A walker and climber’s paradise...
Down by the water at Elgol is reputedly one of the best spots from which to view the Cuillin hills of Skye.
Smack bang in the centre of that glorious panorama, looking huge in spite of being one of the Cuillin’s smallest, Sgurr na Stri rises from the far side of Loch Scavaig like a whale leaping from the water.
If you added to the name an “F” and an “E”, you would have the meaning of the mountain’s name: Peak of strife!
The name goes back to the eighteenth century and a boundary dispute between Macleods and MacKinnons; both septs claimed the land on which the wee hill stands. Unusually for those times, not too much blood was shed in settlement and an agreement was reached that seems to have kept everybody happy.
The most satisfying way to reach the hill is from Sligachan, a long but not too arduous tramp amid some of the finest of Skye’s scenery. Across the road from the famous hotel cum climber’s watering hole a green signpost points the way to Coruisk; that’s the way I went.
I could not have wished for a more perfect day.
Blue skies with fluffy clouds chivvied along by just enough breeze to keep from overheating, meant comfortable walking and entrancing views. Nor did I have to wait for those views. On my right, as I took to the well kept path, Sgurr nan Gillean and her acolytes soared gracefully, flanks of winter browned grass and dark gabbro dappled by the shadows of those passing clouds.
Ahead loomed big Marsco, a member of the ‘red’ clan of Cuillin hills. With considerably more yellow grass than most of her granite pink siblings, she looked inviting despite her steepness. o a previous summer visit here it had taken a while to get the first mile behind me, there was so much down by my feet to look at as I’d passed.
Yellow bog asphodel and lesser tormentil grew among a profusion of blue speedwell, pink mountain thyme and louseworts. The lush grass around me was often white with cotton grass hiding amongst which I’d found pink and white orchids; even an uncommon lesser butterfly orchid waylaid me. And then there was the little sticky mats of Sundew, the oval kind today, each spoon-shaped leaf ringed by dozens of sticky tendrils waiting to curl in on any unsuspecting fly unlucky enough to land. The heather had been alive to the song of meadow pipits, fledging sprang from my feet. I heard snipe drumming and there’d come to my ears the plaintive call of a greenshank. Oyster catchers cleeped and now and then a skylark sang its sky-borne song.
Today was so different! Winter, even in its death-throes, kept a sombre grip on the land. In the gaping mouth of Harta Corrie, which I was soon passing over to my right, a large stone stands. Some thirty feet high, “The Bloody stone” commemorates yet another dispute over land, this one not so amicably settled. Around this stone were once piled the bodies of feuding MacDonalds and MacLeods.
But it’s the Cuillin ridge that really starts to hold the eyes as you pass deeper into the fastness of Sligachan. Blaven is an outlier, a huge gabbro blade very much aloof from the main horseshoe, yet the deeper I probed the glen the more the mountain dominated the view ahead. Beneath Marsco and the little red hill, Ruadh Stac,
I arrived at a junction in the path; my way forward was south-west, across wonderful grassy flats and up onto the Bealach Hain, the pass that takes the walker to Coruisk. But Blaven!
In all of Britain there cannot be a more Alpine sight than this.
Rising sheer from the waters of Loch na Creitheach, framed elegantly between Ruadh Stac and Sgurr Hain, the mountain presents a great wedge precipitous gully rent gabbro.
That gabbro, wet in its myriad nooks and crannies, glistened in the overhead sun like some dragon’s pile of treasure. At last the path began to climb. It’s a steady but gentle mile or more into the bealach with its big red cairns.
During summer months you’re almost certain to be entertained by Golden Ringed Dragonflies; with its three inch body of black and yellow stripes and its ‘widow lace’ wings, it’s a treat in nature’s ceramic art.
Watch out also for the big hairy caterpillars of the Northern Eggar moth. As I stopped to drink from a nearby burn I was tormented by the belling of a Ring Ouzel, that white bibbed blackbird of the mountains so easily heard yet today frustratingly elusive. At the bealach the path dives down to Loch Coruisk.
A fainter trod untangles itself hereabouts and heads across Sgurr na Hain’s stony flank en route for the gentle slopes of Sgurr na Stri. Another forty minutes of so would see me at the summit.
I dropped a little until I could finally get to grips with the slabby north ridge. Stri is a complex little hill; plenty of gabbro slabs giving simple scrambling had me weaving in and out of little crags all the way to the mountain’s airy summit. The view from the top is out of all proportion to the mountain’s lowly 497 metre status!
South, across the bluest sea to Rum and its own Cuillin, was unbelievable. Way out there, through the blue haze, floated the ghostly shapes of other Hebridean islands. And in every other direction, mountains. To my one side soared Blaven, backed by the pink hulks of the Red Cuillin. Way below me on my left, the green waters of Loch Coruisk lay surrounded by her end of the Black Cuillin chain, a chain of the most raggedly sharp ups and downs which ended, way back the way I’d come, in the pinnacles of Sgurr nan Gillean. I gazed upon a walker’s and climber’s paradise, a place where hard men come to train for the Alps and Himalayas and lesser mortals come to dream. It was hard to leave but with seven miles plus still to tramp I turned for home. Sgurr na Hain lay above my path, I made the easy traverse onto its ridge and let the hill lead me back to the bealach. The Ring ouzel was still there, loud but in adamant hiding. There were other walkers to-ing and fro-ing between Coruisk and Sligachan, the sun had brought them out. Back down by the Allt Measarroch it was good to stop and remove my boots and socks, let the cool breeze soothe my aching feet in readiness for the final couple of miles Sligachan-wards. As I laced up my boots there came to my ears the sound of commotion on the air. I heard the angry sounds of oyster catchers and the worried calls of a greenshank from somewhere across the river.
Looking up I watched an eagle, huge and majestic, slowly spiralling on an updraft. Higher and higher she rose, smaller and smaller she became until, with a lazy flap of her golden pinions, she turned and drifted towards the Sligachan hotel. One thing I was sure of, as I looked down on the white walls of that inviting Inn, she would arrive before me.