It was our last day on Skye and we piled into our Rabbie’s mini-bus right after breakfast and John, our tour guide and driver, headed out of Portree. We were on our way on the long drive back to Glasgow. But we stopped after only ten miles to get one last look of the misty isle. We gazed at the river winding down the glen and noticed that the hills on the left were smaller, rounder and well, redder, than their neighbors on the other side which were taller, rockier and darker. The Red Cuillins on the left are made of granite. The Black Cuillins on the right are made of gabbro. Together they form the Cuillin and are considered the most beautiful mountain scenery on Skye.
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The mountain closest to us at our viewpoint is called Glamaig, the highest of the Red Cuillins and the darling of Scottish hill runners. Every July more than a hundred of them run up the hill and back in commemoration of an event that occurred way back in 1899. In that year a Gurkha soldier from Nepal named Harkbir Thapa raced from the bar of the Sligachan Hotel to the top of Glamaig, a total of 2 miles of moor to the foot of the hill and then 2,817 feet up, and back in one hour and 15 minutes. The owner of the hotel was not present at this event and didn’t believe that it was possible. So Thapa did it again. This time he did it in 55 minutes! The record for this annual race, now called the David Shepherd Memorial Glamaig Hill Race, was set in 2012 by Finlay Wild. He did it in 44 minutes and 27 seconds. He has also won the last four years.
In Scotland a hill higher than 3000 feet is called a Munro. There are 282 Munros in Scotland and twelve of them are in the Black Cuillins. Climbers and scramblers consider the Black Cuillins to be the biggest challenge for mountaineers in all of Great Britain.
The champions of Skye mountaineering were a local climber named John Mackenzie and a renowned British scientist and international mountaineer named J Norman Collie. Mackenzie started climbing mountains when he was ten years old. Sgurr Mhicchoinnich, the seventh highest mountain in the Black Cuillins, is named after him. Collie climbed peaks in the Alps, Canadian Rockies and the Himalayas. He visited Skye in 1886 and climbed Am Basteir. He came back to Skye nearly every summer for the next 30 years and together with Mackenzie climbed all thirty-six peaks of the Black Cuillins, often the first ones to do so. Collie climbed Am Basteir again in 1933 after his friend Mackenzie died and he said that it was his last climb. He died in Sligachan in 1942 and was buried next to Mackenzie on a hill in Struan overlooking the Cuillin.
Remember Sean Connery’s famous sword fight in Highlander? That was filmed on the Cioch Buttress on Sron Na Ciche in the Black Cuillins. Lots of people hike and climb to this spot every year. They flew Connery in by helicopter. Other movies made in the Cuillin include 47 Ronin (2013) and Seachd: The Inaccessible Pinnacle (2007).
Sligachan is located at the intersection of the A87 and A863 roads about ten miles south of Portree. The community is not much more than the hotel, a campsite and a few B & B’s.
After our stay at Sligachan we got back on the A87 and crossed over the Skye Bridge to the mainland. My next posting will cover the rest of our trip back to Glasgow.