The Isle of Skye summons up images of weather-beaten coastlines, medieval castles, fierce-looking mountains and mesmerising lochs and for years I had promised myself a visit to this magical land. I finally decided to do an England to Scotland road trip in the autumn incorporating 3-nights on the Isle of Skye and with jumpers, waterproofs and walking boots loaded into the car we set off on the six hundred mile drive from London.
Skye is located on the west coast of Scotland and is the largest island in the Inner Hebrides. Hopping over to one of the other beautiful Scottish islands is an option if you aren’t constrained by time. Skye is 50 miles long and 25 miles wide so getting around is quite easy, but the winding roads and changeable weather conditions can turn a short trip into a long one.
There is so much natural beauty to see that to set a rigid itinerary is fruitless. Specific locations shouldn’t be missed so drive, admire, take photographs and be inspired by this magnificent landscape.
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Updated June 2020
Loch = a lake.
Clan = a close-knit group of interrelated families, especially in the Scottish Highlands.
Whisky = a spirit distilled from malted grain, especially barley or rye. Whisky = spelt without the “e” in Scotland: Whiskey = spelt with the “e” in Ireland.
Dram = a small drink of whisky or other spirits.
Haggis = a Scottish dish of a sheep’s or calf’s offal mixed with suet, oatmeal, and seasoning and boiled in a bag traditionally made from the animal’s stomach. Don’t be put off; it’s delicious, especially with whisky sauce!
Neeps and Tatties = turnips and potatoes which are eaten with haggis.
Eilean Donan Castle #1
This mystical, 13th century restored castle sits on an island at the crossroads of three lochs and is the most romantic castle in Scotland. It is easily recognisable, which makes it the most photographed. Go inside and marvel at the history of the castle and the clan that lived there.
Did you know the saying “the walls have ears” originated from here? When the clans gathered at Eilean Donan Castle to settle their differences, soldiers would be behind the walls listening to what was being discussed all ready to intervene should things turn bad.
Dunvegan Castle and Gardens #2
The castle and gardens are located on 42,000 acres of the McLeod Estate. Dunvegan is the only Hebridean castle that has been continuously occupied by the same family for 800 years. It is steeped in legend and folklore so you may want to find out why the precious Fairy Flag of Dunvegan is the most treasured possession of the McLeod clan.
Walk around the gardens and cross bridges and waterfalls before wandering down to the loch. From here you can take an exhilarating 25-minute boat trip to see the Loch Dunvegan seal colony or sit by the water and take in the mesmerising views around you.
Coral Beach #3
Just north of Dunvegan is Coral Beach in Claigan. It is formed from crushed white coral-like seaweed that makes the water turn a Mediterranean blue when the sun comes out. Take a walk from the car park through the farmland past the black shingle beach, and you will arrive at Coral beach.
In wet weather, make sure to have the correct footwear as it gets muddy and be aware there are no public facilities in the area. We were surprised at how many visitors were there on a cold and windy day, but we still enjoyed the rugged scenery, and isolated location Coral beach offered us.
Talisker Distillery #4
The oldest working distillery on the Isle of Skye is set on the shores of Loch Harport and is an interesting place to visit whether or not you enjoy a wee dram of single malt whisky. The setting is picturesque, and the guided tours inside the distillery will give you a better understanding of how one of Scotland’s main exports is produced.
Book your tour tickets online before arriving so you won’t be disappointed. I resorted to buying a mini selection of Talisker whiskies from the gift shop to try at home as we hadn’t pre-booked!
Fairy Pools #5
The Fairy Pools are a group of cascading waterfalls and swimmable pools. When the sun is shining the water turns a mesmerising blue-green colour. Unfortunately, you won’t see anything so dramatic if the weather is bad. When we left the car to take this picture, the wind was so strong it nearly blew me into the water!
You can walk to the pools which will take around 40 minutes and is the same route in and out. Some fantastic photographs can be captured with the mountains’ scenic backdrop but be warned, the way may be muddy and slippery so don’t attempt the walk in anything other than proper waterproof boots.
Portree is a harbour town and also the capital of Skye. The only secondary school is here along with banks, cafes and restaurants, a supermarket and a tourist information centre. There is a petrol station here, so fill up while you can as there aren’t many others on Skye. Buses and sight-seeing tours can be picked up from here.
One thing you will notice is sheep roaming all over the island. Don’t be concerned if you see them standing in the road; they will eventually move when they are ready! This sheep looking over Portree has a red dot on its back identifying to the farmer it is his. A marking on a sheep can also relate to the mating season, so the farmer knows which ram and ewe have mated.
Quiraing and Old Man of Storr #7
If you want to hike while in Skye you can explore the dramatic landscape of the Trotternish Ridge, Quiraing and Storr were both created by a massive landslip which has formed high cliffs, plateaus and pinnacles of rock.
The ‘Old Man of Storr’ is a steep pinnacle that can be seen for miles around. These locations have provided the backdrop for many films and are a dream to photograph.
Scottish Landscape #8
Skye has some of the most significant and most dynamic landscapes I have ever seen for a small island. If you have been to Iceland, then you may feel that the scenery is similar.
Windswept, rugged, wild and mesmerising are just a few adjectives that I would use to describe Skye. You will no doubt, come up with your own descriptions once you experience its allure for yourself.
Where to stay
Book accommodation well in advance as this small island gets over 100,000 visitors per year. I booked a three-night stay in a cottage on the Dunvegan Castle Estate, which was terrific. Wifi was non-existent around the cottage, and I’m not sure whether that left me feeling liberated or frustrated!
Where to eat
The Old Schoolhouse is not far from Dunvegan Castle serving traditional Scottish dishes featuring haggis alongside regular favourites. Booking is advisable as it gets hectic.
Two supermarkets are in the towns you will pass after crossing over from mainland Scotland. It is good to stock up as there aren’t any other supermarkets around apart from in Portree.
What to wear
I visited in September, and the weather was wet and cold. I was glad that I had packed warm and waterproofed clothing to suit the weather conditions. Make sure you have lots of dry socks and waterproof boots if you are planning on hiking.
Want to do a tour?
If you don’t want to drive yourself around Skye, then you can opt to do a tour. Bookings can be made here for day trips from Inverness.
My time in the Isle of Skye was part of my own independent 14-night driving itinerary visiting the Lake District in Cumbria, Loch Long, Inveraray, Loch Ness, Isle of Skye, Pitlochry and Harrogate in Yorkshire. My route started and finished in England.