MacLeod’s Tables, Skye

24 07 2016

Thu 26 May 2016
Still on the Skye club hut meet and I’d by now realised I wasn’t going to get asked to join anyone in any exciting exploits on the Cuillin Ridge. I decided it was time I got on with some of the many hills on the island which I’d been wanting to do for ages but been distracted from by the main ridge. Time for something completely different… MacLeod’s Tables – two grassy but extremely steep table-topped hills in the north-west of the island.

Macleod's Tables

click on photos for full size/resolution

MacLeod’s Tables are, in Gaelic, Healabhal Beag and Mhor but, as with the Scoat Fells in the Lake District, Mhor (the big hill) isn’t the higher, it has the greater area. The two hills lie off a minor road near Dunvegan and I drove round there mid morning on a hot, sunny day.

MacLeod's first Table
Healabhal Beag (little) – higher peak but smaller area

Macleod's Table no 2
Healabhal Mhor (big) – shorter but fatter!

At Dunvegan I turned off onto the minor roads to find the parking at Orbost. I wanted to try to find a shady spot to park in as it was so hot but had difficulty finding the carpark. Eventually I found it and got the last shady spot.

Just then, two ladies turned up in another car and stopped to ask me if that was where they should park for MacLeod’s Tables and where the track set off? I said it was the parking but didn’t know where the path started – as I talked to them I noticed the older lady had a familiar looking camera around her neck. I asked her if she was also on film and she showed me the camera – it was an Olympus Trip 35 – the exact camera I’d brought on this trip. While they were a very popular camera in their time, what are the chances of two people turning up at a remote location with them now?

I headed back to the T-junction and decided to set off up a track into a small forestry plantation. This took me nicely uphill to the start of the trackless moorland. As I went through the fence onto the moorland, I saw that the gatepost had grown its own little garden.

Gatepost Garden!

It wasn’t a bad walk across the moorland towards my first peak, Healabhal Beag, and sometimes there were paths. Soon the peak hove into view looking imposing with its frontal buttress. I found there was a route round the buttress just below it to the right – just where I thought it would be. It was a pretty steep pull up the slope though.

Healabhal Beag & Lochan (portrait)

Healabhal Beag

Healabhal Mhor & Lochan
Looking across to my second peak of Healabhal Mhor

Healabhal Beag (portrait)

After passing the buttress, a loose path went straight up onto the ridge but I turned back towards the top of the buttress for a peer down it (and also because I prefer grass to loose scree). There was a short walk up the remaining ridge to the summit plateau – it was a nice promenade with nice (but hazy) views down to the sea loch.

Healabhal Beag Final Section

Healabhal Beag View (portrait)

I had a quick rest and cool-off at the large summit cairn before heading to the edge of the plateau to see what the descent would be like. I thought the ascent was steep but it was nothing to the descent I was faced with!

I could see almost straight down to the top of a crag band and headed down to that. The crag band was circumvented to the right where I found some lovely Hebridean sheep grazing – these are small and black and usually very nervous. This particular bunch didn’t pay me much heed though – I thought they were wild goats at first.

I was soon down on the col and heading towards the nice little peak between my two hills. Actually, looking later at the map, I saw this is actually just a shoulder of the main peak of Beinn a’ Chapuill further left – I should really have diverted to that.

MacLeod's Tables Middle Peak

It was a pleasant stroll over the middle hill and it gave good views back to my spectacularly steep descent.

Healabhal Beag Descent Side

The col before Healabhal Mhor was lower and more complicated with ridges and peat hags to circumvent. The ascent of Mhor looked long and arduous – it was! It was out of the wind and horribly hot – I had to have some pretty long rests.

Healabhal Mhor from col

I eventually toiled up to the huge and very flat summit plateau where, luckily, there was another huge cairn – if there hadn’t been, it would be impossible to say which was the highest bit. Despite the prevailing dry weather it was a huge bog so I’d be surprised if Chief Macleod really had a huge dinner party up here!

I hadn’t brought a compass and had no idea what direction I was heading off the plateau. I ended up too far north at quite a craggy section so contoured back round to the east where the map said the ridge was gentler.

The descent was pretty awful – exceedingly steep on tufty grass with crags bands littered all over the place and few paths, all of which gave up after a short distance.

