The infamous Bad Step on the Isle of Skye is a thing of legend among hikers. Located in the shadow of the Black Cuillin, this section of rock face is notoriously hard to traverse, especially if you struggle with heights.
A non-negotiable part of the Loch Coruisk to Elgol hike and an optional detour on the Skye Trail, I realised that if I was going to continue my exploration of the Misty Isle, I’d have to tackle the Bad Step sooner or later.
If you’re wondering whether Skye’s Bad Step is everything that they say it is, you’re in the right place. This guide will explain the easiest (and safest) way to approach the scramble and I’ll level with you about just how bad the Bad Step is for somebody who hates heights.
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Surviving the Bad Step on the Isle of Skye, Scotland
What is the Bad Step?
The Bad Step is a section of steep rock face on the cliff close to Loch Coruisk. If you spend a lot of time on the island hiking, chances are that you will have heard of it.
After collating firsthand accounts of crossing this menacing rock, it was fair to say that I had built up an image in my mind of something truly terrifying – not hard to do when you’re as scared of heights as I am. The Bad Step had proverbially become the troll under my bridge, the only thing standing in the way of my journey to Elgol.
How to Traverse the Bad Step (The Right Way)
Tim and I journeyed to Loch Coruisk onboard the Bella Jane. En route, I was lucky enough to see seals, both harbour and common, and even a couple of pilot whales! During the journey, the skipper pointed out the surrounding islands and told us a bit about them. He also pointed out the Bad Step. From the boat, it didn’t look too intimidating but I still felt nervous.
According to the skipper, traversing the Bad Step is ‘easy’ (his words, not mine) providing you do it the right way. As my nerves were already strung, I was hanging onto his every word as he detailed the safest way to cross the Bad Step.
But first, let’s cover how not to cross the Bad Step. It seems that a lot of people work their way up the side of the cliff and try to cross over the top of the rock face. However, this is steeper than it appears from the ground and it is easy to get into trouble.
I also read that some brave hikers jump into the sea and swim around it. I’m not sure I’d fancy this for a few reasons. Firstly, the water is incredibly deep and I’m not a great swimmer. Secondly, I imagine the sea can be quite brutal if the weather changes. There is no beach here so if the weather does get rough, you’ll be slammed into the rocks. Swimming also isn’t a practical option if you are travelling with big hiking backpacks!
The best and proper way to cross the Bad Step (according to more experienced hikers than I), is to approach it from the coastline. Follow the crack up the side of the rock and stick to it as it descends the other side. Once you’ve made your way across the Bad Step, you’ll then have a few more slippy slabs to conquer. Although this is no easy feat either, the worst bit is over.
How Bad is the Bad Step, Really?
Obviously, this is a matter of opinion so I’ll offer up a bit of information about me to help you put things into context. I have a phobia of heights. Not just a wee fear, actual hyperventilating, knee-buckling, stomach-swooping phobia.
You are probably wondering why somebody with such an extreme fear of heights would even think about attempting this precarious crossing. Well, put simply, I want to see if I could. After hearing about the Bad Step, it had become a morbid fascination for me and I was determined to beat it.
Although I am a keen hiker, hillwalking is not my forté and I don’t have any climbing experience. While I have tackled scrambles on hikes before, it is not generally an area I feel hugely confident in and I’d prefer to avoid it.
I’ll level with you: I found the Bad Step to be nothing short of terrifying. Standing at the side of the rock trying to build up the courage to begin the traverse was incredibly difficult – it suddenly appeared so much higher than it did from the boat. While the initial part wasn’t too bad as there were handholds and the ledge wasn’t too narrow, I definitely got stuck towards the middle of the step.
The rock spine narrowed dramatically and I had to turn around and go down on my bum, facing the deep blue. As I continued to edge precariously down the ridge the more overwhelmed I became. Trust me when I say that the Bad Step is not a great place to have a panic attack!
I have no doubt that had I been on my own and didn’t have clear-headed guidance from Tim, I would absolutely not have been able to complete the Bad Step crossing. While this was an experience that I would not repeat for all of the cheese in France (although that does sound tempting), I was immensely proud to have made it across the rock.
It is worth noting that this is just my experience of the Bad Step. I am a self-confessed wimp with a fear of heights so it was always unlikely that I’d find this section of trail easy. To see somebody far more accomplished than me complete the step, check out the video below.
Advice for Crossing the Bad Step, Isle of Skye
- Don’t carry too much – a big rucksack would make this already challenging trail a lot trickier!
- Only attempt the Bad Step in good weather
- If you’re unsure whether you’re going to traverse the rock face, make sure there are boats running back so you don’t get stranded
- If you’re nervous, get a boat there so you can check out the Bad Step beforehand
- Wear sturdy shoes with good grip
- Don’t attempt this crossing when you’ve lost the light, you’ll want to see exactly where you’re placing your feet!
How to Get to the Bad Step
There are two ways you can reach the Bad Step. The first of these and the route that I took, was to head out on a one-way boat trip to Loch Coruisk from Elgol. Although there are a few tour companies that offer this trip and I would definitely recommend Bella Jane Boat Trips, based next to the pier. They are always my first choice when it comes to boat trips on the island offering good value for money tours with great guides. Misty Isle Boat Trips also offer this excursion, however, I can’t vouch for the experience.
The other way to get to the Bad Step is to walk. You can do the Loch Coruisk-Elgol walk in reverse, or head there from Camasunary Bay, geographically just around the corner but a longer hike than you would probably expect!
Would you attempt the Bad Step? Let me know in the comments!