“Speed bonnie boat like a bird on the wing, over the sea to Skye”, as the old Jacobite song goes – and if you’re going to spend time on an island, a ferry is for many people the best way to approach. Others dislike boats and would rather stay on terra firma. One of the great things about Skye is that you can do either – or both.
Probably the best approach is to drive from Fort William along the Road to the Isles, take the ferry from Mallaig to Armadale, tour Skye, and head home across the bridge from Kyleakin to Kyle of Lochalsh, past Eilean Donan Castle. The Skye Bridge also offers a way on and off the island if the weather’s too bad for the ferry to run.
What to do on the Isle of Skye
Skye, nicknamed “the misty isle”, is a very popular destination for visitors to Scotland, despite the midges and the weather (it’s famous for both). Walkers love it for its mountains, drinkers for its whisky and craft beer, Jacobite sympathisers for its connection to Bonnie Prince Charlie.
It offers Dunvegan and Armadale Castles to visit, fishing villages and seascapes to admire, lochs and coves to explore and birds to watch, not to mention one world-famous restaurant and several less well-known ones. And place names like Snizort, Culnacnoc, Trumpan, Luib and Elgol that sound as though they belong in fantasy fiction.
There’s one main road up the east side of the island, a smaller one up part of the west coast, and many single-track roads with passing places. These are used by farm vehicles and trucks as well as smaller vehicles, so you have to be confident about reversing if you want to travel them (reversing mirrors are fitted to all our motorhomes). Use the passing places on your left, and don’t park in them.
The other hazard is deer and sheep, which roam freely and have no traffic sense; it’s up to you to avoid them. If you hit them they can do a great deal of damage and may even cause a fatal accident so ca’ canny (be careful)!
In the middle of summer parking at some of the more popular spots can be difficult, especially in a large motorhome. The best time to visit them is early or late, if you can manage it.
Castles, Whisky & Seall Festival upon arrival on Skye
When you disembark at Armadale, make the time to visit Armadale Castle, spiritual home of Clan Donald, and the nearby Museum of the Isles. The castle, now a ruin, has 20,000 acres of grounds to explore, so it’s a great place to stretch your legs after the journey.
The road from Armadale runs roughly north along the coast to join the main road. At the village of Isleornsay (Eilean Iarmain) you’ll find one of Skye’s two whisky distilleries, Praban na Linne, which can be visited Monday-Friday all year plus weekends in summer. You can take a free tasting and buy their whiskies, as well as tweeds and woollen goods, in the shop there.
In July and August the Seall Skye festival, Fèis an Eilein, takes place all around Isleornsay and the Sleat peninsula. With film, theatre, traditional and jazz music, dance, poetry, art exhibitions, ceilidhs and even a circus school, it’s worth investigating if you’re going to be near Sleat at the right time.
Continuing up the Armadale road, turn left at Harrapool and then left again in Broadford to reach the Tolkien-sounding village of Elgol. From here you can take a boat-trip to see the famous Cuillin Mountains from the water (much easier and safer than climbing them, though you can do that too). You may also see dolphins, minke whales, basking sharks, eagles and puffins, depending on the time of year. When you come back, try the café in the community centre – it’s highly recommended.
There’s a good mountain bike route here, from the beach around the “cleared” village of Boreraig and Loch Cill Chriosd and back along the cliffs to the start (see MBR website for full details). A similar route is classed as one of the Top 10 Skye walks by the IsleOfSkye.com website.
To continue your journey you have to retrace your steps from Elgol to Broadford and take the main road up the coast. You follow the banks of Loch na Cairidh, Loch Ainort and Loch Sligachan – you’re never far from the sea on Skye.
The Famous Fairy Pools of South-east Skye (after a micro-brewery and distillery!)
Once you’ve crossed the River Sligachan, stop for the night at the Sligachan Camp Site; it doesn’t take reservations, so it’s wise to get there early at busy times of year. It has 80 pitches and spectacular views of the hills and is only five minutes from the Sligachan Hotel if you don’t feel like cooking. The hotel also houses the Cuillin micro-brewery, producing four beers.
In the morning, go back to the Sligachan River crossing and take the A863 to the west coast, along the valley of the River Drynoch with hills rising on both sides. At the head of Loch Harport the road divides: take the left fork towards Carbost to find the Talisker Distillery, Skye’s oldest whisky-producer. They advise booking in advance, which you can do on their website.
South of Carbost, on the road to Glen Brittle, lie the Fairy Pools, multiple cascading blue and green waterfalls where you can swim (the pools are very cold: a wetsuit is advisable). The falls themselves aren’t particularly spectacular, but the surroundings are, with odd little hillocks, and there’s a way-marked walking route to follow. You can park in the Forestry Commission car park signposted Glumagan Na Sithichean, about 5½ miles from Carbost.
