Isle of Skye – Part I.

The inspiration for the journey to Scotland came in my case, quite unconventionally, from my love for literature. Crime stories in particular. Our favourite Scottish author and screen-writer Peter May plotted his Lewis Trilogy onto an island with the same name as the title carries. Reading his descriptions of Scottish nature triggered the idea to visit, and experience it on our own.

In the first phase of our trip we focused on Highlands and the Isle of Skye, which, after the Isles of Lewis and Harris, is the largest Scottish island. Most people utter only the most fantastic attributes when describing it, and so it happened that our expectations became really high. Rugged countryside, spectacular sceneries, very few people to come across… Indeed, it met our expectations fully.

This article is for you to use as an itinerary, list of places to go and see. I am writing it to help you get organised, and to gain some basic information – sort of a synopsis of this gorgeous place.

This ‘itinerary’ is not fully identical with our own one in reality. We did not manage to visit all the places mentioned. Changing weather conditions caused also a change in our route planning. We could not strictly follow our original South-North route, and were forced to go with the flow a bit more. We spent four days on the Isle of Skye, but if you are interested in visiting all the places from this list, I highly recommend for you to count with six days at least. And if you are about to include long hikes, trips by a ship or kayaking, you will need two or three days more. Speaking out of my own experience – now I would do the same.

A few tips for your trips:

  • There is a serious problem with cell reception on the island, not to mention the internet connection, which you can let yourself dream about. You can go online alright, in most cafes or hotels, where they offer wifi connection, but besides a few places only, there was a huge problem with reception on our phones.
  • The weather is really unstable. It was only here that we finally had a chance to fully comprehend the Icelandic saying about weather changeability. We started a lot of our hikes in downpour, which was over in ten minutes, just to give way to a clear blue sky. It was a good decision not to get deterred by weather, which we were grateful for.
  • April to June season is considered the driest in here, but still, I DO recommend for you to bring your waterproof shoes. I mean REALLY good quality waterproof. We had a lot of rain, fortunately only in short intervals mostly. Generally speaking – summer is the best time to visit. That is certain.
  • In many parts of the island, roads are pretty narrow, one lane only, but in good shape with plenty of shoulders and emergency stopping lanes. For some, they may cause a lot of stress, but really, it depends on what your expectations are. For us – after we have already experienced Icelandic and Norwegian roads – the roads on the island were a pleasant surprise. The number of gas stations was satisfactory, but it is a good idea to think of filling up your tank in advance.
  • The same works for your accommodation. There are not many accommodation facilities in some parts of the island, so you may want to book something in advance. Especially in summer season. There are many B&Bs, which from our experience are of high standard, and you are going to meet a lot of nice and kind people in them. We were very content with this B&B guest house: http://www.roskhillhouse.co.uk
  • If you prefer camping, caravans or tents, the island offers a variety of camps in picturesque surroundings e.g.: Sligachan Camping, Glenbrittle Campsite, Torvaig Caravan and Campsite, Staffin Campsite etc. Free camping is possible if you follow these rules: Scotland’s Outdoor Access Code. For more information: https://www.visitscotland.com/accommodation/caravan-camping
  • Basic information you may find on the Isle’s own website: https://www.isleofskye.com

 

The first part of this article encompasses the main ‘must see’ spots of the south and central parts of the island, together with a map, pictures, website links, and short descriptions.

There are two ways to get to the island, if I do not count a small ferry – Sky Ferry from Glenelg to Kylerhea. The island’s connection to the ‘land’ is by a road bridge – Skye Bridge, but as our road trip plan included the well known Road to the Isles, we took a ferry from Mallaig town. From Mallaig to Armadale it takes 45 minutes, and locals say it is better to book your ticket in advance, especially in summer. For more information about timetables click here: https://www.calmac.co.uk

1. Clan Donald Museum and Armadale Castle Gardens &Museum of the Isles

Clan Donald Skye Visitor Centre is the first ‘must see’ stop if you come by a ferry. It offers wifi connection, coffee, food and you also can use a restroom there. It is located close to Armadale Castle with gardens and a museum, where you are going to learn more about Scottish Highlands’ history, Clan Donald and you can peek into the gardens too.

Link: http://www.clandonald.com

2. Sky Bridge

Isle of Skye is linked to mainland by a road bridge. It connects villages Kyle of Lochalsh and Kyleakin. By a ferry which operated here, it used to take only 5 minutes to get from one side to the other. Road construction started in 1992, following the design which was proposed by a German company DYWIDAG Systems International. The shape of the bridge is round and its peak point is 35m tall, so that it is possible for the ships to pass underneath it freely, even with low tide. It is supported by two pillars, and its length in total is 2.4 km. The bridge was opened in 1995, but with tolls being so high (in order to gain money spent on the construction of it back), that it did not meet with approval of the locals. They established SKAT organisation (Skye and Kyle Against Tolls) and ran such campaign which led into tolls being removed in 2004. Since then you can cross the bridge for free.

Eilean Bàn (White Island) is a small island, where the main arch of the bridge ends. You can find a 21m tall lighthouse and Maxwell Museum on it. Gavin Maxwell was known for his work with otters and as a writer too. The best known book of his is The Ring of Bright Water.

3. Kylerhea

A short walk from the parking lot will take you to the coastline, which is also known as “otter paradise”.  For spotting an otter outside, you usually need a great deal of patience. In here though, if you sit in silence and observe carefully, it is highly possible for you to succeed. There is another option to spot otters in their habitat, and that is by kayaking. Apart from otters, you may find many other wild species, including various birds or even seals.

4. Elgol

Elgol is mostly known for its Cuillin Mountains views and ship cruises, which are provided by couple of companies. There are many types of cruises you can choose from. It gives you a chance to fully enjoy the nature, beautiful sceneries, and to see Isles of Skye, Eigg, Rum or Canna from a different point of view. It also allows you to catch a glimpse of seals, dolphins or Puffin birds in their habitat. We came to Elgol in the evening hours, and our primary aim was to take pictures of the sunset. That is also why we did not make it to Camasunary Bay, which looks like a gorgeous place to take a walk in, and it may inspire you to visit these websites:

http://mistyisleboattrips.co.uk

https://www.isleofskye.com/skye-guide/top-ten-skye-walks/camasunary

5. Spar Cave – Glasnakille

West of Elgol, you will find a 15m deep underground structure, called Spar Cave. This cave was mentioned in a literary work – Lord of the Isles, in 1814 already. It is possible to enter the cave only at low tide, and it is not an easy path at all. It is not too long, but it is steep and covered with slippery rocks. There is also a possibility to get towards the cave on water – by boat.

6. Luib, Loch Arnoit

A87 is a major road which runs north around the Arnoit Bay and Luib village. Loch Arnoit is not one of the most impressive attractions of the island, but we found it very appealing, thanks to the Red Cuillin mountains surrounding it, and to the gloomy weather, which gave a finishing dramatic touch to the whole atmosphere. At the curve of the bay, there is a parking place, where you can safely stop your car and watch a nearby waterfall.

7. Sligachan

Follow A87, and pass Sconser village (you might take a ferry to the Isle of Raasay from there), go past Sligachan Bay until you reach a village called Sligachan too. You can park your car at the Sligachan Hotel (right at the turning towards A863). This hotel, plus some cottages on the other side of the river, is the only place offering ‘normal’ accommodation in this area. A nearby camp, also called Sligachan, has got plenty of space for tents and caravans. Since 1830, Sligachan has been a departure point for mountain climbers, and it still is an important junction leading towards various parts of Skye.

One of the most photographed places of the Isle is the Sligachan Old Bridge. You can tell, from the amount of people crowding around here, which assures you that this is a favourite touristic spot. The bridge itself is very nice, but the special atmosphere, it owes to the Black Cuillin mountains surrounding it. There is a legend saying that the water from under the bridge will grant you eternal beauty. You only must immerse your face in it for 7 seconds. It ain’t gonna kill you, so why not try it? And if you feel cold after trying your ‘good luck’, you always can go for a stroll towards Sligachan Waterfall, just 5 minutes away from the bridge. That is going to warm you up for sure.

8. Talisker Distillery

A863 takes you directly from the Sligachan Hotel to the Talisker Distillery, which lies on the shores of Loch Harport, and is only a few minutes drive away. Scotch is a worldwide known brand, and to see how it is made has become a part of tourism. If you are a whisky lover, you need to stop by and see the oldest, and the only still working, whisky distillery on the island. The history of this distillery goes back to 1830, when MacAskill brothers decided to build it at Carbost. The whisky taste depends on the exact part of Scotland which it is made in. Here is a description of Talisker Whisky by the makers of it themselves: “The Isle of Skye is renowned for its rich, varied landscape – from its soft, serene shores to the dark, jagged peaks of Cuillin mountains.

Talisker Skye is the distillery’s ode to these appealing contrasts, with a smoky sweetness, maritime notes and a spicy edge.” Talisker Distillery offers a number of tours and tastings, where you can check it yourself, if their statement is true, and learn more about whisky as such, its making process, history of distillery and so on. You just need to choose from their website offer. We recommend to book the tour in advance, and to buy the whisky right at the airport. Close to the distillery, there is a nice beach you should go on a stroll to. We haven’t managed to get there, but hopefully, you will.

Link : https://www.malts.com/en-ca/distilleries/talisker/

9. Fairy Pools

Majestic peaks of Black Cuillin mountains, crystal clear water and pleasurable paths surrounding the pools; all of these aspects make them one of the most favourite touristic destinations on the Isle of Skye. Of course, it also makes it a destination which is a bit busier too. An effortless walk around the pools will only take you and hour or so. You might come across a couple of water barrages, which you will overcome easily. The magic of smaller and larger pools might tempt you to get into the cold water, and many tourists won’t resist this temptation in the end. Then you can spot them scattered around, shivering.

The Cuillins, in the south of the Isle, is a range of mountains which includes Black and Red Cuillins. Why Black? Because of its characteristic dark colour – caused by tertiary volcanic rock, which they consist of. The simplest way to get to the mountains is from Sligachan (mentioned above), or from the Fairy Pools and Glenbrittle. From that spot though, you may also take some more challenging and time consuming hikes if you like. You may climb the Sgurr Alasdair for example, which is Skye’s highest mountain.

10. Portree

Its location in the centre makes it an ideal base camp, where from you can take off to explore the rest of the island. Tourism (likewise in the other parts of the island) plays major role in this port town, which is also an administrative and business centre of the island. It is the seat of the local government, and you will find the island’s only high school here. The port with colourful houses has become a dominant feature and a symbol of this town.

There are few interpretations of how the town came to its name. The most popular is the one about a visit by King James V in 1540. Portree then translates as “King’s Port”. You may find a lot of accommodation facilities, shops, a bank, and a variety of restaurants in here. I personally, would go for good old Fish’n’Chips in Cuchullin restaurant, which you will find near Somerled Square.

Portree is basically the only place, where you can buy new waterproof shoes (and other wet weather sports gear) you may need, especially when you find out that your old shoes are nowhere near to endure the weather conditions here. The tourist information centre in Portree is also a departure point for Skye bus. This is a great alternative for those, who haven’t rented a car, and their time for the island is very limited. Skye bus also provides local guide services, with guides taking you to the most visited and attractive places of the island. With them, you can manage all within one day.

Link: http://www.realscottishjourneys.com/

You can find other bus tours here: https://www.isleofskye.com/activities/bus-tours

On the south edge of Portree, near a forest, there is The Aros Centre (Gaelic for ‘home’), which offers visitor centre, cultural and community centre, bookshops, gift shops, restaurants, a theatre and a cinema, all in one area.

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