Rainbows & mist on the Isle of Skye, Scotland

Mist-veiled, ancient and peacefully picturesque, Scotland’s Isle of Skye is like a mystical forgotten land, chronicled in a dusty, leather-bound book. It is clear that nature rules there: stern peaks plunge into deep lochs with mighty authority; mist and cloud hover like a defensive old sage; and the wind whispers tales of the ages. It is place to revere, and a place where reflection comes easily as you stare out to the horizon.

Rainbow morning -  Isle of Skye, Scotland

We arrived in the afternoon after a slow drive through the aubergine moors and rocky slopes of the Scottish highlands. While the roads were narrow and winding, we welcomed time to admire the brute beauty around us.

Eilean Donan - castle - near Isle of Skye, Scotland

I was charmed by the sudden view of Eilean Donan, the famous Scottish castle perched at the junction of three steely grey lochs, like a tired queen on her watery throne. Somehow my castle-radar had missed her on the map but the road led us straight past her, before sidling up along Loch Alsh and out towards the sleek Skye Bridge.

Loch Alsh and the Skye Bridge - Loch views -  Isle of Skye Scotland

The first Skye town across the bridge is Kyleakin, where we stopped at Harry’s for  a £5 feast of chips, beans and sausages and an hour reprieve from the hypnotic flick of windscreen wipers. Then it was a short drive through Broadford to Lochside Caravan Site, a small, friendly site where Panda van was quite impressed with the uncompromised water.

P1210207Loch views -  Isle of Skye Scotland

The isle felt wild, exposed to the elements, vulnerable to the wrath of its ruler. After a pitch black night and howling lullaby,  we woke to pale mist and realised that weather on Skye very much determines what you can comfortably do during your visit.

To make the most of our wet day, we enjoyed a lazy breakfast of stunning views and campsite-chook eggs, before venturing north for a driving tour of Skye. With the Cuillin Hills forming a mountainous mass in the centre of the isle and soggy flatlands skirting the sea, driving around the Isle takes you through a myriad of landscapes. From the inside of our warm Panda van, we encountered rainbows, waterfalls, windblown amber marshes and sheep-dotted fields of rugged burgundy and pine green.

Amber marshes - Driving the Isle of Skye ScotlandWaterfall views - Driving the Isle of Skye ScotlandDriving the Isle of Skye Scotland

We drove from our campsite on A87, around the north-eastern tip of the island on the A863, which loops back into the Skye capital, Portree. I’d pictured Portree as a bustling seaside hub, but winter had its way with the town, leaving only closed pubs, shops, doors… and a hand full of wet tourists, sheltering their cameras, searching the deserted streets for life. Although Portree had all the flags of a thriving seaside town, there was no lunch to be found and only a silent harbour to see.

The harbour side street in Portree, all closed up for a winter weekendThe harbour in Portree, all closed up for a winter weekend

Disappointed by the closed capital, we kept driving north to Uig on the A87, where we found a spectacular bay with an open bistro, The Ferry Inn. To our delight, we also found a whole car of other people, real people; also tourists looking for a hot lunch to ward away the island chill.

Red telephone booth amongst the sheep,  Isle of Skye, ScotlandFrom Uig, we drove around the most northerly peninsula; an area that would not be out of place in a Jurassic Park scene, with mossy crags, volcanic rubble, and a wiry mane of age-white grass. From there, we continued past drab green paddocks of nonplussed sheep and found an iconic red telephone booth in the middle of nowhere… obviously put there so the sheep could phone their friends.

Our road map of Isle of Skye, ScotlandBy then end of our driving day, we’d circled the two northern peninsulas of Skye and admired the natural wonder of this mysterious isle. Calmed by the open space and resplendent views, we left the following day feeling refreshed but a little stunned by our isle encounter.

Of all the places we’ve travelled this winter, the Isle of Skye was the one that felt most winter-bare, barren and lonely; it was also also one of most majestic.

Tips for travelling Skye:

Don’t go on a weekend in winter. Skye has so much to offer yet almost none of it seems accessible at this time of year, with many walks closed due to the wet, shops and eateries closed and hardly anyone about. Even the island distillery is closed on winter weekends, meaning you’ll be hard pressed to find a shelter with a drink if nature decides to be mean.

