Heading to the Highlands, and visiting the island of Skye in the Inner Hebrides? Here’s what to expect:
The Isle of Skye is connected to the mainland of Scotland by a bridge named,of course, “Skye Bridge”. Though it is the largest island ( except for Lewis and Harris) in the country, it is still only 639 square miles . The coastline is extremely irregular and the island’s backbone is a series of mountains called the Cullins.
Skye Bridge, gateway to the Isle of Skye
The Cullins are in two sections, the Black Cullins to the north and the more gentle Red Cullins to the south. In Scotland any mountain peak over 3000 feet is called a Munro. There are twelve such in the Black Cullins, of which one, called The Inaccessible Pinnacle, turns your mountain hike into a mountain climb. These hills are not for the first time hiker. Routinely hikers in the winter months overestimate their skills turning this sport into a call for rescue and sometimes, death. But for the beginning hiker with a guide this can be a very enjoyable activity and an opportunity for observing the enchanting scenery and the variety of wildlife.
Old Man of Storr in the distance
On Skye you may glimpse the local red deer, the hares and rarely, a wildcat. Overhead soar the eagles, golden and sea. ( You can see an exhibit on the sea eagles at the Aros Centre in Portree.) Off shore are seals, dolphins and orca whales.
There is one major town on Skye: Portree. It is a busy port and tourist centre with up to date amenities. Either it or the village of Broadford will likely be the base of any any stay on the island. The only airstrip is located nearby the latter.
What is the chance you will encounter Gaelic speaking islanders? Perhaps one in three, or less, as this language is on the decline recently. There is a Scottish Gaelic College based on the island at Sleat ( a peninsula often called ” the garden of Skye”)and they do tours of the campus all year round.
Portree, the hub of Skye
Dunvegan Castle in Dunvegan on the north west of the island is a popular excursion. It has been the home of the Clan MacLeod since the 1200’s, and houses three important heirlooms: the fairy flag which has many legends attached, the Dunvegan Cup from 1493, and Sir Rory Mor’s Horn, a drinking horn which could be up to 10 centuries old. Another castle, Armadale,once home to the Clan Donald is now a museum. And inevitably there are ruins on the island of other clan seats: Knock, Dunscaith and Caisteal Maol. Flora MacDonald of Bonnie Prince Charlie fame is buried at Kilmuir. The aforementioned Aros Centre hosts an excellent exhibition on the island’s dramatic and often tragic history.
Whether it is hiking, walking, salmon fishing, photographing wildlife, exploring historical points of interest or visiting cultural centres, Skye has a wide variety of activities to keep the visitor busy.