Stooping slightly in the lee of a shattered inland cliff, the Old Man of Storr stands Conspicuous above the coast of Scotland’s island of Skye. The 160ft (49m) basalt pillar, balanced on its stone pedestal, looks out to sea like a lonely sentinel on guard duty.
A chaotic jumble of Pinnacles, broken rock and screes litters are hillside around the pillar and is the result of massive landslips. A thick layer of Basalt – the legacy of Volcanic upheavals 60 million years ago – overlies earlier, more crumbly rock. Tilting and faulting of the rocks left the land very unstable, and blocks of basalt have slumped towards the sea and been weathered into the rugged landscape.
The Old Man stands out so prominently that it has served as a landmark for shipping for centuries. Its sheer sides and the overhangs at its base have long presented climbers with a daunting challenge, and it was not until 1955 that the pillar was conquered.
From this rocky hillside, the sea on a still day looks mirror-calm, reflecting a scintillating pale blue sky. But within hours the sky can blacken with glowering clouds. Then the landscape closes in, and a dense drizzle turns the rocks into glistening black.
The coastline of this part of Skye wears a long mantle of history. Fossils litter the shore below the Old Man, and fossilised remains of an ichthyosaurus – a dolphin-like dinosaur from some 200 million years ago. Anglo-Saxon silver coins found nearby, along with coins from the central Asian city of Samarkand, were in a hoard that may have been hidden by invading Vikings.
Legend Of A Fugitive
A cave on the shore to the south of the Old Man of Storr is named after Prince Charles – the Bonnie Prince Charlie who played such a poignant part in Scottish history. In 1745 Prince Charles Edward Stuart set out to win the British throne for his father, the son of the deposed James 2 of England (James VII of Scotland). After the defeat at the Battle of Culloden Moor in April 1746, the prince was pursued through the Highlands and islands and passed near the Old Man on his travels across Skye. Worn down by life on the run, he left Scotland in September 1746 and remained in exile until his death in Rome in 1788.