What to see on Skye? Is it worth visiting this iconic Scottish island?
The Isle of Skye is on many people’s list of places to visit in Scotland and it is easy to understand why. It is incredibly beautiful with a dramatic, rugged landscape: tall, craggy mountains; a stunning coastline; wonderful lochs; heather covered hills. Furthermore, it has historic castles, legends about Bonnie Prince Charlie and, of course, a whisky distillery! In short, the Isle of Skye encapsulates the essence of Scotland in one small bite.
Access to the island is much easier than it used to be. When we were first up this way in the 80s, the only way to cross was via the ferry. The ferry is still available and the main route is between Mallaig and Armadale. However, with the Skye Bridge at the Kyle of Lochalsh, there is an easy (and free) alternative. (There is another ferry route from Glenelg, but it only runs during the summer months).
I have visited Skye before, but this time we were in our motorhome and had Scooty MacScootface, the tiny Honda Vision scooter which fits in the back of the motorhome. This is perfect for the single track roads on Skye and helps us to really get into the nooks and crannies of places we visit. The weather, in true Scottish fashion, was “mixed”: we were drenched more than once and the wind howled around the van, but we also had a few spells of sunshine.
We stayed on two different campsites on the island: the first, Merkadale CL (certified location) was a tiny, 5 pitch site near Carbost. It had everything we needed and nothing we didn’t. It had lovely views down the loch and was very quiet. It was also situated just about a mile from the Talisker whisky distillery! At £16.00 per night including a hook up, we felt this was good value.
The second site we stayed at was Kinloch Campsite at Dunvegan. This was beautifully situated and we had a pitch on the very edge of the loch with beautiful views. This was a larger site with amenities like a shower block and a laundry. It was very clean and tidy. It cost £26 per night including a hook up.
So what is there to see on Skye? What is there to do? What should you expect?
The answer to this is quite a lot, especially if you like to hike and enjoy exploring a beautiful landscape. It also helps if you are confident driving on single track roads!
Talisker Whisky Distillery
First up for us was the Talisker Whisky Distillery as it was very close to where we were staying. We cycled down. This was a good move as the carpark was very busy. We arrived early afternoon and the place was crowded. All the tours for the rest of the day were fully booked and the visitor centre was crammed full. We shared a dram of a very acceptable, mildly peated whisky which had been finished in a port barrel, but there were no seats available to sit and enjoy.
As with most distilleries, Talisker is set in a beautiful location looking out over the loch. The building itself is very attractive. The inside of the visitor centre was also really well done and the information boards were well structured. However, it is the busiest distillery we have visited – and we have visited many ( On the Whisky Trail and On the Whisky Trail again!). The advice has to be to choose your time, perhaps not on an afternoon in August, and book ahead if you really want to see around the distillery
After checking out the distillery, we cycled up behind it and out to the point. This was a very pretty ride – and fortunately my eBike did not break until the largest hill was behind me!
On the way back we called by the Oyster Shed and Peter enjoyed some freshly shucked oysters! I am not fond of oysters so passed on this. The Oyster Shed is tucked away on the road up behind Talisker and as well as oysters, has an “interesting” range of delicacies on offer!
The Fairy Pools
Again, this well-known landmark on Skye was not far from our campsite so we headed up there on our first full day on the island. The Fairy Pools is a series of waterfalls cascading into small pools down the hillside. It is very pretty and just a short easy walk from the carpark. Some people go swimming in the pools! Most people just take photos.
We parked the scoot in the carpark and walked up to the Fairy Pools. It was very busy here – and also very midgy. If you have not experienced the Scottish midge, beware! They are tiny and vicious and get everywhere. There are numerous concoctions you can use to repel them, but when it is really bad, it is wise to cover up and don these wonderful head accessories as modelled by me here. The height of sartorial elegance!
It was noticeable that once we moved away from the Fairy Pools, the crowds thinned and then all but disappeared, as did the midges. Is there a correlation? Perhaps. If there are no people, there is no blood for them to feed on!
A hike in the Cuillins
We did not swim in the Fairy Pools as our intention was to walk further up into the Cuillins. There is a low level loop of about 4.5 miles, which is lovely and, although muddy in places, not difficult. It is also possible to leave this loop trail and hike up into the mountains, returning and then re-joining the loop trail to complete it. This extends the hike by about another 6 miles and this is, in fact, what we did. I can also now confirm that it is one of the hardest hikes I have done in recent years.
The loop path was quite muddy and waterlogged in places, due of course to the days of rain immediately preceding our trip. We left the loop path to climb towards Bruach na Frithe and the conditions underfoot changed to really quite rough terrain. It was very rocky and hard going. It was also very steep. There were no switchbacks; it was just up. There were two gradients: steep and steeper. The weather changed constantly. Sometimes we had lovely sunshine and amazing views; at other times the cloud swept in and we were climbing in fog. At one point we also had to don the waterproofs. On the plus side, the cloud did clear when we reached the top and we had some magnificent views.
Whether viewed from afar or up close, the Cuillins are spectacular: huge, rugged and beautiful. The craggy peaks have quite a mystical look to them: what could be living in there?! This was a very memorable hike, but even though it is billed as one of the easiest ascents in the Cuillins, it is not for the fainthearted. Or perhaps that is just me who needs to get a bit fitter……
It was a rather grey day when we decided to scoot over to the village of Elgol. One has to be prepared to do things on the rain on Skye! Elgol is on at the end of the Strathaird Peninsula, one of the most remote spots on the Skye. It is very beautiful with stunning views across the loch to the Cuillins and even on this rather bleak, windy day, it was still possible to see how beautiful it is.
