Scotland’s real crown jewels aren’t encased deep inside Edinburgh Castle …they are located further west, on an Isle that makes you feel like you are on another world entirely. This is a part of Scotland that you will definitely want to include on your Scotland tour itinerary.
No place yet has captured my heart and soul the way that the wondrous land of Scotland has, and the Isle of Skye is arguably one of the most beautiful places in Scotland. The scenery on the Isle of Skye was the Scotland of my imagination. Dramatic cliffs and crags, the ocean, the blue sky and green as far as the eye can see.
Located on the western edge of Scotland in the Highlands, the Isle of Skye is reached by heading west on A87 just south of Fort Augustus and Loch Ness.
Portree is the main city on the Isle of Skye, and it is just about as far as the paved roads go, thus this is about as far onto the Isle of Skye that the big tour buses can make it. It is for this reason that I suggest renting a car to drive to the Isle of Skye. To truly get a taste of the ruggedness and beauty of this magical place, you really need to get away from the tourist crush.
Portree is a great place to start your Isle of Skye Adventure. The harbor is beautiful and there is a wide variety of shops with local crafts and souvenirs and restaurants. It also happens to be the site of the restaurant that bestowed upon me the very best fish and chips that I have ever eaten.
Stuarts is conveniently located in Portree on Quay Street, right next to the harbor. The fish was firm and flakey and the portions were huge (one meal of fish and chips could have easily fed two people). The batter was greasy and wonderful; just what one is craving when one goes looking for fish and chips.
Once you have fed and shopped, it is time to continue on to the part of the island where the big tour buses can’t go. This is where the road turns to one lane gravel dotted with grazing sheep and where the real adventure begins.
It was only by chance that we ended up at the Dun Flodigarry Hostel (it was a bank holiday weekend, and it was the only thing we were able to book) but I am so very glad that we did.
Located North of Staffin on the remote northern point of the Trotternish Peninsula, the hostel is reached by winding down a steep, narrow gravel road. Once you reach the bottom, the it sits on a site on the edge of the ocean, with incredible views down the dramatic coastline. Its remoteness makes it feel like you are in another world altogether as you sit and watch the sun set over the ocean.
The Dun Flodigarry Hostel is family run and they made us feel just like we were at home. The hostel is clean, comfortable and affordable. The kitchen was well stocked, and we were able to purchase provisions in the small town of Staffin for cooking some of our meals. The Dun Flodigarry Hostel really enhanced our experience on the Isle of Skye, and so if you are looking for reasonably priced accommodations, I highly recommend that you stay there.
The incredible landscapes of the Isle of Skye can be enjoyed from the comfort of your vehicle, but if you are able to, hiking really is the best way to see the majesty that the island has to offer. The hostel directed us to a great hike along the ridge of the island that yielded some of the most incredible views that I have ever seen (I used to be a pretty avid backpacker and I have seen some incredible vistas, so I like to think that I have a pretty educated opinion on the subject.) The Walkhighlands Website can also give you some great ideas for hiking on the Isle of Skye (look for hikes near Staffin and the Trotternish Peninsula if you are planning on taking my advice and staying at the hostel or somewhere nearby).
A gem on the Isle of Skye that seemed far from the tourist path is the Kilmuir Graveyard. The beautiful, rugged setting of this graveyard is enough to justify a stop, but if you have any interest in Scottish history, a stop at Flora McDonald’s grave makes for the icing on the cake.
Flora McDonald was a supporter of Charles Edward Stuart, the last Stuart monarch. During his unsuccessful campaign to retake the Scottish throne, Flora disguised Charles as one of her maidservants in order to help him escape to France. This is said to be where he got the nickname “Bonnie Prince Charlie”.
Charles did escape to France, but Flora was caught and imprisoned for her betrayal, not to be released until years later. She eventually returned to the isle of Skye to live out the rest of her life. I have read tales that state that 3,000 mourners attended her funeral in the Kilmuir graveyard and that they consumed 300 gallons of whiskey (now THAT’S how I want to go out!)
Nearby Flora’s grave is the Skye Museum of Island Life, which is also well worth a stop if you are so inclined.
One last note about the Isle of Skye; if you are a whiskey fan (particularly a fan of smokey, peaty flavored whiskeys) the Talisker distillery is the only whiskey distillery on the island. They offer tours and a tasting room. It is located south of Portree on A87, west onto A863 and then west on the B8009 towards Carbost.
I have talked to many people that have visited Scotland, buy very few make it to the Isle of Skye. Even fewer make it to its more remote areas, where the most beautiful scenery and hiking is located. Take time in your next Scotland itinerary to visit the Isle of Skye. Enjoy the breathtaking scenery, incredible hiking and friendly people. I promise it will be one of your favorite parts of your trip!