Roadtrip to Isle of Skye, Scotland

When I first moved to England, I just thought United Kingdom was another word for “England”. I soon learned the United Kingdom is comprised of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland (but not Ireland). I still don’t understand the nuances of it; each is it’s own country though part of the larger UK. So while Scotland is a different country than England, it is part of the United Kingdom, making it a destination we could legally travel to over the summer and not have to quarantine due to Covid-19. We did not break any rules traveling to Skye, and wore masks as required. The borders closed during a later lockdown, so we were lucky to roadtrip when we did. And of course, Scotland is absolutely stunning in the summer sunshine.

The drive to Isle of Skye is quite long from where we live, so we broke it up with a trip to Loch Awe and the Highlands on the way up (separate post coming later) and Glasgow on the way back (not worth a post, sorry…). Without stops, Uig (where we stayed on Isle of Skye) is a 12 hour drive, which is why we broke it up to see more places. The drive is fairly easy until you get past the Highlands, with very little traffic. I imagine if we weren’t in a pandemic, there would be more traffic as Scotland and Skye are popular with Europeans (and Americans!). It seemed as soon as we saw the Welcome to Scotland sign, everything was greener. Scotland is truly beautiful, and the drive was stunning through the rolling hills and picture perfect landscape. The roads were in good condition as well, until you get to the more remote areas. If you read my post about Cornwall, you know that isn’t always the case in the United Kingdom.

Stunning landscape on Isle of Skye

Isle of Skye, or just Skye, is one of many islands in Scotland. Did you know Scotland has 790 islands?! It’s crazy! Some are larger like Skye, Mull, and Lewis & Harris, but some are tiny. Some Scottish islands are only accessible by ferry. You can access Skye by bridge or ferry. The mileage was less taking the ferry, but it would take longer once you factor in boarding the cars on the ferry, plus you have to plan your day around the ferry schedule. We opted to drive out of the way to take the bridge, making it less hassle. Honestly, it was only “out of the way” because of a spot we visited on the way, that took us off the main route to Skye. Locals claim Skye is no longer a “real island” because there is now a bridge connecting it to mainland Scotland. I say, if you can swim around it, it’s an island. Skye is part of the Inner Hebrides, which consists of 79 islands (only 35 are inhabited). From Skye, you can take a ferry to the Outer Hebrides which boast some truly stunning sandy beaches and crystal clear water. We considered this, but didn’t have enough time. Maybe this summer?!?

Driving through Scotland on your way to Skye, you’ll be greeted with some amazing landscape. Plenty of places are worth stopping along the way, to marvel at the views. Glencoe and Fort William are popular places with tourists (we actually stopped in Fort William for lunch on the way back and walked around a bit). Fort William is a popular place to stay for those who wanted to climb Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the United Kingdom. The town can be crowded, so book ahead if you plan to stay there.

Ever since I first began planning our trip to Skye, there was one stop that was non-negotiable. I knew I needed to stop at Glenfinnan Viaduct to see the Jacobite Steam Train. Completed in 1898, The Glenfinnan Viaduct is a impressive, and it’s considered the longest concrete railway bridge in all of Scotland. The viaduct is 380 meters long and 30 meters tall when it crosses over the River Finnan. I have a weird fascination with viaducts, and I’m also a huge Harry Potter nerd, so this was a must for me. My husband begrudging came along but I think he enjoyed it. In the Harry Potter movies, the Hogwarts express is seen crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct, and it’s just so iconic and nerdy all at the same time. The train comes through twice a day, so be sure to check the schedule. We went for the 10:45 am passing, but it also crosses the viaduct in the afternoon. There is National Trust parking nearby for the Glenfinnan Monument and Visitor Centre (something to do while you wait). If you follow directions for the Glenfinnan Monument, you’ll end up in the right place. The parking lot is small and it fills up quickly. If you’re National Trust members, parking is free. We got there about 75 minutes before the train crossing, and it was full about 20 minutes later. You’ll need to walk down the road to the right and then turn towards the field to walk to the best view point. You’ll get up close to the viaduct (so cool!) and then head up the hill to claim your spot. I took lots of practice photos while waiting. We were blessed with a beautiful, sunny day. Stopping to see the train did set us back a little bit on our way to Skye, but it was worth it. I’m sure all my fellow Gryffindors would agree!

After our Harry Potter superfan experience, we hit the road for Skye. It was a long drive but we were greeted with so much beauty! I tried to map out things to do in sections of Skye; the island has a unique shape with lots of peninsulas, and one lane roads leading to different areas would make for slow travel. Skye is definitely one of those places where it takes twice as long as to get to places than you think it will. If you get motion sick like I do, you’ll want to bring some pills along for that. Rather than lose time by heading to our room, we headed straight to Neist Point which was on the opposite side of the island as most of the stuff we planned to do. We made a quick stop at the Old Sligachan Bridge, which was on the way, but only for a quick photo. Neist Point is the most westerly point on Skye and it’s lighthouse is iconic. I had planned to do other things near Neist Point but there wasn’t time due to me underestimating how long it would take to get there, and how many times I stopped to look at/photograph/pet sheep on the side of the road. Priorities!

