We had a leisurely start to the day knowing that the weather was predicted to improve after midday. So, by 11 am we were kitted up and ready to attempt our first hike on Skye. We chose Rubha Hunish; the most northerly point of the island.
After a short drive along the Staffin road to Shulista, we parked in a gravel car park just short of the town. The moment we arrived and got out of the car it started to rain, but the brief shower was over in a few minutes and we began preparing for our trek. The wind was bitter and we were decked out in thermals, gloves, beanies, waterproofs, woolly socks and hiking boots. Donning our back-packs we were soon on our way.
The walk description notes that it is a 7km walk across boggy terrain with an indistinct path across moorland; and that it has everything for the more adventurous walker wanting to experience a hidden part of Skye. Perfect!
We set off along the well-marked track which deteriorated in a number of places to muddy quagmires that required careful navigation but proved no great obstacle. The track wound across heather moorland, over burns, up hill and down dale, sometimes rugged, sometimes boggy, sometimes barely there but always interesting with ever-changing scenery and terrain. We passed the distant ruins of Duntulm Castle and the ruined crofts of a long-abandoned village to our left, tracing an erratic path as we tried to find the driest route avoiding broad swathes of boggy ground or muddy pools blocking the path. Eventually we passed through a kissing-gate and the track became less defined and it became more tricky to cross the heather but we kept moving upwards towards the top of the rise and It didn't take long before we needed to unstrap our walking poles in order to negotiate the increasingly steep and boggy landscape.
The goal was to reach Meall Tuath, the most northerly hill on Skye and quite soon we were making the final ascent that would take us to the cliffs overlooking the headland. As soon as we crested the hill we could see the bothy at the topmost point of the hill; the bothy used to be the old Coast Guard lookout but is now maintained by the volunteers of the Mountain Bothy Association.
Although it was fine and clear with magnificent blue sky overhead, it was blowing a gale on the exposed cliff top but the view was simply stunning; a great photo opportunity. Across the water we could see the shape of Lewis and Harris as well as numerous smaller islands in between and far below the grassy peninsula of Rubha Hunish stretched before us.
We had a quick look around the bothy. Basic bunk beds, double at the bottom and single at the top, (although in truth bunk platforms would be a more accurate description), a shovel and rolls of toilet paper (with strict instructions that when "you gotta go" you go well away from the bothy and dig a deep hole!), some basic food supplies in a cupboard, candles and matches. If you need overnight shelter it's a step up from camping and the Bothy Log certainly attests to its use. It also has a couple of chairs set up in the windowed section which was the former coast guard lookout and there are binoculars on hand to allow visitors to keep watch for whales, seals and birds.
We opted to have our packed lunch outdoors in spite of the freezing wind, sitting on a bench at the top of the cliffs. Food duly disposed of we left our backpacks on the bench and explored the area around the bothy. We decided against making the descent to the headland itself, not only because it was incredibly steep but because if we went down it would mean we would have to climb back up again! We did take photographs though and just enjoyed the view.
Amazingly, after that first shower of rain as we arrived at the car park, the weather remained fine and sunny if somewhat cold and definitely breezy. Finally, we had seen enough of Meall Tuath and Rubha Hunish and started back. Our intention was to complete a loop but it seemed that we had approached the headland from the west instead of the east, which means that somewhere on the way up we had missed the path. This meant that we had to retrace our steps (more or less) which we did until we reached the ruins. At this point Alex wanted to head towards the foreshore but we could not see any path, so we basically "bush-bashed" our way across the bracken dodging sheep and sheep poo until we arrived at the edge of the coast. The plan was to head roughly towards the castle ruins where, at a fence, there should have been a stile where we could cross and ultimately reach the road that would take us back to the car park. This is where our plan began to unravel.
The stile had been fenced over with barbed wire; this would have been fine for a 6 foot man to step over but for the two of us it would have been a risky prospect so we decided to follow the fence and hope to cross back to the path. This idea worked well for a short time but soon we arrived at a stretch of open heather moorland that we started to cross but soon found to be increasingly difficult as we encountered large areas of bog in which we found ourselves sinking, ankle deep. We were forced to retrace our steps and even this proved a tricky manoeuvre as it was impossible to tell the exact path we had taken and it seemed we had made a very poor choice in our direction. Finally we made it back to the fence-line and followed it down to an open field at the back of a croft. We could actually see the car park from where we were standing but when we started to cross the field we encountered the same boggy terrain and quickly had to turn back once again. This was definitely not going well and was also becoming a bit scary; we either had to find a way across or walk all the way back to the stile and try to cross the barbed wire fence.
We noticed a line of heather on a raised mound heading in the right direction towards the marked path about 100 metres away which looked as if it might prove drier ground and as we already had wet feet, water having seeped over the tops of our hiking boots in the bog, it was worth a try; we couldn't get our feet any wetter!
Our theory proved correct, so we made good time across the firmer section of ground but we had to check the heather with our walking poles as we went in case it suddenly dropped away under our feet. Of course, all good things come to an end, and so did our secure footing which petered out and we were faced again with more boggy ground to cross. With the path in sight but still at least 50 metres away we decided to keep going and hope that we didn't end up in bog deeper than we could safely cross. It was a question of moving quickly. It was impossible to stay in one spot as the ground just sank under our weight and we were not about to test how deep it would actually go - my feet were damp enough already! "Biting the bullet" we forged ahead and literally danced our way over the bog to the other side and the safety of firm ground. I have never been so relieved to set foot on a wet and muddy path before and we walked the last kilometre in record time. After struggling through heather and bog, a man-made path was simply no challenge at all.
Back in the car again we checked the RunKeeper stats and were quite happy with the results. We were also happy to escape with no more than uncomfortably wet feet. In the hiking boot stakes I'm afraid my leather Hi-Tecs were soundly beaten by Alex's Oboz. Our measure? Her feet were dryer than mine. (As an addit to this field test the next day Alex's boots were dry and wearable, mine were still wet inside and out).
We drove back home (discovering on the drive that between Meall Tuath and the edge of Uig there was a 3G mobile signal but as soon as Uig was in sight, it reverted to No Signal) and called in at the Village Shop. Here we finally found some bird seed to put in the feeder on our balcony, something which had so far been elusive at the bigger supermarkets.
Once back at Sea Loch View we peeled off wet boots and soggy socks and settled down for a relaxing evening in with The Great British Bake Off. (Definitely worth tramping through a bog for!)