Stunningly scenic Skye, Scotland
Published: Sunday, June 2, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 30, 2013 at 1:26 p.m.
The Isle of Skye, largest of the Inner Hebrides, is easily accessible, with remarkable scenery and a simple lifestyle. This 50-mile combination of plummeting cliffs, heather-carpeted moors, jagged mountains and sparkling lochs is a step back in time.
The volcanic activity responsible for its formation dates back 1 million years. The Vikings settled here for more than 400 years. There's Clan history, warfare and the Jacobite Rebellion and "Bonnie Prince Charlie."
Portree is a good base city; Broadford is another town with a variety of accommodations. Other small towns may have a B&B or two, but the essence of Skye is Remote with a capital R.
Be prepared for touring about on the single-track roads where petrol stations, restaurants and stores are few and far between. This is a place where it takes 45 minutes to travel 10-15 miles.
Situated at 57 degrees north (on a par with Moscow and Hudson Bay), Skye benefits from the Gulfstream for a more temperate climate. Even so, one of the biggest disadvantages of a visit is the weather. Called the "Misty Isle" for the abundant rain and fog, you just have to take a chance. Like the locals say: "If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes."
The island has 20 Munros (Scottish mountains over 3,000 feet), making Skye a favorite with hill walkers. Short walks are available in the Cuillin Hills, as well as summits requiring experienced scrambling and rock climbing.
If you're keen to tackle the dramatic landscape it may be best to hire a guide. The visitor center in Portree has a map for a 1½-hour circuit from town, and head just north on the highway for the moderate two-hour hike to the Old Man of Storr. Continue toward Staffin and see Kilt Rock and the 170-foot dramatic Mealt Falls.
In this same area is the Quiraing, an extraordinary group of pinnacles, rock towers and secret places, providing views of the Outer Hebrides and the Scottish mainland (on a clear day.)
As diverse as the scenery are the many arts and crafts galleries. Wildlife also draws visitors. We took a four-hour trip on the AquaXplore from Elgol. Thankfully waterproofs are provided for the RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat), an experience in itself. The captain took us by the island of Soay (population 3) and then close to the shore of Rhum (Rum,) an island managed by the Scottish Natural Heritage and dedicated to researching Red Deer.
We passed the wreckage of a French trawler and stopped on Canna (population 11) for an hour. We didn't see any whales but enjoyed watching seals, puffins, kittywakes, shags, gulls, shearwaters, eagles and more.
That evening we drove to Neist Point Lighthouse, known for its rock formations similar to Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland. Allow plenty of time for the one-lane road and the walk down to the lighthouse, but the scenery is worth it.
First-timers to Scotland are probably headed to Edinburgh and Glasgow, but if time permits Skye is magnificent.
Claudine Dervaes' travel column is published the first Sunday of every month.