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The Cuillin Hills of Skye are a mountaineer’s paradise – there’s an alpine feel about the place and the area remains popular with hikers, climbers and mountaineers from home and abroad. There is one fly in the ointment though – in fact, on a summer day there are tens of thousands of them! I’m talking about the humble Scottish midge. Add the unpredictable weather (it isn’t called the ‘Misty Isle’ for nothing!) and you might question why Skye remains so popular. The answer to the question is the quality of the climbing.
Getting up onto the Main Ridge of the Cuillins generally involves some fairly hard-core rock climbing or mountaineering, and my missus would be the first to say that she doesn’t ‘do’ hard-core! However, there’s lots to go at that doesn’t include the risk of sudden death, but still gives the buzz of being somewhere special. One such place is Coire Lagan above Glen Brittle.
Chris and I were at the campsite at Glen Brittle. In my youth, this was a fairly primitive campsite, but things are catching up now – they even have hot showers, for heaven’s sake! The trick with the old cold-water showers was to wait until the heat of the sun had got through to the collecting tank above the toilets, then to make a move before everyone else on the campsite did the same – it was still bloody cold though!
The lower part of the path, between the campsite and the small lake of Loch an Fhir Bhallaich, used to be one big bog in anything but a drought, with the path becoming about 20 metres wide with people trying to avoid getting filthy in the black peat. Some impressive work with drainage and path improvement has changed all that, though the good weather we were enjoying certainly helped.
Beyond the small loch, the path heads up to the impressive Coire Lagan – the mountain scenery becomes more and more impressive, though the views behind looking out to sea tick a few boxes as well. In the corrie, one feature dominates above the rest – this is the impressive set of cliffs that make up the crags of Sron na Ciche. It’s hard to appreciate the size of the place at first – suffice it to say, there are a couple of 1300 ft (400 metre) rock climbs with several more approaching that length. It’s an impressive place to climb.
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One of my earliest climbs here in 1972 was a combination of three linked routes. We started on Cioch Direct (500 ft/150 metres) followed by Arrow route (200 ft/60 metres) – Cioch Direct has re-assuring chimneys and cracks which give an illusion of security, whereas Arrow route, although a grade easier, takes off up an almost bare slab. On arrival, the top of Arrow Route gives access to an amazing rock feature, The Cioch (see photos below).
The Cioch is a rock pinnacle that seems to defy gravity, hanging on to the side of Cioch Buttress. It’s almost unthinkable to climb up there without going out onto the almost flat top, and although it looks small there’s enough room for a picnic – just make sure you don’t invite too many friends! After finishing your picnic, the best end to a climbing day is to continue up a third climb, Integrity (250 ft/75 metres) which takes you to the ridge of Sron na Ciche.
The Cioch is also famous for being a location in the 1986 cult movie ‘Highlander’, though rumour has it that Sean Connery was helicoptered in – if he was, he missed some ace rock climbing!
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Chris and I hadn’t come for the rock climbing on this trip, though Chris must have thought I had lost the plot when the path we were on led us up to a short rock wall. Now, for some, the short rock wall is an easy scramble to add a bit of interest to a walk – for others, including Chris it must be said, a short rock wall was not on the agenda. However, we found an easy enough way of working through the obstacle, though predictively, Border Collie ‘Mist’ was already up and waiting for us.
Upper Coire Lagan gets right in amongst the action! The rock architecture is almost alpine in scale and appearance, and it’s a lovely quiet spot to have the picnic you might have had on the Cioch. The climber and mountaineer will probably be busy identifying the different peaks and routes, but on a pleasant warm day it’s a great place to idle away a few minutes in the sun.
What’s more, if you go in May as we did, there’s a good chance that you will have settled weather and no midges. However, sooner or later the time comes to move, either up on to the ridge above for a bit more sport, or back down for a cold cider, as was our plan. Whatever you go for, it’s a great day out.
Text and images © Paul Shorrock except image tagged John Wray, which is taken from the Geograph Project and reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence