Bruach Na Frith, The Valley Of Waterfalls And Skye’s Coolest Wild Swim
A hike of contrasts: misty rain, glorious sunshine, buffeting winds and a clean, sharply cold mountain dip
Hiking in Skye is an otherwordly experience. The Cuillin Range dominates the skyline, obsidian rock soaring into the sky, jagged peaks leaping as if in a rage towards the heavens.
From the valley floor, the mountain flanks look impossibly sheer. It’s impossible not to feel a heady mix of fear, awe and adrenaline as you approach the base of the range. Beethoven’s Symphony no. 5 started pounding in the back of my brain, the first ominous strain looping incessantly — the only aural marker big enough for this landscape.
Elevation gain: 3,077 ft
Distance: 8 miles
Time: ~5 hours
Special equipment: Telescopic poles advisable due to the scree, as is a dry t-shirt to pop on after your wild swim!
We arrived in rain and drizzle, meaning the full extent of our journey was mostly hidden in mist for the first mile or so. We picked our way along the rocky edge of a stream, where icy pools linked by a series of cascades kept us company for much of the route up the valley.
The clouds lifted as we walked, allowing us to glimpse farther up the route as we went. The stony path cut through spongy peat bog and led to the base of the mountain, where black mounds of scree littered with larger boulders entertained us for miles as the incline rose sharply.
The scree became tricky to make progress through as we passed underneath the tooth of Am Basteir, one of the Cuillin Munros that only climbers with rope and the appropriate gear could realistically conquer.
We stopped to eat sandwiches in a sheltered cleft of rock before traversing the final scree slope and reaching a solid ridge that climbed up to the summit.
The clouds cleared as if on cue to give us sensational views across the entire Cuillin Range. It also showed us more of the sheer drops falling away from the suggested ridgeline descent.
We passed on that opportunity and returned the way we had come, despite ankle-turning dangers inherent in scree traverses. We regretted our decision not to bring telescopic poles, as the few other hikers navigating the same route were all in possession of a pair and appeared far steadier on their feet because of them.
Returning down the same line meant that we could discuss the ideal wild swim location at length. As the sun started to fall behind Sgùrr Alasdair, the Cuillin’s highest peak, we dove into the glacial water at our chosen wild swim spot. Bracing, brutally cold and the ideal end to one of the most spectacular days one could wish for in the wild.
Best day hiking of the whole Skye trip for me. We left our car in the layby in cloud and drizzle and followed the river valley all the way, scanning the gorges and pools for the best place for a return dip. The Cuillins rise up like the black peaks of Mordor. Stunning.
The huge contrasts in weather conditions, terrain and light made this hike for me. The jagged black tooth of Am Basteir, rising eerily through the cloud cover, acts as a great reminder to Sarah and me: we are enthusiastic walkers ready to put in a full day’s hike, yet far from able to climb up the Cuillin Range’s most challenging peaks.
Bruach na Frithe is one of the few Munros on Skye where mountain climbing nous and specialist gear are not required. Nevertheless, it presents challenging conditions on even one of the clearest days of the year, so taking a full pack of layers is essential and poles a sensible addition.
I can’t come close to describing how utterly beautiful these mountains are but I suspect my face might say it all.