Concentrating on the north west of the island for a full but sensibly paced day. We will visit Dunvegan Village & the Castle & Gardens , Coral Beach, Talisker Distillery, the Fairy Pools and Sligachan Bridge.
I think that it is probably fair to say that few visitors truly appreciate the size of the Isle of Skye, nor how much time you will need to truly experience it in a any great depth.
It’s understandable, especially if it is your first visit to Scotland and/or the Misty Isle, that you want to see as much as possible. It is not my business, nor my intention to lecture anybody on the pace at which they should spend their vacation. What I would suggest however is that you allow space for a degree of flexibility. A much coveted tourist destination may leave you somewhat underwhelmed and equally you may see a sign post for somewhere you have never even heard of and end up whiling away an afternoon quite happily.
So in this post we shall concentrate on the north west corner of Skye for what I think is a very full day. Again, you may wish to omit places and there are always spur of the moment stops that you can’t plan for. I’ve suggested a number of walks, I’m not for one minute imagining you doing them all, just one or two that appeal most. Flexibility is key.
In a nutshell we will be visiting the village of Dunvegan, Dunvegan Castle, Coral Beach, Neist Point, Talisker Distillery, a seafood shack, The Fairy Pools and Sligachan Old Bridge. Personally, I think that that is enough for one day, especially if you enjoy a walk and a wander a coffee here or a pint there. You can always do more or less, depending on your pace and the weather.
Dunvegan (Dun Bheagain)
Dunvegan is probably my favourite village on Skye. We once spent a whole month based there living in our caravan, so we got to know it quite well. We stayed at the Kinloch Campsite, with wonderful views looking straight down Loch Dunvegan. Such a stunning location, sitting, drink in hand watching the sun go down, sheep pottering about on the pebbly shore. The smell of seaweed and the sound of oystercatchers. It wasn’t all rosy sunsets though let me tell you. When the wind blew up that loch, bringing with it driving rain, being in the caravan felt, at times, more like being in a boat at sea!
It only takes about half an hour to drive the twenty two miles from Portree via the A850. The village of Dunvegan has plenty to offer. For meals I highly recommend The Old School Restaurant. We’ve enjoyed quite a number of meals there and have never been disapointed. The welcome is always warm, the service has never failed to be friendly and timely and the beautiful, unpretentious food leaves you with that warm glow of satisfaction. Local seafood, Scottish beef and game, craft beers, log fires is the gist of it.
Just opposite the School House is Skye’s Oldest Bakery. Baking since 1870, today everything for sale in the shop is baked on the premises.
You can buy delicious loaves of bread, rolls, pastries, scones that would be on my list of the best scones in Scotland, if I had such a list. They also make bacon rolls, soft floury morning rolls stuffed to the gunnels with bacon. Eat in or take away. Why not pop in and buy a picnic and head straight for Coral Beach?
Just be warned, once they have sold out of goodies, the shop closes and it’s hugely and deservedly popular, so don’t leave it until too late to call in.
There is a great general store, Fasgadh Stores. Again, the staff in there are always friendly and the shop is well stocked with basic provisions. Maps, toiletries, local beers, wine, proper butchers meat, fresh fish, news papers etc.
I don’t know how many times I walked past this tin shed……
……before realising that it is indeed a fruit and veg shop. I popped in and couldn’t believe what I’d been missing. Lovely fresh veg, as much as possible grown locally, fruit, and also vegan friendly products such as dairy alternatives, cosmetics and toiletries, pulses, nuts seeds and baking ingredients.
There are plenty of little cafes too. Blas Cafe and Takeaway does great fish and chips.
Also worth visiting is the Giant MacAskill Museum. Set in a tiny thatched cottage right on the high street. This was not actually where Angus MacAskill lived, he was born on the isle of Berneray in the Sound of Harris in 1825. He was so small when he was born that it was feared he would not survive. Well, I don’t know what his mother fed him on, but he went onto become the tallest Scotsman in history. at a lofty 7 foot and 8 inches.
