Back in November I thought I’d take a chance on my knackered ankle, it had been 5 weeks since it had popped whilst running over Bleaklow and the advice had been to rest up for about 6 weeks and do very little. I read between the lines of this sage medical advice and understood that the nurse was really telling me to visit the Isle of Skye and spend four days walking the munros around Glen Sligachan. Surely walking over trackless boggy moorland and up and down steep slick black rock was an essential part of a good rehab programme for a turned ankle?
On this trip I had the excellent company of my two legged friend Pete and my four legged friend Dougal the three year old Labrador. We’d sketched out a few routes starting out from a camp on the bay of Camsunary and had hoped to make an ascent of Bla Bheinn which in the right conditions provides a fine viewing platform for the black and red cuillin. Unfortunately the ‘right conditions’ had taken a leave of absence during our stay and a thick mist swallowed most of the summits for the duration of our time leaving us to adopt the positive Scottish mental attitude of ‘och well’.
After picking up a fairly inebriated elderly hitchhiker whose interest in Dougal bordered on the amourous, we left the car in Elgol and walked several miles along the coast into Camasunary, the sunset cast a silvery light over the distant Rum Cuillin whilst the Black Cuillin loomed closer.
As darkness fell, our tents were pitched next to a fast flowing burn, we cooked and ate on the stony beach whilst looking out to sea. It was good to see Pete shunning any lightweight backpacking ideals by cooking venison burgers and fresh veg on his trangia. I knocked back a carton of sake, part of a generous care package of snacks and treats that had been sent over from Japan. Not a bad life.
During the night we were both woken by the sounds of stags belling and rain hammering the tents, if I get woken at home in the city its annoying, yet out in the hills it feels comforting.
We spent the following days exploring the Glen and when the weather permitted we made it over to Loch Corusik, the thick mist meant that low level routes were a safer bet, as we were walking with a dog we needed to be mindful and considerate of young Dougal’s safety and the poor visibility and unforgiving conditions of Sgurr na Stri meant a more manageable wander along the edge of the loch. What the mist took from us in summits and visibility it gave back in equal measures an eerie atmosphere as thick white curls of cloud roll in off the sea and drape along the slick black slopes of the cuillin.
The three of us shortly came to ‘the bad step’ on the way out from the loch, a sloping slab of rock that overhangs the sea with a 15ft drop, the rock was a little slippy and its easy to see how it could have proved more irksome in more compromising conditions but today it was nothing more than a scramble and with a little gentle encouragement young Dougal the dog managed to hop across with no problems.
In typical hebridean fashion, the weather drastically shifted and the clouds that had hung above us all day all but disappeared, this gave us the perfect chance to make an opportune dash via a very steep gully to the summit of Sgurr ni Stri and take in the views, the tops of the cuillin remained covered in thick white cloud but to the east the skies were bright and blue. Good old scottish weather!
Our descent to Camasunary was flooded with orange and pink light from the sunset giving us a momentary glimpse of the summit of Bla Bheinn. The real treat of the evening though was a chance visit to the bothy where a benevolent soul had a left a generous quarter of a bottle of Tallisker. The dusk had brought a nip to the air and after 9 hours on the hill we made short work of the hooch and meandered back to the tents with a rosy glow for another meal on the beach under the dwindling light.
We spent our final day attempting an ascent of Bla Bheinn in the rain and clouds, had we been sans pooch we would have no doubt tramped up to the top but it seemed unfair to force a shivering Dougal any further, so when the terrain turned steeper, rockier and became more of a wet scramble we elected to come back another day. I like that Dougal was regarded as an equal part of the group and that his needs were given the same consideration that mine or Petes were.
The wind and rained continued and the weather relentlessly whipped its way inland, the skies bore little else other than thick black cloud. Neither of us felt like being gluttons for punishment and we decided to retire to the bothy at Camasunary for the night. This had become a trip marked by good decisions that paid off,by morning there was seaweed near the bothy door, it had been a stormy old night.
Young Dougal strikes a mighty pose
Walking into the bothy for a night of relative comfort.
The final morning brought more mist, wind and rain and wrote of any plan of heading up Bla Bheinn, after a lazy morning in the bothy and wandering along the beach watching seals off the shore, we packed up for home. The return route to Elgol along the coastal path had the rain coming down in sheets and wind howling in from the sea, it almost felt like it was shooing us off the island and warning us to never return……it didn’t work.