I have been starting to think about where we might like to go for our holidays this year and I began to think about the beautiful Isle of Skye. I have been on holiday there three times now and love the whole island. I have stayed in a B & B just outside Portree and a hotel in Portree centre but the last time we went we rented a remote cottage overlooking one of the lochs - it was amazing!
Before we moved from the Midlands to Llandudno we did actually consider moving to Skye but, since my parents were coming to live with us, we thought that Skye would be too remote and they wouldn't get any visits from their friends.
The island itself is one of contrasts, from the brooding Cullin Mountains to the lush greenery around Armadale. It forms part of the island group known as the Inner Hebrides and is set off the north east coast of Scotland.
The easiest way to reach Skye is via the bridge over the Kyle of Lochalsh. This is an expensive toll bridge, which most of the islanders did not want to see built, and I have to say I agree with them. I think that Skye should have been left as it was with links only via ferries. Talking of which, the other ways to Skye are via ferries. A Caledonian MacBrayne car ferry runs from Mallaig to Armadale, and a small private car ferry takes six cars at a time across the Sound of Sleat from Kylerhea to Glenelg.
Portree is the capital of the island. I say capital with a slight smile as there isn't much to it but it is the largest town on the island. Portree has a lovely harbour with the lifeboat moored there ready for action.
There is a selection of independent shops, a small supermarket in town and a larger one just as you leave town, a Post Office, plenty of restaurants and takeaways and plenty of guest houses, small hotels and some very posh hotels too!
The parking is easy here both on the streets and in the pay and display car parks.
There are many things to do on Skye, not least of which is to admire the breathtaking scenery. There are lochs and waterfalls around every corner, and various museums dedicated to the life of the crofters.
To give you an idea of what Skye has to offer I'll tell you about my favourite places on the island.
At the far north of the island are the ruins of Duntulm Castle. The MacDonald's built this in 17th century on the site of Celtic fort. It is perched on the edge of the cliff giving dramatic views of the bay and there are walks down to the shore and along the headland. Often there is a piper playing the bagpipes here at the castle. It is free to go and visit this site and I really enjoyed clambering about on the castle and then walking down the steep path to the bay below.
The rock formation at the north of the island is called the Quiraing and is unlike anything I have ever seen anywhere else. The name is Gaelic and means 'pillared stronghold' and the area is a mass of pillars and pinnacles created by glaciers. There are many walks in the area but stout walking shoes are recommended as the terrain is not for the faint hearted. I had a go at one of the walks but freaked out when I saw that I was supposed to jump across a narrow gulley! What a wuss!
To the west of the Quiraing is Kilt Rock Waterfall, flowing from Loch Mealt over the edge of the cliff in a stunning sheer drop. This is only visible by parking on the headland car park and walking to the edge of the cliff to look back towards the land. There is a sturdy fence at the edge of the cliff I might add! I got a superb photograph of this by using my APS camera on the widest setting and turning it sideways!
Farther south along the same road (A855) is the Old Man of Storr. This is a black basalt column 160 feet high and 40 feet in diameter. It is a stiff climb, which turns into a scramble over steep scree at the top, to reach the base of the column. Even if, like us, you don't get quite as far as the Old Man the views from the higher part of the track are certainly outstanding. I found that the scree at the top was too slippery and steep to go any further - I was terrified! Told you I was a wuss!
To the east of the Quiraing is the port of Uig from where you can catch the car ferry to North Uist or Harris in the Outer Hebrides. This is something that I would love to do when we next get up to Skye. There are one or two shops at Uist, notably the shop selling the beer and wine produced on the island. Funny how we found that one...
On the far west of the island is Dunvegan Castle, which has been the home of the Macleod's since 1200. It is open to the public and houses books, pictures and many relics of 20 generations of Macleod's. We weren't so interested in this one as we prefer ruins to explore, but it was good place to be out of the rain that was falling the day we were there!
A short drive from Dunvegan Castle is the Skye Toy Museum. This is in what looks like an ordinary house and I have to say I didn't expect much from it at all, but how wrong I was! The whole museum only consisted of two rooms but we spent a couple of very happy hours there. The gentleman who runs the museum obviously loves his job and is on hand to talk about the toys and games and, where possible show how they work. He also has quite a few schoolboy tricks to show involving spiders, snakes and the like. There are some really old toys but most of them range from the quite recent back to about 50 years old. This meant it was a real voyage of nostalgia for us to see the toys and games we used to play with as children. It was a most entertaining visit and definitely recommended to young and old alike! When we go back to Skye I would like to revisit this place.
Farther south on the same side of the island is the Talisker Distillery. We paid a visit here and were asked if we would like to join a guided tour for a modest fee. Not being a whisky drinker I wasn't too keen but my partner was interested so off we went. We started with a good-sized shot of the whisky to try and I have to admit that even I liked it. It was a good job that we had the whisky at the start of the tour to give us chance to walk it off before Dave had to drive again! The tour was really interesting with plenty of information about how the whisky is made and why it tastes the way it does. The inevitable shop was interesting and of course we had to buy a bottle of Talisker didn't we?
Towards the south of the island is the mountain range known as the Cullin Hills. These are split into the Red Cullins and the Black Cullins, with the Black Cullins being the higher and tougher to climb. You get an excellent view of the Cullins from the rocky shore at Elgol, where we had a barbecue on the shore. It was lovely to admire the scenery as we watched the sun set. There was hardly anyone else about and all we could hear was the sea, oooh I want to go back!
There is a boat trip available from Elgol, which will take you across the bay, via the basking seals, to the foot of the Cullins. When you disembark a short walk over some rocky, but not too rough, terrain will take you to Loch Coruisk. This is a pretty and peaceful loch, which can only be reached by sea, as described, or by climbing up and over the Cullins when coming from the opposite direction. We would like to have a go at this next time we visit Skye, but I don't know how far we'll get! This was one of the places featured on the recent TV programme to find the most beautiful view in Britain and yes, I voted for it, even though it didn't win.
I'll close this guide to Skye with a few words about Broadford, which is the first town you reach as you drive on to the island whichever route you take to get there. It has a good selection of shops including The Skye Jewellery Shop, which is well worth a visit if you have the urge to treat yourself. Broadford Bay is pretty, with plenty of boat trips out to the smaller islands to see seals, otters and sometimes even whales. The first year we went to Skye there were two whales actually resident in Broadford Bay!
The weather on Skye is very changeable so if it's raining don't worry it probably won't be raining for long but having said that the reverse can also be true!
The sheep outnumber people on the island by a high ratio so take care if you are driving as you will find them standing in the middle of the road and often they will just look at you as if to say 'you wait for us to move - we live here you don't!' LOL!
Skye remains one of our favourite holiday destinations and no doubt we'll be back there soon.