As we approached the Isle of Skye, it was a beautiful, sunny afternoon and a good omen of things to come. Throughout our time on the island we were told repeatedly, “It’s never this sunny and clear. It usually rains.” Fortunately for us, it didn’t rain.
Eilean Donan Castle
The Eilean Donan Castle rises in the distance as you get closer to the bridge that brings you onto the Isle of Skye. The castle is beautiful and I especially enjoyed the bright blue sky as a backdrop on the day we visited. After finding a spot in the crowded car park, we walked along the pedestrian path by the edge of the water and viewed the castle from different angles.
It’s an extremely photogenic castle although it had been in disrepair for over 200 years until it was restored in the early 20th century, re-opening in 1932. It’s also often used as a film location with my favorite being Made of Honor starring Patrick Dempsey, a fellow Mainer. We didn’t tour the inside of the castle but rather just enjoyed the spectacular views.
After a quick stop to check into our hotel for our stay on Isle of Skye, we continued on to Dunvegan Castle. The castle was within an hour of closing time when we arrived but we were able to get in a quick tour of the castle and beautifully kept grounds. The castle has been continuously occupied by the McLeod family for 800 years. And, it’s still in the family!
My husband enjoyed touring inside the castle and learning the history of the castle and Clan McLeod while I enjoyed walking around the beautifully maintained gardens that surrounded the castle. The castle is also right on the water which makes for a gorgeous backdrop.
Neist Point Lighthouse
As I researched “must dos” on the Isle of Skye, seeing Neist Point Lighthouse at sunset topped the list of every travel site and blog I came across. After grabbing a quick bite for dinner, we added the destination into our GPS and headed west. Almost as soon as we left, the roads narrowed and we had full immersion into the twisting, single lane roads that dominate the island. The single lane roads still accommodate two way traffic so you’re constantly on the lookout for oncoming cars and always watching for a pullover spot. The challenge was intensified by the angle of the sun as sunset approached which optimized the oncoming glare. The drive went on for about ten miles in this fashion with so many cars all headed to the same sunset destination.
While beautiful, for us, it wasn’t worth the trip. Between the oncoming cars, sun glare and sheep randomly lying across the road, it was quite the white knuckled drive. And, once we arrived at the lighthouse there were cars parked along the side of the road for quite a distance making the already narrow road even tighter. We took some pictures as it really is a gorgeous spot but decided to leave before sunset rather than try to navigate the single lane road with hundreds of other cars leaving at the same time.
In the end, going to Neist Point Lighthouse for sunset was a little like going to Cadillac Mountain in Acadia for sunrise if you had to drive a ten mile, single lane, two-way traffic road into the park with the sun in your eyes. While both places are stunning, there are likely other less crowded spots to enjoy the sunrise or sunset. PS – If you do go to Cadillac Mountain in Acadia some day – be sure to get there early, early, early. We went at 4:00 am during our visit and it was already incredibly crowded.
We headed out on the Trotternish Loop Road to spend our first full day on the Isle of Skye hiking. We kicked it off with one of the most beautiful hikes I have ever done, the Quiraing. From the moment we started the hike, there were amazing, otherworldly views in every direction. It’s a bit of a daunting hike as it’s along the edge of the mountain with a steep cliff drop on one side and early in the trail there is a ravine where you have to scale the rocks to get to the other side. It’s definitely a trail to be vigilant on as many of the trails we came across on Isle of Skye were.
We made it to the center point of the Quiraing Hike. We didn’t do the full loop as the second half is basically scaling the mountain side. Instead we did it as an in and back hike which was about 4.2 miles. I took so many pictures along the trail although no photos from the parts where we were really close to the mountain’s edge as I was too busy making sure not to fall off in those spots.
As we returning back on the trail, a woman who was starting the hike almost fell down the cliff. She was able to catch herself and her hiking companion pulled her back up from where she was hanging over the side but it was scary. She didn’t seem too phased and continued on her hike.
Corran Beach / Dinosaur Tracks
We made a quick stop at Corran Beach to see “dinosaur tracks” from a long ago time embedded into the rocky shoreline. We may have seen dinosaur tracks or just random indentations in the rocks. It was really hard to tell but either way it was a pretty little spot by the ocean.
What do you think? Do these look like dinosaur footprints?
Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls
As it was on the route, we stopped at Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls on of the bigger tourist spots on the island. It is a lovely view but you have to get past the large number of tour buses and even larger number of people. I really don’t know how those giant tour buses manage the roads on the Isle of Skye.
We initially had a hard time finding the Brother’s Point trail head until we realized the small, easy to miss parking lot was up the road and that you have to backtrack to the starting gate. Once we understood that, it was actually easy to find as it is well marked.
Scotland has what is known as the Scottish Outdoor Access Code which allows you to explore most land in Scotland, even privately owned land, as long as you behave responsibly and close the gates behind you. Beyond the gates are lots of roaming sheep. You don’t want to let them out. There are already enough sheep on the roadways.
The beginning of this hike was great and we walked about a mile down to the ocean. But, from there the trial was less well marked and it was getting quite muddy so we turned around and didn’t actually make it to the end. We got to see lots of sheep in and around the trail and even though we only did part of the hike, there were some beautiful spots along the way. I enjoyed this trail.
