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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
From 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.
By 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!