Before arriving in Scotland it’s safe to say our ‘must do’ list was epic in scope. Yet of all those dozens of ‘things to do’, at the top of that list lay one single entry…hiking the Quiraing.
What is the Quiraing?
In our good old Aussie twang (rhyming like old mate Lurch) we were calling it the Kwi-rang. We’re glad we let our Airbnb host from Staffin be the first to speak before we completely embarrassed ourselves!
Joanna, owner of the well-recommended Bealach Uige Bothy (no, we’re not even going to attempt that!) had grown up on the Isle of Skye, so we trusted her pronunciation when she trilled like rippling bells, the Ki-rung.
We can thank the Ragnar Lothbrok and his merry band of viking raiders for the poetry in its name.
Wiki tells us that it comes from the old Norse word ‘Kvi Rand’, meaning ‘Round fold’. To us it didn’t look anything like it, but hey…would you argue with a dude who prefers his sushi with the scales?!
In simplistic terms you could call the Quiraing a rockfall, but that would be to understate the magnitude of this natural wonder. It IS a rockfall, and it’s still moving(!), but on such a scale that all other rockfalls could be mistaken for a scattering of pebbles.
We knew it was going to be a memorable experience, but it ended up being so much more…
How to get to the Quiraing?
Big picture, we’re talking about Scotland here; the Isle of Skye to be more precise. Whether it’s Glasgow or Edinburgh you’re coming from, either way you’re going to be up for around 6 hours of driving. The roads are decent, but you’re more likely to spot Nessie than an overtaking lane, so be generous in your allowance.
There’s only one bridge to the Isle of Skye, and from there you’ll be taking the A87 all the way through Portree to the lovely village of Staffin. As you leave Staffin and start to gain altitude the broad panorama of the Quiraing opens up before you; looming unnaturally, a discordant jumble of green, black and yellow. The excitement is starting to kick in!
In winter you won’t have any difficulties parking at the well-signposted trailhead, however we’ve heard stories of summer congestion so bad that you actually need to allow an extra 20-30 minutes to park further afield and return. If this is your predicament, keep in mind that the roads are narrow and the verges soft, so take care and park safely.
Hiking the Quiraing
The typical route is to follow the very well-worn dirt track into the depths of the Quiraing, and return the same way. On reading up on the hike on the excellent Walkhighlands site, we realised that there was an opportunity to turn this into a loop walk, something we always prefer whenever possible! However, in doing this it did take it from being what we would consider to be a fairly easy walk into one of moderate difficulty (or ‘extreme’ if you haven’t got a head for heights!).
The walk starts out quite easily. The trail is broad, and apart from the odd boggy patch is easy to follow and fairly flat. Perhaps 5 minutes in and if you look to your left you’ll see a faint trail skewing off on a tangent up the side of the very steep hill. Yep, that’s us!
The next 30-40 minutes consists of:
- looking for solid foot holds in the boggy grass;
- burning thighs; and
- not looking down!!
It’s more a series of staggered sheep drailles than a hiking trail, but so long as you’re heading up and to your right you’re heading in the right direction.
To your left is tussock, wind and moor, to your right, if you’re brave enough to look, is the view down into the valley. To Staffin, Rona and Raasay islands, and on the far horizon the blue-grey silhouette of the famous Applecross Pass, whose mists we had driven through only days earlier as part of our NC500 roadtrip!
It was mid-January and despite it being late morning the sun still hung low in the sky, glinting off lochs and piercing the depths between peaks. When nature decides to put on a show it doesn’t hold back!
Depending on how many photos you take and the conditions in which you’re walking, the clifftop section may take you half an hour, or it may take you an hour and a half. We really hope you have a sunny day because the changing light, the ever-changing angles of the surrounding escarpments and the vibrant colours of the Scottish highlands will lay down memories for a life time.
The walk down to the lower section is gradual, and provides some very nice views to the north and east, where stone fences can be seen, harking back to viking times when the valley was allegedly used as a place of safekeeping for the many herds of sheep in the region.
A stile over the fence clearly marks the point at which you need to turn back and down to the valley floor.
It was interesting walking along the valley, skirting the very same boulders we had seen from above. A different perspective that, quite literally, filled in many of the gaps and questions that had arisen while looking down.
It’s an eerie landscape, with an air of Mephistophelian wrack and ruin. Dry scree slopes, fist-sized rocks dislodged by unknown forces, tumbling in arcs and arrows. And then an alien slope of tussock grass, combed by the wind into a living, roiling sea of green.
So utterly strange. So gloriously unique.
The Quiraing had left an indelible mark on us both.
Our final thoughts on hiking the Quiraing?
If you have even a passing interest in the landscape around you, and you know you’ll have some time on the Isle of Skye, this is one hike that you must put before all others.
Our original plan was to hike it three days earlier. It was the best decision of our whole holiday to refrain and wait for a better day! In hindsight it would have been near suicide to try it in the mists (although the lower section probably would have been fine).
As with any hike in the Highlands, when exploring the Quiraing you’ve got to be prepared for anything. This isn’t a walk in the park and you’ve got to put safety first. Layers of warm clothing, waterproof jacket, sturdy boots, map, food, water…we’ve learnt our lesson in the mountains of Tasmania, which do bear a striking similarity in many ways to the Scottish Highlands.
In total we took a little over three hours to complete the circuit. The first 45 minutes is by far the toughest, but it’s good to get it out of the way early while you’re still fresh, rather than doing the loop in reverse and trying to descend the precarious slope on weary legs.
As you can probably tell, we left absolutely exhilarated by what we had experienced, and we thoroughly recommend adding it to your Isle of Skye itinerary!
Leech count: 0
Snake count: 0
While exploring the Isle of Skye we stayed at Bealach Uige Bothy. Modern interior, self-catering, super-cosy and best of all, located really close to some of the best hikes in Scotland! Click here to view rates and availability. For those who aren’t looking to self-cater, it’s worth noting that they also run a B&B at their beautiful location.
Both the self-catering Bothy and the B&B are also listed on Airbnb here and here. If you haven’t tried Airbnb before, we highly recommend you do. It can save you an absolute packet! As an added bonus, sign up here and you’ll get free credit from us on your first Airbnb stay!
If hiking is your thing and you’re looking for your next travel destination, then these might give you some inspiration!
- The Needles (Tasmania)
- Laguna de los Tres (Argentina)
- Shiratani Unsuikyo (Japan)
- Mt Namsan ‘The Museum Without Walls’ (South Korea)
- Cape Hauy (Tasmania)
Likewise, if you’d like to catch up on our North Coast 500 (NC500) road tripping shenanigans, then this is the best place to start: