Autumn in the Skye hills

Tue, Sep 20, 2016

Loch Slapin from Beinn na Cro, Isle of Skye

A three month photography exhibition with the John Muir Trust in Pitlochry, an article on Blaven in TGO, an upcoming feature in the John Muir Trust journal on connections between wild land and the Gaelic language and a book on Gaelic mountain poetry in the works.

It’s been a pretty busy time. Lots of walking, lots of cycling, lots of writing and lots of thinking and philosophising and the latest stravaig saw me heading up into the autumn clouds on Beinn na Cro above Torrin, accompanied by my trusty notebook.

I love the light at this time of year. The sunrises are nearer waking time and the world looks amazing when you fling the curtains open. Cycling home from work and the landscape is thrown into wonderful relief by the earlier and earlier setting sun. It’s a time the Muse comes to whisper in my ear. Especially when I’m in the hills.

Heading up the steep boggy hillside above Clach Oscar, embedded in the moor where the giant of the Feine threw it many mythical moons ago. Just up the glen is Loch na Sguabaidh, the “sweeping” loch, where the rushes were made into brooms to sweep the hearth and where a Kelpie once lived, luring beautiful maidens to her watery lair, where she made them even more beautiful according to legend.

Crò in Gaelic can mean many things, usually a ‘sheep fold’ but some of the other meanings I like to think belong to this place are ‘hut’, ‘hovel’ and especially ‘witchcraft’. The hills here are part of the Red Cuillin. Granite hewn, rising from a limestone landscape pocked with caves and ravines. A landscape of legends, fairy people and wild seas. When the storms blow in and the clouds blacken and scud along the ridges, witchcraft and remote huts fit into my imagination.

It’s a steep pull up onto the short heather and boulders on the upper slopes where a surprise awaits as the ridge turns grassy and narrows to a few feet in width. On a clear day you can see down to the glen beneath your boots on either side. Today it was crowded out with autumnal clouds whishing past on a buffeting wind, making me feel alive and whoop with joy.

With no shelter to be had at the small cairn I headed down the ridge, past the mysterious stone circle and down out of the clag on Gualainn nam Fiadh. Out of the wind I sat and watched the deer grass dance to the rythmn of the gusts as the black clouds engulfed the rocky north west face of Beinn Dearg Mhor.

The walk down An Slugain to Torrin is a wonderful jaunt. A bit boggy in places, the path snakes above the river through wind blasted heather, across numerous burns that expose rocky cuttings through the painfully thin soil, to the green limestone pastures of Torrin. At times, side burns disappear underground at groves of ancient rowans. Druid country?

Today I decided to cut across the shoulder, through waist deep heather, angling across the hillside to the gate near Oscar’s rock as the rain came on. Not a day for photographs, or writing. A day for imagining in that wonderful, end of summer light.