I had suggested this destination for our Scotland trip itinerary after I had watched a Steve Marsh YouTube video retelling of his visit to this preserve. It is a hike that climbs along the Brittle River as it tumbles down a Cullin Mountain watershed, featuring numerous waterfalls.
As we left the highway we turned onto a narrow country lane, just wide enough for one vehicle, with frequent pulls offs to allow for the passing of cars coming from the other direction. In British parlance this is a “single-track road” and it went on for miles. As we exited to the smaller road we had noted that all the vehicles in front of us, including two motor homes, were also heading that direction.
Not appreciated on the Steve Marsh video is the elevation change experienced on the hike. The parking lot is positioned on a hill that overlooks the Glen Brittle, a valley of the Cullin Mountain Range, and the slope at the base of the mountain that features the falling Brittle River. The view from the lot is outstanding.
Initially one descends and enters a treeless alpine landscape of low growing plants such as Bell Heather, which is flowering pink.
Also interspersed across the meadow was Scotch Heather with its lighter pink flowers.
Several understated flowers were nestled in amongst the grassess: Devil’s-bit, Buttercup, Rosebay Willowherb. All of these thrive in moist stream-side environments.
But on a broad view the primary hue was earth tone.
By U.S. terms the Brittle is not much of a river, probably averaging less than twenty feet across and it is only 3 and 3/4 miles in length before it empties into Loch Brittle, a narrow salt water loch off the northern Atlantic. The river is formed by a collection of streams that drain some of the Black Cullin Mountains, cross the Glen Brittle, and coalesce over a short distance. The name Glen Brittle arises from the Scottish gaelic, Gleann Breadail, for “broad valley”.
As we descend we detour up a short side path to see our first series of waterfalls on a stream that runs into the Brittle River.
From here the sounds of falling and rushing water will be the soundtrack of our walk.
Due to the popularity and heavy use of the venue, the trail has been upgraded with the placement of gravel. In addition, bridges and culvert pipes have been added to help protect the streams. This has largely removed the necessity of crossing the streams on stepping stones as I had seen in the Steve Marsh video.
From the base of the valley the path starts its long steady climb up toward the mountain, running parallel to the stream.
The proximity allows for outstanding visualization of the waterfalls and pools. These are a few of the many that were seen over the 1.25 mile hike up the slope.
This pool was perhaps the most interesting as if you look closely you can see a natural stone bridge and that the water passes beneath it.
Of course the energy of waterfalls can be best appreciated on video.
About two thirds of the way up the slope the gravel ends and the trail surface returns to the bare dirt and exposed rock that had been its legacy. Walking here is challenging and the crowd thins out significantly.
Eventually we crest a small hill on the trail and we found ourselves at the head of the stream, where multiple smaller streams came together to begin the Brittle River.
Proximity allowed for a more intimate view of the rugged mountains themselves.
After taking in the unique scenery we turned around and began a slow amble back to our vehicle. Interestingly, the cloud cover had broken somewhat over the time of our hike allowing the sun to shines brightly on the river at times, changing its appearance.
As we neared the base of the glen we were rewarded with a couple of sun drenched views. First of the mountain that housed the parking area,
and a little further on we could look down into the valley as the river headed toward the loch. From this point it is about 2.5 miles to the sea.
Be forewarned, there is a significant climb back up to the parking area after completion of the trail.
The Fairy Pools are very much an immersion experience for many of the visitors. Some climb out on the rocks that are in the stream,
and others swim in the frigid waters.
A younger me would understand the allure but the old conservationist in me worries about damage to the lichens on the rocks and the plants along the bank. Fragile habitats can be loved to death. But to be honest, websites and videos, including those from the Skye Travelers Bureau, more or less condone it.
Odds and Ends:
Humans do share Glen Brittle with free range sheep.
For the birders, the photographer did catch this Common Chaffinch in the brush around the car park. In fact, my Merlin Bird I.D. app told me that they were frequently serenading us on our hikes in Scotland.
In summary, our outing on the Fairy Pools Trail lived up to my expectation and anticipation. While it was more crowded than I envisioned, the attraction is easily understood. The raw beauty of the river and the surrounding glen is outstanding. I am glad to see that the authorities have been proactive in improving the trail to protect the habitat and stream from the throng of visitors. I am also happy that we got to experience it with my British cousins who over the years have introduced us to the footpaths of Great Britain. One recommendation would be to visit Fairy Pools later in the day as it appears that the crowd lessens in the afternoon.
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Photo credits to Peggy Juengling Burns, JoAnne Thomason, and Karen Rockell. Video by Patrick Burns.
Location – Isle of Skye IV47 8TA, UK.
Parking – 2 large parking lots (one upper and one lower) for a total of 120 cars. There is a £6 fee to park.
Trail Conditions – the path down from the parking lot is exposed dirt and gravel. Much of the formal trail is placed gravel. The last one third of a mile is bare dirt with exposed rocks that can be trip hazards. The out and back route totals 2.6 miles.
Trail Map Link – none.
Benches – none but there are some larger rocks that could be sat upon.
Picnic Tables – none.
Facilities – modern restrooms were recently constructed at the parking area
Kids – 6 and older should do well here.
Dogs – welcomed on a leash.
Suggested Paired Hikes – none
And the Steve Marsh video. The first segment covers the Fairy Pools.