Despite the famous song, most visitors to Skye arrive not by boat but by road, crossing the bridge constructed in the early 1990s between the island and Kyle of Lochalsh on the mainland. Skye is the largest island in the Inner Hebrides, more than 600 square miles or 1600 square kilometres and, although public transport does operate, having your own car will make your trip easier and open up a more flexible itinerary.
A popular base is the town of Portree, which is the biggest settlement and home to a harbour of multi-coloured houses, plenty of shops selling local crafts, art and souvenirs, and a good range of pubs and cafes. In Portree, as well as across the island, there are numerous accommodation choices, from hotels, Bed & Breakfasts, rental cottages and campsites. If, like us, you fancy sleeping in the vicinity of an Iron Age hillfort, head for Torvaig campsite, just north of Portree on road A855 which sits in the shadow of Dun Gerashader; an atmospheric place to watch the sun set.
Continue northwards on the same road and you will come across the Storr, a rocky hill famous for its pinnacle, known as the Old Man. For the adventurous, there is a path to the top which will take you up and back in roughly two hours. Solid footwear and a keen eye to watch for rockfalls are recommended. The Old Man is one of many otherworldly outcrops to explore on the Storr and, in good weather, the views down to the road below and out across the Sound of Raasay to the mainland are spectacular.
The A855 will also take you to Kilt Rock, a cliff face named for its many crenulations that echo the pleats of a kilt, and Mealt waterfall which streams over the edge, dropping more than 50 metres to the sea. Sometimes, when the wind is blowing at the right angle, the falls look to be running up rather than down, as the spray is pushed backwards. Continue on in an anti-clockwise loop around Trotternish peninsula and you will come eventually to Uig, where ferries to Harris and Lewis depart.
Whilst most will visit Portree, not everyone includes Dunvegan on their list of places to stop. This is probably because the small town is in the more remote west of the island, in a bay between the peninsulas of Waternish and Duirinish. Location has given Dunvegan a particularly authentic feel; the inhabitants are generally born and bred islanders ready to offer a traditionally Scottish experience. One particular gem is the Giant Angus MacAskill Museum which commemorates the life of the eponymous Scot who, at 7ft 9 inches, is described by the museum as the tallest ever ‘true’ giant. Unlike the man himself, the museum is small, just one room, but is packed full of local artefacts and the enthusiasm of its owners.
North of the town is Dunvegan Castle, historic home of the clan MacLeod. You can pay to explore the castle and grounds at any time of year, but if your visit happens to coincide with Guy Fawkes Night, otherwise known as Bonfire or Fireworks Night, which takes place on November 5th, you can witness something special. An annual fireworks display, complete with burning Viking longboat, takes place on the shores of the loch beneath the castle’s walls, giving you double fireworks for your money, one in the sky and a duplicate reflected in the waters below. When the show’s over, follow the locals to a nearby pub to continue the celebrations in to the small hours.
Whatever time of year you visit, and whatever you choose to see and do, Skye will leave you with plenty of stories of your own to tell. Stay tuned for the next in the series which will explore some of the places you can visit on your way to or from the island.