portree on the Skye Trail has about double the precipitation (1815mm average annual) compared to Tuolumne Meadows in the USA on the Pacific Crest Trail. I suspect Portree is one of the driest parts of the Skye Trail as well! But there are dry spells and mixed cloudy, showery weather can provide clear air and beautiful, atmospheric views.

But when is best? Here are some factors to consider…. April to July is the driest time in Skye. For me from November to February is too dark, wet and boggy. The biting insect called the midge makes itself felt from some time in May to September. Tourists flock to Skye in summer and they won’t impact your hiking but they do make it more difficult and expensive to get accommodation if you need it. So I would say April, May, early June along with late September and early October are the best times to plan in advance – with May perhaps being optimal. That said Skye has very variable weather and can be good or bad any month of the year. Ideally to me it would be best to plan your hike in advance but have some flexibility to look at forecasts before you set off such as: Met office Portree, The Storr, Mountain forecast for North West Scotland

Hayduke ‘Training’ hikes

We are out walking in the local hills and coast a fair bit most times, especially during the last two years of lockdown. But with the Hayduke in mind we have tried to do a few more miles over flatter ground during the winter. The coastline north of us from Fortrose to Rosemarkie to Cromarty offers pretty perfect terrain; sand, boulders, trail, cross country, minor roads and even some bushwacking – it also happens to be great fun!

Our favourite coastline from Rosemarkie to Cromarty
Rounding the coast from Inverness northwards
Quinaig in the north west of Scotland with cloud inversion
Dog walking counts too!
Rosemarkie beach near home with sun, snow and black sky

Scotland- wild camps and bothy trips

Our long distance backpacking trips have mostly been abroad- USA, Canada, Alaska, Nepal, Alps/Dolomites, Norway- and even England with the ‘Coast to Coast’ and parts of the South West Coast Path. In Scotland, with only a few exceptions, we tend to have spent our overnighters as weekend trips at 1-3 nights at a time. We have a particular attraction to camping on or near hill summits, with the winter solstice being a specific love and challenge given typical harsh Scottish weather conditions and the minimal amount of daylight around December 21st!

Summits in Scotland are relatively easy to reach and often afford decent, dry camping spots with short cropped vegetation- as long as you are prepared to hunt around a bit. The views can be panoramic and fantastic with the special light you can get at sunset and sunrise.

We have mostly used a 3 season tent, the Terra Nova Superlite Voyager (the best compromise we have found between robustness, roominess for 2 and lightweight at 1.4kg, but now see that Terra Nova no longer sell these) and occasionally its more robust and heavier sibling the Terra Nova Quasar for wild conditions.

The map below is a compilation of where we have wild camped in Scotland, along with bothies we have stayed in. Lots to go at still!

Click picture for interactive map
An Cladach Bothy on Islay
Cul Mor, Assynt
Shelterstone, Cairngorms
Sgur Mhaoraich looking out across Knoydart
Ski tour and camp just north of Ben Macdui summit, Cairngorms

Back to Scotland

Quinag NW Scotland

Scotland

We have spent our lives out in the great outdoors of Scotland, whether that’s climbing, hillwalking, camping, sea kayaking, biking or just hiking and exploring. Here are just a few snapshots from all those years with perhaps more to come….

2022 The Skye Trail

2023 2022 John O’Groats Trail (Section hiking the 147 mile route)

2020 North Highland Way (3 day backpack)

Scottish wild camps and bothy map

Scotland outdoor photos

Black Isle hikes and bike trips

Scottish rock (and winter) climbing

Scottish backpacking trips

Scottish sea kayaking

Inverness to Aviemore connector route (Hiking and off road biking)

North Coast Scotland

This was a short backpacking trip by Brian to the north coast of Scotland during a summer of Covid-19 travel restrictions. I have seen a lot of Scotland over the years from bagging the Munro’s (almost twice now) , Corbetts and Graham hills to rock climbing, sea kayaking, cycling and general meandering. This area in the far north is somewhere where I haven’t been to too much though and I thought a coastal backpack would be a good way to explore. The downside was that August is not my favourite time to visit, mostly due to the midge, a particularly gruesome insect!

Summary This was a scenic hike with stunning coastal cliffs and expanses of sand but was tough going due to a few factors. There were very few trails on the coast in between the town and road sections and the terrain above the cliffs was heather and peat, mostly not too bad for walking but at times very wet and tussocky. The midges were pretty awful at camp as feared, even when pitched on a sandy beach at high tide level. Very little sitting outside the tent with a cup of tea gazing at the scenery here! There was a bit too much road walking in places, such as the 6 miles of busy road to get round the nuclear power station at Dounreay. Having recently been backpacking in Cornwall, the towns of the north lack the ‘cuteness’ and interesting old buildings found down there. However this was balanced by the lack of crowds- hiking on the coast away from towns, I saw virtually no-one else hiking- maybe for the reasons above!

