Marvellous maps: Revealing the mysteries of the Old Man of Storr

This is the first of a series of posts to celebrate the annual National Map Reading Week*. Each post focuses on a small map section from one of my favourite parts of the Scottish Highlands, which might tempt you to go and explore and visit yourself. Today, we take a look at the stunning landscape around the Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye. Don’t worry no map reading skills are needed!

1957 Ordnance Survey Map showing the Old Man of Storr
A One-inch to the mile Ordnance Survey map of Old Man of Storr

A map hinting at crags to explore

The large black capital letters marching across the map provide a hint that this is a place to explore. Trotternish. What legends and stories hide behind such a strange sounding word? It’s an Old Norse word hinting at the area’s Viking past when those fierce all-conquering Scandinavians controlled and dominated the western seaboard of Scotland. Trotternish means Thron’s Headland. Who was that mighty warlord?

A landscape forged at the centre of the earth

Or does it refer to a long forgotten God that the Vikings thought fashioned the land around them? Looking at the map you can imagine a leather-clad God beating out the rocks from molten lava at the very centre of the earth. Those tightening contour lines capped with carefully drawn black marks to signify the domineering cliffs could only have been formed by enormous and mighty forces. And indeed they are evidence of the island’s formation during a period of destructive volcanic activity. Look closer at the map and you notice small star shapes pinpointing the pinnacles formed after millennia of erosion. The most prominent is named as the Old Man of Storr.

It’s a map section that draws you in urging you to put on your walking boots and get out there to explore.

Looking across to the Old Man of Storr

What makes the Old Man of Storr special?

For many, a tour of the Scottish Highlands is incomplete without a visit to the Isle of Skye. They are attracted by the scenic splendour that unfolds across the island as you head away across the bridge from the mainland. And that landscape suddenly becomes more impressive, more mysterious and more rugged as you drive the narrow, curving, single track road out of Portree. Passing small hills, said to be the homes of the “Wee Folk” the famed and somewhat sinister fairies of Highland folklore adds to the mysticism.

Across a wild loch, the rock formations of The Storr come in to view. That’s assuming the island isn’t living up to the Gaelic meaning of its name – the misty isle. If not completely cloaked in a dense, claggy fog, the jagged pinnacle of the Old Man of Storr is obvious. Somehow, it is at its most romantic when there is mist swirling around the cliffs. That fleeting, shifting mist that makes a place slightly eerie and certainly atmospheric.

Try and get closer if you can

There are places you can stop along the main road to admire the view and take photos. But this is a place that rewards those who go beyond the car and make the effort to get even closer. Although steep in places, there is a good footpath within the capability of anyone with moderate fitness. The fork looping away from the main path provides the best views of the Old Man. Whilst heading along the main path takes you to the rocky scar pressing relentlessly upwards to the base of the pinnacle itself. A route that is no walk in the park, but for the experienced worth the additional effort.

A rocky path leads to the cliffs above the Old Man of Storr
The rocky path to the Old Man of Storr

Admiring from afar or up close you can consider the various legends about its creation. Whether you believe in a strange underwater creature chiselling a sculpture in memory of a dead friend. Or prefer the story of a sleeping giant. It doesn’t matter as the towering cliffs and jagged pillars speak for themselves.

*National Map Reading Week

Britain’s national mapping agency, the Ordnance Survey, lead an annual National Map Reading week every October. Its aim is to encourage the awareness and use of maps, following a survey that revealed that many Brits couldn’t place major cities such as London or Birmingham on a map of their own country.

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