Active on Skye

Here are some personal thoughts based on our own experiences of outdoor activities on Skye.

Martin in his element up a Scottish hill in winter

The reason that Vanessa and I both first came to Skye was for the Black Cuillins. If you are doing your Munros or have any interest in climbing the classic rock routes routes of Scotland, Skye is  a must. It’s quite a shock when you first set foot on the main ridge of the Cuillin; there is nowhere in Britain that compares to the narrowness and prolonged exposure. Looking at the map the tops look very close together and you would think it was possible to summit four or five and be back down for a late lunch. Think again. When I first came to the Cuillin I was in a party of very experienced mountaineers, some  that had been climbing in Skye for over thirty years – we only managed to climb two summits in a ten hour day. Route finding can be very tricky, even when with people familiar with the ridge. It is very easy to get distracted by offshoots and having to retrace your steps and try again on a different route.  If you have choice of three it’s bound to be the last one that looks very dodgy that is the way to go.  Not only that, but your compass is a false friend on the Cuillin as the rocks are magnetic. The classic rock climbs on gabbro are not as popular as they once were and most of the climbing interest has moved to the sea cliffs where there are more new routes to be found in the harder grades. Even so, for me the volcanic gabbro of the main Cuillin is what Skye is all about. Vanessa and I climbed the Pinnacle Ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean on a very wet and misty October day when water was running everywhere. We didn’t even manage to get to the final summit and had to rope off in fading light but it was great; a full on mountaineering experience.  

Vanessa and the boys prepare for a cycle tour to the Shetland Islands

It must be said that for the few years before coming to Skye, the Hynd/Charles household was cycling daft. The boys were transported about every day in a cycle trailer and Vanessa did a forty-seven kilometre commute to work most days; even in the winter, when studded tyres had to be deployed. We got into doing the local sportive cycle event around Perthshire and were cycling about fifteen thousand kilometres per year. Cycling is a bit harder on Skye than on the numerous quiet back roads of Perthshire. The roads can get very busy in high season and large campervans will regularly squeeze you into the verge. There are also quite a few potholed, single track roads here that are major routes to popular destinations such as Elgol. However, I can say that there are still some roads that are fine for the road cyclist in the south of the island and our favourite is actually a main road that runs from Broadford down to Armadale. It’s nice and wide, with a paved verge, and tends only to get busy when the ferry has come in. So if you ever see two cyclist going down this road early in the afternoon during the summer it’s likely to be us – wave please!

Vanessa diving from Elgol

Looking at Skye on the map you can’t help to notice how much the coast wiggles about. Sea lochs and headlands make it time consuming to go from one place to another with all that water in the way. The good side is there is a huge potential for exploration on the water or underneath it. This is what we have been up to of late. Coming from a family of biologists, I developed an interest in all things aquatic from a young age and it has been  great to have the chance to explore a bit.  I am very lucky to have Vanessa as a partner as she is always up for getting wet and even seems to like it! Winter is when we have most of our spare time, so the cold water is something you have to get used to. It is about 7°c in February, which sounds pretty chilly but with modern equipment it’s not too bad. We only got back into scuba diving in the last wee while and with most the recognised dive sites in the north of the island and us living in the south, we have spent quite a bit of time snorkeling and pouring over the marine charts looking for suitable venues nearer at hand to explore. It’s amazing how much colour can be found even on a grey winter’s day if you just stick your head under water. There is definitely a sea kayaking scene on Skye and with two clubs and some private instruction  providers, so there is no excuse for us not to give it a try. We have; and I must admit that Vanessa is a much more natural paddler than me so maybe she should take this from here…

Martin doing some kayak training

Martin’s right! I came to Skye having done bits and pieces over the years, but not much. However, we were so confident that I would love paddling here that we bought a sea kayak on our way up from Perthshire. The best way to really enjoy something like this is to have lots of opportunities to practice and the seashore is literally a stone’s throw from our front door. To add to this, the local club includes some truly world-class kayakers so it would be crazy not to make the most of this. Skye has so many bits of coast facing lots of different directions that you can nearly always find somewhere to launch, regardless of wind direction. However, gales can be savage, particularly from the south-west. We’ve noticed at the B&B that whether it’s climbers, paddlers or photographers, the really serious ones come in the colder months, often looking for ‘interesting’ conditions. Sea kayakers doing five star courses do not want to see dead calm days; it makes them sad.