If you were to try and distil the Scottish Highlands down into a small area, taking the warmness of the people, the epic landscapes and incredible food, the result would be something very similar to the Isle of Skye. The largest of the Inner Hebrides, the misty isle boasts some of the most stunning landscapes anywhere in the UK and when the weather is fine, it’s a very difficult place to beat. The caveat to that being ‘fine weather’. It’s not uncommon to see all 4 seasons in a day on this rugged island, but this adds to its mystery and charm.
It’s still a beautiful place to stop and admire the view away from the crowds at the waterfall, just don’t ignore the road closed signs further along as you’ll be in for a very long reverse! Returning to the main road, it continues to weave its way towards the ferry terminal of Sconser where regular CalMac ferries service the small islands of Raasay and Scalpay but tales of these adventures are best saved for another day.
It’s around here where the true might of the Cuillin range reveals itself; a fierce ridgeline that has captivated and infatuated mountaineers, climbers and all-round adrenaline junkies since it was first explored in 1911. Jagged, dark peaks are strung together in harmony, inviting the boldest and bravest outdoorsmen and women to attempt the fabled traverse of its 11 Munros, encompassing 2645m of elevation over it’s 18.5km length.
If attempting one of the most challenging traverses in Europe isn’t quite your cup of tea, admiring the views from the ground is still very worthwhile. The picturesque Sligachan Bridge which used to carry the road before a modern replacement was constructed still stands and offers a great vantage point over the glen with the river tumbling down from the mountains on its journey to the sea. Sligachan marks a divergence of the road; take the right fork to continue on towards Portree and the Trotternish peninsula or go left and explore the Talisker distillery at Carbost and onwards to Dunvegan Castle. We’ll continue right and explore the narrow streets of Portree and all that it has to offer.
Considered to be the capital of the island, Portree is only around 200 years old and was originally a fishing port, the likes of which have now relocated elsewhere, but a number of boats can be seen bobbing around in the harbour against the colourful backdrop of a row brightly painted houses on the quayside. However, the bulk of the town is further up the hill and is centred around the square. There’s a wonderful array of shops here, from outdoor specialists stocked with the latest outdoor kit to one of our favourites, OR which carries a range of products from small makers, artists and writers from around the Highlands.
Skye boasts the slightly bizarre accolade of having more coffee roasters than distillers, and one such emporium is Birch. Offering a Melbourne style café experience blended with locally sourced products and ingredients from the Highlands, Birch has rapidly become a haven for creatives, adventurers, and coffee aficionados. Its clean and modern décor is a refreshing change to the traditional ‘café’ vibe and echoes the rise in the ‘Scandi Scot’ aesthetic that is becoming more and more popular.
Now refuelled, it’s time to head north out of Portree and back out into the wilderness, towards arguably the most famous peninsula in the whole of Scotland (if that is even a thing): Trotternish. A prehistoric landslip some 30km has created some of the most unusual and dramatic landscapes that could’ve been plucked straight out of a fantasy novel. The first of which is the Old Man of Storr; a pinnacle of rock that looks to be precariously balanced, towering over the landscape below.
Continuing on and rounding the most northly tip of Skye, the Trotternish fault begins to subside and the islands of the outer Hebrides rise out of the sea on the horizon. It’s on this remote point, that one of my favourite places in the Highlands, let alone Skye can be found.
The Ruhba Hunish bothy sits in a commanding position high on the cliffs overlooking the Little Minch and is a former whaling lookout, and even today whales and dolphins can be seen from here. Accessible via a 4km walk from Shulista, the path is often very boggy and undefined but the views at the end are stunning. As Ruhba Hunish is a bothy, it’s possible to stay the night here but in the hight of summer, it’s often occupied.
Where to stay
Alongside its natural beauty, Skye has become somewhat of an architectural showcase. Drive around the island and you’ll catch glimpses of wooden clad properties with floor to ceiling windows and steel and glass monoliths that are such a stark contrast to the natural forms of the landscape they sit in. However, there are still many traditional ‘crofters’ cottages surviving and one of these is Moll Cottage. Situated near Sligachan in the centre of the island at the end of a long and very pothole ridden road, this stunning 1 bed self catering cottage sits meters from the sea with sweeping vistas over Raasay. Heather and Callum have lovingly restored the cottage and is equipped with all the modern amenities that even the most discerning of traveller will appreciate. The pace of life is much slower at Moll Cottage, as you watch the world go by only punctuated by the appearance of a sea otter or seal on the shoreline.
Having visted the most northerly point of Skye, its now time to cross the island and head to the most Westerly tip of Neist Point. Turning off the main road at Dunvegan, the road traverses the open moorland before approaching the small village of Glendale. From here, the road narrows further and becomes single tracked all the way to the sea.
First lit in 1909 to ward ships away from the treacherous cliffs, the lighthouse offers stunning views over the ocean at sunset and those feeling particularly fit can descend the steep stairs down the cliff face to see it close up. In my opinion, the better view is just a short walk from the car park. Walk behind the hut at the end of the car park and follow the cliffs north for around 200m and the lighthouse will move into view at the end of the peninsula far below. This spot is particularly popular with landscape photographers at sunset and can get busy!
After an exhilarating cliff top walk, get back on the road and head south towards Carbost. This tiny village is dominated by a behemoth of the whisky industry; Talisker. The iconic raw yet defined single malts that are produced here have become known throughout the world and has placed the Isle of Skye on the global whisky scene. The distillery offers very informative and enjoyable tours and lifts the lid on the distilling process of this iconic spirit.
If a bit of caffeination is more your thing, head across the road to Caora Dhubh which is another is the island’s independent coffee roasters serving up sustainably sourced and down right delicious cakes and coffee.
Just up the hill, almost behind the distillery is one of Skye’s best places to eat. Now, the large metal shed with long wooden benches might be a bit of a departure from your traditional restaurant but don’t let this fool you, the number of cars in the car park should be an indication of what’s to come. Whilst the setting might not be glamorous, the food – and views are exceptional. Offering a range of freshly caught seafood cooked very simply, the oysters, scallops and prawns coming out of their kitchen are extraordinary and without some restraint it would be quite easy to order most of the menu.
After a leisurely lunch, it’s time to burn off some of those calories. Head towards Glenbrittle for a stop off at the mystical sounding Fairy Pools. The river Brittle has its sources high up in Cuillins looming ominously above and has formed stunning natural pools on its journey to the sea. Those feeling particularly brave can swim in the icy cold water and for those not feeling so brave there are stunning views to enjoy. The well-made path eventually goes all the way into the mountains whilst following the rivers course and the further along the path you venture, the quieter it gets to really enjoy this stunning amphitheatre of mountain in solitude.
‘Ever since my first trip up to Scotland in 2016, I’ve been enamored with rugged landscape and have returned many times since. I’m now a professional photographer and work with clients across Scotland including distilleries, hotels and heritage clothing brands. The Highlands are a particular favorite and where I’ve spent the most time exploring but there’s so much to discover, it draws me back everytime with fresh eyes and a thirst for adventure.’