Spring comes slowly in the Highlands of Scotland but as sure of the Old Man of Storrs stands, it does come. Lambing season begins, wildflowers bloom and waterfalls run swiftly as mountain ice melts.
Skye, 639 square miles in the Inner Hebrides chain of islands, has only 16 inhabitants per each square mile. Linked by an auto bridge since 1995 the island is also connected to its neighbors by the ferry system. There’s no public airport, but bus service meets trains from Inverness and Glasgow. Local buses are available on the island as well as tours buses, taxis and private car hires.
The place names of Skye’s hamlets and towns are whimsical, and the views and landscapes are both rugged and breathtaking. There are whiskey tours and farm stays, but if picturesque vistas and stately castles and gardens are on your wishlist Skye is perfect for springtime exploration.
An excellent base is the Sligachan Hotel, nine miles from Portree, Skye’s capital. The Sligachan’s renovated rooms are welcoming and charming, mine had a lovely view of Old Sligachan Bridge over the river looking toward the Red and Black Cuillins. A destination since 1830, I loved the cozy corners, blazing fireplaces, gleaming bars, and small museum of the area in the reading room. The local fare served includes fresh salmon and addictive sticky pudding.
Many of Skye’s iconic landscapes are famous as television and film locations. But these are ancient and mystical places, trod on through millenia by Norseman, clansmen and possibly inhabited by faeries. The Quiraing on the eastern face of Meall na Suiramach, draws visitors to walk the swirling hills. The full walk takes two hours, I found myself marveling at the stunning views around every wrinkle in the land. Fluffy sheep dot the green slopes far below.
On the West side of Trotternish ridge at Balnacnoc, is the Fairy Glen. The basalt tower looks like a castle ruin but is a weathered natural formation. Wildflowers and heather line the crags and lake shores. I watched as visitors scrambled up rocks and over streams, and a bride and groom posed for their wedding portrait. It’s an isolated and quiet spot with some parking. Access is also by a 30 minute walk from Uig.
Faerie legends also feature at the Faerie Pools, Allt Coir a ‘Mhadaidh, in the shadow of the Cuillins. Near the village of Carboth, the waterfalls flow in multiple stages from the River Brittle. The falls are a mile and a half walk from the parking area. The waters are clear and cold! Watch your footing, I slipped and slid along the slippery sides of the river.
Among the man-made wonders are Glenfinnan Viaduct, Dunvegan Castle and Gardens and Neist Point Lighthouse. Save the lighthouse for sunset on a clear, calm evening, and join the crowds with a picnic to await the spectacular colors lighting up the rocks.
Located on the westerly tip of Skye near Glendale, in the area known as Durinish, it is best reached by car. I stayed at the top of the cliff with my camera, but there is a sidewalk and steps down to the lighthouse, about a mile down and back.
Glenfinnan Viaduct carries the railway to Glenfinnan Station across a 1,000 ft span, 100 ft above the ground. The Jacobite steam train runs to Fort William and Mallaig in summer months. Walk up the path for a view of Loch Shiel. There’s a visitor center near the parking area with a cafe and gift shop.
Best seen from the water, Dunvegan Castle is imposing, rising from the sea. I was thrilled with the stories told by our boat’s captain on a skiff from the castle’s dock, where we got an up close view of seals and otters. Much of the 800-year-old property and its gardens have been beautifully restored. I came to see the Faerie Flag of Dunvegan, Am Bratach Sith, woven of silk in the 4th century AD. Legend has it that this sacred clan banner has miraculous powers. It is delicate, mysterious and beautiful, with several mystical stories attached to it.
Portree is the commercial, transportation and cultural center of Skye. I enjoyed shopping, restaurants, museums and walks along the quai. From Portree you can enjoy a fishing charter, go sailing or follow a Treasure Trail.
There’s so much more to see and do on Isle of Skye, with something for everyone from the distillery tours to camping to hiking. My next trip will include more searching for faeries!