Hiking Sgurr nan Gillean

Sgurr nan Gillean

I’m hoping for a light breeze to clear away the midges. That’s all it takes yet the air remains still and they hover in their millions outside our camper van at the Glen Brittle Campsite. There’s a sadistic type of pleasure in satisfying the itches but I try not to indulge. I feel sorry for the campers in their tents. Many people are wearing novelty head-nets. They look silly but I’m secretly envious of their midge-free faces. We’re keeping the van door closed as much as possible to shut them out. Before bed, we spend 15 minutes bashing the spotlights with dish towels. It seems to do the job.

After a breakfast of muesli and croissants, with a hot chocolate on the side, we are set for our hike up Sgurr nan Gillean. I run back just after we set off to grab some ibuprofen. I pulled something at the back of my neck a few days ago, possibly when attempting a handstand. It hurts when I move my head in certain directions. I must be getting old.

The hike has a steady start along a well-defined path. Two hours pass easily and we are now rising slowly. It’s fairly quiet on this mountain and over the six or so hours of this hike, we only come across three other couples and two solo walkers. All but one couple seem to be serious hikers. We pass a few small waterfalls along the path with crystal clear pools lined with large, smooth round pebbles tinted blue. They are very inviting.Sgurr nan GilleanThe mountain looms overhead and it’s tricky to pick out the route but it starts to become clearer. It appears there are several lines up. As the way becomes steeper we pass from grassy slopes to crag and rock. The guidebook recommends following the cairns but they are hard to spot from a distance. Charlotte spotted a dip in the South East ridge and we aimed for that. The weather is in our favour today. The tip of the mountain is clear and the way is sheltered from heavy winds. We’ve been told how quickly the weather can change along the Cuillin Ridge. One of Charlotte’s friends from the mountaineering club says he’s attempted the pass four times and failed due to bad weather conditions.Sgurr nan Gillean

The views from the South East ridge are spectacular. The landscape is barren with the Cullen Ridge casting a jagged dark line against the sky. Walking along the rocky ridge engages our hands as well our feet. I like this kind of hike. Reaching the summit requires small scrambles. The tough gabbro rock is grippy and is easy to ascend. We are treated to a clear view from the summit and we’re incredibly lucky to have good weather. Sensing that rain was not far away, we didn’t spend long on the top and started scrambling down. As predicted the rain did come, picking up for the last hour of the walk but our spirits were high, especially as we could see the finest whisky bar in Scotland in the distance.Sgurr nan GilleanIndeed, the pub offered an outstanding selection of whiskies however after such a walk, a beer was the more refreshing proposition. The Olympics were on in the background and at the bar, we noticed a poster advertising a storyteller for 9pm. So after a refreshing shower, we went back to the pub for fish & chips and gathered around George MacPherson, a softly spoken elder man with a decent beard, walking stick and kilt. He told us a selection of folklore from the Isle, that had been passed down orally through his family for many generations. Many stories featured fairies, or “little people” as he called them, as well as giants and terrifying-sounding water horses that emerged from the pools and kidnapped children. It was the perfect end to the day.