Words & Photos Ronald Turnbull
Distance: 6 miles/9.5km
Time: 3-4 hours
Start/finish: car park at high point of road from Brogaig to Uig (GR: NG 440679)
Map: Harvey 1:25,000 Superwalker, Skye Storr and Trotternish; Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 Landranger sheet 23 (North Skye, Dunvegan & Portree)
Information: Portree, 01478 612137
Travel: 57C Uig to Portree, three a day
A short week on Skye means the Cuillin. It means some huge western seacliffs; it means popping across to Raasay. Yet my week was up, and I’d not yet got north for Skye’s weird pinnacle adventure, beloved of Victorian ladies in long skirts.
But the Quiraing, though spectacular, is short. So start soon – like 5am. Chilly wind with a suspicion of sleet was blasting across the dark car park. Headtorch on the head showed a glare of raindrops, so I held it at knee level and discovered the signpost poking out of the peat. The path leaps puddle to puddle across the peat, then finds shelter by contouring over what was, in mist and darkness, nothing less than a thrilling abyss…
Victorian ladies in long skirts – they scared easily. There can’t be any actual difficulties along this smooth path? Well, there was a little red gully, dropping into clouded darkness below, a small stream dripping in from above; and this basalt stuff, it’s slippery! I stepped across, looking for handholds by my damp headtorch.
The darkness was fading to grey. Except in quite a lot of places it wasn’t. On my right, where logic placed empty air and eventually the sea – mist black instead of grey – was the implausibly pointed Prison. It’s a scramble Grade 1, intriguing because the basalt is chemically the same stuff as Cuillin gabbro – yet at the same time utterly different, being lumpish, red-stained, and disconcertingly slippery. The difference is in the crystals: gabbro has big chunky ones, basalt cooled briskly in the open air and so is smooth.
Up on the left, the mist swirled among hollows of the hill. The path contours onwards, but the weird stuff is above. I zigzagged past the Needle, contoured behind it, and found a rock slot precisely one cow wide, in the days when cows were small, agile and black, and had to be hidden from the neighbours you’d stolen them from.
The cow slot is deep enough that I was back in full darkness, until I passed up into a lumpy hollow, carpet-like grass between black walls. The cloud rose, the light strengthened, and I enjoyed a wet breakfast on the lawn-like Table.
A gully leads back to the main path. The weirdness here is down to landslips: the block basalt lies on softer sandstone, and at the slope foot the sea is sweeping away the sandstone. So the basalt has dropped to the right in chunks. And it’s still at it. On Sron Vourlinn, you can see the cliff edge cracking away as the next slice prepares to slide downwards into the sea.
Back was over Meall na Suiramach, the unvisited trig point that’s actually the summit of the Quiraing. From the cliff edge, you look excitingly down over the whole weird scene. Store it in the memory, and then drive south, with the heater full blast, in a fug of peaty socks and recondensing Quiraing rain.
Follow signed path NE, along cliff top then contouring below crags. It rises to col behind the Prison pinnacle. Scramble Prison (Grade 1), then turn uphill to pass to L of Needle pinnacle. Cross to R above pinnacle into narrow gap, up to rising grassy hollow. Pass L around base of Table plateau to gain summit from behind. Descend towards a slender pinnacle between two towers: once off Table turn L down broadening gully to reach main path below. Turn L (north) contouring, then rising to col NE of Meall na Suiramach. Follow crag tops N to Sron Vourlinn, then return and follow crag tops S above the Table. Branch off R to summit Meall na Suiramach, then return to follow path above crag tops SW, then down grassy slopes S to start.Tweet