Take a high speed chase then add in some rolling dirt roads, sprinkle in a few young travelers, a man in a kilt, and a van and vol-la! You’ve got Scotland’s own Cow and Sheep Safari.
An t-Eilean Sgitheanach
Skye is nothing short of inspirational. It is no wonder that so many fables run deep in it’s roots. From folklore to Lord of the Rings the island is rich in mysticism and inspiration. Steep ridges and rugged terrain formed from battles between giants and men, all the while fairies enchant the waters. It’s hard not to fall in love with Scotland’s most popular island.
South of the North Sea sits one of the nation’s largest islands. Through the voyages of the Norse Vikings, it was here of the Isle of Skye they made their home. When Scotland began dividing lands the Clan MacLeod rose out of their Norse roots to establish Dunvegan castle as their hold. Clan Donald (or MacDonald) proclaimed themselves as Lord of the Isles and thus the long historic claim to Skye was born.
It wasn’t until the end of the Jacobite Rebellion that the populous of Skye started to decrease. Soon farms replaced villages, and villages replaced towns. Both the MacLeods and Donalds were soon outnumbered by sheep. Famine became widespread and many fled to North America in search of a better life.
Today, Skye’s local population is still dotted about the Isle between small villages and farms – but flourishes from the steady stream of tourism.
Over the course of one weekend back in an unseasonably warm October a dozen tourists, one local, and one bottle of whisky packed into a van and discovered what this popular Isle had to offer.
Kyleakin & Caisteal Maol
From Kyle of Lochalsh the Skye Bridge curves over Loch Alsh and connects the mainland to the isle. At one time the bridge was a source of debate sure to fire up any Scotsman. The bridge was built and privatized by a company charging a toll of five pounds one way to cross the narrow, but critical, Loch that separated the two points. After much criticism, the Scottish parliament purchased the bridge and scraped the tolls. Opening up the isle not just for tourists, but for the declining population that inhabit the northern island.
Under the shadow of the bridge rests the tiny town of Kyleakin. The first stop of any Isle of Skye adventure. Here you can find your basic amenities… and most importantly the two pubs where you can engage in lively talk and debate with locals or meet fellow travelers either embarking, or ending their island journey. A short walk along the shore line will bring you to Caisteal Maol. The ruins of a castle that once overlook the gateway.
Caisteal Maol was home to the chief of the MacKinnon clan who had recently wed a Norwegian princess. Not much of the castle has survived but the reputation of the princess lives on. While most of the Gaelic population of Skye might be puzzled at the name Kyleakin (of Norwegian origin; King Haakan’s strait), the Scots playfully referred to the princess simply as ‘Saucy Mary’. Unlike Caisteal Maol, the nickname survived the test time. Today you can enjoy a cold glass of Irn Bru at the Saucy Mary pub.
As with any road trip an early start ensures you get the most out of your day. Along the A47 is the tiny village of Sligachan. While the village is like any other, the magic is in the waters. Legend has it that the fairies of Skye blessed the stream with magical healing properties. While the waters may be freezing, it is advisable to immerse your head for exactly seven seconds. Do so and you’ll be granted more than just a fresh start to the day, you’ll be blessed with the gift of eternal youth.
Two centuries ago lord MacDonald established a small fishing village on the coast of Skye overlooking the Isle of Rassay. The predominantly Gaelic speaking village grew in size to quickly become the unofficial capital of the Isle of Skye. It’s an important stop for any traveler, as here you can find all the amenities before making your trek across the Isle.
On an uncharacteristically sunny day you can capture the pastel houses that overlook the bay that have become an iconic postcard or be it instagram-able photo.
Old Man or Storr
Along the burned grassy plains of the Trotternish Penisula just north of Portree jagged rock formations stick out like a sore thumb. That sore thumb is no other than The Old Man of Storr.
