Magnificent and spectacular , the heartland of Gaelic and with a strong Norse feel in its place names and appearance. A favourite of Hollywood directors and no wonder. Skye beguiles (and also frustrates if the weather doesn’t play ball). It’s not as wet as many parts of mainland Western Scotland; it’s windier and that is often its saving grace; hang around a bit and the cloud will lift suddenly to reveal a jaw dropping panorama around every corner of the road.
Two full days – or 1.5 at a pinch – will let you whirl round the ‘best’ sights – to me, that is the Elgol area with Loch Coruisk or Camasunary; and Trotternish. If you love hiking /hillwalking, photography, exploring hidden corners, or just being in a superb environemnt, Skye could last a lifetime.I never tire of it and every visit is a new experience and a joy. Skye deserves to be walked so try to hike even some small part of it. For my own favourite walks in more detail see :- MY FAVOURITE SKYE WALKS
1. ELGOL AND THE LOCH CORUISK BOAT TRIP ( 3 hour return trip) – pronounced Corr ooshk
To me, this is the number one trip to do if the weather is kind enough.The drive to Elgol itself is just superb.The boat takes 40 minutes to whizz you easily into the heart of one of the world’s most celebrated mountain ranges, despite their relatively lowly height. Rising over 3,000 feet straight up out of the sea, the Black Cuillin are like fine antiques, beautifully honed by time and weather.Lord of the Rings could(should!?) have been filmed here.Loch Scavaig and Coruisk offer an almost savage, Gothic landscape, ancient and brooding with ever changing light and shade. At times it can look fearful, intimidating and unforgiving. In sunlight, it just looks magical, a place you never want to leave.If the boat trip doesn’t work out, then at least consider the 45 minute walk up to the hill pass above Camasunary from Kilmarie near Elgol, a simple walk with some minor slog that is just so worth it.
If you’re coming from Portree, it’s around 40 minutes to Broadford. I then like to give myself 45 minutes to drive the winding, slow 14 miles of single track road from Broadford to Elgol, as I hate a rush.That gives time to get parked – if lucky or early, right at the harbour – otherwise, at the higher car park giving you a nice steep little slog uphill after the boat trip. So all in, this outing could take up 6 hours of your day approximately, with no additional stops included.BUT – you WILL want to stop, often.You could easily spend all day in this area of Skye.
The truly stunning scenery of the drive from Broadford really begins once mighty Blaven comes into view, a wow of a mountain rearing up from Loch Slapin and one of the Cuillin’s loveliest.
As you near Elgol the island of Rum appears, shimmering on the horizon (or bathed in brooding cloud).
The panorama from Elgol itself is considered by some writers on these things to be one of the world’s top coastal views if the light is right.It’s certainly one of the finest I’ve seen anywhere in my travels.
I’ve always used the Bella Jane operator to transport me, wide-eyed and wonderous, across the open sea and into emerald Loch Scavaig. But ‘The Misty Isle’ will be just as good (and is slightly cheaper).
No matter how many times I’ve done this trip, it’s always a thrill. Last visit, I watched a sea eagle literally fly over the boat, though only a few people noticed it.On an earlier trip (just my luck), a school of dolphins had crossed the sea loch, close to the boat. Around 200 huge Atlantic Grey Seals live on the islets on the loch and as we passed, they dived down into the depths, then popped up again further away, their black eyes curiously studying us.
Then a short hop out of the boat onto the tiny jetty and you are one of only a handful of people left to wander this Jurassic park landscape.
On a fine day it is indescribably wild and rugged. On a misty grey day, it is brooding and faintly hostile.
It’s five minutes or so to Coruisk itself, the name anglicised from the original Gaelic ‘Coir’ Uisg’ which means Corrie of the Waters.Hence, you need waterproof boots/shoes for this walk as it’s always boggy underfoot on the rough tracks. My last trip was a sunny day in early April but it was still Baltic out at sea (it is all year round in a boat) – hat and gloves and a duvet jacket kept me cosy.
I always make for the left side of the loch, then walk for half an hour along the rough shore.This takes me to a favourite spot, looking onto the arrow – like Dubh (pron.Doo)Ridge, or the Dark Ridge, rearing above the loch.I think it makes for the best photo. For lovers of the great outdoors and wilderness, this whole area is heaven.Then it’s pretty much time to head back if you don’t want to miss the boat. As ever, I always wish I’d picked longer than the 2.5 or 3 hour trip which gives you around 1 -1.5 hours ashore.Watching Loch Coruisk and Loch Scavaig disappear as the boat speeds back to Elgol on a fine sunny day, is always a tough moment!
