Some destinations are like postcards – picture perfect, easily discarded. But then there are those others that call out to be explored further and further, that twine around the soul and never let go, no matter the length of time spent.
And in a brief three days, Skye wasted no time wrapping itself around mine. Wild and romantic – even the names of the places l visited evoke a Grimm brothers’ tale: Sligachan, Fairy Pools, Old Man of Storr, Black Cuillin. Upping the fantasy level, each even came with its very own rainbow.
I visited the Isle of Skye with my husband, basing ourselves in Sligachan – a valley between two very different ranges. The Black Cuillin mountain range is jagged, dark and could easily be Saruman’s second home . The Red Cuillin is lighter, with softly rolling peaks that more closely resemble large hills. Surprisingly, both ranges had similar beginnings – both formed from lava welling out of the same magma chamber millions of years ago. But their paths took different turns.
In areas where the lava cooled rapidly, the black mineral basalt formed. Areas that cooled more slowly formed the mineral gabbro instead. The two minerals are chemically equivalent, differing only in the size of their underlying crystals . Crystals within the slower cooling gabbro had the time to grow larger than the crystal within basalt, and it’s this mixture of the two rocks that forms the Black Cuillin. Gabbro is coarse and easy to grip when hiking in the area. Basalt is smooth and slippery, and altogether more treacherous.
The Red Cuillin formed through one more twist– some of the molten lava welling out of the same chamber melted the ground already present on the earth’s surface. Chemicals in the ground mingled with chemicals in the lava to form a different mineral: granite. And it’s this chemical difference that’s responsible for the reddish tinge of the Red Cuillin, a colour that’s boosted in Autumn by the red grasses growing on its slopes.
Over the years, wind, rain and ice slowly broke down all three types of rock. But basalt eroded much quicker than gabbro, resulting in the jagged peaks and cervices of the Black Cuillin. Erosion was much more uniform in the Red Cuillin, leading to its smoother domed shape.
With all this variety to choose from, Sligachan is the starting point for lots of mountain hikes in the area. The Black Cuillin is considered the UK’s most challenging mountain range, whereas the Red Cuillin is more suited to hill walking. Our own chosen route for Day One in Skye was Sgurr na Stri, which falls right between the Black and Red Cuillins.
The ranges seemed to change by the minute as we ventured into the valley, thanks to the rapid interplay of sun and shadow. Dark and sinister one moment, sun-speckled and inviting the next, framed in rainbows every so often, with breath-taking views at the top. A herd of deer further added to the magical mix.
The hike was breath-taking in other ways and Hotel Sligachan looked triply inviting as we circled back – the official end of the route, a bar with over 300 whiskies and gins from all over Scotland, and our very convenient, comfy bed for the night.