I can’t believe that I saw New Zealand before I saw Scotland – that scenic gem on my doorstep! It shows that you don’t have to travel halfway around the world to see jaw-dropping sights – and the Isle of Skye stands out even in Scotland’s magnificence. It is a magical island, with dramatic and diverse landscapes, which have featured in many films. In my book, Skye is a G.O.B – Get Onyer Bucketlist!
Where to Stay
We visited Skye BC (Before Canines – AND Before Caravan!) so we stayed ‘in the brick’ in Portree. Portree is the capital of the island, so is a good base and has shops and restaurants. The Camping and Caravanning Club Site at Portree has good reviews. However, there also are several other campsites around the island.
When to Go
May or September is a good time. Usually, the weather is good, it is not too crowded and the notorious midges not too abundant! If you go in midge season, allegedly, the Royal Marines swear by Avon Skin So Soft Dry Oil to repel them (while keeping their skin silky smooth!)
We have mostly enjoyed Mediterranean weather in May. However, note the Scottish saying; “There is no such thing as bad weather. Only the wrong clothing.” And when it rains on Skye…!
How to Get There
Although Skye is in Scotland, don’t think that you are there once you cross the border! Skye is over 200 miles (320km) beyond Glasgow and will take 5-6 hours to drive – but the drive is so spectacular that you might want to take your time!
Dubbed by ‘Travel’ magazine as “One of the Greatest Drives in the World”, there are two Roads to the Isle, taking in Loch Lomond in the Trossachs National Park, Rannoch Moor, Glencoe and Fort William (which nestles under Ben Nevis, Britain’s tallest Mountain). En route, Oban is also well worth a visit or stopover.
From Fort William, if you take the ‘southern route’ to Mallaig, you can see the Glenfinnan Viaduct (over which you can ride on Harry Potter’s Hogwart’s Express – allegedly ‘The Greatest Train Journey in the World!’) A short detour can take in Sandaig, the magical and scenic setting for Gavin Maxwell’s book ‘Ring of Bright Water.’
The ‘northern’ route takes in Glen Shiel and probably the most famous castle in Scotland. If you can, why not go one way and come back the other?! (Click here or here for further information on the sights to see on or around the drive to Skye.)
Crossing to the Island
- Ferry – The traditional way to arrive on Skye is to ‘Sail bonny boat’ like Prince Charlie – it is a lovely way to arrive on the island. If you take the ‘southern route’ Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) operates a ferry from Mallaig to Armadale on Skye.
- Bridge – If you take the ‘northern route’, the Skye Bridge, which opened in 1995, is now toll-free. (It used to be one of the most expensive tolls in Europe!) The bridge connects Kyle of Lochalsh on the mainland with Kyleakin on Skye. On the drive to the Skye bridge, you will pass the 13th Century Eilean Donan Castle, probably one of the most photographed landmarks in Scotland!
For the Canine Crew
Although famed for high (and challenging) mountains, Skye has some unique and spectacular scenery which is accessible to fit walkers.
With its ‘Right to Roam’ Scotland has some of the best access rights in the world, but with great freedom comes great responsibility, so please follow Scottish Outdoor Access Code. There will be livestock roaming free in many places; so keep dogs on a lead near grazing animals and please clean up!
5 of my favourite ‘hands-in-pockets’ walks are;
- The Quiraing – Bastions of rock surround the smooth, green ‘Table’ – allegedly used by locals for shinty matches and concealing cows from Viking raids! The Quiraing is part of Britain’s biggest landslide.
- The Old Man of Storr – A walk to the spectacular rock formations and famous pinnacle, which is visible from miles away.
- The Fairy Pools – Crystal clear pools, sparkling with jewel colours, which cascade down beneath the ominous Black Cuillin. We have seen Golden Eagles, White Tailed Sea Eagles and Peregrines flying here.
- Neist Point Lighthouse – The most westerly point of Skye, boasting a Stephenson lighthouse, stunning cliff scenery & views to the Outer Hebrides.
- Boreraig – An atmospheric, ruined village, which serves as a stark reminder of the brutal ‘clearances’ – where profit-hungry landowners displaced families from their crofts to make way for sheep.
There are MANY more beautiful walks on Skye – MacLeods Maidens, Camasunary, Talisker Bay – Walk Highlands is a comprehensive guide to many of them. Recommended Dog Walks and Dog Friendly Beaches are also worth a look.
For the Humans to Do
- Film Locations – The BFG, Transformers, Stardust, Snow White & The Huntsman, Prometheus & 47 Ronin to name but a few. My personal favourite is the sword fight in ‘Highlander’ which takes place on the Cioch buttress (at 2’47s in this clip!) The Cioch (meaning ‘breast’ in Gaelic) is a rock climb; Sean Connery arrived by helicopter!
