Many of Scotland’s Hebrides swirl in romance, mysterious legends and epic scenery, but perhaps there are none so romantic, so laced with legends and whose scenery is more epic than Skye. The largest of the Inner Hebrides, to the Vikings the ‘Isle of Mist’, may today be connected to the mainland by a bridge, but it still feels an otherworldly place, an oasis where sometimes it seems like the twentieth century, let alone the twenty-first, is yet to dawn.
There is perhaps at least a partial explanation for this timelessness in that much of the island is very much a manmade wilderness that lost 30,000 of its inhabitants to the tragic days of the Highland Clearances. The abandoned hamlets and stray crumbling stone crofts are today the only legacy of lives long forgotten, but they only add to the natural drama of the Isle of Skye.
Skye’s most unforgettable landscape is, of course, the Cuillin. This mighty Munro peppered mountain range explodes into view every time the clouds break and manages to look intoxicatingly different from every point on Skye. These skyscraping peaks can be climbed by the experienced and well equipped, while mere mortals can just take a boat trip from Elgol to get closer. A tough hiking option is battling your way around Loch Coruisk, where the natural amphitheatre of these world class mountains is at its most dramatic.
Portree on Skye
Despite the broad swathes of moorland, the long forgotten west coast, the hills where you see more deer than people, and indeed often see precious few of those, humanity does still manage to wedge a foothold on Skye. Portree is every bit the bustling Highland fishing harbour, island centre and tourist hub, with its pastel hued waterfront houses framing many a postcard and its pubs alive with local and tourist chatter alike.
Castles on Skye
Other sturdy human imprints include Dunvegan Castle in the north and Armadale Castle in the south. Dunvegan Castle is the seat of the Clan MacLeod. A fortress has stood proudly here by the sea since the 13th-century, though this present incarnation dates back to the 1840s. Landscaped gardens grace the grounds and boat tours slip off to nearby isles. At the other end of the island Armadale Castle is home to the Clan Donald Museum with some interesting Jacobite relics and well manicured gardens. Nearby Sea.fari offer thrilling powerboat rides that open up both Skye’s scenery and its myriad marine life.
Where to Stay on Skye
Accommodation is plentiful on Skye, but two oases stand out. The Three Chimneys – Shirley and Eddie Spear’s sublime remote hideaway – is one of the finest places to stay and to eat in the Highlands. Fresh local produce is at the heart of the world class cooking in the converted croft that forms the restaurant. The stylish bedrooms are more modern, but have all the home comforts and views out across the loch.
The Hotel Eilean Iarmain meanwhile is a far more affordable option. This whitewashed wee gem sits right on the waterfront with sweeping views across the Sound of Sleat. Stag antlers, a golden eagle and tartan carpets lend it that cosy Highland feel, while the 2 AA Rosette Birlinn Restaurant dishes up the island’s finest with Skye game and seafood the stars. The Praban Bar is ideal for savouring a wee nip of Skye’s malt, the smoky, fruity and downright mysterious Talisker, a dram that could not be more appropriate for an island that already swirls in so many layers of misty romance.