We loved the charming little campsite, Lochside Caravan Park, where owner Kathy had free-range chooks and an eye for homey details. This was pretty much the only camping site we found that was open and available, with other sites on the isle opening later in March and April. We also saw amazing wild camping spots in lay overs around the isle, particularly on the road to Portree.

Keep in mind that petrol is harder to find on the isle. I was caught out driving around the Sunday-quiet Portree on an empty tank, desperately looking for a pump. There is one the main road south from Portree and one in Broadford. We saw other pumps that were closed and  a couple that seemed more for farm vehicle than touring folk like us.

Some good first resources are:

http://www.skye.co.uk/ Official tourism website

http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/skye/ About walking the Isle of Skye

http://www.eileandonancastle.com/ For castle info

A big cheers to Wicked Campers UK for the awesome van (Panda) and for making this trip possible. Every day offers more delights!

Wicked-Camper-logo-for-sponsored-bloCheck out Wicked Campers online for hire info, travel stories and more:

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177 thoughts on “Rainbows & mist on the Isle of Skye, Scotland

  1. Nice post – I enjoyed reading it. I especially like the picture of the coloured houses it reminded me of Wales where they also use pastel colours to try and cheer the place up against a background of grey skies and rain.

    1. Thanks Andrew. I do remember seeing that in Wales and thinking how necessary it was. I was in Westport Ireland a couple of days ago and they have given the pastel palette a boost, going for bold reds and green and oranges to get them through the winter sea fogs. Thanks for reading.

  2. Oh no…I was supposed to go to Ireland AND Scotland this summer, but just finalised my plans recently, and I decided to make it Ireland alone.

    After seeing your photos and reading your post, I think I’m beginning to regret that decision now… 😦

    Oh well…there’s always next year, right? Congrats on being Freshly Pressed! 🙂

    1. Don’t worry PCC Advantage, Ireland also has amazing natural views and some really coo cities. Keep an eye on my blog, I’m about to put up a whole heap about my road trip around Ireland. Thanks for commenting and for the congrats!

      1. Well, the reason why I’m so sad about this decision now is because I’ve already traveled all around Ireland before, and now I realise what I’ll be missing out on in Scotland! 😦

        But, the reason why I’m heading back is because I just love it there so much. Can’t get enough of the Emerald Isle and can’t WAIT to see your photos!! 😀

  3. Thank you! Over the years I have traveled to Skye several times. Its one of my favorite places to be. Its hard to take a bad picture of Scotland. Isn’t it?

    1. Thanks for reading sefeniak. You are so right – Scotland is made to be photographed. It’s so grand, the only problem is trying to fit the scale into the photo. I loved Skye, although next time I visit it will have to be summer.

      1. I would visit Scotland and Skye anytime given the opportunity but have to agree Winter on Skye wouldn’t be so wonderful. Everything is closed. Thanks for visiting my blog and liking Down Looking Up.

  4. What a lyrical description of Scotland. It brings back many wonderful memories. I had the chance to visit Ft. William many years ago and loved every inch of the Scottish landscape. I am hastening back as soon as I can.

    1. Thanks EEE – I was so disappointed the weather did not play nice for us in Ft. William. I hope to get back there one day to do some serious hiking. Such a dramatic landscape!

  5. Eilean a’ Chao – The Misty Isle – is one of my favourite places on earth. I have family there or I might never have experienced it. You described perfectly the varied landscape on the island – its too bad Portree was locked up tight for your visit as there are great places to shop and dine. Agree that summer is best but still prepare for all 4 seasons in one day!

    1. Hey Wee Banshee, thanks for reading and commenting. So glad you think I got it down. With so much to take in on one wee isle, I was scrawling notes and snapping pictures, not trusting my mind to remember the varied detail of that wonderful place. I will have to come back in summer I think, along with a few other places I’ve seen this winter – I can imagine it would be something to behold in the glory of summertime.

  6. Your descriptions and wonderful photos made this a very real adventure. I was no longer in Colorado wishing for an end to the drought. Thanks for giving me a breath of damp breezes and a beautiful view.

