Red Hills - Beinn na Caillich horseshoe
This is a quite excellent walk that takes in three summits with first rate views, a steep scree descent and some wonderful, easy ridge walking - all in the space of 8km and less than 5 hours. There are two Beinns na Caillich on Skye. This is the one that towers 732m above Broadford and is the first major hill that visitors see in front of them if they are driving up the island from the Skye Bridge. The name means the mountain of the old woman. She is a tough old woman, with a steep and boulder strewn face, but she has her good points too. This walk takes us to her summit and then onwards to Beinn Dearg Mhor and Beinn Dearg Beag, before returning to the start point with no retracing of steps whatsoever.
The route to the top starts from the road end at Coirechatachan - the corrie of wildcats - at NG619227. The road from the A87 is signed for 'Old Corry'. When Dr Johnson stayed at Coire Chatachan House during his tour of the Hebrides with Boswell he noted that 'The hill behind the house we did not climb. The weather was rough and the height and steepness discouraged us.' Considering the corpulence of Johnson, and the scale of the hill, the mere thought of him attempting it is quite amusing.
The ascent is a slog for most of the way. From the road end, rough moorland rises slowly to the foot of the hill itself. If you head a little to your right leaving the road you will pick up a useful path that follows the right bank (left side) of a burn for some way. When you reach the top of the burn, bear left again heading to the summit. As the climb steepens you begin to encounter boulders and the path becomes intermittent. Soon boulders are all there is underfoot. They are a lot bigger than you would expect from having looked up from the foot of the hill. In some places they form a staircase of sorts, allowing you to bounce up from one boulder to the next. In other places it's a little tougher than that... Other than making sure to stay to the left of the prominent outcrop on the right shoulder of the hill, the choice of route here is just a series of micro-decisions on the easiest way to climb the next few tens of metres.
The hill is very convex on this side, so the summit remains out of sight until you are upon it. Suddenly, the slope eases, there is short grass beneath your feet, and the views northward to the Cuillin, the rest of Skye, Raasay and the Scottish mainland take your breath away. On the summit there is an immense cairn, said to be the burial place of a Norwegian princess who wished to lie forever in the winds that blow from her homeland. I wouldn't have been a willing volunteer to carry her remains to the top!
From the summit, a gentle WSW descent takes you to the bealach en route to Beinn Dearg Mhor, and a pleasant climb from there soon has you on the narrow ridge that leads above Corrie Gorm to the second summit of the day. This one has another large cairn, and a stunning view of the Cuillin and, in particular, of Bla Bheinn. Now for some fun, with a very steep run down the screes to the bealach above Coire Sgreamhach. The correct line is just to the right of the apex of the steep ridge, and the scars left by previous visitors can be seen in the picture below.
The final, and lowest, summit is Beinn Dearg Beag, reached by a climb from the bealach that is a whole lot easier than it looks from below. This time the best views are down Loch Slapin to Rum and across the south end of Skye. The descent from here is on another pleasant, broad ridge that divides Coire Odhar from Strath Suardal. The path down the ridge drops to heathery moorland and pretty much disappears, leaving a choice of either picking sheep tracks directly back to Coirechatachan, or following the Allt Beinn Deirge, which is a less direct but more pleasant way back.
All in all, and despite the fairly steep climb up the boulders at the start, this is one of my very favourite outings on Skye. I hope you enjoy it too.