Most of Elgol was closed when we were there and the boat trips were not running because of the weather. However, the café behind the community hall was open and we had a very acceptable coffee and scone there. Then we had to brave the elements again and we got well and truly soaked!
Our second campsite, Kinloch, was very close to Dunvegan and it was our intention to visit the castle. When we arrived, however, the queue for admission tickets was incredibly long so we gave up I am afraid. We visited the castle about ten years ago and really enjoyed it. For this reason, we wanted to visit again, but it was also the reason that we felt we could pass on this occasion.
Built originally in the thirteenth century and remodelled several times since, the castle is very picturesque and certainly worth visiting. Like everything else on Skye, however, you really have to choose your time and book ahead. We now know that tickets can be booked online ahead of time.
Neist Point was an absolute highlight of our visit to Skye, but on the most westerly tip of the island, it is about as remote and as wild as can be imagined. Several miles of twisty, single track road brings one to the point where the lighthouse is situated. When we visited, the wind was howling! Not having a hat with me, I refused to take off my motorbike helmet as it was so cold and windy. Looking down to the point from near the carpark, I had to hang on to the railings to stop myself from being blown away. Wow!
Unfortunately, these conditions meant that it was not advisable to actually walk along the cliff to the lighthouse, but the coast and the cliffs here are spectacular, so it was by no means a wasted journey. This really is a must see on Skye, despite the conditions and the challenges of getting there. Not that these features put anyone off: the carpark was full and there were lots of people.
The Three Chimneys Restaurant
We had heard of The Three Chimneys Restaurant long before we visited Skye and its reputation made us want to visit to see for ourselves. We were not disappointed.
We booked dinner about three months in advance (remember, this is Skye!) but in the event, our plans changed and we were not able to take the booking. We were delighted, however, that they were able to offer us a lunch reservation on a day we could make it. Result!
It was a dreich day when we arrived. From the outside, The Three Chimneys looks like a rather quaint cottage. The three chimneys, presumably from which the restaurant acquired its name, are clearly visible. We were grateful to go inside and seek refuge from the elements .
Inside, the cottage style is continued. The furnishings and décor are simple and in keeping with the building and the surroundings. It felt warm and welcoming, probably enhanced by the wind and rain outside!
We opted for the tasting menu, but being lunchtime, decided not to go for the wine pairing. Instead we had a small carafe of a very nice Italian white. The focus was very much on fish and seafood, but that suited us perfectly. The only choice on the tasting menu was for the main course where there was an option of pork or hake. We both had the hake.
The food was beautifully presented in a well-structured, imaginative menu. The flavours and textures of each course complemented each other perfectly. First we were presented with three different kinds of bread and two flavoured butters. The mushroomy butter was delicious; the seaweed butter was “different” and it really tasted of the sea. We were careful not to fill up on the bread, but it was difficult as it was so tasty.
The service throughout was friendly, helpful and efficient.
In short this was a truly excellent meal and I am delighted we did not miss out. Thank you The Three Chimneys.
(The tasting menu, not including wine or the cheese course, was £65 pp).
Concluding comments on Skye
Visiting anywhere in Scotland at any time of year requires one to be prepared for all weather conditions. This is especially true of Skye. There are plenty of things to do and lots of places to see on Skye in the rain if you have the right clothing. It is fantastic when the sun shines, but it would be a very lucky visitor who did not experience a range of weather conditions if on the island for a few days.
Skye is one of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the world. I love it. But, (there had to be a “but”, I’m afraid)….. it was mobbed.
I am really conflicted here, because on the one hand I appreciate that everyone wants to see Skye, this wonderful work of nature; I am one of them; I contributed to this crowd. And I think it is brilliant that people want to get out there into the countryside, walk through a fabulous landscape and see it for themselves. Then on the other hand, the fact that there are so many people on this relatively small island, spoils the experience somewhat. It was impossible to enjoy and appreciate the Fairy Pools because there were so many people cramming there and posing for photographs. We had arrived early so the single track road was not too bad, but when we left late afternoon, it was completely jammed. Similarly, Neist Point, a really remote area on a wild and stormy day, was full of people. And I can really understand why this is and why Neist Point is one of the places people want to see on Skye. But….
This dilemma is not just restricted to Skye of course. It is the same in many other parts of Scotland (we were shocked at how busy the Glenfinnan viaduct was, for example. People, including ourselves, had arrived to see the “Harry Potter” steam train crossing this spectacular viaduct). It is the same the world over. We were in Yellowstone Park (you can read about this here) in the USA recently and it was stunningly beautiful, but choc-a-bloc with people and cars.
What is the answer? I am not sure. I live in one of the most visited places in the UK and sometimes it is a nuisance because it creates such congestion. But I also appreciate that tourism is vital for the local economy and I love the fact that people want to see this lovely place in which I am so fortunate to live.
It is wonderful that people want to see this beautiful planet, but it is also important that we try to preserve that beauty by responsible tourism. For example, on Skye, there were hundreds of motorhomes. We were in one. Many of the roads are too small for these large vehicles. It would help if people used them to get to their campsite and then found other means to get around – bikes, motorbikes, car sharing, shanks pony…. I like to think we did our bit by using bikes and scoot. Perhaps places like Skye need to offer more public transport options?
So, a double edged sword! What do you think? Would love to read your views in the comments.
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