  7. Thanks for this post. It tool me right back to my motorbike trip to skye a couple of years ago. I realised as I approached the bridge that I had this child like idea of this mystical , magical and slightly scary place. In lots of ways it lived up to those magical thoughts.

    my best memory was actually watching the sunset from the bridge for about three hours. just me and a friend windswept and intouch with the eternal feeling of it all.

    last summer we toured the outer islands from barra to lewis . all those islands are magical. Thanks again
    Dean

  8. I love Scotland! I went for the first time a few years ago to visit a friend studying abroad at St. Andrews. I was there for only 4 days so I managed to hit up St. Andrews, Stirling, and Edinburgh (the country is small so it’s easy to see a lot in a few days). I heard about Isle of Skye, which sounded rather mystical. I recently looked it up before you published this post and decided I needed to get there eventually. And this post only makes me want to make that a reality. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hey Ameliemelo thanks for reading! I really enjoyed that Scotland was so easy to drive. It sounds like you did pretty well in your limited time. While the cities and Sterling are quite close to each other, Skye felt like a world away in terms of the barren landscape between. I really recommend getting some wheels for your visit – seeing Skye would have been a lot trickier without our Wicked Panda van as buses didn’t seem to be running on Sunday and had quite a basic schedule other days. Let me know if you have any questions before your trip.

  9. I’m so happy to have found your blog! I recently discovered my maternal great great grandmother came from here and I have been researching to learn as much as I can. A tourist’s eye is always so much more revealing. I will seriously take your advice as I plan my “someday” trip.
    Blue Skies,
    CricketMuse

  10. hmm, my comment didn’t take…sorry for the repeat, but basically I’m happy to find a blog which highlights the land of my maternal ancestors and will definitely be interested in your adventures there. A tourist’s eye is much more revealing than the guidebooks.
    Blue Skies,
    CricketMuse

  11. Absolutely loved my visit to Scotland. It’s a beautiful, magical country! I could easily relocate there. Strangely inspires a feeling of homesickness though I’m not from there. Did you get a chance to visit The Drover’s Inn on Loch Lomond? I was just looking at some of my photos earlier today. I have a post here and pics of my visit. Thanks so much for sharing.
    Suddenly, I want to be there…right now. Having a pint at the Drover’s.
    Will be checking out more of your posts and pictures later on tonight.
    http://freedomgallery.wordpress.com/2011/08/10/the-drovers-inn/

    1. Hi FG, thanks for reading and sharing you memories. It sounds as though a part of you comes from there. I didn’t stop by the Drover’s Inn, but your blog makes me wish I had. Instead most of my time around Loch Lomond was spent by the loch reading and writing and enjoying the peaceful air.

  12. Reading your ‘about’ page, I am so impressed by your attitude to life and travel. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

    Skye is one of my favourite places and I just wanted to give you another impression of the island in winter, if I may. You were unlucky with the weather, and with Portree: but it can be breathtakingly beautiful. If you like, take a look at http://dancingbeastie.wordpress.com/2011/01/21/winter-skye/ (and at my other posts tagged Skye in my tag cloud) to see what I mean.
    I’m glad you enjoyed your trip nonetheless. A good traveller in Scotland is one who – like you – appreciates that even the cloudy days have a romance to them!

    1. Thanks DB for your comment. It was lovely to see another kind of Skye in winter – white and peaceful. I agree that a good traveller appreciates the best of the place and time they’ve got before them. Thanks for reading and sharing your link!

  13. Lovely pics and stunning imagery.
    I’m English and I live in the borders and have started to go up to Scotland more often but I find that no matter how much I see of it, I cannot tire of its immensity, its wildness that’s so unlike anything else in the world. Although I have travelled very little compared to yourself, I have such a love affair with the UK that I feel I need to explore in so much depth because I love it so much. Its refreshing that you enjoyed this trip so much even though you seem to have seen so much of the world.

  14. I once drove through a cloud in the highlands of Scotland whilst on my honeymoon. It was a magical trip and though we didn’t make it to Skye we intend to go back and see more of the Isles one day.

  15. Great post. The Isle of Skye is one place I’ve always wanted to go! Congrats on being Freshly Pressed! 🙂 Abbie

  16. We really enjoyed this! Thanks for sharing your experience. We just learned we have a great great great grandfather that was from this area. Time to get investigating our roots!

  17. The Isle of Skye is one of the settings in a book House of Night series. I’ve never really thought to look it up but I’m glad this showed up on the freshly pressed page. I get to see the real thing!! Thanks for the photos.

  18. The waterfall looks like a man standing behind a reclining woman. Cool!
    Portree looks clean and colorful. I wonder if they paint everything so brightly to counter-act the grayness?