- Kylerhea Otter Hide – An easy, scenic walk with an otter hide at the midpoint, which gives walkers the opportunity to view otters, seals and other wildlife.
- Sail Bonny Boat – Waverley, the last sea-going, steam-powered paddle steamer in the world, runs spectacular tours around Skye in the spring.
- Sightseeing – Dunvegan Castle is the seat of the MacLeod clan of Skye and is home to the Fairy Flag. If you want to experience the smell of Skye as well as the sights – take a boat trip from the Castle to visit the Common Seals!
Skye is famous for two iconic mountain ranges, the Red Cuillin and the Black Cuillin.
The Black Cuillin is Britain’s most formidable mountain range. The Cuillin is an 11km long, knife-edge ridge. It consists of 27 summits, 11 of which are Munroes. (Scottish mountains over 3000ft in altitude.) The Cuillin’s Sgurr Dearg is the most difficult Munro, as the true summit is the Inaccessible Pinnacle (In Pin), an exposed and airy rock climb requiring ropes.
Venturing into the Black Cuillin is an undertaking. It is a very remote area – it may take you several hours even to reach the base of the mountain you wish to climb. The ascents are from sea level, so you are climbing the full 3000ft. A day trip into the Cuillin can easily involve 8-9 hours of walking.
The weather is very unpredictable and can change suddenly. There can still be winter conditions as late as May or June, requiring ropes, ice axes and crampons. You will need to be very confident about route finding using a map and compass. You will DEFINITELY need a head for heights – and in places, you WILL need ropes!
The Red Cuillin are a little less challenging in terms of terrain, but are still formidable and remote mountains and should be treated with equal respect.
If you want to discover the Cuillin, you must be properly equipped and know what you are doing. I would strongly recommend hiring a local guide.
- The Sligachan Hotel is a famous haunt for walkers and climbers. You can refuel with locally sourced food or enjoy a selection of over 400 malt whiskies and craft beers from the Cuillin brewery. In the small climbing museum, you can reach back in history to see the tweed-clad gentlemen who first conquered the mighty Cuillin, armed only with hemp ropes and hobnailed boots!
A Taste of Skye
- Restaurants in Portree – we found most of the restaurants in Portree to be very variable – they seemed to rely on tourist traffic and really couldn’t be bothered! I recommend checking recent reviews. The fish restaurant along the lines of Monty Python’s Cheese Shop is sadly no longer there. (After going through the whole menu, we really did have to ask “do you actually have any fish?”) In a way, this is sad. It was so reliably entertaining, not least when chef set the kitchen on fire during service! (Find out more in my blog Skye is the Limit)
- Fresh Seafood – If you are self-catering, Anchor Seafoods the fish stall on the end of the pier at Portree sells the most AMAZING fresh fish. Try the hand-dived scallops, which are often the size of saucers!
- The Three Chimneys is one of Scotland’s most famous restaurants, located in a 100-year-old stone cottage. It boasts many awards, including UK Restaurant of the Year in the Waitrose Good Food Guide.
- Talisker is the only whisky distillery on Skye. Tours and tastings take place only on selected weekdays; booking is recommended.
The Sound of Skye
- Runrig is a Scottish Celtic Rock Group, formed on Skye in 1973.
- Scottish Gaelic (pronounced ‘Gallic’) is still spoken by locals on Skye. The Scottish band Capercaillie have recorded many traditional Gaelic songs and tunes.
- I have only one regret from my time on Skye. I took long-time family friend Donald a cup of tea one morning. When I knocked on his bedroom door, he answered wearing a string vest and a pair of long, white underpants. I was so taken aback that I missed this GOLDEN opportunity to sing “Donald Wheer’s Your Troosers?!”
A Good Read
- The Hills is Lonely by Lilian Beckwith – The first in a series of charming, semi-autobiographical stories set in the fictional village of ‘Bruach’ – which it is suggested was based on Skye. The author did live in Elgol in 1942, before moving to a croft on Soay.
- Always a Little Further by Alastair Borthwick – a rare but wonderful read about camping, hiking and climbing on Skye (and in other parts of Scotland) in the 1930s. Find out how the author survived being lost in the Black Cuillin for 4 days with one square of chocolate and foraged blackberries!
- Ring of Bright Water by Gavin Maxwell – although this is set in Sandaig, on the mainland near Skye, I have included it because it is such a wonderful and evocative tale of a man’s relationship with nature, in particular, an otter called Mijbil.
Skye is the Limit is my blog about one of our visits to Skye, including the fiery fun and games in the fish restaurant. I hope you will also find that to be a good read!