While traveling through Skye, we completed two hikes that I've combined together in this blog. In order to appreciate these hikes it helps to understand the forces of nature that contributed to the unique landscapes for both of them.
Trotternish is the northernmost peninsula of the Isle of Skye. Running through the peninsula is the world famous Trotternish Ridge that forms the backbone of this land mass. This 19 mile long ridge was formed as a result of a series of ancient landslips.
In the Jurassic period, around 175 million years ago, Skye was mostly submerged in shallow seas or estuaries, in which sand, sediment and the remains of sea creatures were laid down and accumulated to considerable depths. Around 60 million years ago, the sea retreated and the land was exposed. This coincided with the start of a monumental process, one that continues to this day. The ancient land mass started to tear apart to form the beginnings of the Atlantic Ocean, as what are now North America and Greenland began to separate from Europe. These enormous stresses created fissures, allowing molten rock to push out and cover the Jurassic sedimentary rocks with a vast lava field. Eventually the lava flows produced a layer of volcanic rock some 1000 feet thick. Now all the conditions required for a landslip were in place.
About 10 million years later, continued movements in the earth made the northern most part of Skye dip to the west. This dipping action caused large faults to develop so that as the heavy volcanic rock lifted in the east, sections of rock broke off and cliffs were formed like those in Quiraing and Old Man of Storr. The enormous weight of the volcanic rock layer weakened the sedimentary rock causing it to fracture and break under the strain. The combined factors of a weakened sedimentary rocks layer, faults throughout the volcanic layer and gravity caused a 'landslip' and the entire volcanic rock layer on the peninsula to tip sideways and slide down toward the sea.
How much movement can occur with a landslip? It's estimated the landslip at Quirainig exceeds 6,500 feet. Although this area is now stable, the land continues to slip several centimeters each year. So when you look at these pictures, consider the immense geologic pressures that caused these incredible land profiles.
Old Man of Storr
Hike distance: 3.4 miles
Situated atop the Trotternish Ridge in the northeastern region of the Isle of Skye is the Old Man of Storr. The 164 spiky pinnacles of rock are set against the backdrop of rolling green hills and the jagged coastline; it's easy to see why this is one of the main attractions on Skye. Be prepared for crowds.
A short but steady uphill path from the car park led to the Storr. This jagged outcrop of crumbling basalt is the highest point on the Trotternish Ridge that were formed by a massive landslide in ancient times.
The area in front of the Storr contains a number of oddly-shaped rock pinnacles in addition to the Old Man.
These pinnacles are ancient volcanic plugs from the Tertiary period (66 million years ago) that have eroded over time.
Climbing higher on the trail provided great view of the Sound of Rasaay.
The path is interesting everywhere you look, but everyone comes for just one reaso .... to get close to the Old Man. Legend has it that the Old Man of Storr was a giant that lived on the Trotternish Ridge. When he died and was laid to rest, his thumb (the “Old Man”) remained partially above ground.
At an elevation of more than 2,300 feet above sea level, the Old Man towers over the Sound. The people located at the base provided perspective on how massive this basalt column is when you are up close.
This seemingly unclimbable pinnacle was first scaled in 1955 by English mountaineer Don Whillans. It's a feat that has been repeated only a handful of times since.
Hike Distance: 4 miles
Quiraing is part of the Trotternish landslip, which also created the equally beautiful Old Man of Storr. But unlike at the Storr, the earth at the Quiraing is still slipping a few centimeters each year. Quiraing is over a mile wide and stretches all the way from the escarpment down to the sea covering an area over 3 square miles. But it's actually part of a much bigger series of ancient landslides all along the Trotternish ridge. The name Quiraing comes from Old Norse 'Kvi Rand', which means round fold.
The path followed the base of the Meall na Suiramach’s cliffs and was relatively flat.
The craggy landscape looks like something from a magical realm. Even from this vantage point you can see the slip/tilt of the hills.
There were several streams pouring over the cliffs but they were easily crossed.
There are just no words to describe these views. As a travel magazine stated: "Go on a bright and clear day for views of the Outer Hebrides and the Scottish mainland, framed by the pinnacles, cliffs and great buttresses. Go on a wet and windy day to feel your spine tingle as the clouds and mist swirl around you in this unreal and menacing landscape." Whatever the weather, you’ll not forget the experience.
The path became more steep as we approached the pinnacles area.
The outcropping referred to as the Prison is located in the top right corner of the picture below.
The basalt columns were almost as impressive as those we had seen at the Old Man of Storr.
After crossing the pinnacles area we were treated to a great view of Staffin Bay.
The view of the Meall na Suiramach’s cliffs from the hill at the top of the Prison hill.
As you look at this picture think about the massive landslip and ice age glaciers that caused this unique geologic setting.
What a great start to the day.