Healabhal Mhor Rough Descent

After a while I got fed up of the descent and headed more or less due south down near-vertical ground following a burn to the main river in Glen Osdale. I always find the going easier alongside a river. I was glad I hadn’t done my round the other way and had to ascend this beast!

The riverside was much smoother grass and there were cattle tracks to ease my way. It was also nice to have the company of the river to cool off whenever I wanted. There were also cattle – cows with calves which I didn’t wish to disturb and a large bull. That meant quite a few detours across the river. After all the dry weather it was very easy to cross anyway. The bull eyed me for a while as I was quite close to him but I knew he wouldn’t bother to get up on such a hot day.

At a major bend in the river near the roadside barn, I went straight on to see if I could find the path shown on the map which would shortcut me back to Orbost. I never found the path but reached the road in around half a mile of easy walking.

From there it was a couple of miles of very hot road-walking.

Macleod's Table no 1
Healabhal Beag again from walk back

Just short of Orbost I entered a small area of woodland and just had to sit down in the shade. I was still having to wear Dick’s long-sleeved sun-avoiding shirt (see previous posts) so was horribly hot. I noticed there were some Soay sheep here (St. Kilda) – the same farm as the Hebridean ones I think.

When I arrived back at the car it was now in full sun – luckily I don’t have to switch on my ignition to open all my windows as they’re nice winding ones! 🙂

I had a pretty bad hip after this walk and blame that entirely on the nasty descent from Healabhal Mhor. Reflecting on the walk, I’d wholeheartedly recommend Healabhal Beag but not Mhor…

Stats: 10 miles, 2534 feet of ascent, 4.5 hours



14 responses

4 08 2016

Interesting walk, that, Carol. I’ve heard of MacLeod’s Tables but I didn’t know the first thing about them. Now I do!
Cheers, Alen


5 08 2016

It was an interesting walk – just didn’t like the second hill much. Maybe it was just too hot for strenuous walking?


30 07 2016

Nice hills these. Only done the one from Glendale where we spent Easter a few years back. I’d like to get to the bothy out that way sometime. Bothy Bagging; it’s the future!


30 07 2016

I thought bothy bagging was my future but I’ve found I’m really struggling to carry my bothy pack! It bothers my back, my legs, my hips… everything!


28 07 2016
Blue Sky Scotland

Been up the tables while walking around the coastline there. A nice empty area.


28 07 2016

I fancy the coastline walk too


27 07 2016

Looks a tough walk – not least given the heat! Hope the hip is better.


27 07 2016

Yeah it took around a week but it’s fine now thanks 🙂


27 07 2016
Simon Howlett

Hi Carol, great photos and an impressive walk. Saw the Tables when I visited Skye a couple of years ago. Wanted to explore them but ran out of time. Will definitely make the effort next time. Nice to hear there was a fellow film user out with their camera. Winding windows are great, I miss them. My favourite was the old mini, with sliding glass and a cord to open the door with!


27 07 2016

The first 3 and the last photo are old ones and show how much better film was in the past than today’s washed-out Kodak ones! Mind you, the old ones could have been Agfa as that’s what I always used to use…

I had winding windows deliberately put on my new car when I bought it. I find them easier to use when not looking (so I can continue looking out of the windscreen that is) and also they’re safer if you get caught in deep water which we might now we’re a land of such flooding.

Liked by 1 person

26 07 2016

I done these two anti-clockwise so found your two arduous descents much easier to route find going up. The ascent up Healabhal Mhor I found pretty easy as I could zig-zag through the bands of crags it was then straightforward to Healabhal Beag – pretty much taking a direct line. The ascent here was a pretty steep but an easy(ish) line was followed and then retraced on descent – return down Glen Osdale. If I remember the tops where frozen so probably easier underfoot on my visit.

Cracking views across the Minches I thought & well worth the effort 🙂

Cheers Simon


26 07 2016

It is good views from them. I think I was really suffering from the heat quite a bit that day as it was exceedingly hot for a change! and, of course, I was having to wear the thick, long-sleeved shirt still 😦


25 07 2016

Hi Carol, that does look like a grind. Sure looks like a good view though. Also looks remote. Imagine running into someone with the same film camera! Bob


26 07 2016

I was amazed to run into someone else using film never mind the exact same camera.


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