“A far croonin’ is pullin’ me away
As take I wi’ my cromack to the road.
The far Coolins are puttin’ love on me
As step I wi’ the sunlight for my load.”
Road to the Isles, Songs of the Hebrides 1917
“Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing,
Onward! the sailors cry;
Carry the lad that’s born to be King
Over the sea to Skye”
Skye Boat Song, Songs of the North 1884
Traditionally the road to Skye has been a romantic one, but these days there is a large, modern bridge which opened in 1995 to take you quickly from the mainland. If you prefer something more romantic, scenic and adventurous there is another way. Head across to Fort William and then onto Mallaig where you can catch a car ferry to Armadale on Skye. The drive from Fort William is very pretty and the ferry trip is much more charismatic than the bridge. Just watching the crew manoeuvre the boat into the dock to allow the vehicles access is fascinating.
The first time we went to Skye was with young children and we stayed at the Youth Hostel at Broadford. This was a great option. We had a family room which was clean and comfortable and it was located right on the shore.
The second time we went to Skye we stayed in a lovely B&B which boasted uninterrupted and stunning views of the Cuillins. At the time there were rumours going round that the Lord of Dunvegan Castle had sold the Red Cuillin to an American businessman in order to pay for repairs to the castle roof! We were convinced for several days that, not only had he sold it but that it had been taken away to the US somewhere, like London Bridge! The mist and cloud were so persistent that we couldn’t even catch a glimpse of these famed peaks. Eventually the sky cleared, as we were leaving, and we found the Cuillans exactly where they were meant to be.
A fabulous day trip on Skye is to Loch Coruisk, accessible by boat from Elgol (about 1 hour’s drive from Portree) or by foot from Sligachan, an 11-12 km (7-8 miles) walk. Loch Coruisk is an inland fresh water loch at the foot of the Black Cuillin. Despite an overcast day, when we arrived there was such a magnificent reflection of the surrounding peaks in the Loch that it was difficult to know where land and water began and finished and it would have been very easy to walk unwittingly into the water! A sublime view.
It was summer; we were cold, so on return to Elgol the natural instinct was to head straight for the cafe and order a hot chocolate. I swear this is the best hot chocolate I have ever had. I will have to go back one day to see how romanticised the memory has become!
The B&B we were staying at had a booklet detailing many of the walks available on the island. We opted for a trip to The Old Man of Storr. I made it to the base of the monolith and waited whilst my husband and his brother did the scrambling.
A twenty-minute drive from Portree will take you to Uig on the north-west coast of Skye. From here you can take a car ferry to Tarbert, capital of the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides (Skye being the Inner Hebrides). Capital is somewhat of a misnomer as Tarbert is merely a very small village and convenient port. Try and avoid Sundays in the Outer Hebrides as they are very traditional religious communities and everything is closed.
Harris is famous for the production of cloth known as Harris Tweed which has bedecked many of the Scottish gentry. Our B&B hosts (who were actually English!) proudly showed us the shed on their property in which Harris Tweed had been traditionally woven. To us it looked like any corrugated iron shed you would find on an Australian farm, but here it was an important part of their heritage.
Geographically, Harris is a fascinating place, reminiscent of a sci-fi movie set. … This is made even more curious by the fact that, despite the different names, Harris is joined to the Isle of Lewis which is dead flat!
The Isle of Harris is also famous for its beaches; if you have seen English beaches, don’t laugh, these are real beaches and exceptionally beautiful, even by Australian standards. Unfortunately we must have struck a bad year because the July weather was cold and windy and a walk along Luskentyre beach resembled Douglas Mawson’s Antarctic expedition as we rugged up and pushed against the wind and swirling, stinging sands. My brother-in-law and I just had to paddle in the sea and narrowly avoided frost-bitten feet as my husband dallied to take a photograph – I have never felt such cold water! Checking trip advisor recently, I came across a review by a woman from Newark, UK, who had visited Luskentyre in August, 2013 and commented: “ … the sea was warm enough to swim in for hours”. Hmm.
The Isle of Lewis has several stone circles, standing stones and Iron Age constructions. The standing stones at Callanish are the most impressive (featured in the animated movie “Brave”), and there is also a visitor’s centre open during the summer (not Sundays) which will give further information. Pottery finds indicate a date of 2200 BC for the erection of the circle. Don’t be fooled by the label ‘summer’, we were there in mid July and it was freezing.
Dun Carloway Broch, dating from the Iron Age, is the best preserved broch in the western Isles and well worth a visit. Also in “Brave”!
Stornoway is the capital of Lewis and more worthy of the name. On our way into the town we saw fliers advertising a surfing competition. After our experience at Luskentyre we thought this was hilarious but, obviously, other people think the water is suitable for human recreation, not just seals!
Lewis is famous for the Lewis Chessmen, a group of seventy-eight, 12th century chess pieces carved from walrus ivory which were discovered on Lewis in 1831. You can see some of these in the local museum.
Returning to Skye, our guidebook recommended a detour via the intriguingly named ‘Faerie Glen’. Here we found a bizarre landscape of grassy knolls and hillocks, dales and glens, with foxgloves in flower and the occasional sheep. The overall effect was entrancing and the area was definitely well named.