A winter walk to the Old Man of Storr
We’ve been on Skye for over a year now and thought it was about time we visited the Old man of Storr. Any sort of walk longer than five minutes is a long way for Ewan, but we suspected the novelty of a bit of snow might help things along.
The Storr is the highest part of the Trotternish ridge in the north of Skye and one of the most photographed locations on the whole of the island … possibly the world. All those cliffs and crazy pinnacles so recognizable from calendars were formed when there was a series of landslips many years ago, when half the island fell in the sea. The main focus for visitors is the fifty metre high free standing pinnacle known as the Old Man (‘Bodach’ in Gaelic).
We drove up from Otter Lodge in early January through the snow showers in the mountains and sleet on the road. It took about an hour to get to the car park at the bottom of the Storr, taking photos on the way. The path starts through an area of recently clear-felled trees which makes for rather muddy going at first. Guests at our B&B from overseas quite often ask why the hillsides are such a mess: why have all the trees have been cut down at once? Logging is perhaps something that doesn’t get in the tourist brochures but it is an important part of the Highland economy. In many areas of Scotland there was a sudden rush of tree-planting after WWII, with the aim of making Britain much more self-sufficient in timber. A lot of these forests have not necessarily flourished where trees were planted on poor land. Like any crop, they are eventually harvested; forests that did well, have already been cut but there are still many plantations that have been neglected for a long time before finally getting the chop. Forests with better quality timber are felled in a systematic way. The trees at the Storr were planted in the 1970s and felled a couple of years ago. Nowadays trees are planted that are more suited to the environment they are grown in and the area below the Storr is now being planted with native species of trees.
We were blessed with a gap in the snow showers as we set out on our mission, but we were prepared for full arctic conditions. Amazingly, up to 50,000 people each year make the trek up to the Old Man; but not all of them wear wellies. The path is easy to follow but it is quite steep in places, with giant steps for little legs to negotiate. Martin kept up the momentum with the most junior Hynd by suggesting a visit to a café in Portree after the expedition. We proceeded onwards and upwards, it took about an hour to the base of the Storr going at the pace of an unusually energetic six-year-old Ewan, who looks like he might have a mountaineering gene after all.
Or was it the prospect of cake?
Impressive though the Old Man is, it’s the setting that takes your breath away. We didn’t get quite as far as the well-trod hill that overlooks the Sanctuary (the bit behind the old man), where thousands of photographers have queued up in the morning to take the definitive shot. No matter, it was still very much a ‘phew, blimey’ kind of a view. Older son Darach needed to be reined in as he’s still struggling with the concept that it’s always harder coming down then going up. The Storr has a lot of loose rock to be negotiated, making a climb of the Old Man a not very enticing prospect (as if!)