Fancy Sgurr na Stri, the amazing little mountain that rears up from the right hand side of the loch and which you see on the boat ride in? It’s reckoned to be Britain’s finest viewpoint.Hard to argue with that when you’re up there. It can be walked from Coruisk but I’ve only done it from Camasunary. It’s an 8 hour day. For a report on my husband and I’s latest venture onto it’s spectacular summit see A Winter Hike up a Mini Black Cuillin, Skye
There’s a great café on the way to and from Elgol – the Blue Shed café. Light lunches and really first class home baking with a superbly scenic outlook, overlooking mighty Blaven.
Keep an eye on the weather in the lead up to this trip.Two boats go out several times a day, every day, so you could hold off and book a day or so out, to see what the weather is doing.Check with them first of course, that their bookings are not so busy that this isn’t possible but it usually is. I’ve always booked the day before. Saturdays tend to be their quieter days.
After this, heading back north, Glen Brittle and the Fairy Pools is a 25 minute detour from Sligachan and you could also tick this off. If it’s clear, you will want to stop around Sligachan itself for superb Cuillin views and so many great photo opportunities.Even a stroll over the Old Bridge and along the various rocky little tracks by the river is worthwhile.
2.DRIVING THE TROTTERNISH COAST (2 hours minimum, much more if you plan to hike)
A truly spectacular area, full of drama both inland and on the coast itself.Often clear when the Cuillin are not, or in sunshine when it’s raining further south.Distances are fairly short. Trotternish’s top sights:-
The Old Man of Storr
First stop , driving from Portree, the famous view of the Old Man of Storr is barely 15 minutes from the town. This is the start of the 2,000 + foot high Trotternish Ridge, the backdrop to this sensational section of coast. A walk up to the pinnacle itself – the Old Man(the polite term for it.The true Gaelic name means the Penis, an apt description!) – is a 45 minute steady slog to its base.You will wonder how on earth it is still standing as it looks ready to topple at any moment.
It’s a hard place to leave, full of interest, a wild ethereal landscape with myriad little paths.
Years ago, I found a rock here which looked exactly like a baptismal font.Druidic almost. Ravens croak from the black, brooding cliffs behind. They must think, as they see more people clambering and stumbling about their domain – ah, lunch.
On a clear day, the views across the cerulean Sound of Raasay to the Torridon mountains and down to Kintail, are sublime.
It’s a great place too for sunrise shots, if you can get yourself going early enough as in summer that’s around crazy o’clock – 4am. A big advantage of travelling in winter or even autumn, is getting great sunrise and sunsets at a reasonable hour!
Onward north and another 2O minutes will see you parked at the Kilt Rock car park, well signposted and spending a few minutes to take some shots of the superb waterfall and cliff views.
Also look out for the turn off to other parking areas south here, for wonderful coastal views.
Before going to the Quiraing itself, I love a brief detour along the road above Staffin Bay, towards the jetty, just to catch that view over the dark volcanic sand and the turquoise water, with the Hobbit landscape of the Quiraing beyond and the little white crofthouses strung along the hillside.Beautiful.
Oh wow, what a place, an astonishing landscape.Follow the obvious track below the escarpment opposite the parking area, if you want to get into the heart of the broken pinnacles and weird rock formations.Two hours return trip, to see the gloomy confines of The Prison and The Table et al.There’a lot of very steep broken ground to negotiate once you reach the heart of the pinnacles; basically, loose scree.Or just stand and stare and if clear, take in the superb panorama in front of you, with the big Torridon mountains visible across the ocean.
A favourite ‘secret’ corner we discovered recently, was to head down onto the moorland opposite the car parking area and follow sheep tracks for 25 mins or so down to a beautiful hidden lochan. It’s overlooked by a great looking small hill too.More wild pinnacles are visible below the ridge itself. It is a sublime spot.Utter peace and you’ll have it all to yourself.
Meall na Suiramach – a bird’s eye view of the Quiraing
Even better, is the hour’s slog up the boggy narrow track onto the top of Meall na Suiramach, the summit above the Quiraing, with all the space in the world and sensational views. Big empty moorland everywhere, larks singing, the sweet smell of summer grasses and a bird’s eye view down into the pinnacles and outcrops below. I’ll go up many a hill, just to get the view of the Outer Hebrides – Harris and the Uists and the view from this hill to those hauntingly beautiful islands is a big a draw. As is the North West Highland mountainscape which fills the eastern horizon as far as you can see with shapely peaks rising out of the blue ocean.
This, to me, is the finest of all the walking options in this area. When you head across the road from the car park, follow the main track for 50 metres or so but then look out for a narrow track branching off to the left and which winds its way up the moorland towards the hill’s summit.No difficulties, just a bit of cardiovascular effort and you will be on top of the world very soon.
After the Quiraing, I think it’s well worth driving round the whole northern loop by Flodigarry and Duntulm and Kilvaxter and back to Uig. It’s wonderful coast with great views Lewis and Harris too.Just beautiful.