The sunset is amazing at Neist Point, as are the cliffs and views. If you’re a fan of lighthouses this is definitely for you. However, you don’t have to walk all the way to the lighthouse to get a good view (we didn’t). There are steep, stone steps to climb down (and back up) so consider your footwear. If you’re not a dork and you don’t spend hours waiting for the Hogwarts Express like we did, you might have time to explore other places near Neist Point. Dunvegan Castle was on our list if there was time, as well as Claigan Coral Beach. We had a dinner booking (how Brits say reservations) at our place that limited our time. Our trip was after lockdown restrictions eased, but some of the restaurants on Skye were not open, so reservations were essential.

After bouncing around on the one lane bumpy roads from Neist Point, we headed to a different peninsula on the island to check into our hotel. (Seriously, look at a map of Skye, it’s such a unique shape). We stayed at the Uig Hotel, but not in the main hotel. (Though the main hotel looked amazing and the food in the restaurant was delicious). We really lucked out with our stay. On hotels.com I found a place managed by the owners of the Uig Hotel. It was a cottage right next to their cottage, overlooking the harbor with magnificent views. It was private and serene, and we loved talking to the hotel owners and seeing their dogs. The set up was great, because we had a bedroom with a modern shower, and a living room with a tv. I was actually still finishing a summer class so it was perfect – I took my laptop out to the couch in the living room and didn’t disturb my husband while he was sleeping. I’d highly recommend staying here; the place was an absolute gem, in a great location and I’d stay here for sure if I’m lucky enough to visit Skye again.

We grabbed a cheap bottle of gas station wine, and enjoyed the view.

During our trip, we ended up having dinner in the Uig Hotel twice, and it was fantastic. All the food we ate on Skye was great! Since we were road tripping, and packing in as many places as we could each day, we ate out of our car for breakfast and lunch – fruit, peanut butter and jelly, and snacks. Honestly, this ended up working out well because Skye is so remote, and there aren’t many pubs or restaurants to begin with, and many were closed due to Covid. We booked in with our hotel for dinner. Most hotels in Scotland will filling their bookings with their hotel guests first, and then opening it up to others the day of. It made sense to eat near where we were staying/visiting, and we wouldn’t change a thing about it. The restaurant at the Uig Hotel was phenomenal! The first night, I had a chicken supreme that was amazing, and my husband had a deer dish with a berry jus. We don’t eat venison often, but this was outstanding. Much of the food on Skye is locally sourced as well. We ate well each night, and loved the local flavor and flair.

We had a jam packed day planned for our first full day on Skye, and of course we didn’t get to see everything because I planned too much. BUT, everything we did see was amazing, and most of it was off of the same main route. We basically made a loop of the part of the island we were staying on, hitting the sights and attractions along the way. This part of Skye is just magnificent with the landscape, waterfalls, and endless views. The driving was fairly easy, but the off the beaten path walks and sites, require good walking shoes. We loaded up our backpacks with snacks, water, sunblock, and midge spray and set off.

Our first stop of the day was Bride’s Veil Falls. Aptly named, these waterfalls look like a bridal veil. You can actually see them from the road and there is very little walking required. If you don’t have much time, you could just pull over, snap a quick pic, and be on your way. We ended up walking around a bit, and going up the hill to the top. It was easy walking, but the ground was wet (or “boggy” as they say in Scotland) so we probably spent more time trying to avoid getting our feet soaked than we did actually walking. It was a pretty waterfall, on on the route to Old Man of Storr, which made this a fun little stop for us. If you’re short on time, you can skip this, or just view it from the road on the way to other places.

Bride’s Veil Falls

Our next stop was one of the main attractions for visiting the Isle of Skye – the Old Man of Storr. We parked along the road, but it isn’t free, you pay the meter. Old Man of Storr is popular and there is limited parking so arrive early. However, they were building a parking lot while we were there, so perhaps it is completed. We spent about 2 hours there. My legs were sore from a previous hike we did in the Highlands, and the walk is all uphill, so I took it slow, and stopped for a billion pictures. I also struggle immensely with downhills; they kill my knees so I take a while to go down steep hills. The Old Man of Storr is an iconic spot of Isle of Skye, and widely photographed (helllloooo, Instagram spot!). It’s truly beautiful, and I can’t imagine it in other seasons! The “Old Man” is a large pinnacle rock that sticks straight. The rock formations you see up on the hill are incredible, and the area overlooks the Sound of Raasay, and the Isle of Raasay (another of the Inner Hebrides Islands). The route is heavily traveled by tourists, and the walk is quite easily to figure out – you basically keep walking up. Follow the dirt path, go through the gate, head towards the rock formations, and you’ll be fine. Basically, keep going UP. I’m not very good at directions, am I? We saw a family with a cute little girl dragging behind. She was walking it in rain boots; I don’t recommend that – she was crying and it looked uncomfortable (it was also unusually hot and sunny that day). Anyhow, her wellies (what we call rain boots over here) were pink and glittery and had Elsa from Frozen on them. All I could think was, she insisted on wearing them, because toddlers do what they want, and her parents were picking their battles. When I turned around about 5 minutes later, I saw they were carrying her. So who really won that day?? Wearing wellies never entered my mind, but I was glad I brought my hiking boots. If you don’t have proper hiking boots, you’ll be fine in sneakers. As always in Scotland, there are sections that are wet and muddy. The view is worth it though!

