The Isle of Skye’s geology is some of the most violent and awe-inspiring in all of Scotland. The A87 snakes across the island beneath the glowering gaze of the Black Cuillin while lesser peaks lacerate the sky(!) from tip to tail. On the Trotternish Peninsula just north of Portree stands one of Skye‘s most sought-after natural monuments: The Old Man of Storr. The Storr is a rocky ridge whose eastern face is a labyrinth of craggy spires and pinnacles resulting from landslip, and the Old Man is the tallest and most distinctive of these spires.
A hike up to the Old Man was at the top of my list during my last trip to Skye, and I vowed to Sarah that we would do it whether or not the weather cooperated. As fate would have it, the weather did not cooperate. At all. For the entire week. So we tightened our bootstraps, pulled down our hoods, and set our chins as we began the ascent on a drizzly, overcast day.
The Old Man was plainly visible from the road as we drove north, and by the time we arrived at the trail head a long line of parked cars and buses outlined the road beneath the Tote Forest. Scotland is a paradise for hikers as they take such care with maintaining clear paths and providing excellent signage, and the Old Man of Storr was no exception. After reading a bit about the Old Man, we passed beneath a small shelter and started on the path through the woods. The Tote Forest is a magical place of glowing green trees, primordial darkness, and pure waters pouring forth from the heart of the island.
The trees held in chilly, damp air and this part of the ascent was muddy and treacherous. It took us a lot longer than anticipated to climb through the forest and exit about the tree line, but once we managed to escape the darkness we were presented with a fantasy landscape of majesty. The nerd in me cried out that it was the spitting image of the slopes of the Misty Mountains. Sarah nicely agreed in the face of my boyish enthusiasm.
Huge rocks extruded everywhere along the grassy slope leading up to the Old Man, who was now visible. The path changed, fraying in several directions like the end of a cut rope and mirroring gouges in the turf created by runoff. Scale and distance were all askew up here as the Old Man looks quite near but people ahead of us on the path were as tiny as ants.
After a good half hour of sweaty climbing up steep slopes and over rough patches of rocks waiting to twist an ankle, I turned around to survey our progress. Despite the overcast sky, I could clearly see the islands of South Rona and Raasay, and the mainland’s Applecross Peninsula beyond. A continuous line of pilgrims clambered over boulders below us as soft rain pattered on our hoods.
Getting close to the Old Man of Storr is one of those experiences that perfectly calibrates your place in the world. We were tiny, soft bodies flashing into and out of existence in comparison. We rested among the boulders, proud that we had climbed more than 2,000 feet, and considered continuing on the path that encircled the Old Man. Tired and wet yet buoyed by our accomplishment, we decided to descend instead.
The hike to Skye’s Old Man of Storr is the perfect day-trip from Portree. You can reach the trail head via public transportation, and you don’t need to be a hardcore hiker to attempt it. The landscape is alien and gorgeous, the views – even in suboptimal weather – are stunners, and the Old Man himself will put everything in perspective. Happy trails!