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Isle of Skye, exploring one of Scotland’s Pearls

When visiting Scotland one must also travel to the country side. Of course there are gorgeous and interesting cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow, but it is in the country side where the Scottish magic lies. One of the most visited points of interests is the Isle of Skye, one of of the largest islands in the country (region) and with a lot of beautiful sites to visit.

One of the mistakes several visitors make when they plan to visit the Isle of Skye is thinking one day is enough. The island is huge! And besides being big, it has a lot to explore. I was there for two days, and I didn’t have enough time to visit a lot of places I had on my list. Besides the time we spend enjoying a site, there’s also the time it takes to reach those sites. Therefore, one day is definitely not enough! Two days? Maybe if a bit rushed…, but honestly I think that island deserves at least 3 days to properly explore some of the main sites.

10 places in the Isle of Skye to visit

This list just contains 10 places to visit, but there are many more. Even though, visiting 10 sites requires some time, one needs to plan the trip beforehand, and decide what they want to do.

Eilean Donan Castle

This is the first site to visit, and in fact it lies outside the Isle of Skye. This castle sits in a small isle, right on they way to theIsle of Skye, and it is in this list because it is really important in that area, and a major connection to the islands of that part of Scotland.

View over Eilean Donan Castle
View over Eilean Donan Castle

For several centuries, this castle expanded and shrunk in size. Yes, it “shrunk”, with so many reforms at certain point the castle was using the whole area of that isle, but after so many chances it ended up being reduced to the size we see today.

If you love the 007 movies, then this is a place to visit, as it was part of the scenario fo the movie James Bond / The World Is Not Enough. It is almost impossible not seeing it when you are on your way to the Isle of Skye, and therefore, it is a suggested stop.

Submerge your head at Sligachan River

Yes, the title is correct. I am really suggesting you to submerge your head in a river. Okay, in fact I am not suggesting anything, I didn’t even do that myself. But this is another Scottish tale that lead tourists to do a few odd things… I bet the locals have a lot of fun seeing tourists doing that.

There are two tales that support this theory. The first one is about two warriors, a woman and a man. The warrior woman lived in the Isle of Skye and her reputation reached the ears of one of the best warriors of Scotland, whom decided to challenge her to prove her reputation. The fight was so violent that it originated some of the valleys and mountains of the Isle of Skye, even the animals ran away from the island.

The woman warrior’s daughter was so scared that her mother wouldn’t win that she started crying of desperation and went to the river. The tale says this water works as a portal between ours and the fairies’ worlds. The fairies head the daughter crying and they visited her. They suggested her to wash her face in those waters, and if she did that she would acquire the knowledge to stop the battle.

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With this knowledge, the daughter ran home, she grabbed a few herbs and nuts and threw them to the fire, and the smoke spread through the valley. As soon as the warriors smelled it the realized how tired and hungry they both were, so they decided to end the battle and they went to the woman warrior’s house to eat.

When they arrived, the daughter had prepared a meal for two great warriors. Since the Scottish warrior ate under the roof of the woman-warrior he became her guest. And because of that, by honor, they couldn’t hurt each other.

The tale also tells that one gains eternal beauty when you submerge your face in these waters. The world beauty is open to many interpretations. Why the warrior’s daughter didn’t gain eternal beauty? They say she acquired inner beauty. These are all tales, but the rule is that you must submerge your head for 7 seconds, with the water that passes under the old bridge. It’s your call now, if you do it or not!

Portree Town

Portree town is the biggest town in the Isle of Skye. The perfect place to stay overnight, but not just for that. The offer of basic services in the town is plenty, they even have a cinema, which turns this town as an interesting place for those who want to relax after a day of driving.

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For those who don’t want to drive in Scotland, there is also the option of taking one of the several excursions that you can do departing from Portree town. But how about getting there? There are buses that connect it directly from Inverness and Glasgow.

Hike near the Old Man of Storr

The Old Man of Store is one of Isle of Skye’s icons, a rock formation that can be seen from afar. The option to stop the car and take a few photos and then keep driving is the most popular. But if you have the time and you want to stretch your legs, it is one of the best areas in the island for hikes and even climbing if you are brave enough.

Old Man of Storr
Old Man of Storr

The starting point is from the parking log, and it is a hike of about 4 km. The way back is the same, instead of a loop. The hike is rated as medium, both in distance as in difficulty. If you want to challenge yourself, please keep this information in mind. But my recommendation is to ask at the tourism office, in Portree, about the recommended hikes for someone like you.

Kilt Rock

As I mentioned before, the Isle of Skye has really a lot to offer. The Kilt Rock is a cliff that reminds the folds of a kilt, hence the name.

View over the Kilt Rock
View over the Kilt Rock

The cliff is composed by a huge amount of basalt columns, that give that characteristic shape to the cliff, like if it was fold of a kilt.

Many lives have been lost in that cliff, therefore, nowadays there’s a fence to protect from accidents. Even though, one should always be extra careful next to cliffs.

Hike through Quiraing

Has you probably already noticed, there isn’t lack of hikes to do in the Isle of Skye. And here’s another one, a bit more challenging one…

If you are looking for more challenging adventures, the hike through Quiraing is a great option. Passing by incredible rock formations with stunning views. And if you are into photography, then this route is really for you!