We hopped back in the car and headed for our next stop, Lealt Falls. There is no shortage of waterfalls on the Isle of Skye, that’s for sure. These waterfalls have a car park, and a few picnic tables. It was convenient for us, as we were ready for our lunch. The falls are short and easy walk from the carpark. There is a way to view them from below, but I’m not sure where that walk starts. We enjoyed the view from above, looking out over the water. It was a quick stop for us, about 30 minutes, and that’s only because we ate lunch. You could make this a very quick stop, or skip it if you’re pressed for time.

Our next stop was a popular Skye attraction – Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls. Again, there is a carpark, but it did get quite crowded. I imagine in a non-pandemic year, there would be even more visitors. I know some cruise ships stop at Isle of Skye, and I’m so glad we were able to visit the island without thousands of additional tourists. Anyhow, the waterfall is right next to the carpark, and as you look to the left, you’ll see Kilt Rock. It’s named that because of the way the flares out. It also has grooves in the rock, and it looks like a pleated kilt. Kilts are so very Scottish, so this name seemed appropriate. Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls are along the Sound of Raasay, looking out over the Isle of Raasay. The waters are known for their wildlife such as dolphins, whales, puffins, and other birds. Normally you can take boat trips to view wildlife, but these opportunities were quite limited due to Covid. We tried our best to spot some wildlife, but sadly did not see anything. I’d like to go back to Scotland and visit the Inner and Outer Hebrides, and take a whale watching trip.

We ended our day with an amazing hike at the Quiraing, which boosts spectacular views. The hike was fairly steep in places, though no rock scrambles, and it was 6.8 km or 4.2 miles long. It definitely felt longer! Some websites have classed it as “difficult” but I suspect there are many more challenging hikes on Skye. Getting to the hike was interesting. Again, you follow narrow roads, pulling over for passing vehicles. Parking is somewhat limited and people are dicks and park on the side of the road making it difficult to pass. We were lucky to find the last spot, but it was a challenge, and even more so getting out of there. It would be difficult in a camper van, but there were several there so I suppose it’s possible. The hike is a loop and can be done in either direction. As you know, I’m not great with directions but basically the “lower” path starts out more gradual and leaves the steepest hill for the descent at the end. This is the way we took, and my knees honestly have a more difficult time going down hills, so we probably should’ve gone the opposite way. Both ways are not easy, and you need good footwear as the terrain is rocky and uneven. You are rewarded with many stunning views of the landscape on Skye. When you reach the top, you look out over the water which was also incredible. The summit was very muddy in places; I even walked out of my boots because the mud was so thick! It was also covered with midges, and it was impossible to not breathe them in. This shortened the amount of time I spent at the summit taking pictures. The descent was very steep and rocky, and in my opinion quite challenging. If you like hiking, this is a must for your trip to Skye!

Our second day on Skye we had a few stops planned, and took us to different parts of the island. We wanted to start our day at the Fairy Pools. This is one of the most visited places on Skye. Unfortunately, it was a rainy and overcast day, which was not ideal for seeing the colors in the water. But, our time on Skye was limited so we went anyhow. The visibility was poor during the hour drive, but I’m glad we stuck it out, because the rain cleared up when we arrived. It was still overcast, but better than rainy. The Fairy Pools have a HUGE parking lot, bigger than anything else I’ve seen on Skye, but you do have to pay for parking. The walk starts across the road from the parking lot, and other than the initial hill, it’s fairly easy. As you head along the path, a series of mini waterfalls and pooling water awaits you. The were pretty, but I imagine much better in the bright sunlight. The view of the Cuillins Mountain ridge in the background was spectacular as well. One thing we weren’t prepared for is how brutal the midges are there. Midges are some Scottish pest, similar to gnats or mosquitoes and they swarm around. It was insane, and even our midge repellant wasn’t working. We had seen pretty walking back (its and out and back) wearing nets over their heads. At the time it looked odd and we laughed, but we quickly discovered they were smart. I ended up putting my mask on to keep from breathing them in, it was THAT bad! As a result, we didn’t spend as much time there as originally planned, nor could I get the pictures I wanted because the midge swarms were everywhere. Hopefully when you go, it won’t be as humid and there will be less bugs.

