Trails and trials of the writer who walks
Today’s circular single track road route, crossing to the west coast of the Sleat peninsula and then back to the east coast, is easy and I wonder, yet again, what people are doing in these remote households that have no access to shop, pub or public transport (when they’re not walking their dogs). Granted, they have uninterrupted views of sea, mountains and islands and that takes some beating. Could I live in a place like that? It seems to be a rule in the highlands that a single household constitutes a place and therefore deserves a name and a road sign. Every little hamlet has a local artist though. As I near junctions pointing to scattered groups of houses, there’s always a colourful and encouraging sign exhorting you to go there. After many disappointments, I’ve stopped hoping that it’s a pub or a café. It’s always ‘the Blue Studio’ or ‘Celtic Jewellery’ Gallery’ or some such arty thing. Nothing you can eat or drink. The other most common commercial interest is in building, as in small firms who specialise in individual house design and building, or renovations. Some of the houses perched in these gorgeous sparsely inhabited settings are new-build. I wonder how much the land costs and how difficult it was for them to get planning permission, and how they manage without any roads or telegraph poles (or sewage drains presumably).
Before I came to Skye, a friend lent me a little booklet called ’31 walks in Skye’. Now I realise that there are only 31 walks in Skye, ie just 31 non-road trails on the entire island. This is the legacy of Scotland’s ‘right to roam’ of course. On the plus side, you can walk and camp anywhere you want on unenclosed land, and have it all to yourself. On the minus side, you can’t get from A to B on foot unless you use a road or are happy to traverse the wild terrain at 1 mph. Even the trails that exist on Skye (mostly in the Cuillin hills) cannot be joined up to make a circular walk. You walk the trail to some lovely little cove, then you walk back. My previous Scotland walking has been to follow a designated trail: the West HIghland Way and then the Great Glen Way. This is my first trip for random exploration and I can see that I really should have brought my car in order to get to different walking bases.
Today’s circular road route is quite long, but it’s easy to eat up the miles on this surface. The final kilometre, before I join the Armadale-Broadford A851, passes through a forest and it’s time to find a pitch for the night. There’s a convenient little burn running down from the forest, through a sloping clearing, so I follow that back and find a handy flat ridge just at the edge of the trees. I feel very ‘Bear Gryll’ as I clear branches from my den and cover the slightly squidgy, muddy surface with thick moss. A trip to the burn for a litre of water and I’m all settled in for the night. So, I think, my first three wild-camps on this trip have been: a beach, a moor and a forest. I think I’m due for a hostel next: socks and hair to wash.