Sadly the MacAskill family were victims of the clearances, and so at the age of six, Angus, his parents and siblings emigrated to Canada where Angus lived, and indeed prospered until his death in 1863.
If like me, you enjoy a walk, there’s a really lovely circular walk called the Two Churches Walk. It only takes about an hour to do. You begin at the Duirinish Church of Scotland in the village.
The path takes you through pretty woodland with plenty of babbling brooks and little waterfalls, up onto open moorland where you will find the Duirinish Millenium Stone. Standing at 15 feet (5 meters) high, you would be forgiven for thinking that it had been there for thousands of years. In fact it was carried up there using only hand power and ropes by the people of Dunvegan on midsummer’s day in the year 2000, to commemorate the new millennium.
The views from the stone are well worth the walk. Looking across Loch Dunvegan to Macleods Tables and the Cuillin Ridge in the distance.
Once you’ve had time to drink in the views, make your way down to the post- reformation ruins of St Mary’s Church, you can just make it out in the above photo.
Dunvegan Castle & Garden’s
Set in five acres of verdant garden, a jewel amidst Skye’s rugged heathland, is Dunvegan Castle and Gardens. Part of the vast 42,000 acre MacLeod estate, the MacLeods having occupied the castle for a continuous 800 years, testament to their tenacity.
Am Bratach Sith, (The Fairy Flag of Dunvegan) is prehaps the most treasured possesion of Clan MacLeod. When unfurled, it is reputed to guarantee the clan victory from the jaws of defeat. It is uncertain whether the flag was acquired on the clan’s crusades in the 4th century AD or if it was a gift from the fairy wife of a MacLeod chief.
The gardens are truly breathtaking, running right down to the shores edge. The exotic plants are fed by waterfalls and streams that then run into the loch.
From the castle, you may continue along what becomes a singe track road with passing places, as far as the road goes, where you can park up and walk to Coral Beach.
We walked because we like to walk and because we had the luxury of sufficient time. If you drive though, it only takes about ten minutes, depending on how much reversing to passing places you end up having to do and then you may need to be patient before you can find a free parking space. It’s worth the trouble though and is a perfect spot for a picnic and a swim,so bring provisions and towels and bathing gear.
Skye is not known for it’s sandy beaches, but Coral Beach is an exception. The sand is not formed from coral at all, but the crushed, bleached skeleton’s of Red Coralline Seaweed. Out on the reef by the Island of Lampay, the Coralline grows at a rate of just 1mm per year. Lampay is a mere 150 metres off shore and it is possible to walk across at very low tide to explore. Always check tide times though or risk getting stranded!
From Coral Beach, we head back to Dunvegan and then take the B884, another narrow road with passing places, west to Neist Point. In fact it’s the most westerly point on Skye and an amazing spot to sit and watch the sunset. It’s also a good place to watch out for whales, dolphins, porpoise and basking shark, it’s all a case of the right timing. If you are not lucky enough to see any of the above mentioned, you will see plenty of seabirds. Watch gannets with their six foot wing span as they make dramatic dives into the sea to catch fish. Puffins are regularly sighted here, although they don’t nest here. also black guillemots, razorbills and Great Skuas, more commonly known as “bonxies”.
If you are on Skye during the winter months in particular, you may be fortunate enough to see the Northern Lights or the Aurora Borealis. You won’t see them during the height of summer as the sun doesn’t sink low enough below the horizon for the sky to become dark enough. It’s only now some eighteen years later, I realise what a gift it was to see the “merrie dancers” when we lived on the east coast of Scotland. I remember driving home to Garmouth from Elgin, I could see an etherial light in the direction of home. It took me a moment to realise what it was that I was actually witnessing, at which point I ran to all of our neighbours in great excitement so that they could come out and watch them with me. Magic.
It is not advisable to walk along these cliffs in bad weather or poor visibility. Also if your dog is lacking in the brain cell department and likes to chase seagulls, keep him on the lead!
