The Isle of Skye (An t-Eilean Sgitheanach in Gaelic) is only a 5 hour drive from Edinburgh or Glasgow but it is a world away from the hustle and bustle of the mainland. Some of the most beautiful scenery in Europe awaits those who make the trip to the west coast.
The magnificence of Isle of Skye is increased by the Cuillins, a spectacular range of jagged basalt mountains. The Cuillins (both the Red and Black ranges) offer a climbing experience unlike any other in Scotland. These majestic mountains make a visit to the area worthwhile on their own. The geology of the island has given rise to amazing formations like Quiraing, The Old Man of Storr and Kilt Rock. These almost otherworldly landmarks are often used as back drops in Hollywood blockbusters (Highlander, Stardust and most recently Ridley Scott’s Prometheus). The Cuillins include 12 Munros (mountains over 3,000ft), if you are seeking a challenge. Please be aware that some climbs like the inaccessible pinnacle require specialist climbing equipment.
For the truly intrepid we would recommend a trip to the Fairy Pools, perhaps to even take a swim. This collection of clear pools and waterfalls are found on the road to Glenbrittle about 5.5 miles from Carbost in the south of the island. A Forestry Commission car park leads to a track where a 20 minute walk will take you to the first falls. Visiting the pools takes you off of the beaten track and offers a unique opportunity to a wild swim. Please note that the pools will rarely (if ever) be warm and some people bring wet suits but swim suits will work. The pools are a magical place to visit even if you do not swim and the dramatic backdrop of the Black Cuillins adds to the experience.
The rugged landscape of the island is also home to a broad range of wildlife including Golden Eagles and White Tailed Sea Eagles. Red deer are commonplace and the elusive Sea Otters can be seen ( if you are very patient) at several locations round the Island. If you seek more exotic fauna, then the Skye Serpentarium in Broadford is well worth a visit. Home to over 50 animals, including snakes, lizards and frogs. Kids and adults alike will enjoy looking at and learning about the handling the animals.
The island has been inhabited since Mesolithic times and there is evidence of Pictish and Iron Age settlements too. Despite its glorious isolation the Island was conquered by Norsemen in the 9th century and remained under their rule until the 13th century. Latterly, Isle of Skye was the stronghold of the MacLeod and Donald clans. The MacLeod clan’s seat of power is the imposing Dunvegan Castle which has been continuously occupied for 800 years. The castle is in the northwest of the island surrounded by its impressive gardens. Dunvegan is open to the public from April into October. Visitors can enter the Castle and it’s grounds, take boat trips and dine in the cafe or restaurant.
Clan Donald moved around more during their period of power and had castles in the north and south of the island. They finally settled on the south of the Island building Armadale Castle in approximately 1650. This ancient seat is also home to the Museum of the Isles and its beautiful gardens incorporate the shell of older parts of the castle ( damaged by fire in the 1850s). The building and grounds are truly stunning. Visitors can also indulge in a spot of archery, axe throwing and air rifle shooting at Armadale Activities in the castle grounds. If a more sedate distraction is preferred then the guided treasure hunt may be more your speed.
Ironically the Island of Skye is no longer an island. In 1995, a bridge was completed between Kyleakin and Loch Alsh ending years of queues for the short ferry crossing. The bridge straddles Loch Alsh and uses Eilan Ban as a stepping stone. Eilan Ban was the final home of “Ring of Brightwater” author and naturalist Gavin Maxwell, who lived in the light house cottage. The island and cottage are a museum to his life and works. Please note that guided tours to the island must book in advance at the Brightwater Visitor Centre in Kyleakin.
For whisky fans there is only one distillery on the island but it is one of the best. Talisker has been distilled in Carbost since 1830 and is one of the best known single malts in the world.
There are several large settlements on the Island ( Broadford, Uig and Dunvegan) but Portree to the north east is the biggest. With its picturesque bay, colourfully painted house fronts all overlooked by the Apothecary’s Tower ( a fantastic viewpoint ver Portree Harbour), Portree is picture postcard perfect. The town also has many attractions to drawn in the visitors:
The Museum of Island Life near Portree has a collection of cottages showing how islanders life through the ages. This is an enlightening glimpse into the lives of the hardy inhabitants of Skye allowing you to step some 150 years back in time. With a Smithy, a ceilidh House, a croft and a thatched dwelling house, visitors can grasp for themselves how hard life could be.
If you are keen to get back out into the open air, Isle of Skye Trekking offers pony trekking to all ages and abilities. Perhaps you would prefer to take to the high seas with Spindrift Boat Trips. Their boat allows the perfect vantage to see marine animals such as otter, minke whales, basking sharks, dolphins and porpoise. Visitors can also be landed on the nearby Island of Rona for some exploring. Kayaking and canoe excursions can also be arranged through Skyak Adventures near Broadford.
Skye has a strong Gaelic tradition and many of the locals speak the language. The Island also has its own University, established in 1973 the Sabhal Mor Ostaig has been a major force in the renaissance of Gaelic speaking in Scotland. The chances are that if you visit the island you will encounter Gaelic speakers. The culture is also reflected in ceilidhs and the live music scene across the island. The Edinbane Inn Inn has regular jam sessions for traditional musicians where all are welcome to play or listen.