Nothing can be taken for granted on a Hebridean wilderness safari â€“ but thatâ€™s part of the appeal for Don Currie.
Nothing is ever certain where the weatherâ€™s concerned â€“ but flexibility and an optimistic outlook can ensure a good outdoor experience even when the elements donâ€™t play ball. Thatâ€™s what I discover when Iâ€™m lucky enough to be a guest of Skye Wilderness Safaris, a guided walking venture set up this summer by the successful landscape photographer Marcus McAdam.
The company aims to introduce people to two of the most spectacular parts of this great island, the Trotternish peninsula and the Cuillin mountains, taking them into the wilds on two-day trips while removing all the headaches normally associated with camping, such as carrying gear, putting up tents and cooking. The idea is to make the experience as far from roughing it as possible: the roomy bell tents that await you after the first dayâ€™s walk contain comfy inflated mattresses and pillows; navigation is taken care of by guides who know both areas intimately; and food is cooked in front of you by a very talented chef using the best fresh ingredients.
It all sounds great, and the sun shines as our party meets up in Portree before being driven the short distance north to Flodigarry, where we are to start our adventure on the Trotternish ridge. We stride off up a steepish slope to the Quiraing, one of the most distinctive volcanic landscapes in Britain. Picking our way among pillars of rock, we pause often to enjoy the views and spot wildlife such as a pair of ravens. We have a breather on the Table, a flat patch of grass hidden among the rocks and commanding magnificent views.
As we move south, Marcus says: â€œThat tree over there is the most photographed tree in Scotland.â€ Heâ€™s pointing at a smallish rowan, gamely clinging to a rock and forming the ideal foreground for the coast and mountains behind. Thousands of snappers canâ€™t be wrong, so we duly take our own shots as grey cloud starts to roll in from the south.
We cross the winding road linking Staffin to Uig and walk a few hundred yards up the side of the hill, heading towards Beinn Edra, the highest point on the northern half of the Trotternish ridge. Here we stop for our packed lunches, prepared by Jonno the chef, who previously worked at Jamie Oliverâ€™s Fifteen restaurant in Cornwall. Forget curly cheese butties â€“ he has made us each an â€˜ultimateâ€™ Scotch egg with herbs, a savoury rice bar with roasted peppers and a golden syrup flapjack. Itâ€™s all delicious, and weâ€™re feeling invigorated as we carry on up the slope, feeling the first drop of rain on our faces.
Before long, the views have disappeared and we can barely see each other as we toil onwards. The rain grows heavier, the temperature falls sharply and the next few hours are a stiff test of our stamina and cheery dispositions. We barely pause on the summit of Beinn Edra and tramp onwards, secure in the knowledge that Marcus and our guide, Louis, know the way to our campsite.
Suddenly, there it is â€“ a handful of neat bell tents, one of them with a gazebo in front of it, beside a tiny stream. At least the mist has spared us the torment of seeing the camp miles distant â€“ in fact we smell cooking before we see anything.
And what cooking it is. Jonno is busy preparing venison sliders (tiny burgers), which are just one of a range of tasty canapÃ©s that he offers us as we huddle together on folding chairs in one of the tents after changing into dry clothes. We wash these down with Skye-brewed beer before tackling the main course, lamb with buttery mash and red cabbage, which easily trumps anything Iâ€™ve had in the smartest of restaurants. A chocolate tart rounds off proceedings nicely.
Another team member, Sean, who has done much of the work setting up camp, ensures our spirits are kept up with Isle of Skye whisky, a highly regarded blend, and I sleep soundly until, next morning, I peer out of the tent to see whether conditions have improved. They havenâ€™t. Weâ€™re still in the cloud and though tea and porridge with sticky nuts keep our spirits up nicely, Marcus decides it is pointless sticking to the plan to continue walking the length of the Trotternish ridge as far as Skyeâ€™s best-known landmark, the Old Man of Storr. Visibility is very poor and there are no dissenting voices as we instead walk down the hill to where our transport awaits.
But we donâ€™t just go our separate ways. Instead we drive, via Portree, to the ferry port of Uig on the other side of the peninsula, where the sun is shining. Here we enjoy a great walk round the headland to Dun Skudiburgh, a stone age defensive structure overlooking Loch Snizort. A solitary gannet flies past and wildflowers dot the grass with colour. We return to Uig and take a look at a spectacular Falls of Rha, where Marcus helps me take what I hope is a decent picture.
With better weather, my Skye wilderness safari could have been mind-blowing. As it was, it was merely outstanding, and Iâ€™d highly recommend it.