An island like no other. Though it’s part of the British Isles it couldn’t feel further from home. Exposed to unrelenting changes in weather, out of this world rock formations and a mountain range as striking as the Alps it’s every adventure photographer’s dream island.
WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY BY: HAYDN DARKE | @haydndarke
The base, Fiskavaig, a small coastal community north west of the Cuillins with views over the Inner Hebridean sea. Perhaps more importantly it also had a specialty coffee shop and a shed that sold fresh sea food - fuel for adventure.
Almost every week I escape the city and head to the Brecon Beacons, I especially love it when the weather makes being in the mountains even more difficult. So it was no surprise that on the first day I found myself in the middle of the Black Cuillins. The aim, Sgurr Alasdair - 992m.
Beginning at sea level we quickly found ourselves at the 40m high Eas Mor Waterfall which although impressive was dwarfed by its mountainous backdrop. The hike continued up a boggy heather trail until we were rewarded with our first glimpse of Sgurr Alasdair’s steep, black, north face jutting into thick cloud. The next obstacle was an exhausting climb up ‘The Great Stone Chute’, comparable to climbing 400 meters of sand dune, progress was slow and tiresome. We stopped to refuel on a crag and gazed out across the distant coastline, Skye’s volcanic history made obvious by the fluid-like rock formations leading down to the ocean.
We were told repeatedly by locals in the village that you can experience all four seasons in one hour on Skye, and it was at this point, sat on the mountainside that we witnessed one of those infamous weather changes. A swirling mass of low cloud began to build in the corrie beneath, before quickly gaining speed and rushing up towards us, temperatures dropping rapidly as it approached. Bracing ourselves, we had no idea what to expect, this was far from home with the comparatively mild climate of the Brecon Beacons. The sky darkened and our visibility dropped to within ten meters, having not seen a single other person on the trail that day and having absolutely no phone signal, we began to realise the potential for a bad situation to get worse. With the cloud came snow, strong winds and driving hail. Continuing on in this alien environment was no longer an option, we were left with no choice but to head downwards, quickly.
With our legs still recovering from scaling the scree slopes on the previous day, we decided to check out The Old Man of Storr. Being firmly on the tourist track, the trails were manicured and an easy hike - this was exactly what we needed. Despite its easy accessibility, it was still an incredible sight. With rock formations that are quite literally out of this world, it’s not something I'm going to forget quickly.
It felt like a familiar story, standing at the most westerly point in Skye, with black clouds building in the north. Neist Point felt completely exposed to the elements, the sea, a swirling deep blue mass lashed at the jurassic cliffs. Their jagged edge stood as a reminder of the constant battle of the elements on Skye - land and sea. As your eye is drawn down the peninsular, the enduring rotation of the lighthouse lamp creates a jewel-like sparkle, highlighting the eccentricity of the lighthouse, perched on the outermost reach of the Island.
The Prison, The Needle, The Table, Quairing captivated me. Beginning my day with a flat white from my new local coffee shop where, the barista Jaimie aptly summarised Quairang;
“Skye is amazing, Quairing is amazing for Skye.”
Caffeinated and exhilarated by the day ahead, we jumped in the Jeep and headed North. Through Portree and past the Old Man, the road followed the intricacies of the landscape to reveal the land-slip in all its dramatic glory. Continuing to move to this day, the area seemed alive with activity and not merely because of the hardened hikers; it represented a part of the island that hadn’t yet settled and there was something satisfying about knowing that the landscape was subject to change. We were the only ones to witness the landscape as it was on that day.
Starting with a steep incline up boggy terrain, the sky cleared to reveal a perfectly blue sky - free from city haze and a colour so blue the camera couldn’t do it justice. I was spoilt for landscapes; looking across the 500m top of the Quairing, the flat, snow-dusted heather convinced me I was somewhere far more tame. Looking southwards down the Trotternish Ridge, I could see the jagged Cuillins cutting into the sky, the coast snaked up the island until it reached the crystal clear waters of Staffin Bay.
After spending long days exploring Skye’s incredible landscapes, it felt cleansing that the internet remained inaccessible into the evening, completely separating me from work and my online existence. Inspired by sunsets over Fiskavaig Bay, I relished the opportunity to document my adventures, writing and sketching in the travelling moleskin. With the house saturated by the sun’s orange glow and a Cuillins Brewery ale in my right hand I discovered another beauty of Skye, escapism.