We seem to have settled into a pattern of having trips away around May each year, I think because the weather’s starting to perk up but places aren’t too busy. That was certainly the case as we headed to Aviemore for the first week of our Scottish trip last year (yes, it’s taken me 12 months to get around to writing this up!).

Highlands and Islands

Written by Haydn Williams

We seem to have settled into a pattern of having trips away around May each year, I think because the weather’s starting to perk up but places aren’t too busy. That was certainly the case as we headed to Aviemore for the first week of our Scottish trip last year (yes, it’s taken me 12 months to get around to writing this up!).

Our accommodation was between town and Glenmore Lodge, which meant we had plenty of options for early-morning dog walks, followed by trail runs, and then in my case followed by some mountain biking. The first two-wheeled trip was some singletrack down from the bottom end of the Lairig Ghru. There was great riding, but my shortcut home did involve a bit more ‘shoes and socks off’ than first anticipated.

Successfully completed the first paddle of the holiday (too deep to ride through!).
© Haydn Williams 2023

The general timetable remained the same over our few days. There’s certainly plenty of good running around there – I’ve only ever visited in winter before, and the last trip was a very long time ago, so it was nice to see what’s on offer when it’s not snowy.

Awful picture, but it took me ages to figure out what these were. Baby Lamprey!
© Haydn Williams 2023
Millions of lochans.
© Haydn Williams 2023

The options for riding are also pretty good, although I did take a bit of a mission to the newly-developed trail centre at Tarland. It had only been open a couple of weeks, so the trails were nicely groomed but already starting to show some braking bumps on the steeper tracks such as Call Me Chris.

I also had an absolute blast on the off-piste trails at Badaguish, behind Glenmore Lodge; the e-bike was great for getting laps in but things were probably a bit too rowdy for the relatively mild-mannered Orbea.

From there it was over to Skye, which was a first for us. We started by heading to the very southern tip of the island, specifically the rather lovely beach at Camas Daraich. There’s a bit of a walk-in – which we did as a run – although once we arrived that quickly turned to ‘mooching around’ looking in rock pools and watching the waves on the shoreline.

A trip to the otter hide at Kylerhea did not prove fruitful at all, but the light was very atmospheric on the return to the holiday cottage.

View West returning from Kylerhea.
© Haydn Williams 2023

An excursion northward then found us on a tour of Trotternish. From our southern base we reached the Quiraing marginally ahead of most of the other tourist cohort for the day, although even the other early-birds didn’t venture too far from the car park. That meant we had the walk over Meall na Suiramach to ourselves (just how we like it!).

Typical tourist shot from the Quiraing.
© Haydn Williams 2023
We like exciting walks.
© Haydn Williams 2023

Continuing to tick off cardinal compass points, the next day took us west to Elgol and to the spar cave (Sloc an Altramain) which is a fun little adventure though perhaps not as hardcore as the internet would have you believe.

Becs at the entrance to the Spar Cave.
© Haydn Williams 2023

It’s definitely tucked away, and only accessible an hour either side of low tide to be fair, but cracking fun to scramble up once inside.

Clambering up towards the pool at the top.
© Haydn Williams 2023

The return leg back out of the cove and around the shelves of the surrounding headland is lovely, particularly as you’re not focused on getting to the cave and can appreciate the quietness.

Becs on the way back out again, around the headland.
© Haydn Williams 2023

I struggled to find much mountain biking on Skye, but there was one route which cropped up time and time again online. It starts with a road slog from the Sligachan around to Luib and then heads off-road and south along Srath Mòr. I don’t mind a bit of rough-and-tumble but this 5½ km to the tarmac at the northern end of Loch Slapin was 98% unrideable and 100% miserable.

DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT bother taking your mountain bike to Skye.
© Haydn Williams 2023

I struck west on the tarmac for a bit, veering north-west just after Kirkibost to head towards Camasunary, but not before I ran out of battery on my rear mech and so got stuck in one (reasonable) gear. Those luddites wishing to immediately leap on this as an example of technological overkill and failure should note that it was entirely my fault for not charging it all fortnight we were away, and doing an awful lot of riding in that time.

OK, I’ll admit this bit of the ride was lovely. Looking across Camasunary Bay.
© Haydn Williams 2023

The descent was that marble-size stuff that shifts underneath you but tolerates a fair amount of speed, providing a nice level of excitement down to the shoreline. I went and had a look at the old bothy (only realising it was the old bothy when I got there and it was all shut up with a sign on the door), then headed for home via Glen Sligachan (which was OK riding but still a bit too full of yet more football-sized rocks to be really good fun).

The weather the next day was pretty grim, but we snuck out between showers and explored the coast along from Ord, which was very quiet and very pleasant, even if Caesar did have to get his toes a bit wet crossing a raging torrent near the beach.

Brave dog managing to cross a raging torrent.
© Haydn Williams 2023

I messaged Gary, connoisseur of all things Skye, to ask advice about getting out for a run/scramble in the Cuillin on the final full day, and was delighted when he replied that he was just across the water on a family holiday and could get out to accompany me. That meant I had the luxury of not trying to come up with a route or doing any navigating. Gary turned up in fell shoes with a tiny bag, which was a development both unexpected and welcome in equal parts since I’ve only ever seen him in stout leather boots in the two decades or so I’ve known him.

We met in Broadford and drove around to the Sligachan, heading up the north-east ridge of Sgùrr a’ Bhàsteir in sunshine with a little wind, and on lovely rock with delightful little scrambly bits. I don’t hide the fact that I’m an absolute coward nowadays, but Gary picked the perfect route on which I could appreciate some hands-on exposure without getting ‘the fear’.

Fun fact: Gary has never picked a bad route for a day out.
© Haydn Williams 2023
This is my kind of terrain. Not sure why my phone made the background look like a bad 1990s film photo.
© Haydn Williams 2023

We even managed a few tens of metres of running on the along the true ridgeline towards Bruach na Frithe, allowing us to legitimately say we’ve run (along) the Cuillin Ridge. A bit of back-tracking to tick Sgùrr an Fhionn-Choire, and then off down into Fionn Choire and the quite technical running towards the car.

Above Bealach nan Lice, with Bhàsteir Tooth and Am Bàsteir behind.
© Gary Mirams 2023

Having moved very efficiently, we even had time for a quick dip in the river and a quick drink in the pub. Perfect! Massive thanks to Gary for a lovely introduction to the Cuillin. I can’t see myself doing a Finlay Wild any time soon, but it was great to finally get up onto a ridge that has such a rich mountaineering history attached to it.

And then the holiday was over. A final morning dog walk through the woods near Armadale Castle, where there were more bluebells than I think I’ve ever seen in one spot, and into the car for the long drive home. What a lovely trip.

Flowers! © Haydn Williams 2023