First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Strathaird is one of the least-known peninsulas of the Isle of Skye, much shorter and slenderer than its big southerly twin of Sleat, much less dramatic in its geology than the basalt masterpiece of northerly Trotternish. Yet it possesses one advantage that the others lack; Strathaird is rooted at the foot of the mighty Black Cuillins, so that walking north from its tip one has those tall and savage mountains, the pride and heart of Skye, constantly in view. And Camasunary Bay, the destination of the precarious coast path running north from the remote community of Elgol, is a wild gem, a strand of grey wave-pounded pebbles backed by a green sward whose two houses, one each end of the bay, stand utterly dwarfed by the mountains that tower behind them.
I suppose I had forgotten just how tricky the path from Elgol actually is: a narrow ribbon of pebbly mud in the hillside, whose seaward edge drops in several places a hundred feet sheer to the rocky shore. Shoved along by a good stout south-westerly wind, I needed all my head for heights, and a sure foot into the bargain, because apart from the hazards of the path itself there was the wonderful forward view as a constant distraction. The two tiny white dots of Camasunary’s houses, three miles away when I first caught sight of them, grew only slowly, but their guardian peaks – the shark’s tooth of 928m Bla Bheinn to the east, the blockier pyramid of 497m Sgurr na Stri in the west – seemed to rear higher and closer each time I glanced towards them. Behind the bay other rounded hills lumped in the middle distance, a telling contrast in shape and atmosphere to the jagged black spine of the Cuillin proper as it gradually revealed itself halfway up the sky beyond.
The coast path dropped to traverse the pebbles of Cladach a’ Ghlinne bay before rising again in another precipitous stretch. At last it set me down quite gently on the boggy moorland that forms the eastern flank of Camasunary Bay. Seals bobbed in the sea, kittiwakes and fulmars planed by on stiff wings, and the pebbles and rushy hinterland of the bay lay spattered with bright primary colours – not clusters of rare flora, alas, but the fractured remains of plastic fish boxes cast up by wind and tide. My final view of Camasunary Bay was from high on the stony track back to the road – a sea-fretted pebble strand, the two miniature houses far apart, and that magnificent backdrop of crumpled mountains.
Start & finish: Car parking bay opposite Cuillin View Coffee Shop, Elgol, IV49 9BJ (OS ref NG 519137)
Getting there: Rail (www.thetrainline.com) to Kyle of Lochalsh, bus 51 to Broadford, 49 to Elgol
Road: A87 via Skye Bridge to Broadford; B8083 to Elgol
Walk(9 miles, moderate/hard grade, OS Explorer 411): From parking bay opposite coffee shop, walk back uphill to start of Camasunary path on left (OS ref: 520139). Walk north for 3 miles to Camasunary Bay (518137); bear right up stony track to B8083 (545172); turn right to return to Elgol.
Conditions: Elgol-Camasunary is a very narrow hillside track above steep drops; possibility of vertigo. Camasunary-B8083 is a rough hill track. Walking boots, windproof and waterproof clothing recommended.
NB – Online map, more walks: www.christophersomerville.co.uk
Lunch: Cuillin View Coffee Shop, Elgol (01471-866223) – friendly folk, home baking, great coffee, stunning mountain views
Accommodation: Hotel Eilean Iarmain, Sleat, Isle of Skye (01471-833332; www.eileaniarmain.co.uk) – very traditional, welcoming atmosphere; right beside the sea. From £75 single, £100 dble B&B
More info: Portree TIC (08452-255121; www.visithighlands.com);