So if I was to try another section of coast in the north I would go in March/April/May/early June- with maybe May being optimum depending on the weather.

A walking route called the North Highland Way is being investigated and developed along the north coast and my route likely coincided with this a fair amount. This route has great potential with the fantastic wild scenery up there along with linking up both the John O’ Groats Trail to the east and the Cape Wrath Trail on the west.

Talmine near Tongue

Monday 17th August 2020  The weather was set fair for the next few days as I left my car near Tongue, ready to hike east following the coast as much as I could. Tongue is on the side of the ‘Kyle of Tongue’ sea inlet– which surely must rank as one of the most beautiful places in Scotland with huge expanses of white sand exposed at low tide, a jagged mountain backdrop inland and a number of islands dotting the horizon out to sea.

I headed up the east side of the inlet at first on a pebbly shore before I was forced up a steep slope above the sea by a cliff. I had to bushwack through head high bracken for a bit before popping out at some houses and taking a gravel access road back out to the main A836 road at Rhitongue.

An overgrown trail past a river valley took me to some cottages at Skullomie and then I had a really cool stretch north on sheep trails to ruins at Sletell. The views over to Rabbit Islands and Eilean nan Ron were grand. Some more bracken bashing followed before I picked up a sequence of short trails and minor roads to Skerray and on to Torrisdale Bay. I was finding that the vegetation was really high and difficult to hike through near to houses, but away from there and on the coast it tended to much better short cropped heather.

Crossing the River Borgie via a footbridge I then hiked round the sandy dunes of Torrisdale Bay to Invernaver- another lovely stretch. I road walked into Bettyhill town, arriving about 7pm to find the grocery store was closed, but I picked up water at the public toilets. So I headed on and dropped down to the smaller beach of Farr Bay. There was one surfer riding to waves at twilight as I stopped to pitch the tent on the beach at high tide level.

The wind died down and midges descended as I pitched, and I ended up eating whilst walking along the edge of the water to keep them at bay. Lovely spot though!

Tuesday 18th August 2020 Midges chased me off in the morning as I headed north to Farr Point. Wild cliff scenery around the point and past the ruined Borve Castle made for dramatic hiking. I struggled a bit zig zagging through the cluster of houses at Swordly, with some head high bushwacking to get through an overgrown path.

Near Borve Castle- Farr Point

A better jeep track over the hill eastwards down to the road at Kirtomy provided some easier walking and then I had another good jeep track up the hill north of a big antenna with lovely views back west across Swordly Bay. At this point I headed cross country north east a bit inland to the ruins and trail at Poulouriscaig over quite remote feeling ground. A stop a bit further on on top of an old concrete building allowed me to dry off and carry out some minor repairs to the tent guy lines. My feet were also suffering a bit from the continuously wet underfoot conditions and sand in everything.

Easy tracks down to Armadale road and I picked up a signposted route down to Armadale Bay- an expanse of sand with no one else on it strangely. Lunch was had above the cliffs on the east side as the sun came out and a breeze kept the midges away. I was able to relax with the stove out for a couple of cups of tea with the Bay as a beautiful backdrop.

Armadale Bay

Next up was a long hike up northwards on the west coast of the peninsula of Strathy Point. I walked through heather and grass mostly above cliffs, zawns and islands. The rock mostly seemed to be ‘gneiss’ with some cool distorted and striped rock. The final couple of miles to Strathy Point lighthouse was particularly cool – natural arches and white water dashing against the cliffs. The sun also appeared again which helped!

Near Strathy Point

I took the minor road back down the east side of the peninsula to Strathy and through some rare woods to a new trailhead toilet block area above Strathy Bay where I cooked up dinner. This is a good spot for surfing in Strathy Bay and on a warm sunny evening it made sense.

A strange sight on the way was a car driving slowly down the road with the sheep leading ahead of the car – very obediently. Normally sheep would just spread out off the road back into the fields.

The roads here are quite busy with campervans with the coastal road being part of the very popular ‘North Coast 500’ driving (and cycling) route. It would be a very scenic drive but you will be sharing it with a procession of vans, RVs and cars. One benefit I did find when road walking though is that when its cold and a campervan drives past I was getting a refreshing blast of warm air to heat me up!

I took water at the toilet bock – water availability is a slight issue as I have been a bit wary of streams at the coast flowing through the heavily farmed areas with lots of cattle. I am carrying aqua mira water purifier tablets but have opted to take water where I can from towns and public water supplies.

The hike east along the cliff tops from here in the evening with the low sun behind me was one of the highlights of the trip and I found a wild camp spot near Rubha na Cloiche. A good varied day but the feet are blistering a bit!

