Skye is one of the most magical places on Earth. The largest and most northerly major island of the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, Skye is a 3 hour drive from Fort William or Inverness, or 5 and a half from Edinburgh or Glasgow. With its rustic grey mountains, single-track roads lined with sheep, and a population of about 10,000, Skye is where you go to escape from the world but also learn to appreciate it. With so much to see and do on the isle, I’ve detailed a few favourite landmarks from my recent trip, as well as where to stay while you’re there.
What To Do
The Quiraing is a landslip in the north eastern area of the isle. A part of the Trotternish Ridge escarpment, the Quiraing is the only part of the slip that is still shifting – but don’t let that stop you from exploring it. With an eye for safety, and not taking hiking paths above your level, Quiraing can be a stunning part of Skye that visitors of all ages can enjoy. Whether you take in some of the most beautiful landscapes of Scotland for just a few minutes, or walk the full loop of two hours, Quiraing ranks as the most beautiful sights of any landscapes I saw in Scotland. Keep an eye out for the distinctive landmarks, including The Needle (120-foot high pinnacle), The Table (a flat grassy area), and The Prison (a rocky peak that looks like a medieval keep). There is a carpark nearby, but during peak times it can be difficult to find a spot to park along the road.
The Storr is a summit in the northeastern area of Skye, but not as far north as Quiraing. This popular rocky hill with a path for visitors has views of the water and takes about two hours to explore from the carpark. Keep an eye out for unique rock formations like The Old Man of Storr, a spiky pinnacle set against rolling green hills, often described as “iconic Scotland”. The walk itself is quite steep, forcing me to take breaks and admire the view. Even on a foggy or rainy day it’s not to be missed, and you might just find that when you get to the top the sun is out and the blue waters are drawing you in to the unforgettable Scottish landscape.
Just off the main road in Elishader is a sea cliff with beautiful navy water views and a trickling stream causing a conclave splash from the rocks above. Well-known for its kilt-like resemblance, the vertical columns in all directions make up the pleats of Scotland’s most famous symbol. It isn’t Niagara Falls – in fact, with closer inspection you can see that the opening of water is tiny – but with its very accessible location it is definitely worth a stop to stretch your legs. The day I visited, a bagpiper stood at the entrance playing music, and the clear water melted into the cool blue sky. Elishader Cafe is right around the corner and is an ideal spot for a quick lunch.
Dunvegan Castle & Gardens
Dunvegan Castle has been the seat of the chief of the clan MacLeod for over 800 years and is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland. For £13, visitors are welcome to explore the castle grounds and its five acres of formal gardens, with a multitude of plant varieties, streams, bridges, waterfalls, pergola, and lily ponds. The castle itself is dressed in tradition and antiquity, with various rooms and relics on display including the Fairy Flag, the Dunvegan Cup, and Sir Rory Mor’s Horn.
Scholars of fairy lore (or those of us who are intrigued by the magical, mystical, and scenic) will want to stop and take in the flowing, aquamarine waters of the Fairy Pools of Skye. At the foot of the Black Cuillin rocky mountains, the Fairy Pools are a 30 minute hike from the nearest carpark, with flowing water at your sides and the mountains towering over you. I found myself asking ‘is this the fairy pool?’ as I walked by the first streams and ponds, until I walked far enough to spot, with certainty, the bright blue-green pools of water. Exploring the fairy myths Skye has embraced is an important part of your visit to this beautiful part of Scotland and it is no doubt worth the venture to dip your hand in the water for some extra good fortune.
Talisker Bay Beach
Families of sheep walk along with you on the path towards Talisker Bay – towering cliffs at your sides and a cool breeze coming off of the shore. You’ll know you’ve reached the carpark when you hear the squawks of a neighboring peacock farm, and you can follow a stone walled garden towards a large white house to start your walk to the beach, about 15 minutes. The perfect place for sunsets, Talisker Bay has ash-coloured sand, rocks for sitting, and a stunning waterfall crashing down from the cliffs. Quiet walks on the beach have never been this stunning.
Where To Stay
Ashbank Self-Catering Cottage
Link. 3 Kilbride, IV49 9BB. $92 CAD/night.
Nestled among fields at the foot of the Red Cuillin mountains, with sheep grazing along the roads and rolling hills behind it, stands a dark-coloured chalet that you could be lucky enough to call your home while visiting Skye. The only place of my six weeks of traveling Europe, and of any travels since or before, where I immediately thought to myself: I never want to leave. A sense of home and a welcoming comfort greets you, from the smiling owners who show you around, to the welcome basket full of local free-range eggs, candies, biscuits, and other goodies from around the area. Early in the morning it was common to hear sheep or cows grazing near your bedroom window, with spectacular views of the morning sun behind. It’s rural enough to enjoy the quiet and serenity of Scotland highlands, but the chalet is perfectly modernized so you want for nothing. WiFi, a fully-equipped kitchen, washer/dryer, heating, TV and blu-Ray/DVD Player, and a wonderful collection of Skye books are all available for your use.
Jamilah, the gracious host, lives on the property in a larger house and is available for any questions or guidance you may require. Located near the village of Kilbride, Ashbank is an ideal location to reach all of the Skye landmarks with a little planning, but you completely escape any sign of tourism. It’s just you, sheep, and the rolling hills of Scotland.
The most common complaint amongst visitors is one thing: I wish I had more time. You’ll find yourself plotting how you can stay indefinitely, or at the very least plotting your next visit. I know I am.