Down by the water at Elgol is reputedly one of the best spots from which to view the Cuillin hills of Skye.
Smack bang in the centre of that glorious panorama, looking huge in spite of being one of the Cuillin’s smallest, Sgurr na Stri rises from the far side of Loch Scavaig like a whale leaping from the water.
If you added to the name an “F” and an “E”, you would have the meaning of the mountain’s name: Peak of strife! The name goes back to the eighteenth century and a boundary dispute between Macleods and MacKinnons; both septs claimed the land on which the wee hill stands. Unusually for those times, not too much blood was shed in settlement and an agreement was reached that seems to have kept everybody happy.
The most satisfying way to reach the hill is from Sligachan, a long but not too arduous tramp amid some of the finest of Skye’s scenery. Across the road from this famous climber’s watering hole a green signpost points the way to Coruisk; that’s the way I went.
I could not have wished for a more perfect day. Blue skies with fluffy clouds chivvied along by just enough breeze to keep the midges in the heather, meant comfortable walking and entrancing views. Nor did I have to wait for those views. On my right, as I took to the well kept path, Sgurr nan Gillean and her acolytes soared gracefully, showing me their flanks of summer green grass and dark gabbro dappled by the shadows of those passing clouds.
Ahead loomed big Marsco, a member of the ‘red’ clan of Cuillin hills. With considerably more grass than most of her granite pink siblings, she looked inviting despite her steepness.
It took a while to get the first mile behind me, there was so much down by my feet to look at as I passed. Yellow bog asphodel and lesser tormentil grew among a profusion of blue speedwell, pink mountain thyme and louseworts. The lush grass around me was often white with cotton grass hiding amongst which I found pink and white orchids; even an uncommon lesser butterfly orchid waylaid me.
And then there was the little sticky mats of Sundew, the oval kind today, each spoon shaped leaf ringed by dozens of sticky tendrils waiting to curl in on any unsuspecting fly unlucky enough to land.
The heather was alive to the song of meadow pipits; fledglings constantly sprang from my feet. I heard snipe drumming and there came to my ears the plaintive call of a greenshank. Oyster catchers cleeped and now and then a skylark sang its sky-borne song.
The Allt na Measarroch journeys down from the heart of the Red Cuillin to meet the River Sligachan, today it was barely a trickle. A little further along stands Clach na Craoibhe Chaoruinn, (Stone of the Rowan tree), a somewhat scruffier version of the well ken’t Rannoch Rowan in Argyll.
In the gaping mouth of Harta Corrie, which I was soon passing on my right, their stands another stone. Some thirty feet high, “The Bloody stone”, commemorates yet another dispute over land, this one not so amicably settled. Around this stone were piled the bodies of feuding MacDonalds and MacLeods.
But it’s the Cuillin ridge that really starts to hold the eyes as you pass deeper into the fastness of Sligachan. Blaven is an outlier, a huge gabbro blade very much aloof from the main ridge, yet the deeper I probed the glen the more the mountain dominated the view ahead.
Beneath Marsco and the little red hill, Ruadh Stac, I arrived at a junction in the path; my way forward was south-west, across wonderful green flats and up onto the Bealach Hain, the pass that takes the walker to Coruisk.
But Blaven! In all of Britain there cannot be a more Alpine sight than this. Rising sheer from the waters of Loch na Creitheach, framed elegantly between Ruadh Stac and Sgurr Hain, the mountain presents a great wedge of precipitous gully rent gabbro. That gabbro, wet in its myriad nooks and crannies, glistened in the overhead sun like some dragon’s pile of treasure.
The path began to climb at last. It’s a steady but gentle mile or more into the bealach with its big red cairns. On the way up I was entertained by a big Golden Ringed Dragonfly, a species I hadn’t seen in a number of years. With its three inch body of black and yellow stripes and its ‘widow lace’ wings, had it not flown I’d have thought it made of porcelain!
Further up the path I came across the big hairy caterpillar of the Northern Eggar moth. As I stopped to drink from a nearby burn I was tormented by the belling of a Ring Ouzel, that white bibbed blackbird of the mountains so easily heard yet today frustratingly elusive...
As I laced up my boots there came to my ears the sound of commotion on the air. I heard the angry sounds of oyster catchers and the worried calls of a greenshank from somewhere across the river. Looking up I watched an eagle, huge and majestic, slowly spiralling on an updraft. Higher and higher she rose, smaller and smaller she became until, with a lazy flap of her golden pinions, she turned and drifted towards the Sligachan hotel. One thing I was sure of, as I looked down on the white walls of that inviting Inn, the eagle would arrive before me.