Evening sun near Rubha na Cloiche

Wednesday 19th August 2020 A few midges last night but not the apocalyptic swarms of the previous night! I had a soggy hike along the coast a bit then out to the A836 road to walk into Melvich. There is a campsite here so I stopped to dry the tent out and buy coffee and cake at the campsite store- the first open shop I had come across.

There was a bridge marked on the map over the Halladale River at the enigmatically named ‘Big House’. To get there I walked back up the road again then took a track down to the sand dunes to the bridge. But arrrgghh, the bridge had a locked gate with a sign saying no access. I looked at the river but it appeared to be swimming rather than wading depth. So reluctantly I retreated back round to the campsite then along the verge of the A836 to the south over the river and picked up tracks back to Big House. Maybe only a 90 minute detour but it was frustrating that the bridge was closed to the public – not sure why, maybe to preserve the fishing rights?

Looking across to Big House and the Halladale River bridge

I headed east again along the cliff tops over tussocky heather past more grand cliffs. The rock type changed to sedimentary here with tilted bands and some massive overhanging rock faces. Later on this section became a bit of trudge though over continuously peat haggy ground then heavily dug up areas as I passed Sandside House and into Reay. I had hoped for a shop here but everything seemed closed – I did at least pick up water from a hose pipe in the local cemetery.

Now I had to face up to a long road walk on the A836 to get round Dounreay nuclear power station. I hiked fast and used the rough verges when cars passed, but walked the road when it was quiet. Not my favourite hiking experience it has to be said, but the views of Dounreay were strangely fascinating, changing slowly as I passed by at hiking speed.

Dounreay

Well, all good things must pass, and I soon picked up a track heading north back to the coast across some pretty wasted cattle farming land. The coast was cool though and I had a stop and brew of tea on slabby rock strata dipping into the sea. I decided to hike on to Thurso today as I couldn’t see much in the way of decent camping up to there and my feet were blistered!

The wind farm at Hill of Lybster was fun to hike past, as was the Chapel and bridge crossing at Crosskirk. Mist and some drizzle came in as I hiked field margins past Brims Castle and then uphill to Ness of Litter. There is a Caithness Flagstone quarry there perched right at the edge of the cliff but the visibility had reduced now and it was just me and lots of sheep dodging around. I took the track down to Scrabster and by now the mist was down at sea level so I put my head down to walk into Thurso to finish. A long day of maybe 26 miles to wrap up the trip!

Useful links

Charles’ Walk A round Britain coastal hike in 2018 with informative daily blogs.

Walking Scotland’s Coast A great information source on Scotland’s coast by these hikers.

North Highland Way Aiming to organise a signposted trail/route along the north coast.

Walkhighlands Good general walking guide to Scotland

Kayaking on the Black Isle

We are lucky enough to have some great coastline near where we stay on the Black Isle of Scotland. There is a mix of coastal cliffs, beaches with some nice towns such as Cromarty and Fortrose. We have some oil rigs parked here as well and cruise liners come into the Cromarty Firth at Invergordon.

0702 Cromarty IMG_0070 return to cromarty
Returning to Cromarty

0702 Cromarty IMG_0045 at eathie bothy
Cave near north sutor

0702 Cromarty IMG_0034 at eathie bothy
Resting at a beach near Eathie bothy

0611-4-kayak-cromarty
surreal kayaking round the oil rigs in Cromarty firth

0522 fortrose kayaking 3
Weather out from Fortrose!

 

 

 

Sea kayaking in Scotland

This summer we have had some kayak trips around the Scottish coast. Scotland provides great opportunities for scenery and adventures with kayaks. The photos give an example from the north eastern coastline near Buckie.

 

0723-7-bow-fiddle-rock
Bow Fiddle rock near Portknockie

0723-11-bow-fiddle-rock-pano
Bow Fiddle rock from the seaward side

0723-23-approaching-portsoy
Paddling into Portsoy

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The remains of Findlater castle

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Natural arch near Cullen beach

Hayduke training….

We¬†were out yesterday on our local coast from Rosiemarkie to Cromarty on a 21 mile walk. This is a very sheltered area and tends to receive better weather than the mainland to the west.Lots to see including sea birds, geology of the great glen fault, fossils and footprints from the elusive otters around here. The terrain is varied too from sand, rock hopping, some cross-country, single track, single lane road and jeep track. We can’t train for the temperatures of the Hayduke though, we had a cool 3-6 C yesterday, we are expecting temps up to 35 C out in the Grand Canyon!

Here’s a quote from Edward Abbey, the Hayduke Trail is named after a character from his fictional book ‘the Monkey Wrench Gang’ – well worth a read!

“In the first place you can’t see anything from a car; you’ve got to get out of the
goddamned contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail you’ll see something, maybe.”

Edward Abbey