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Hiking: Scotland : Keeping Your Head in the Clouds on Skye

August 07, 1994|JOHN McKINNEY

Rugged mountains, forested glens and a magnificent coastline draw hikers to Skye, one of Scotland's most scenic and storied islands. The island contains one of the greatest concentrations of tall peaks in Great Britain, perfect for hiking enthusiasts.

While it is possible to visit Skye as a day trip, the island's charms merit at least a couple of days.

Skye's skyline is dominated by the jagged Cuillin Hills, granite ramparts that rise 3,000 feet above the sea. The peaks are usually enveloped in clouds--one reason why Skye is nicknamed the "Misty Island."

The island's coastline is dramatic, with deep inlets (sea lochs, as they're called in Scotland) forming several long peninsulas that look like crab claws; in fact, the island itself looks like a giant crab. So deep are the sea lochs that even though Skye is 60 miles long and 40 miles wide, no place on the island is more than five miles from the sea. Coast walkers may spot whales, dolphins, seals, sea otters and flocks of sea birds.

Though Skye is easily reached on five-minute ferry rides--from Kyle of Lochalsh on the mainland to Kyleakin on the island--tourism has not yet spoiled it. Islanders are proud of their history--the McCleod Clan, Dunvegan Castle, the haunts of Bonnie Prince Charlie--as well as the island's rural coastal villages and the family farms. Many road signs are bilingual--English and Gaelic.

The Cuillins range includes the heaps of lava forming the Trotternish hills in the northern part of the island and the Black and Red Cuillins in the south.

Highest and wildest of the hills are the Black Cuillins. A seven-mile, horseshoe--shaped trail follows the main ridge and visits Loch Coruisk, one of Scotland's most dramatic lochs.

An island high point is the 3,257-foot Sgurr Alasdair, and a good trail leads to the top.

The Trotternish Peninsula, located only a few miles from lively little Portree, has unusual rock formations. The Storr, crown-shaped at 2,360 feet, is a rugged two-hour climb.

Most famous and most photographed of the group of rock pinnacles on the Storr Ridge is the Old Man of Storr. The strange Old Man, an isolated, 160-foot-tall tower, can be approached by an easy mountain path.

The Cuillins, Trotternish Trails

WHERE: Island of Skye, 175 miles northwest of Edinburgh, Scotland.

DISTANCE: 2 to 14 miles round trip.

TERRAIN: Wild mountains, grand rock spires and towers.

HIGHLIGHTS: One of the greatest concentrations of tail peaks in Great Britain.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Moderate to difficult.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: British Tourist Authority; tel. (800) GO-2BRIT.

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