The Isle of Skye gets its name from the Norse word for cloud (skuy), and is commonly known as Eilean a Cheo (the Misty Isle). It is considered the most scenically spectacular of all the Scottish islands. When the mist and frequent rain retreat, the views are breathtaking. Our visit happened on a mixed-weather day (a common occurrence in the Highlands), so we were treated to both the clear, breathtaking views as well as the more mysterious and brooding misty vistas.
During my months of research while planning this trip, I lucked upon the only tour guide who was willing to contemplate a group of our size for a full day tour. K Thomson not only agreed to take us to Skye, but he provided recommendations for hotels, routes to travel, sights to see, and food to eat throughout our entire stay in Scotland. He was an invaluable resource for me and I am so grateful that I happened upon him. He runs Exquisite Scotland Tours out of Kirkhill. K’s knowledge of his country and willingness to share tips and tricks for finding good deals helped me design a truly memorable reunion for my international family. And a wonderful bonus: he speaks six languages so could share his spiel with our Brazilian and French contingent during the tour. K enlisted an additional tour operator from his long list of local connections to work with him to transport our crew.
Off We Go
The trip from Erchless Castle to Kyle of Lochalsh, where the ancient Eilean Donan Castle welcomes you to Skye, is approximately 80 miles. We took a 110-mile circuitous tour of the Trotternish Peninsula of Skye, and then headed back to Erchless. We logged about 300 miles total on that tour. It was a long, lovely day.
Our tour began at 8:30 Tuesday morning when K and Avril, of Avril’s Travels, arrived to scoop all twenty-two of us up from our royal home-away-from-home (see my previous post about our royal getaway). We traversed the winding, narrow roadways of the Highlands, heading west. Some of us (I’m not naming names!) require frequent stops on long journeys, especially those that start in the morning. K assured us all that, with our coffee intake considered, he would make sure we had adequate opportunity to take a “rest” along the way. Our mid-way stop was a small café that served up delicious hot chocolate along with a clean toilet. The Redburn Café in Dundreggan also had the requisite friendly dog, of course!
Lunch with a View and a Story
K scouted a spot for our lunchtime picnic near the Sligachan Bridge, with lovely views of Skye and a bit of protection from the relentless Highland wind. The legend of the water under the Sligachan Bridge is a wonderful tale filled with fierce women warriors, faeries, a devoted daughter and a feast that ended a great battle.
K laid out our own fabulous feast that included meats, cheeses, breads, fruit, sweets and drinks. We huddled out of the wind and enjoyed every delicious bite, wandering around the area afterward, taking photos and breathing in the fresh sea air. Once we’d all had our fill, we clambered aboard the van and bus. K took some of us to a particularly nice vantage point for viewing the Isle of Skye and Eilean Donan. It required some climbing but we were rewarded with some lovely views of the castle.
Eilean Donan Castle
Eilean Donan Castle is an icon of the Scottish Highlands. Eilean Donan (or the Island of Donan) was likely named after the 6th century Irish saint, Bishop Donan, who formed several small communities throughout the area. The original fortress was built in the thirteenth-century to guard the lands of Kintail from the Vikings who raided, settled and controlled much of northern Scotland and the islands between 700 A.D. and 1200 A.D. Eilean Donan Castle has been built and rebuilt throughout Scotland’s feudal history. The castle was partially destroyed during a Jacobite uprising in 1719 and lay in ruins for 200 years until it was purchased by Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap in 1911. MacRae restored the castle to its former glory and it was reopened in 1932. The MacRae family remain the Constables of Eilean Donan Castle today. You’ll probably recognize the castle from films such as Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and the James Bond film, The World is Not Enough. The castle is open to visitors February-December each year. Due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is advisable to call ahead before planning your visit.
Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls
While we were climbing around, the rest of the group went on to a local pub to enjoy a pint and a “rest”. We came back together there and drove on to Kilt Rock. It is a rather famous spot with cliffs diving straight down into the sea. The erosion of those basalt columns and dolerite sills resemble the pleats of a kilt – hence the name. If you are brave enough to peer over the edge, you can see that some of the columns have slipped straight down into the sea. The Mealt Falls, which fall 55m from the clifftop, are lovely.
A fair number of tour buses occupied the road, thus quite a few tourists. You should understand, though, that many tourists in the Highlands doesn’t compare to the crowds you might find in a large European city. So, we had ample opportunity to enjoy the views, get sufficiently buffeted by the wind, and then pile back into the buses.
The Quiraing and Fairy Glen
The Quiraing was our next stop. This area was shrouded in fog, giving the already magical air of this craggy place an even more mysterious feel. The Quiraing is one of the largest landslips in Britain, located on the northernmost summit of the Trotternish. This landslip is not yet finished moving, requiring regular repairs of the road at its base. The soft greens of the grassy valleys alongside the rocky outcroppings provide a stunning contrast. Islanders used this landscape to hide their cattle from the Viking raiders. Walking trails abound here. The nearby Old Man of Storr is a 160-foot pinnacle rock formation resulting from the same landslip that continues to transform the Quiraing. Legend has it that a giant was buried there and his “thumb” (Google for a potentially different translation of that story!) remains poking through the ground, forming the Old Man of Storr. As with most of the places we visited during our tour, we could have spent half a day here, but, alas, we had many more miles to go!
Our next stop was Fairy Glen. Yet another dramatic landscape greeted us here. The enchanting glen is like a world unto itself. The cone-shaped hills, mysterious circle formations, waterfalls and broad swaths of green are exactly what you would expect to see in a land inhabited by faeries. The best views can be found atop the Castle Ewan – a natural rock formation that resembles a castle. We scrambled up there, of course, despite my fear of heights. And let me tell you, if I were carrying 10 more pounds, I would not have squeezed myself up through the “castle walls” to reach the top. The views were absolutely stunning and well worth the risk of getting wedged between two rocks. One must be sure-footed here, as K shared a tale of someone who lost their footing and ended up rolling down much of the hill and suffering a broken ankle!
We stopped in the only real town on Skye. Portree is a charming town with brightly colored buildings, perched on the edge of the sea. We took some time to locate the public toilet and then wandered the cute shops for a bit. I found some jewelry made from Scottish heather – a perfect souvenir of our tour.
Lealt Falls was accessible only by K’s smaller vehicle, so some of us were fortunate to stop here while the others headed home. This stop transfixed me. We were far above the sea, with gorgeous views all around. I enjoyed the rugged peacefulness of the spot. A flock of sheep were grazing on the other side of the cliff and, when the wind was blowing just right, I could hear their bleating. We even got a nice up close view of one sheep who had wandered over our way.
At the beach sits the ruins of a dynamite factory, or maybe it’s a distillery. Diatamite, which sounds like “dynamite”, is a product of fossilized marine animals, found nearby and used for filtration purposes in the making of beer and wine. Maybe one of you knows the real story! K took us out on a ledge for better views and I am glad I once again ignored my fear of heights so I could drink it all in. I could have sat there all day long, listening to the wind, the sea and the sheep, gazing out on the gorgeous views. But, it had been a full day and we had a long drive home ahead of us.
Our whirlwind tour of Skye is one of my favorite memories of the entire trip. I will definitely be going back – maybe booking a few nights on the island so I can enjoy more of what this stunning location has to offer. I hope you found some inspiration here for your next trip to Scotland. If you’ve been to Skye, please share your impressions and favorite spots in the comments. I will follow this with Part III of our Scotland trip, which includes a day in Edinburgh and some truly delightful off-the-beaten-path treasures.