Along with Edinburgh and Loch Ness, Skye is one of the top tourist destinations in Scotland and after visiting the island one can understand why. In the Lonely Planet guidebook of Scotland it is described as ‘a 50 mile long patchwork of velvet moors, jagged mountains, sparkling Lochs and towering sea cliffs’. Its stunning scenery is certainly one of its main attractions. Skye takes its name from the Old Norse word meaning ‘Cloud Island’. Clouds and bad weather is in all honesty what we expected, but how wrong can you be! The weather was beautiful only one rather frightening gale at night and a morning of light rain. The rest of our six-night stay on the edge of Loch Greshornish was bathed in sunshine and temperatures that were rarely witnessed during the summer. Concentrating only on the northern half of the island for this visit left plenty to discover and explore.
Our first venture out was close to our accommodation. A short walk to Upper Edinbane and through its picturesque village with views over the loch and up to Airgh Neil electro site across scrubland to see the wind turbines up close. Beautiful creatures that hum quietly to them selves, much bigger up close than one would expect!
Although Dunvegan itself is hardly worth a visit with its limited amount of attractions but carry on passed the village and you come to Dunvegan Castle and Gardens, Skye’s most famous historical building and the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland. Ancestral home of the Chiefs of clan MacLeod for 800 years it has played host to Samuel Johnson, Sir Walter Scott and most famously Flora MacDonald, more of whom later. Lots of really interesting artefacts including the famous Fairy Flag are on display. And then there are the unbelievably splendid gardens.
These magnificent gardens will prove of considerable interest to many, following paths through woodland glades, past shimmering pools and burns fed by a cascading waterfall. Stroll through the formal round garden, stand and admire the many Rhododendrons, numerous in their variety. The Castle Gardens were originally laid out in the 18th century and considerable replanting and landscaping provides a legacy, which current as well as future generations can enjoy and admire. The Castle gardens lie inland and are backed by a considerable number of hectares (1 hectare = 2.471 acres) of mature woodland.
As the Isle of Skye is essentially made up of barren moorland and hill these woods and gardens are like reaching a hidden oasis. Many visitors are surprised at the sheer variety of species of plant and tree that not only survive but also thrive at Dunvegan. The secret is a brilliant, inspired and dedicated team of horticulturalists and garden staff as well as a little bit of help from nature as Dunvegan Castle is in the "Gulf Stream". Plants men and women from all over the country, indeed the world visits the castle and is inspired by what they find.
Beyond the castle entrance there is long narrow single-track road at the end of which you will find a car park. From this point there is just over a mile to walk before you reach a shoreline known as the Coral Beaches. These beaches are formed from the bleached skeletons of red coralline seaweed known as maerl (pronounced marl). Maerl grows at a rate of around 1mm per year and some maerl beds are reputed to be around 8000 years old. This area is a most see, perfect scenery and surroundings and while you’re there climb up the small incline that borders the beach for some wonderful views across to the islands of Lampay and Isay and views of Waternish round to Dunvegan Head.
Pick up a number 56 bus on the main road above Loch Greshornish and it will take you into Skye’s largest town Portree. Film fans may recognise it as the name of a fictional Quidditch team, the Pride of Portree, which is featured in the Harry Potter movies. The town has its fair share of historical buildings dating back to the 1800’s, a grand harbour lined by brightly painted houses and a pier designed by Thomas Telford and not forgetting a fish and chip restaurant. It is also the location for the only secondary school on the Island, Portree High School, considering the size of the island some of its pupils must have quite a journey.
Driving to the Trotternish Peninsula we sampled some of Skye’s beautiful and at times bizarrely enchanting landscapes.
The Old Man of Storr is a 50 metre high pinnacle of basalt and is prominent above the road way from Portree.
The impressive range of land slipped cliffs and pinnacles known as the Quiraing dominates all that surrounding it.
Crofting life in the 18th and 19th century is on display in the authentic setting of croft houses, barns and farm implements in the Skye Museum of Island Life.
A short walk from the crofting village is the grave of Flora MacDonald. During the Jacobite Risings, in June 1746, at the age of 24, she was living on the island of Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides when Bonnie Prince Charlie took refuge there after the Battle of Culloden. The prince's companion, a Captain Conn O'Neill of The Feeva, County Antrim, sought her assistance to help the prince escape capture which she successfully did dressing him in ladies clothes.
From the moment you cross the magnificent Skye Bridge it doesn’t matter where you go on Skye there are always jaw-dropping views, and places of great interest. Its enchanting nature ensures that once visited that you will always be drawn back.