Tuning into Skye
The isle of Skye is huge … or at least it seems it. The island – connected to the mainland by a bridge – is the largest of the Inner Hebrides. It is only fifty miles from north to south, but the zigzag coastline with inlets, beautiful sea lochs and stunning, mainly unpopulated peninsulas – combined with mile after mile of single track roads that rise and fall from hill top to sea level – make the 50 seem like 500. OK, if not 500 … then a lot more than 50! We took a week to explore …
Skye’s eastern and southern coastlines – those that look back towards the mainland – are home to the majority of the island’s residents – Broadford and the island’s capital, Portree, are the largest destinations and account for around a third of Skye’s population.
The north and west – looking out towards North & South Uist as well as Harris and Lewis – provide some of the most remote yet breathtakingly beautiful scenery not only in Scotland but in the whole wide world. That is not an exaggeration. It is the reason why Skye draws so many visitors each year. It is the reason why film companies choose the island as a blockbuster backdrop.
Stats from Transport Scotland show the Skye bridge has seen a huge surge in traffic in recent years with more than 3,000 vehicles using it every day. The 10,000 population of islanders swells to almost 70,000 at its busiest – and guesstimates put annual visitor numbers at around 1.5 million. To some, the island is creaking – especially at peak times. On our last visit – in October – we met folk who had no accommodation booked and were struggling to find places to stay. So if you’re planning to go – book.
DAY 1 – arriving
We wanted to stay in the north – and stopped on our way in Portree to visit the Co-Op and stock up on self catering provisions. We arrived late in the afternoon and just walked and cycled around to get our bearings for the area …
Our dog-friendly cottage – Bothan Eorna – was a traditional 19th century crofters’ cottage. Superbly and sympathetically renovated, it looks out to the isles and has a lovely garden with seating to enjoy some alfresco dining … and drinking.
It had everything we needed – including Wi-Fi. It is a rare commodity on the island, so we were glad to have it – not least of all to be able to search and look for activities and things to explore whilst on Skye. The owners – Dougie & Fiona – had left us a welcome pack on our arrival including some lovely touches … especially the biscuits for our dog!
The cottage is in the hamlet of Hunglader – north of Uig, the nearest village. To give you an insight into the travelling, the 6.5 miles is a 16 minute drive (at best). You have to allow time to get around and explore. This is the drive down into Uig …
The milk jug purchased – we were on our way …
The night before – online at the cottage – we’d booked a SkyeXplorer Boat Trip with Puffins & Whales. Our skipper, Andi, was a great host. He was friendly, welcoming and answered all our questions as he took us on a trip out to see Puffins and much more. As his website says, he’s originally from the “well known seafaring nation of Switzerland” … his travels (and marriage) have taken him to Uig where he now runs wildlife trips from Uig harbour. Andi even made us a cuppa on board and offered all a choc biscuit. No. Not a Penguin!
We checked each night’s weather to plan the following days’ adventures. We were not disappointed …
The Fairy Pools – in Glenbrittle, on the western side of the Cuilllin Ridge – is a magical destination. Armed with a small walking guide (provided by our hosts), we plotted our route. The road to it was busy – especially as many who hire campervans struggle with the width of their vehicles on narrow roads. We parked (the car park is tiny and consequently cars line the roadsides for some distance) and set off on the way-marked track. Just as the roads, it was busy, but beyond the first handful of crystal clear pools, the crowds thinned – visitors not prepared to walk further to explore. They missed out! The further we walked, the thinner the crowds … until we had pools, waterfalls and to-die-for views – all to ourselves.
And this …
At the coast – Loch Brittle, a short drive from the Fairy Pools – is the Glenbrittle camp site. We weren’t staying – but we wanted to take a quick look. Open April 1st to the end of September, it is a stunning location ‘neath the Cuillin Ridge. If you’re camping – it is some spot … spy the tiny strip of beach at the head of the loch (photo from their Facebook page). Check them out on TripAdvisor.
We liked the wee shop and cafe and very much enjoyed delicious coffees and hot chocolates. Couldn’t resist a photo of the tins – and another reminder of Skye miles per hour …
On the west coast is Talisker. World famous whisky it certainly is – but Talisker is not the location of the distillery. The oldest working distillery on Skye, Talisker Distillery is in the village of Carbost – on the shores of Loch Harport with incredible views of the Cuillins. Carbost is also home to a gem of a place – The Oyster Shed – selling shellfish and all manner of goodies to make your mouth water. We stocked up.