This is a looped path, of about 7 km, with start and finish point at the parking lot, and it might take a bit more than two hours. Of course, depending on the amount of times you stop to rest and take photos. Keep in mind that this hike isn’t recommended if certain weather conditions are observed, mostly wind and fog. The path goes through some high cliffs, of which wind and reduced visibility can lead to deadly accidents.

Fairy Glen

Mythology was (or still is) quite present in the Gaelic culture. Both in Ireland as in Scotland and Wales. But for the Isle of Skye, there are many tales about fairies and most of them somehow related to the Dunvegan Castle and its flag. However, Fairy Glen and the Fairy Pools don’t have any known tale related to fairies, the name only comes up from the fact that these places are so unusual.

One of the columns still has its top intact, a basalt structure that from afar looks like the ruins of a castle. This illusion lead to the origin of the name Ewan Castle (without specific origins for its name) and it is possible to climb to the top and enjoy the views from up there.

Coral Beach

Another one of the most visited places in the Isle of Skye, the Coral beach. A place where we had a really soaking wet experience… From the parking lot to the beach is exactly one mile, through a really easy trail. At the parking lot you can find a sign that the beach is one mile away, and the precision is really accurate!

The beach, unlike the name induces, it is not made out of coral. The “sand” looks a lot like coral, but it is a type of dry algae that crushed resembles like coral. There you should be prepared with flip flops or any other kind of shoes, because it will be painful…

Coral Beach
Coral Beach

And of course, be mindful of the weather, because in Scotland it can change in a matter of minutes. When I went there, the way to the beach was really relaxed and sunny. We stayed there for a bit, walking at the beach enjoying the area, until it started to rain and we decided to head back! But it started pouring rain, so much that we arrived at the car completely soaked…

There is a small island about 150 meters from the beach, which during low tide you can even walk there. A small coral “dune” makes it possible the way to the island.

Fairy Pools

Another place that if you want to visit it, you must be aware of the weather forecast…, and yes, another story on how I got completely soaked because I wasn’t even remotely prepared. Two rain “showers” on the same day, and this time all I had left was a pair of shorts. So I got inside the airBNB wearing shorts and boots, the only remaining clean and dry things I had with me. Don’t be like me, and be prepared for the rain!

Small waterfalls at the Fairy Pools
Small waterfalls at the Fairy Pools

But back to the Fairy Pools, this place is a set of several small waterfalls and lakes of a really blue color. The full trail is of about 5 km from the parking lot, with a few passages through some creeks. Also be aware of your footwear, it can be really slippery and you can get hurt… No, this didn’t happen to me!

The bluish color of the water was what gave the name to the place. They say that the blue is so beautiful that the fairies must go there to bath. If you like cold waters, you can even try that for yourself! If getting freezing cold isn’t your thing, you can always take loads of photos, because the site is amazing!

Spar Cave

Spar Cave is an impressive cave to visit, however quite challenging to reach. You must plan it in advance and be extra careful, because accidents happen. But it is considered as one of Scotlands Wonders, therefore a visit is highly recommended.

Considering that to get to the cave the tide must be low, this means that planning isn’t optional. Or else you will risk getting there and not being able to see it. Of course, it is also important o have a nice weather forecast, but considering that the weather in Scotland is quite hard to predict…

Isle of Skye, exploring one of Scotland’s Pearls
Isle of Skye, exploring one of Scotland’s Pearls

Alike many other sites in Scotland, this cave also has a tale. The name in Gaelic is “Slochd Altimen”, which in a rough translation means nursery cave. The tale tells that a princess fell in love by the son of a rival clan, who castaway in that cave. Like Romeu and Juliet, they also lived a forbidden love story, which turned into a pregnancy. Knowing that it could lead to serious issues considering the discord between their parents, the princess hid the baby in that cave until peace would be made.

This site doesn’t have a parking lot and it isn’t easy to find. The recommendation is to insert the GPS coordinates in your device, and follow, carefully, the directions. The entrance to the cave isn’t visible, you will have to pass by a small canyon first. Keep in mind that to visit the cave you must also carry a torch. Or else, the visit will be even more challenging.

Where is and how to get to the Isle of Skye

The Isle of Skye is in the West side of Scotland, but so close to the rest of the country that it is connected by a bridge. Looking at the map it isn’t noticeable at first that it is an island, however it is the second largest island in Scotland.

To get there, like I mentioned before, it is possible by bus from Glasgow or Inverness. However, my recommendation is to rent a car, or else you will be too dependable on the excursions’ availability.

Driving in the United Kingdom can be a bit scary for those who are not used to drive on the other side of the road. But the advantage of visiting such a remote place is that there is’t that much traffic either. Yes, there are narrow roads, but in a matter of hours you’ll get used to drive on the wrong side of the road.

The best thing to do is really to enjoy the Isle of Skye to its maximum. It is a really gorgeous place and an experience to feel the real Scotland.

Have you been to the Isle of Skye? Which other sites do you recommend to visit on the island?

By Gil Sousa

Portuguese expat in Cork, traveler and food enthusiastic.

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