    1. I hadn’t noticed that MFTL! Good eye. Portree is clean and colourful and I hear quite amazing when it is all opened up. I had the same thought about the colours. They look lovely through the mist from the harbour.

    1. Thanks for reading RB9 – you’re right, this part of the Scotland is great for a tour. I’m so glad we did it in Panda van so we could drive down the interesting little B roads and stop for picnics by a view. I think the itinerary you describe would be the perfect taster of Scotland.

  19. Ha – I just had to laugh! I just saved a half finished draft of guess where – Yep Isle of Skye!! And seeing your pics of the Wicked van also made me smile, as myself and my partner also cruised Skye in the same fashion. Its the most beautiful place and a great location for photography – too good even, I couldn’t decide what pics to post!!
    Congrats on being freshly pressed!

  20. The Isle of Skye is one of my favourite places on this planet.
    You’re so right when you say ” wind whispers tales of the ages” – you can feel the history.
    Beautiful post 🙂

  21. Oh My! Great pictures!!! The isle of Skye is worth a thousand visits, since it’s got so much to offer! You definitely have to go back in summer, when it’s all nice and sunny… Oh, and congrats on being freshly pressed!

  22. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed. I was drawn to your site because of the reference to Skye. Scotland is one of the most scenic places on the planet and your photos brought back so many memories of a trip my partner and I had made there a few years ago. And the Outer Hebrides, if you can get there, are spectacular. Thanks for sharing!

  23. Nice photography! My husband and I are planning a trip there and now that I’m doing some research on the area it seems like we will need a lot more time than two weeks to explore. Thanks for your wonderful photography tour.

  24. Though there was some disappointment on this journey, what a bunch of fun and interesting places. I liked what you said about the weather determining what you were able to do and you still went out and explored. Beautiful photos.

  25. Hello

    Myself and my wife have visited the Hebrides on several occasions and last year we went with the family. Driving up on the A1 to take in the Holy Island and camping before driving across Scotland up to Fort William and then down the small roads to the ferry and across to Mull. We camped on Mull for a few days driving around walking and watching the Eagles. But the weather was not so good. We moved to Iona where we had been on several occasions but never together. The Island was bathed in the sunlight and we just stayed there. It was a wonderful holiday with the children. We never got to Sky but your photos remind me very much of Mull and the houses in pastel colours of Tobermory. Thank you for the post.

    Stephen

  26. I so want to travel – don’t know if it will ever happen, but until it does I’ll content myself with beautiful travel-blogs like yours. Loved it! Congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

  27. Hi Nic,

    Thanks for posting.

    Your vivid photos bring back happy memories of my stay in the Isle of Skye. I was on a scholarship in the U.K .some years back and the trip to the Scottish Highlands was one of the most unforgettable experiences for me. I have been there in summer. Your post was a trip-down-memory-lane. I remember especially the Armadale Ferry boat ride, Loch Lomond, Ft. William, Kyleakin, the awesome landscapes, castles and lochs, etc. The northern lights, “aurora borealis”, I’ve seen from Skye (http://shiftingshades.wordpress.com/dreams/colors/) became the inspiration for my book, “Shifting Shades” (now my blog); featuring poem on Loch Ness (http://shiftingshades.wordpress.com/travel/loch-ness/), among other poems I wrote from that U.K. experience.

    Congratulations on the ‘Freshly Pressed’! Now, I follow your blog.

    1. Hi Chito, thanks for you comment. I enjoyed your poems – they really capture the blissful beauty of both the Loch and Skye. Also, thanks for the congrats. and for following me now!

  28. These are lovely pictures. I am going on a road trip with a friend to Scotland in a couple of weeks. We have been having trouble deciding on where to visit. This I think has convinced me that the Isle of Skye should be a definite destination. It really is very beautiful. Thanks!

    1. Thanks tLP, excited to hear you’ll be road trippin’ in Scotland too! I’m really glad we had the Wicked campervan to drive that amazing landscape. I couldn’t imagine trying to see it all any other way. Yes, include Skye, especially as the weather is improving. And Edinburgh. It was an amazingly cool city. I’ve got a blog post on Edinburgh too. Have a great trip!

