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Skye is the kind of place that not only keeps you busy, but nags at you for a repeat visit.
You could forgive Skye for having an ego. It’s said that Scotland’s top three tourist destinations are Edinburgh, Loch Ness, and the 50-mile-long rhapsody of moors and mountains that we know better as the Isle of Skye. But while the second largest of Scotland’s islands (behind only Lewis & Harris – but you knew that) is emphatically no secret, it’s popular for very good reason.
Much of the island’s appeal is down to its devastatingly rugged landscapes – towering ridges, contorted peaks, sheer cliffs and sparkling lochs – with the rocky range of the Cuillin Hills one of many focal points for hikers and climbers. This all makes it a stirring place to spend time, even if you’re only cooing at the scenery from the road, although there’s far more to it than outdoor adventure. Artisans, food producers, crofting museums, castles and a whole range of easy-to-linger pubs and restaurants have helped Skye to evolve into a brilliant all-round destination.
The high-summer crowds can be a little oppressive, so it definitely pays to time your trip well, but this is a sizable destination, and crafting your own island experience is easily done. From its traditional villages to its superb wildlife-watching, and from its shapely beaches to its adventure sports, Skye is the kind of place that not only keeps you busy, but nags at you for a repeat visit. Its Gaelic name is An t-Eilean Sgitheanach, which some say translates as ‘the winged isle’: this is a reference to its shape on a map, which resembles a pair of outstretched wings, but could just as easily refer to its soaring beauty.
Come for the scenery, which ranges from the dramatic, peak-clustered shorelines of the north to the imposing Cuillin Hills of the south. Come for the world-class walking, the vivid history, the dynamic arts and crafts scene, the luxurious lodges and B&Bs, and the diverse wildlife. Come for the visceral thrill of feeling the wind in your hair, the rocks under your feet and the sound of the sea in your ears. This is Skye, and you need to see it for yourself.
Scotland has 790 islands and the Isle of Skye is the second largest and forms part of the Inner Hebrides.
Settlers have occupied Skye’s valleys and coastal areas since the Mesolithic era – little wonder when you look at its prime west coast location between the mainland and the Western Isles – and it later spent many centuries changing hands between Celtic tribes, Viking powerbrokers and the Highland clans of MacLeod (whose base, Dunvegan Castle, still stands) and MacDonald. It first officially came under the control of Scotland following the 1266 Treaty of Perth, although it was ruled, largely independently, by the Lords of the Isles until the 15th century.
The Jacobite conflicts of the early 18th century served to dismantle the status quo, while later the Highland Clearances saw many traditional crofting settlements dismantled and evacuated to make way for sheep farms – many locals were forced to emigrate, in time effectively halving the population. Today the main pillars of island life are farming, forestry and fishing, as well as the modern-day totem of Skye’s economy: tourism.
By car is likely the easiest way to get around the island – the roads are good and can get you to the most remote areas. Without a car, your best option is to use the Stagecoach public bus service, which offers DayRider bus passes. Timetables are available on the Traveline Scotland website.
Getting to Skye
Skye is only accessible by the Glenelg Ferry, Car Ferry from the mainland operated by Calmac or the Skye Bridge crossing from Kyle of Lochalsh to Kyleakin on the island. The closest airports to Skye are Glasgow (5-6 hours away) and Inverness (National). If travelling by train, you can board from Glasgow to Mallaig, then take a ferry to the island or go from Inverness to Kyle and take a bus.
If you’re driving from England, follow the M6 motorway north before changing to the M74 at the Scottish Borders for the direct route to Glasgow. From Southern Scotland, use the same M74 motorway and from Northern Scotland, use the M9 and M80 roads.
When to go
Skye stays relatively mild throughout the year, so you don’t have to worry about the weather. If you want to avoid the tourists (and the midges), go outside of the summer months. March to May and September to November are the best times. If you can brave the cold, opt for December – it’s particularly magical in the winter.
Where to stay
Skye has a number of towns and extended peninsulas. Its capital is Portree, where most of the restaurants, hotels and shops can be found. If you’re looking for nature and tranquil countryside head for Uig, Broadford and Edinbane. For the ocean, try Colbost and Isleornsay.
Eating & drinking
Portree is the home to most of Skye’s restaurants, but there are great options dotted around the island. For fresh seafood, try The Oyster Shed near the Talisker Distillery. For fine dining, try the Edinbane Lodge, The Three Chimneys, Scorrybreac or the Michelin-starred Loch Bay.
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