The campsite at Glen Brittle was voted No. 1 in Britain by The Daily Telegraph newspaper. It lies between the Black Cuillins and Loch Brittle beach and offers the feel of wild camping but with full facilities. It’s an ideal base if you enjoy hill-walking and climbing or sea-kayaking. Like the site at Sligachan, they don’t take advance bookings.
Either here, at the Fairy Pools or at Dunvegan you may meet the tiny black van of the Cuillin Coffee Company, who serve proper coffee, tea, hot chocolate and snacks: as welcome on a blustery day as it’s unexpected.
Visit the Must-See Dunvegan Castle then swing North for the Famous Neist Point
Take the road back towards Carbost and turn north at Drynoch along Lochs Harport, Bracadale and Caroy to reach Dunvegan Castle, home of Clan MacLeod. Despite looking Victorian, parts of the castle date back to the 1200s. As well as touring the castle and wandering around the gardens you can take a boat trip out to the seal colony all through the summer, weather permitting.
At the north end of Loch Dunvegan, up the road from the castle at Claigan, you’ll find the Coral Beaches. You have to park in the car park and take the cow-pat-splattered track up to the beach (not the first, sandy, beach: the coral one is further on, through a gap in the wall). The “coral” is in fact desiccated algae, but it gives the beach and water that tropical look. There’s an island offshore which can be reached at low tide; be careful to get back to the mainland before the tide rises again or you’ll be swimming (and the water’s definitely not tropical).
Around the corner of the loch from Claigan, at Stein, you’ll find scuba diving facilities at Dive and Sea the Hebrides. There are also mountain biking trails through the forestry on the hill between Fasach and Geary at the north-eastern tip of the Waternish peninsula.
Around the other side of Loch Dunvegan, at Colbost, you’ll find the multi-award-winning restaurant The Three Chimneys, which serves the very best Scottish produce. It’s open for lunch through the summer and for dinner almost all year round. “Vaut le détour”, as the Guide Michelin would say.
The unmanned Neist Point Lighthouse is on a promontory along the road from Colbost. There’s a bit of a walk to reach it but the views are spectacular once you get there. You can see the foghorn and the aerial cableway that was used to transfer supplies to the cottages and lighthouse.
Handily placed for all these activities, just outside the village of Dunvegan, is the Kinloch Camspite. You can pre-book at this site and you’re well-advised to do so at busy periods: the views are fabulous, there’s a lot to do in the area and the site is deservedly popular.
Trotternish and the East Coast; Pay a Visit to the Old Man of Storr
From Dunvegan village the road crosses the neck of the Waternish peninsula to Edinbane then down Loch Snizort to meet the A87 at Carbost. You follow this road up the other side of the loch to Uig, where the Tarbert ferry docks. On the Pier at Uig you’ll find the Skye Brewery, which welcomes visitors every day to try (and buy) their range of ales.
You’re now on the Trotternish peninsula, the northernmost part of Skye. This is golden eagle territory and there are also amazing rock formations, many of which have names.
There’s a look-out bothy at Rubha Hunish, the very tip of the Trotternish peninsula. It’s a stiff walk that will take 3-5 hours in all, but it’s worth it for the seabirds and marine mammals you’ll probably see. The very last section, the scramble down to the headland, can be difficult if the weather’s bad – it’s rough at the best of times – but you don’t have to get right to the edge. The bothy has large windows so you can wildlife-watch in comfort whatever the weather.
Coming down the north-east coast, the Old Man of Storr provides a challenging Munro for climbers and a good photo opportunity for everyone else. Portree, with its pretty painted harbour houses, is the largest town on Skye and home of the local council and the only secondary school on the island. It’s also the home of the Isle of Skye Gin Distillery. Sadly it’s not open to the public but you can enjoy the product in the bars in town.
Whether you’ve always wanted to learn sea-kayaking skills or are already an accomplished paddler, Skyak at Lower Breakish can give you a day at sea in water clear enough to see what’s growing on the sea-bed. You may also see seals, otters and sea-eagles. At Breakish you’ll find the Ashaig Camping and Caravanning Club Certified site, a quiet site with views across to the island of Raasay and Applecross on the mainland, and only 4 miles from the Skye Bridge.
But just before you take the road home, why not stop off for a different view of the sea? Scotland’s only glass-bottomed boat, the Atlantis, is based on the mainland side of the Skye Bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh (their website says they’re currently sailing from Kyleakin, on the Skye side of the bridge, so check before crossing). It allows you to get a diver’s-eye view of underwater life and local shipwrecks without getting wet. It’s a fitting end to your tour of Scotland’s largest and most scenic island, a place where the water’s never far away.
If you’re ready to set out on your Skye adventure, get in touch. We’re waiting to hear from you!