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Adventure run: Trotternish Ridge, Isle of Skye

Written by Fiona

June 02 2022

The Trotternish on the Isle of Skye is a fabulous location for a long run or hike. I ran a route similar to the annual Trotternish Ridge Race with a group of friends. The distance is 28km with a total ascent of almost 2000m.

Here’s my overview of the route – and running with likeminded people. Note: We ran as much as we could, while fast-hiking the ups.

The start near Loch Langaig. Credit: Peter Ferguson

Running the Trotternish Ridge

At two popular tourist attractions on a northern peninsula of the Island of Skye, it’s almost impossible to imagine you could avoid the crowds unless it was a bleak mid-winter’s day or the middle of the night.

Yet, on a sunny summer’s Saturday on a run of many hours along the Trotternish ridge and between the famous rock formations of The Quiraing and The Old Man of Storr, my group of friends encounter surprisingly few people. Those we did and chat to said they were walking the long-distance Skye Trail.

The key, we discover, is to skirt around the hotpots, although never so far that we can’t stare in wonder at them, and navigate away from well-worn pathways.

We climb high and navigate a less trodden route that rewards with the an uplifting sensation that we’ve escaped to a whole other world.

The ridge. Credit: Peter Ferguson

The Trotternish Ridge – described by many as Tolkeinesque – was formed millions of years ago.  In geological terms it was when volcanic lava flowed over an underlying bed of sedimentary rock that the ridge was formed. The rock gave way and fractured along a north-south fault line. Then, massive blocks of rock slid towards the sea and left behind the jagged landscape seen today. 

The overall result is long arc of steep cliffs, grassy craters, rolling hills, high crags and rocky pinnacles.

Seeing truly is believing and our run provided views that swung from mystical, magical and breath-taking to moody, surreal and bizarre.

Trotternish Ridge: North to south

My friends, Katy, Peter, Geraldine, Rachel, Clare and Gail, and I began our adventure at 10am on windy but promisingly bright day from the side of the A855.

We had journeyed by bus from close to our overnight camping location and, for a fare £1.65 (you can pay by card), we had alighted at a request stop at Dunans, just south of Flodigarry.

(Catch bus no.57. For times see: Stage Coach.)

Now “all” we needed to do was to run the length of almost the entire ridge south to rejoin the A855 – and hope to catch one of two buses at 16.04 or 18:10 to return to the campsite. (We stayed at the lovely Staffin Caravan and Campsite.)

Credit: Peter Ferguson

Did you know?: The Trotternish Ridge is still geologically active and moves a few centimetres annually.

The first section was on a quiet trail that climbs steadily to pass the lochs of Langaig and Hasco. Looking east, we enjoyed coastal views taking in Flodigarry island and the Torridon mountains on the mainland. 

Instead of continuing south on a more obvious lower-level path and along the base of high crags, where we would eventually reach the heart of the Quiraing, we climbed on to the ridge itself. 

The rewards for our efforts of running and fast hiking uphill were the suddenly incredible views of land and sea. Further along, and as we made our first enjoyable descent of many, we were treated to a superb vista of the triple summits of The Prison and The Needle. 

It was here that our delightful solitude was suddenly – but only briefly – disturbed by many dozens of visitors who were creating a walking snake from a car park on surfaced paths with signposts pointing towards the Quiraing.

Carefully but as quickly as possible, we weaved through the throngs, crossed a narrow road and ran once again into our own peaceful bubble. The next challenge was another long uphill from 820ft elevation towards a high point 700ft above.

Credit: Peter Ferguson

The ups and downs of the ridge were to become an all-too familiar feature of the long journey. As a way to pace ourselves, we slowed to a fast walk on the climbs and ran the flatter sections and downhills.

A trig pillar at 1528ft on Bioda Buidhe marked our progress and we stopped for a short while to take in a vista over a dramatic escarpment just below and across to Staffin Bay. Behind us, we once again enjoyed the spectacle of the Quiraing’s rocky outline.

A steep descent followed, which was a joy although slippery in places and took us to another lower point at Bealach Uige, after which we faced more ascent towards the summit of Beinn Edra at 2000ft.

Every so often, one of us would call for a stop to eat a snack, to check the map, to make a clothing layer change or take yet another photo.

Laughter and good chat on the Trotternish Ridge.

Did you know?:The ridge is a Special Area of Conservation, while the north-eastern part at the Quiraing is designated a National Scenic Area.

So many ups and downs on the ridge

After several hours of running, I confess I started to lose track of all the many undulations. At times, clear skies gave way to swirling cloud and as the afternoon progressed we were buffeted by strong winds.

Around the halfway point, we also decided to split into two groups, one slightly faster. The four of us were getting a bit chilly each time we stopped to regroup. With a group outing, there are inevitably more stops than if you are adventuring solo or as pair, although no one was in a huge rush and the aim of the day was to enjoy the company of likeminded people and the experience, rather than setting a fastest time. But it still felt like the right plan to continue as two slightly different paced groups.

The changeable weather only added to the atmospheric setting, although we were careful when surrounded by mist not to stray too close to the ridge edge.

One peak, known as the Red Fox but officially as Sgùrr a’Mhadaidh Ruaidh, looked down on Loch Cuithir and the faint lines of an old railway, which was once used to transport a rock, diatomite, which has many industrial uses. Further distant, we spotted the outlines of the islands of Raasay and Rona.

The next climb took us to Baca Ruadh at 638m before several smaller ups and downs and then a drop on rocky terrain to a bealach. A short but thankfully steep ascent took us to summit of Hartaval at 668m height.

Stopping again to look the map, our group of four wondered out loud how much longer it would be before be reached the road again – and which bus we might possibly make. We were hoping it might be the early bus so we could return and pick up the other three in the larger group.

By now we were tiring and looking forward to a shower and a calorie-dense meal. From Hartaval, the ridge descends to another bealach. Edging around some rocky outcrops we looked south to see if we could make out a path further on and up – again! – towards the craggy summit of The Storr. These are the cliffs that sit behind the pinnacle of the Old Man of Storr. 

Studying the map for a clue of the safest route, we decided to skirt north around the craggiest looking section of The Storr. We were fortunate that the fine weather gave as a good idea of where to go on the ground, too. 

Hiking upwards while also traversing north-easterly, we spotted a small cairn that showed us the way to a descent route. Then, as suddenly as we had lost a path, we refound another and this time it was clearly well-trodden.

The route contoured south-easterly along the base of a grassy bowl below The Storr and we looked up at the stunning cliffs. This path took us close to the impressive 160ft tall Old Man and Needle Rock.

We were now racing the clock to try to catch the earlier bus and somehow we found the energy to run down a zig-zagging path, again against a tide of people walking to and from the Old Man from a large car park on the A855. 

Annoyingly, we missed the 16:04 bus by minutes.  Brilliantly, shortly afterwards two climbers happily picked up Rachel and myself in their car, which allowed us to return in our own vehicles to transport the others back to the campsite.

My GPS watch revealed a distance of 28km and almost 2000m of total ascent. My aching legs confirmed these statistics to be very accurate.

See Strava and OS Maps. (This is not exactly the route of the Trotternish Ridge Race, especially towards the end.)

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