29 MAY 1936, Page 38



FOUR years ago I was benighted on the moors above Loch Slapin in the Isle of Skye. It was September, and cold—so cold that at four in the morning I could lie no longer, but ploughed on through a bog or two by a hit of a moon that had appeared from somewhere until I reached higher and firmer ground. Then the dawn came np. and what it showed me I did not like.- The bleakest Of moors stretched endlessly in all directions but one, where the ground seemed to drop abruptly into a glen, and in the half-light it all looked deadly monotonous. I had had no breakfast, and had no prospect of having. any. I decided that the world was a poor sort of place': and that, or all its dreary corners, Skye was the worst. Then I walked round a rocky bluff and looked across the glen. The mist was clearing off the Black Cuillin. They looked close enough to touch. They stretched for miles in front of me—a jagged curtain of mountains, linked by high ridges, turretted, pinnacled, scored by gullies. Beside me the boiler-plate slabs of Blaven glistened wherethe damp rock 'caught the light. And Black Cuillan or not, they were blue—a pale, incredible matt blue, I have only seen elsewhere on the wings of butterflies. As the mist dissolved, first one peak and then another faded up through it like a photograph under developer, and another set of pinnacles took the skyline. Last to go were the streamers of mist that smoked in the gullies. Then they went, and there were the Cuillin, complete from Gars-bheinn to Sgurr nan Gillean. It was not just a view. It was an experience.

later I joined friends, and we set Off by car to do what everyone who visits Skye does sooner or later. We saw Broadford and Portree. drove out to the peninsula of Trotternish, then to Vaternish. We admired Dunvegan and its Fairy Flag, gaped at the Storr Rock, and the pinnacles of the Quiraing. We saw Macleod's Tables, - Flora Macdonald's monument, and the place where the MacCrimmons once trained the finest pipers in the world. We heard of the things the fairies once did to crofters whb pleased them, and of the less pleasant things the Maedonalds did to the Macleods when there was a small matter of a stolen cow to be dealt with. We even heard what the Maeleods did to the Macdonalds, which is just ,' as loug a story. We watched a man Wing at Sligarhan, - , and saw the Rift Rock. - And then we took to the hills_ The Stub: Skye are the wildest mountains, in Britain.. _I do not say this simply because I am Scots, or because I know Skye Well. I say it because it is self-evident 4o anyene- who has see* -them. The Cairngorms are desolate. Beirut Eighe is bare as a stone wall. Glencoe is grim. Nevis has the finest precipice in the country. But for sheer, -twisted fantasy the Cuillin are -Unbeatable. In actual-. height they are not great mountains—most of them are only a little over 3,000 feet—but wind; rain and.:1Cf have dealt with them so hardly that their height represents the bare bones and nothing else.. . . . . The rock. they are Carved from :is called gabbrO; the roughest, toughest rock that ever weathered into perfect hand-holds. There are bad patches, but, generally speaking,you can put your weight on a piece of Skye rock without it coming out and hitting you on the nose. If you come to grief in the Cuillin, you can blame yourself, not the mountain. When gabbro decomposes, it does not form earth as most other rocks do when they break down. For some reason which I do not pretend to know, no vegetation grows readily in it. Consequently the Cuillin are among the few mountains in this country which are utterly bare for at least half their height. Precipices, jagged skyline, wild corries—all are, literally, naked as the day they were born. You can still see the scars where the glaciers gouged their way downwards. There is no earth or grass or heather to cover the pinnacles chiselled out of the high tops by the frost. All that remains are sharp peaks and razor-edged ridges of gabbro With-a half- hearted fringe of leather at the bottom—desolation if you like, but desolation which has real grandeur, It is easy to feel small on the neck of land where the Cuillin drain into the- sea. The mountains are-arranged in- a horse-shoe, inside which is Loch Coruisk, and Loch Coruisk on a dull day is the grimmest place in Scotland. The mountains fall sheer on all sides, leaving..,only the narrow mouth for Coruisk to overflow into the. sea,...

I once saw a hundred people land from a steamer at Coruisk. They had picnic baskets with them,-alidthey were in the noisy mood usual on such occasions. It was the wrong mood. I had the pleasure of Seeing it change as_ they rounded-the .imrneeand saw the Great Face of Glireadaidh towering into the mist at. the far end of the lock . I was :not sorry fox them when they,..jberedlillz But_the Cuillin have_ other _moods. __Terpetual 09014 does not attract climbers, - despite their re- potation for madness. I am writing this -in Skye at a little place called Glenbrittle, right ...against the :mountains. The hall is empty just now, -but–tonight, when everyone has come off the hills, it will he full of boots and Alpine rope, and there will be big appetites for dinner. The place is crammed with climbers, and by ne.gt fiaontli they Will be overflowing into barns, or anywhere else they _can find.

Itoek-climbing is _not eicryone:s.g.cune.: Unfortunately, the opinion is 'generally held that the Cumin are not every- body's mountains. I have climbed for se'veral years in them, rd neVer-met a iloil:r0A-C•linilgei• on the ridges. This is a pity. Many of the mountains are exceedingly dangerous, but several are not.

Sgurr nan Gillean, Bruach tia Frithe, Sgurr Dearg. and Sgurr Alasdair. are perfectly safe, provided the climber takes the trouble to enquire about• the route before starting and does not climb in -mist or in weather when there is any likelihood of mist. Rock scenery and distant _views are superb. It is a pity that they should be reserved for those who are willing to tie a hundred. foot rope around their waists and climb a cliff.