The Old Man is set apart from the rest of the Storr Cliffs. Legends suggest that the rock formation is that of a giant’s thumb, all that was left after a battle between the giants of Skye and the giants of Rassay. Other local tales suggest that the rock is not a part of a giant, but rather a man whole who had been turned to stone.
The Old Man can be seen from the A885 but only those who stop near the roads edge will find the reward. Not far from the Storr’s jagged peaks is a waterfall simply known as the Bride’s veil. Another stream blessed by the fairies of Skye.
With wellies in tow a hike up the boggy fall brings you to a small creek. As you venture across Skye you’ll find that the fairies are fans of the number seven. The waters of Sligachan grant seven years of youth, the waters of Storr grant seven years of love if you drink directly from veil.
Follow the A885 and you’ll be taken along the ridges of Kilt Rock. A volcanic formation resembling the pleats of Scotland’s sartorial icon.
From Mealt Loch runs Mealt Waterfall. A sixty meter drop over the basalt columns to the rocky sandstone beaches of the Sound of Rassay. While the basalt pleats can only be seen from the Sound of Rassay, visitors can walk along the cliff’s edge to see the Isle of Lewis and even mainland Scotland.
It’s an odd concept. A moving mountain. We’ve all been told about tectonic plate theory and how land masses can be formed by underwater volcanoes… but to be witness to a mountain that is still slipping into the sea is something else. Nicknames for varrious formations in the Quiraing include things such as The Needle, The Table, and The Prison. But the name is not of celtic origin. Quiraing is an old Norse saying dating back to the era of viking rule over the isle. The Quiraing, or ‘Round Fold’, was used to protect livestock from various viking raids. Today it’s the Isle’s most popular hiking trail taking in some amazing views over rocky cliffs and wayward sheep.
Mist rolls over the Cullin hills into Loch Bracadale on the west coast of the Isle of Skye. A kilometer north of the village of Struan sits one of Scotland’s great mysteries, Dun Beag.
What can best be described as a broch dating back to the Iron Age, the fort has occupied the rocky knoll for over 2,000 years. Archeologists and Historians are still in debate over the historical significance of the fort and its place on the the Isle. While no documents describe the broch, there has been an overwhelming amount of evidence to suggest that it was used throughout time, and it is the only one of it’s kind in the world.
What is left of Dun Beag is a circular room atop the knoll, complete with two security cells and a stair case that leads to a hall that wraps around the room.
Getting to Dun Beag is a challenge, but it’s worth the safari.
It’s whisky – not whiskey.
It is a small but notable difference. Whisk(y) originates from Scottish bogs, while whisk(ey) is Irish, and a completely different brewing process all-together. One of the best whisky’s out there direct from the Isle… Talisker.
Described as “alluring, sweet, full-bodied” this single malt whisky is crafted in the oldest working distillery of the Isle, Talisker House. Purchased from the MacLeods in 1830 for the price of thirty pounds and the first cast of the brew, Hugh and Kenneth MacAskill turned Talisker House into one of the finest breweries in the United Kingdom. The secret to the taste was the use of a fresh water spring near Loch Harport.
Furthering your Isle of Sky Adventure
Some places of note that are worthy to visit are:
Fairy Pools – The freezing waters of the River Brittle overflow into the pools just bellow the Black Cullin Mountains. The waters are fresh and clear and perfect for aspiring photographers.
Uig – This town sits on the coast and is home of the Isle of Skye Brewery and a crafty pottery studio.
Dunvegan Castle – Ancestral home of the MacLeod Clan for eight hundred years and the oldest castle in Scotland. Of the Clan’s possessions, the most famous is the Fairy Flag – said to bring victory to the Clan in any battle it was flown in.
Colbost Croft – A living museum of life on the Isle. Step into these thatched roof homes with a smoky peat hearth. Learn about daily life on the Isle by immersing yourself into it.
Neist Point Lighthouse – Scenic coastal beauty and a traditional lighthouse on the shore.