The walk from the car park down to the lighthouse takes around 40 minutes. The paths are excellent but steep in places. It has to be said too, that like so many stunning locations on Skye, Neist point is a victim of it’s own beauty and it can be very busy.
Talisker Distillery & some amazing seafood
Driving back along the B884 to Dunvegan and then on a “proper road” the A863 whichs takes us south to Carbost and the Talisker Distillery. Set on the banks of Loch Harport, and only half an hours drive from Portree, sits this wonderful distillery.
Remember that if you are driving you could only get away with a sip or two of whisky before risking being over the legal limit. Just one advantage of having your own driver guide is that this need not be a concern of yours.
An interesting spot of history relating to the Talisker Distillery, concerning a system known as “Truck”. To cut a long story short, the founder of the Talisker Distillery was a man of few or no scruples. Hugh MacAskill, having “cleared” as many as 300 people on behalf of wealthy landowner John MacLeod, went on to purchase Talisker House and then built what we know today as Talisker Distillery. Some islander’s, having been mercilessly evicted from their homes, by Hugh, to make way for sheep, sought employment at the distillery. Hugh and his brother then sought to tighten their steel grip on these folk, by paying them not with real money, but with their own privately struck coins. These tokens could then be used to purchase goods, at highly inflated prices, from the MacAskill store. Hard times. Two of these coins are held today in a safe at the distillery, representing a fascinating bit of social history.
If you are hungry and you love fresh seafood, head up to the Oyster Shed, just two minutes round the bend and up the hill. It literally is a shed, selling the finest and freshest Scottish seafood. You can buy to take away, or go round to their picnic area. It has a roof but is otherwise open to the elements and there they will cook to order, plump scallops, langoustine, lobster, crab and of course fresh, raw rock oysters. So simple but utterly divine.
The Fairy Pools at Glenbrittle
It takes around one hour and twenty minutes to drive from Neist Point to Genbrittle, but once you are on the main A863 it is an easy enough drive with much beauty to admire along the way. There is now a proper car park run by the Forestry Commision which I believe costs £5. With visitor numbers as many as 1000 per day, facilities are desperately needed. Not only parking, in order to keep the road and passing places freely flowing for visitors and most importantly, residents trying to go about their daily lives and emergency vehicles, should the need arise. But also toilet facilities, as currently the only facilities are the woods, need I say more. Toilets are in the pipeline, but it’s a case of making sure that they will be able to cope with demand, so watch this space.
Well, even if you haven’t done everything that I’ve suggested, it will by now have been a long day, but hopefully a really wonderful one. So, we’ll head back to Portree, with a photo stop at Sligachan Old Bridge en route, just 30 minutes drive from the Fairy Pools.
Sligachan Old Bridge
Legend has it, that if you wash your face in the enchanted fairie waters that run under the bridge you will gain you eternal beauty! If you’ve tried this and it worked please let me know in the comments below!
Built between 1810 and 1818 by Thomas Telford, the old bridge is now disused except as a beauty spot, with it’s beautiful mountain backdrop.
Sgurr-Nan Gillean, prehaps one of the Cuiliin’s most famous peaks, looms to the right with its crags and pinnacles dark and menacing. If you can see them that is and they are not covered in cloud!
From Sligachan Bridge, it’s only a 15 minute drive back to Portree, which is an ideal base for exploring the Island.
As I said, this day has only skimmed one quarter of the Isle of Skye, there is so much to see and do. In in my humble opinion, it is a good idea to split the island into three or four areas and concentrate on one area at a time, or, if you only have one day, choose very wisely what you really want to see.
A word of caution, if you are considering a trip to Skye this year, please be warned that good accommodation is already booking up fast, so if you haven’t already booked your hotel or B&B, make haste to do so now. Guests booking a tour with us will receive help and advice to do this.
Next weeks blog will be about the north east corner of Skye, the Trotternish peninsular. So feel free to subscribe to our blog and this will appear in your inbox as soon as I hit the ‘publish’ button.