If you look closely, you can see the swarm of midges in the left center of this photo.

We had originally planned to visit Talisker Distillery since it is so close to the Fairy Pools, but it was closed due to Covid. I’m not a huge Scotch drinker, but when in Scotland…. I’m a little bummed we couldn’t try something iconic to Skye and Scotland, but maybe next time. Lunch was also close to the Fairy Pools, and came recommended from my friend Erica who had visited Skye. She recommended the Oyster Shed for local langoustine, which was delicious! You order at the counter and then eat outside at picnic tables. The business also operates as a seafood distributor; they change their menu regularly depending upon availability. The place got very crowded quickly, and had limited parking, but it was worth it. Definitely check it out if you’re planning on visiting the Fairy Pools or Talisker Distillery.

Our final stop for the day was to the town of Portree (after a good shower and scrubbing all the dead midges out of our hair). Portree is the capital of the Isle of Skye, and is a quaint, waterside, Scottish town. There are all sorts of shops where you can buy Scottish gifts, or even just ice cream. Usually, cruise ships stop in Portree, and I imagine it is wall to wall people on those days, so the silver lining of Covid was it wasn’t too crowded. Portree has beautiful views of the water and ridges. It was nice to change out of hiking clothes, dress up, walk around town, and go out to dinner. We were able to get a booking at The View Restaurant, which is part of the Cuillin Hills Hotel. Interestingly enough, I had picked this place out before coming to Skye, and then it was recommended by the owner of the hotel we were staying at. The meal was outstanding, and we had a table in front of the window, looking out over the water. It was a romantic evening to cap off a rainy, sweaty, and buggy day! Definitely go here if you can get a booking!

delicious dinner at the View Restaurant

Our trip to Skye was a whirlwind and we were sad to leave. The beauty of that island just blows me away and there is so much more to explore. Perhaps next time we’ll spend time on Skye and then head to Isle of Harris and Lewis. For our last morning in Skye, we decided to have breakfast at our hotel before leaving. As all the meals at the Uig Hotel, it was great. Literally the road behind the hotel takes you up to the Fairy Glen, so we decided to make a stop there before hitting the road. To find the Fairy Glen, you’ll take the road next to the Uig Hotel on A87. After passing some houses you’ll see the green mounds off the side of the road. You’ll have to safely park on the side of the road and then take the path on the right side of the road. The Fairy Glen was created from landslides. It’s extremely unique, and fun to explore. We only walked around part of it because we had a long drive ahead, but I could see this being a fun place for kids to run around.

After leaving Uig, we said goodbye to Skye and hit the road. We were stopping in Glasgow for the night (which turned out to be quite a letdown, unfortunately) to break up the trip. The drive from Uig to Glasgow would be a little over 5 hours, but we had some stops planned so it took longer. Our first stop was just after leaving Skye; Eilean Donan Castle is one of Scotland’s iconic castles, and widely photographed. It’s located on an island where three lochs (lakes) come together. There is ample parking, and the area is beautiful. We walked around and took some pictures, but ended up not going in. Our second stop was the town of Fort William, a town in the Highlands. It’s known as the gateway to Ben Nevis, the tallest peak in the United Kingdom, making it a popular town for hikers. We walked around the town, and decided to stop for lunch. Our lunch stop was a (dare I say “hipster”) cute little joint, serving only organic craft brews and wood fired pizza. So obviously Black Isle Brewery was the place for us! I gravitate towards stouts, which they didn’t have, so I settled for a Porter which I enjoyed. The pizza was also a nice treat as well. We lucked out because we ate their during the “Eat Out To Help Out” government scheme to encourage people to patronize businesses; our meal was half off! After lunch, we hit the road for Glasgow. Honestly, friends had warned me there wasn’t much to see in Glasgow. We walked around that night, argued over where to eat dinner, and attempted to prove friends wrong about Glasgow. Unfortunately, our friends were right and there wasn’t much to see in Glasgow, so we left after breakfast the next morning. Sorry if you’re from Glasgow, but it wasn’t our cuppa tea. We did hit the town of Gretna Green to visit the outlets (hellooooo Cadbury shop) and also stopped briefly in Lockerbie to see the memorial. Breaking up the trip from Suffolk, England to Isle of Skye, was the right decision, and allowed some flexibility with our schedule as well. Skye was absolutely magical and I hope we’ll go back someday. My only disappointment is we didn’t see any Heilan Coos, the cutest cows in the world! Oh, and the midges. Those sucked, but otherwise Isle of Skye is a 10 out of 10!

Is Isle of Skye on your Scotland bucket list?

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