The (Infamous) Quiraing Walk in Scotland

“We’ve been on this freakin’ mountain for hours... Hours! HOURS!!”

My sister was sitting on a steep slope in Scotland and having a full-blown panic attack. There were tears streaming down her muddy face. The fog surrounding us was so thick that all I could see was Grace, our travel companion, Alice, and my dirty, bloody hands.

Let me explain how we got here.

The three of us booked a five-day trip to Scotland specifically to drive through the Highlands and visit the remote Isle of Skye. The Quiraing is a massive landslip on said isle that includes high cliffs, plateaus, peaks of rocks, and small ponds. There’s a popular “Quiraing Walk,” as United Kindomers say, that begins at the car park and loops through scenic views. After looking at ethereal photos of Lord of the Rings-esque mountains, all of us were excited to spend a morning hiking through this epic landscape.  

The Quiraing, Isle of Skye, Scotland

The Quiraing, Isle of Skye, Scotland

We started researching our adventure. The Quiraing was classified as a medium-level hike. According to one website, “It covers a distance of 6.8km, with the average time to complete the walk being 2 hours (with no stops).” Assuming we would take photos and pause along the way, we allotted three to four hours for the loop.

Our journey began with exactly what was promised: beautiful views of sharp cliffs and rolling green fields. The slope was gradual, but the edge of the path was somewhat steep—not enough to harm you, but maybe enough to roll your ankle. About ten minutes in, we reached what our travel website said was “one of the more difficult parts of the walk.” After scrambling over a rock gorge to cross a stream, we relaxed. That hadn’t been so bad.

The Quiraing walking path at the beginning of our hike. 

The Quiraing walking path at the beginning of our hike. 

“Man, those people have some legit gear,” I noted to my fellow adventures as we passed a group of English hikers. They had metal walking poles, some rope, and were chowing down on protein bars.

We were now wandering through a valley of strange vegetation, and awed by its otherworldly appearance. The murky ponds looked like black craters on an unknown planet. It was a lighthearted hour: We screamed “Sound of Music” lyrics into a rock formation that produced echoes over the canyons around us, and laughed at our ridiculousness.

Then, we made a mistake.

The term “cairn” is Scottish Gaelic for a human-made stack of stones. These are often used as trail markers. After leaving the Valley of Happiness, we walked up a Rock Bed of Doom and came across a cairn that highlighted a split in our path. To continue our journey up the mountain, we knew we needed to take the gravel road to the left. However, we did not foresee the turn in Scotland’s moody weather that would make this trek immensely more difficult. 

Example of a cairn on our hike.

Example of a cairn on our hike.

Our first sign of danger was when I slipped on fresh mud, and nearly took a bad tumble. I caught myself on a barbed wire fence, which promptly sliced my hand open. It wasn’t a terrible cut—but our overall mood shifted.

We had now been traveling through the Quiraing for three some hours. After consulting a sweet (lost) British man and his son, we determined that we were only at the halfway point. Both parties decided it was best to continue on rather than turn back and see repeated views.

I snapped some photos as we continued up the mountain, but suddenly a wave a fog washed over our unsure group. Visibility was next to nothing, and the slope got much steeper. A smattering of rain intensified the situation. Grace and I began climbing like four-legged animals with our hands and feet both touching slippery surfaces. We looked like little monsters, with mud on our fingers and faces. 

The beginning of the end. 

The beginning of the end. 

Suddenly, disaster struck. Grace put her foot into a cutout groove of earth, but the ground gave way and she momentarily slid toward the edge. While none of us were in true danger of falling to our deaths (I think?), there was a moment of panic as we assessed our mud-soaked situation. And that is when my youngest sibling began to sob.

“Put your butt on the ground,” I said repeatedly. “Sit down!”
“It’s wet! It’s freakin’ all mud!” she said, near hysterical.
“Grace, we’re already covered in mud. Sit down. You don’t like heights, and this is more difficult than we thought. You need to connect with the ground for a second.” I peered over the edge and got my own wave of vertigo.

She listened, and we both sunk into the mud while rain freckled our faces. The group of hikers with their damn metal poles stepped around us, and I almost laughed.

The panic-inducing path (and Ledge of Death).

The panic-inducing path (and Ledge of Death).

“We only have a little further to go. I’m sorry... just up a few more steps,” I pleaded. Grace reluctantly agreed to move and we made our ascent to the flat peak. We saw Alice and our (lost) English friends. We saw a lone sheep. We saw another man who had guided us at the basin of the Quiraing—everyone seemed a little out of breath. But most importantly, we saw the car park. The end was in sight, and a wave of fresh motivation fell upon our hodge-podge group.

Fickle sunshine appeared as we made our way down the mountain. Alice was much quicker than us sisters, and hopped toward the finish line like a billy goat. But my ankles give out and Grace’s knees pop. The journey down this blasted slope was taking an insufferably long time.

“Grace.”
“Yeah?” she called from up above me.
“I'm sliding down the rest of the way.”
“What? Sliding?”
“Yep. The rain has already turned this path into a stream and I’m tired of trying to keep my balance.”

We were now on hour six of this adventure.

I sat on my butt and pushed into the ground. I bumped my way down the Quiraing at a pleasant speed, then turned around and shouted at Grace. “It’s so much easier!” She, too, plopped onto her bottom and began a quick descent.

Now, I am aware that we looked like idiots: two Americans in puffy coats, smiling and sliding down a slope of wet grass. But one does not simply “walk” the Quiraing. In our case, this full-on hike was more of a beautiful slip-n-slide, with moments of exhaustion, awe, and terror.

“Yer doin’ alright there, then?” a Scottish man asked as we Mud Monsters passed him and his child (his child!) walking up the mountain.
“Absolutely!” I responded.

“Ah, bit muddy s’it?” another woman asked us as she ascended. 
“Yes, indeed!” I smiled.  

Grace and I were now deliriously laughing. We arrived at the bottom of the Quiraing with muddy butts, happy hearts, and hungry stomachs—which, are all the ingredients of a perfect adventure.

Later that evening I looked up the Quiraing Walk to see how the heck it was classified as “medium level.” Upon further research, we discovered that the loop is “medium level” in length, “hard” in difficulty, and “not recommended” in misty conditions. 

Well.
We made it. 


Tips for the Quiraing Walk 

  • Do your research, and invest in a walking map. Cell service isn't great on the Isle of Skye, so our digital guide didn't help much.  
  • Pack snacks. We were starving after our six-hour adventure and consumed an unhealthy amount of burgers, hotdogs, and fries post-walk.
  • If you choose to take the left path at the cairn, be watchful of the weather. Remember: when the fog rolls in you won't be able to see anything from the top of the mountain. 
  • If you're uncomfortable with heights, take the right path. We were told there are spectacular views of lochs and hills of Heather. 
  • Here are decent step-by-step directions for what to expect on your hike. 
  • Bring a camera, a rain jacket, some Band-Aids, and wear proper shoes. 
  • Despite how long the hike took us, the Quiraing was a highlight of our trip. 

Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.
— Gustave Flaubert