It’s around an hour from Portree to Neist Point. 90 minutes from the Quiraing at least. After the fastish road to Dunvegan, the rest of the journey is on a slow single track road and it can feel very long. It’s a fine journey out though on a decent day. Nice places to eat en route….the Old Schoolhouse in Dunvegan, Jann’s Cakes for mega sweet cakes and homemade chocolates. The excellent Three Chimneys for a Michelin lunch or dinner. The lovely Red Roof Café in Glendale for a salad lunch with edible wildflowers, and some good soup or home baking.
Again, peak season from mid morning onwards and the limited car parking can be difficult. There are no facilities, no toilets.The cliff scenery is wonderful….Waterstein Head especially, but the cliffs continue all the way down the coast.If you’re not up to a half hour stroll out to the Lighthouse(nothing special in itself, just the overall setting and the wild ocean) then simply walk along the clifftop a little for some wonderful photo opportunities.
There is a steep concrete path with safety rail which takes you quickly down. It’s a good dry path the whole way but you have to get back up again too! Orcas are occasionally seen out here. Sunset is amazing, with the Outer Hebrides strung like lilac blue diamonds along the horizon.
4. GLEN BRITTLE (around 25 minutes drive from Sligachan)
It’s well worth doing the walk to the Fairy Pools, mainly because it takes you into the heart of the mountains a little bit.Glen Brittle is a wonderful glen and this is a good way to feel part of it.The Pools are lovely but small.It’s about 25 mins walk to the first of the turquoise, crystal clear pools.
Again, go early or later in the day during peak months as parking can get really problematic. They have extended the small forestry car park but we still often see a line of cars crawling up and down the single track road, desperately looking for space.
It’s the overall landscape of Glen Brittle which is the thing for me – you are walking into the heart of the Black Cuillin here. The pools really are turquoise. Beautiful. On a hot day, and there are not many of those, there will be some people stripping off for a dip in the icy water. The track continues up the side of the tumbling river, with more small pools coming into view and small waterfalls. The mountain backdrop is just wonderful.
If it’s just a quick visit and you walk smartly, then factor in an hour all in, to walk there and back. But you could spend as long as you want, just enjoying being in this wild landscape.At peak times and seasons though, you will not be alone.
I usually always drive down after the walk to Glen Brittle beach.Ok, it isn’t the loveliest beach you’ll see with its grey sand and it’s best at low tide when there IS a beach of sorts and not just pebbles.But – location, location, location. Plus I love the view back over the emerald fields and the marram grass to the Black Cuillin (they are rarely black; blue, grey, brown, rose-red). We rarely miss a stroll here with Rum shimmering blue – voilet on the horizon and just the sound of the surf.In summer, the grassy area behind the beach is busy as it’s a campsite – actually, a very nice one, as these things go.
As you drive around Skye, you will probably go through Sligachan a couple of times at least as it’s a crossroads and the view of the Black Cuillin here is sensational. Marsco and Sgurr nan Gillean (the Peak of the Gills , not Peak of the Young Men as it is often translated as) seem to change with the light, the time of day, the season. That iconic Skye view always stops us in our tracks. There are great photo opps all over this area, including the iconic ones down at the Old Bridge and the river as well as from the road itself en route to Portree.
Always busy, with a buzzy atmosphere, a few reasonably interesting shops, a small supermarket (there’s a larger better Co-op just on the edge of town heading out on the Uig road), a petrol station, bakery, butcher’s, cafes and restaurants and a few bars.Tons of accommodation though demand tends to outstrip that.It’s not where I’d enjoy basing myself as I prefer quiet locations but it’s ideal if you want a small town and being able to walk to a restaurant at night.Book your table in the more popular ones during the main season or holiday periods.
It’s workaday like many Scottish west coast towns and villages though the pastel coloured houses of the harbour certainly make for a good photo from the upper road. Maybe I’m too familiar with mainland Europe’s exquisite medieval villages to rate many of our villages very highly from an architectural point of view, though ours can rarely be beat for location.It’s a very real wee place, though you may struggle to hear a Scottish accent.Many of our English neighbours have made their home here.
Boat trips go out in season to see the Sea Eagle’s nest close by; they throw fish for it to swoop up out of the water.Quite a sight. There are also boat trips out to wild, lonely and beautiful Rona.
7. DUNVEGAN CASTLE
Lovely gardens and the famous Fairy Flag is on display inside.The exterior is a bit ugly and I’ll have to revisit as it’s years since I’ve been in, but it’s in a lovely part of Skye.Boat trips go out to see the seals.The castle is owned by Macleod of Macleod and still lived in by the family, the oldest inhabited Castle in Scotland.
I love this peninsula. Steinn village halfway along, is pretty though tiny but it’s the views out to the Outer Hebrides that are the thing. A beautiful crofting area with a fine cliff walk out to Waternish Point at the road end.
Other driving options are too numerous really.Driving the Loch Bracadale road from Dunvegan to Struan. A drive round Sleat over to Tarskavaig and Ord if the Cuillin are clear.
Best of all, plan some walks! MY FAVOURITE SKYE WALKS