The settlement of Talisker – a handful of houses – is a few miles west on the Minginish peninsula. There’s a free parking spot – juggle for space – and then a 15 minute walk along the Sleadale Burn to Talisker Bay … looking out towards South Uist and Barra.
Without doubt, the destination on the west coast is Dunvegan – a small town, famous for Dunvegan Castle, seat of the chief of Clan MacLeod – and a coastline that could easily be mistaken for a Caribbean isle … coral beaches and all.
The castle and gardens are open to the public (you can find more and buy tickets via this link): no photography is allowed in the castle so we can’t show it to you, but the gardens are simply beautiful … different areas to explore from the walled garden to the water garden and many more …
If you love holidaying in Scotland it is pretty much a given that you’ll love to walk, explore and discover out of the way places. North of our cottage we could see the most northerly point on Skye – so planned a walk, aided by the trusty book. We’d also checked it on the WalkingHighlands website.
There’s a scramble on part of the walk – to descend the cliffs to get to Rubha Hunish, the island’s northern tip looking out towards Lewis and Harris. It is well worth the clamber down – and back up. Apart from a few other walkers – and plenty of sheep – we had the peninsular to ourselves. Once back up, we walked to the former coastguard lookout – now maintained by the Mountain Bothy Association …
The views are outstanding …
Most of our foodie requirements were self-catered – but we did enjoy coffee and cake stops – and a lovely late lunch in the bar at the Flodigarry Hotel – just south of our walk. It is a great spot – very warm welcome and the views back to the mainland are just a bonus …
A short shopping trip to Portree completed the day – to discover the Skye Soap Company. Our hosts had left small soaps in our bathrooms – and the marketing trick worked. The soaps were wonderful – and we found the company’s shop in Portree … and bought gifts galore …
There are many attractions on Skye – but stumbling across an ‘international’ sheep dog trials just outside Staffin was a real find. According to records, the first sheepdog trial in Scotland was in 1874 at the Carnworth Agricultural Society Show in Lanarkshire. The winner pocketed a pound! The event ‘neath the Trotternish Ridge attracts a few hundred folk to witness shepherds from several countries competing for the title. All the proceeds from the day support Skye Cancer Care.
It was a great spectacle – cost just £5 for us to get in and we enjoyed some delicious home baking whilst watching … a scene that (apart from the 4x4s) has probably remained unchanged since the earliest days of trialing.
We then stepped back a little further in time … 8,500 years to be precise! A walk from Staffin – from Columba 1400 (where we had tasty haggis panini – very much mixing our toasties!) to Staffin Bay, passing the remains of a middle stone-age camp – and spying fossilised footprints of dinosaurs who roamed this once tropical estuary some 175 million years before us.
Nearby, where we were staying – within walking distance – was The Skye Museum of Island Life. Our cottage had a pass for us to visit. It was a fascinating walk through some of the island’s crofting past – various cottages recreated as they would have been in days gone by: a home, a ceilidh house, a wee shop – together with very detailed descriptions of all.
A short walk from the museum is Kilmuir Cemetary (below right) – and the grave of Flora MacDonald (below – middle right). For those who don’t know their Scottish history, she is famed for helping Bonnie Prince Charlie escape after the Jacobites’ defeat at the Battle of Culloden in 1746 – an act that led to her arrest and time imprisoned in the Tower of London before her release a year later.
Her extraordinary life took her to America in 1774 – with her husband, Allan MacDonald, a captain in the army. During the American revolution, their plantation in North Carolina was ravaged in ’77 and she went into hiding. Reunited with her husband in 1778, she returned to Scotland a year later. Back on Skye, she lived with various members of her extended family, including spending time at Dunvegan after her daughter had married Major General Alexander Macleod. She died at Kinsburgh on Skye aged 68 in 1790.
Day 7 – our final was was the only wash out. It bucketed with rain – but that didn’t dampen our love for this exceptional island. All we had to do was tidy, pack and depart. We were leaving the island via the CalMac ferry – from Armadale to Mallaig – a trip we’d booked whilst on the island just to vary our route home.
We’ve been before – and barely scratched the surface. This trip was about being ‘away’. Yes, we drove, but we also cycled and walked – and loved every pedal turn and each step we took.
Skye is wide open. There’s so much to explore, visit and discover. We’ll be back.
We have included links in the Blog’s copy to many of the businesses visited on this trip. Please click on them to discover more. For further information, please visit:
Thanks for reading.