Tom and I visited the Isle of Skye last August, but everyone we met told us we’d visited at the wrong time. A whole week of blazing sunshine seemed to say otherwise to me, but apparently the best time of year to visit for both weather and wildlife is mid-April to mid-June.
So I thought I’d tell you about it now, when everyone is thinking about planning their next holiday.
In case you’ve not encountered it before, Skye is a large island located on the West coast of Scotland. It’s covered in mountains, waterfalls and whisky distilleries, and the waters are rich in dolphins, seals, whales and otters. What more could you want?! Reaching it isn’t the easiest, but that challenge puts off the lazier tourists who swarm over the rest of the UK, so it’s something to be grateful for. We had spent a couple of days in Edinburgh beforehand, so got the train to Inverness, then a connecting train to the Kyle of Lochalsh (the nearest village on the mainland to Skye), and finally a taxi across the sea-bridge to Portree; the largest town on the island (it’s not particularly large). Seven hours that took. Alternatives would be getting the sleeper train to Inverness or driving of course, but I like being able to observe the view. I’m rarely happier than when staring through a train window as the countryside rolls and billows past, getting lost in my imagination for a couple of hours.
Seven hours was pushing it a bit though.
We arrived at Viewfield House in the middle of the night, just as the storm clouds that had been following us broke. The house seemed deserted, but we were soon discovered and led into the dining room, where Tom had requested a meal for when we arrived, knowing we would be too tired to go out again. We were then ushered into the drawing room, and spent the evening exploring the extensive list of scotches in front of a crackling open fire.
The Drawing Room
The view from the front door
Set in twenty acres of woodland just outside Portree, it’s nevertheless only a ten minute walk into the town, where you’ll find plenty of restaurants, cafes and shops selling all the basics. We spent a couple of days here, walking the coastline and eagle spotting.
The mountains you can see in the distance above are called the Cuillins.
Cruise ships often anchor off Portree, and ship parties on shore for daytrips.
Though convenient, we’d soon had our fill of Portree after a couple of days. We wanted better walking and fewer people, and were craving a bit of privacy after staying in hotels for so long, so we made our way South to Elgol. Public transport is limited on Skye so we had another taxi journey, this one taking nearly an hour.
Tom really is very, very good at finding accommodation though, and when we arrived at our thatched cottage I literally ran around in delight. There are four of these restored crofters’ cottages vaguely grouped together, but we were there for a whole week and hardly saw the people renting the other three. They’re managed by the owners who live just around the corner, so any problems and they’ll pop round to fix them personally. Heated stone floors and wifi bring a comforting modern touch, but they’re otherwise cosy with traditional details.
Link here to the website
Conveniently, they’re also next door to Coruisk House, the only restaurant in Elgol. They have just six tables so you must book in advance, but the atmosphere is cosy and informal, and the food incredible. Seafood is purchased daily from the harbour nearby, and we sampled huge hand-dived scallops and bowls full of squat lobster tails.
Coruisk House, seen from our front door
Elgol harbour drew us to it nearly every day, and we would trot down to the sea (a forty five minute walk) every morning to see what boat tours were going out. Some take you to the nearby islands of Rum, Eigg and Canna where there are cafes and castles to explore, some tear about searching for wildlife and attracting pods of dolphins, and some take you past rocks covered in sunbathing seals to Loch Coruisk, where you walk across solidified magma and can scramble around the loch in around two hours if you’re brave. The whole environment is absolutely stunning, and the boats are very accommodating – they can drop you off and pick you up pretty much any time you want as long as you’re ready and waiting when they have a landing scheduled.
A waterfall we found on the way down to the harbour
View across the bay from Elgol harbour. Loch Coruisk is hidden amongst the jagged hills ahead.
Some of the many, many photos I took of seals as we drifted past them on our way to Loch Coruisk.
The Misty Isle boat trips take you out to Loch Coruisk, diligent collie Finn keeping a close eye on those pesky seals for you. You need to book them from the kiosk just above the harbour, and they cost from £12.50-£28, depending on whether you want to stay half an hour or all day, or somewhere in between.
Standing on a magma field. Black rock appears to have been poured like molasses from the surrounding peaks, the remnants of a distant eruption that created the crater now filled with water.
Every time you turn a corner the terrain and light changes, completely altering the landscape. The recent hoof-prints of a stag marked the meandering path we followed around the loch, though we didn’t see him unfortunately. We did see a golden eagle silently riding the updrafts above us, soaring backwards and forwards in large sweeping arcs. We watched it for a while then pressed on, aware that we had requested two hours to walk the loch and the captain’s assistant had declared it would take more like three or four.
He was wrong, luckily!
We passed very few other walkers. A small party walking in the opposite direction who seemed alarmed to come upon us, and a father and son swimming in a sunny corner of the loch, but we otherwise had the place to ourselves. Most visitors sit on the rocks with their sandwiches, take a few pictures then get back on their boat and leave. There’s a fair bit of scrambling over rocks I suppose, and at one point the path disappears and you have to find your way through an actual bog, so in that respect the walk wouldn’t be possible if your mobility was limited or if the water level was higher (Tom had a small tantrum when he realised I’d led him into a bog that he was rapidly sinking into, but luckily I managed to find a route out hopping between tussocks of grass).
A sea-plane landed on the loch as were wandering along its opposite side, and by the time we reached it the passengers we had observed pouring out and clambering across the beach and rocks behind had vanished. Possibly the group of perturbed walkers we had passed, worried that we were about to come upon and make off with their transport (there are no roads to Loch Coruisk, only a path from Elgol that necessitates crossing ‘The Bad Step’; a point where to continue you must reach around a rock and step down blindly. (Tom refused to risk life and limb, so we got the boat instead.)
On another day we visited the island of Rum, which has a small cafe and post office, as well as shower facilities for campers. There’s also a 19th century-built castle and an otter hide, deer everywhere and abandoned crofts to explore.
The coastal path
An abandoned croft overgrown with moss and ferns. It felt like being inside a Neolithic dwelling, like those re-discovered in 1850 at Skara Brae in the Orkney Isles.
Tom in the otter hide. We didn’t get up early enough to see any otters unfortunately, but it was a very nice hide nonetheless. We did, however, see a lot of dolphins! They enjoy riding the bow wave created by the Bella Jane AquaXplore boats, large orange dinghies that tear across the bay and around nearby islands searching for wildlife. Again there’s a kiosk on the harbour where you can book boat trips, costing £16-£95 depending on how far you go.
Almost close enough to touch, every time we went out on with the AquaXplore team a pod of dolphins would mob us, leaping out of the water beside the boat, swimming underneath us and surfing the bow wave we produced.
In spring there are whales to be seen, and also colonies of puffins (I would like a puffin). We had the most wonderful time possible though, even without puffin pleasures, and I can’t recommend Skye highly enough if you like the outdoors. You’ll need sturdy walking shoes and waterproof clothing, but if that sounds like your idea of a good time then prepare to be amazed.
You might also like: