The Isle of Skye is the largest island in the Inner Hebrides, on the north west side of Scotland. It's also awesome, rustic, haunting, and crazy picturesque. I had hoped to spend two nights there, but due to availability when I booked (again, way too last minute), I ended up with one night on the island, and one night just across the fancy new bridge in the town of Kyle of Lochalsh. This ended up being a good thing, as I was able to do a bit of family research from Kyle, where the Matheson clan originated. But more on family history next time - here I'll recount my day & a half on the fabulous island.
As you may recall (if you read my previous post), my first few days in Scotland were filled with relentless rain. As I arrived on Skye, it was sadly no different. The terrain was still cool to drive around in, even with the mist, but lo & behold, when I got to the north west of the island, the sky cleared a bit! I saw the sun! Therefore, I was able to tour the very cool Dunvegan Castle with a bit of sun shining down on me. Unlike the castle at Inveraray, this felt very much like a true castle - with ramparts, crazy thick walls, and spooky dungeons. No photos of the interior, but unlike Inveraray, this wasn't nearly as luxurious or fancy. It seems the MacLeod clan has been living here since about the 13th or 14th century, and the current clan chief actually does spend some time here still (and I can't imagine where - this building is OLD). There was a room full of old relics, where I got my first taste of tales about Bonnie Prince Charlie, who I eventually learned TONS more about (I'll impart some stories later). The grounds were particularly lovely, as it sits right on a loch, so the views were great, not that anything was really blooming in the gardens yet. First some misty shots, then the castle & surrounds:
It was on my way back home, in yet more mist & rain, when I decided I was tired of driving myself around. I headed back down to the base of the island to check-in to my hotel and find a tourist information center to find a tour of some sort to give me a break from the endless rainy driving. Turns out, the "village" my hotel was located in (Kyleakin) didn't really have anything there, so I crossed the fancy-pants new Skye bridge (built in 1995 to much controversy, apparently) & got my first taste of Kyle of Lochalsh. The TI is really more of a teeny souvenir shop, but I was able to find a small group tour for the following day that would take me around to all the other parts of the island I hadn't already seen (and would actually leave out most of what I HAD seen!). It was probably WAY too expensive, but I really felt I needed a break from all the solo driving. Here are some more shots from my day 1, including a terrible one from ON the bridge, and a great one looking back at the island from Kyle:
One note on my hotel- I stayed at the admittedly adorable MacKinnon Country House Hotel, largely based on Rick Steves's advice (once again). I PROBABLY should've stayed in the "main" town more in the center of the island - Portree - especially since this place wasn't available for both of my nights, but you live & you learn. The good thing about the hotel (besides it's cuteness) is that they have a lovely restaurant - helpful since the village really doesn't offer much for food. Now, if I were a couple on a romantic weekend away, it would've been GREAT, but... let's just say I felt they took the whole "white tablecloth service" a bit TOO far. I guess I was becoming used to eating a bit more quickly all by my lonesome, but this just seemed incredibly SLOW, and a bit over-pretentious for what it was - a lovely, but typical meal in a cute country hotel. You've been warned!
In any case, bright & early the next morning I met my little tour group, and headed out for what would be a fantastic day - and, good news- a MOSTLY sunny day! We passed back by the mountains that divide the island, along with the "most photographed waterfall" on Skye, to arrive in Portree in time for a quick pit stop. It's a really cute little town, perched above a harbor, with tons of cute pubs & shops & such... I knew then that I really should've stayed there!
After a quick lunch, we continued north toward the Trotternish peninsula on the north end of the island. This drive is described in great detail in my guide book, and when at our first stop my fellow travelers did NOT heed the whole "5 minutes for a quick pic" warning from our guide, I began to wish I had just done it myself. But by our second stop, I didn't much care because it was maybe the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. Kilt Rock & a giant waterfall - the pics are vertical, so I don't know if you'll get the full picture, but it was simply stunning:
Oh, but we weren't done- not nearly. After a few more minutes heading north, we hung a left to head up a CRAZY teeny & curvy road that led to one of the most breathtaking vistas I've ever seen: Quiraing. This time, I was one of the people holding up the mini-bus because I just couldn't stop taking photos! These are the best four, and yes- they're basically identical, but I just couldn't help myself:
Warm with the amazingness of the view, we headed down the other side of the peninsula - more lovely views & curvy roads. After a pit stop in a teensy port village called Uig (where I got some awesome local sugar candy), we headed to Neist Point, the furthest west you can get on the island. The fog/mist was blowing in at this point, and it just looked super cool to me- very much like the place Harry & Dumbledore go to find the horcrux in the lake (it's not that though). You can hike out to a lighthouse, but sadly we didn't have any time for what Rick Steves assures me is a strenuous 30 minutes.
The way back was mostly dreary & long, but we did pass the renowned Three Chimneys Restaurant, which is a destination itself, partly because it's basically in the middle of nowhere, but mostly because the food is supposed to be fantastic. I mean, it's one of the 50 best restaurants in the world, so that may be a major understatement. If I had been staying in Portree that night, I may have tried to get in for dinner... Instead, I wearily checked into my new little inn in Kyle of Lochalsh for a warming bowl of beef stew and prepared for my next day of family history exploration, followed by Loch Ness (!) and Inverness - my most northern point of the journey.