Old Man of Storr
The Old Man of Storr was a challenging hike as it’s all uphill and extremely steep. The hike is divided into three sections. After an already full day of hiking, we only made it to the starting point of the second section before turning back. We did catch a glimpse of the Old Man of Storr but just not the iconic view. To get the iconic view you have to hike up above the spiral rock formation where you can really see the distinct spire with the ocean as a backdrop. You have to hike way past the rocks for that view. We’re weekend, leisure hikers and not that hard core.
We made the right call turning back. Coming down from those elevation hikes is slow going to be sure you don’t tumble down the mountain. As we were heading down the Skye Mountain Recue team was carrying someone down on a stretcher. I bet they have to do a lot of rescues here. The hikes are all along precarious mountain trails.
Skeabost House Hotel
We were going to stop in Portree for dinner after our day of hiking but as there was no parking when we drove through town we decided to hit the hotel bar and unwind with a light dinner. We were exhausted anyway and relaxing at the hotel was a nice way to end the day. I also got to try a local favorite: sticky toffee pudding.
We met some fellow travelers in the bar and talked with them about their travels. They had visited completely different spots than we had during their time in Scotland. It amazes me that for such a small country there is so much to do and see.
We stayed at the Skeabost House Hotel on the Isle of Skye. The hotel reminded me of the hotel from The Shining. It had a vibe like a grand dame past her prime even though it was extremely well maintained and quite lovely. I was probably too overtired and letting my imagination get away from me. It really was a gorgeous place with beautiful views and amazing breakfasts.
My least favorite hike on the island was the Fairy Pools as it was so incredibly crowded. It does have beautiful waterfalls and wild swimming spots but this hike was way too busy to be enjoyable. We walked to the first pool and then headed out. There were people everywhere.
Maine has some similar waterfall and natural pool hikes that are more isolated which I prefer. I blogged about a few of them in my post: Following in the Path of the Ultimate Maine Waterfalls Road Trip. While the Fairy Pools hike had some charm, it was not my favorite. It’s probably best to go super early or late in the day. Maybe it’s less busy?
Since they cancelled our tour at Talisker Distillery, we only got to visit the gift shop which did not seem to upset my husband. He loves their whisky. The smokier the better. He bought a bottle of whisky here although it would not be the last purchase of whisky for him during our trip. He was saving that for Islay.
Sligachan Old Bridge
There is a Scottish legend that if you dip your face in the river by the Sligachan Bridge you will be granted eternal beauty. I did not dip my face into the water so I guess eternal beauty will allude me. The water is quite cold although that wouldn’t stop a Mainer like me, but the bridge is literally by the side of a busy road so it was a little awkward to be dunking your face in the water. It was still a beautiful photo opportunity.
Isle of Skye Smokehouse Tour & Tasting
We had the most wonderful experience at the Isle of Skye Smokehouse Tour & Tasting which was our last stop on the Isle of Skye. We booked this experience through Airbnb.
Our tour guide greeted us at the top of his driveway and walked us down the long hill to his home which had recently been flooded and was in the process of being remodeled. He brought us around to his back porch which faced the ocean. There were picnic tables setup with place settings for his guests. While waiting to get started, he pointed out some playful otters down at the waters edge.
He shared stories about his time working in Michelin Star restaurants and how he built his smokehouse from scratch basing it on the Cleits found on St. Kilda. He shared details of the smoking process and before we enjoyed our delicious smoked salmon tasting along with his own twist on Cullen Skink. Everything was really wonderful.
I loved everything about the Isle of Skye except the driving. The one lane roads with two way traffic are everywhere. It’s a little weird to see a car coming at you and both sides scrambling for a “passing” spot to pull into so the other car can pass. As they approach, you give an “Islay Wave” named after another Scottish Island with single track roads. I think the wave just means, “thank you for not driving into me”.
The sheep and cattle also roam freely. “You’ve cleared the cow” is a sentence I never thought I’d say to my husband while he was driving.
But, in the end, it’s worth it because the landscape is truly amazing and having the car allowed us to really get into the nooks and crannies of the island so we could see and do what we wanted. Tours can sometimes be more limiting.
Isle of Skye is a stunning place.
Next Up: Riding the Hogwarts Express and visiting the Highland Games
2 thoughts on “Our Scottish Adventure Part 3 | Isle of Skye”
When we drove the MC500 to the Orkneys we had beautiful weather, sunshine and warm weather (we made it very slowly, we drove for two months up north). We were sweating when walking up to the Old Man of Storr. We didn’t do the smokehouse tour but the whisky tasting at Tallisker – I just drink one now – and not only there. We loved to drive this one lane roads. We found it fun figuring out how fast or slow we had to drive that nobody had to stop. Well, we are used to it, we have such country lanes here as well.
Here you can see a few of our pictures: https://fabfourblog.com/2017/06/08/back-from-the-north/
Thanks and Cheers
The Fab Four of Cley
🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂
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So glad you found a way to embrace the one lane roads. Maybe if we had been on a longer stay we would have reached that point too! I’d love to get up to the Orkenys some day. Looks like a beautiful area.