Skye Trail day 8: the final act

Loch Langaig – Rubha Hunish

13km

After the previous day’s efforts, I woke up feeling like I’d aged by a few decades. I was all puffy and stiff. The tent was pretty wet inside from condensation. It had been a very still night and no wind means less ventilation, so naturally this was meant to happen. Anyway, it mattered very little since this was my last day on trail.

I got dressed and decided to go commando. The chaffing from the previous days was really terrible. I thought it’d help. It didn’t really and soon I realised it was actually my hiking leggings which were causing the chafing. Made sense since that was the first time I had such issues. They are fine for day hikes but the worn out fabric was no longer suitable for multi day stuff.

The day’s itinerary looked pretty gentle. Only a few hundred meters of elevation gain and more of the same kind of cliff hiking I was now used to. I left the Loch in good spirits, convinced I’d be standing in Rubha Hunish without too much effort needing made. By now it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to read that I was yet again, very wrong!

First, I lost my way around Flodigarry. I found the navigation to get down to the coast very tricky and ended up taking a short path which I think wasn’t the Skye Trail but was the only way I could find. Before long, I was yet again bushwhacking and trying to find my way through a chaos of high grass and uneven mud previously walked over by cows.

For this last day, the Skye Trail continues to be pathless and skirt the cliffs. This moderately challenging section should have been ok, had it not been for the thick fog I had to cope with. I had very limited visibility, maybe 50-100m max. This meant being very careful with the cliff edge and paying close attention to navigation. I’d read somewhere that for the last section (past Balmaqueen), one oughts to walk with the fence between them and the cliff edge. I would have happily done that and avoided flirting with the abyss, however there was a huge bull on the “safe” side of the fence so between him and the cliffs, I opted for the cliffs. I figured that as long as I took it slowly and had a fence to hang on to in eerie spots then I wouldn’t fall. After a couple of pretty scary moments, I was relieved to come across a couple who had just left The Lookout. That meant I was just minutes away from reaching Rubha Hunish, the northernmost point of the island.

After more muddy, peaty bogs, I could finally guess the bothy’s shape in the distant fog. I let out a big cheer and a few happy tears before running towards the perfectly designed refuge. It was so inviting, I’d have loved to go in and even spend the night but COVID-19 meant still no bothies were technically open.

I walked towards Rubha Hunish, eager to catch views of this piece of land I’d been so looking forward to reach. There, sat on the viewpoint bench, was a couple from Aberdeenshire enjoying a cup of tea. What started with just small talk went on to become a big conversation about life. After hardly meeting anyone on this trail, it was beautiful to end with such a fulfilling and unexpected exchange.

It wasn’t easy to say goodbye but I had a bus to catch from Duntulm and the true terminus of the Skye Trail to hit! I think I walked these last 2.5km at my fastest pace yet. I wanted to reach the telephone box. Only then could I finally say that I’d officially completed the Skye Trail. Not only say it but believe it. Less than 30mins later I caught sight of the top of the red box. I’D DONE IT!! I ran towards it, hugged it and kissed it. People driving past must have thought I was crazy but only someone who’s ever read about the trail knows what getting to this box represents.

The challenge is real. It’s not a trail you can complete by just following a well groomed path and relying on your fitness. It’s a trail that demands respect, resilience and a great deal of perseverance. No big monument to acknowledge your effort. No locals kindly smiling at you because they know exactly what you just did. No trail friends met along the way who then become walking companions. On this trail you are on your own, left with your self doubt, fears but also with your skills and determination.

That night, as if to make up for how solitary an experience it had been, I ended up bumping into the six chlorine tablets guys from the previous day. They’d just reached Portree and were getting ready to walk to Sligachan the following day. We went for a drink, exchanged stories and reminisced on our respective experiences. The perfect end to what was still a hazy dreamt only just three weeks ago.

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