  29. woa nice captures! i enjoy reading your post. and how did you take a shoot of the rainbow? its so beautiful and soft.
    your post makes me want to visit Scotland =)

  30. My friend goes to school in Scotland, but I don’t think she’s been here yet. I’ll have to show her these pics!

  31. We were there almost exactly 10 years ago…great to see it looks just as beautiful now as it did then. We spent the night in Uig. Where you might ask? Uig Hotel of course. The entire Scotland trip was such a great time.

  32. congrats on the freshly pressed, nic. isle of skye is a beautiful place. stayed there with the wifesy meself, before we left scotland. thank you for the beautiful reminder. – sm

  33. Great post! Brought back lots of happy memories of my first holiday in Scotland over a decade ago. Makes me now wish to go back. 😉

    1. Hey Slamdunk, some of the best travel moments are spent dreaming in front of a screen. Plus, you never know, I once thought I would never have 9 months to travel Europe, or go to the Middle East, or travel solo around SE Asia… but life has been good to me and I’ve taken every opportunity I could get. Thanks for reading!

  34. Beautiful post! I was just in Speyside last week and posted some photos of my visit to the whisky still makers, Forsyths, on my blog today! Absolutely love it in Scotland. Need to get back there asap. Especially love your photo with the rainbow and the one with the turquoise boat. Slainte!

  35. Err, there are two petrol stations in Portree (one on the Uig road, the other on the Broadford road) as well as in Broadford, Uig, Dunvegan and Armadale. Probably no better or worse than the rest of the highlands, but don’t expect them to be open late on Sunday!

    1. Hey njhough, thanks for that useful info. I was sure there must be more but we only came across those two on our travels…and, as you said it was Sunday lunch time. It was one of those moments when we didn’t expect we would use so much petrol and it was the first time we’d actively looked for petrol in all of our highland driving. Thanks for your comment. I’m sure it will prove useful for someone else on their journeys.

    1. Thanks SoumyaR – really appreciate that feedback. The format is important for me; once I get excited reading about a place, I always want to know how to go about it. Cheers, Nic

  36. Wonderful blog and photos. I spent some time in Edinburgh, didn’t have time to check out the wild country. You have definitely put Scotland back on my list of places to see again.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Camping in this part of the world really does allow a different, more intimate view of the beautiful scenery. I can’t rave about it enough! In the next couple of weeks I’ll be putting up a post with all my lessons from the experience – ‘How to travel the UK & Ireland in a camper van’ – might shed a little more light on the process. Thanks for reading.

  37. I cannot express my joy at this post adequately. I am currently studying in Edinburgh this year and have been making trips here and there. The Isle of Skye is scheduled for a week at the end of May (yay relative warmth!) with a couple of friends. We will spend six days hiking about and enjoying the incredible beauty of the island.

    I was very comforted to see that even on cloudy days, the views are stunning. I won’t worry so much about the weather!

    1. Hey Melissa, Thanks for your comment. I’m so glad I could bring a little reassurance with my post. The weather since we were there has been much better – warmer- so I imagine it will be clearer again for you. As long as you’re prepared for bad weather (waterproofs, good boots etc.) I’m sure you’ll enjoy Skye. Have a great trip!

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  39. Ahhh memories. What a great post. Isle of Skye is a picturesque Scottish beauty. We loved our days on Skye, Camping in our Spaceship Campervan. Thank you for sparking memories of Scotland.

  40. I loved visiting Skye – we arrived by ferry from Mallaig and drove the length of the island trying to find accommodation (it was one of the few spots on our trip that we didn’t book). We ended up paying a fortune to stay at Flodigarry House on the northwest tip, but it was a rather stunning part of Skye (the view was incredible), so we didn’t mind. The drive through the inner part of the island to make the ferry at Uig was rather spectacular.

    Most of all, I loved the majesty of Skye – the mountains are sharp and jagged, the seas and lochs are spectacular. I wish we had spent more time here before we headed further out to the Outer Hebrides.

    1. Hey FF, thanks so much of your comment. I can feel the wonder and enthusiasm through your words. It certainly is a majestic part of the the world! I also wish I’d spent more time there; it’s on my ‘go back there’ list 🙂

  41. Enjoyed reading about your visit to Skye. My sister and I visited during the summer of 2011 – we were enchanted. We spent a day and a night in Portree. We walked the busy streets, shopping and eating and listening to a mixture of languages. That evening we walked to a small theatre where we spent two hours captivated by five talented kids from the local Gaelic College. I can’t imagine a lifeless Portree.

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