As a gift for our wedding (see more about that here) one of our friends gave us a gift certificate for Canopy and Stars, a UK based company with hundreds of lovely and unusual rental cottages from British house owners. We spent hours and hours looking through their database and finally decided on a gorgeous – and I mean really freaking gorgeous – cottage on the gorgeous – and once again, I mean really freaking gorgeous – Isle of Skye in northern Scotland. Seriously, The Black Shed is what dreams are made of.
Since we figured Scottish summer weather probably wouldn’t be that great, we thought we’d might as well just go in February. Best decision ever. The weather was AMAZING the entire week of our stay. Yes, there was rain – but mostly at night. Yes, there was snow – but that only made everything more beautiful. Yes, there were clouds – pretty fluffy white clouds and dramatic dark clouds (hence the name “cloud island”). But there was also sunshine – so much sunshine. HA! I don’t think I really need to convince you with many words on the beauty of Skye since I believe the pictures will do all of the convincing, but here it goes anyway. So read/scroll along to find out why the Isle of Skye should be your next destination.
“My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go.”
Isle of Skye
The Isle of Skye was named the 4th best island in the world by National Geographic Magazine. I kid you not. Think about how many islands there are in the world. Number four. Yeah, this is one hell of an island. And it’s so easy to get there from Amsterdam. We had a direct flight to Inverness with Flybe (KLM will be operating as of mid May this year) and it’s not even 2 hours in the air before you touch down on Scottish ground. We spent a night in Inverness both before and after our trip to Skye in the lovely Strathness House, right on the river Ness – yes, from Loch Ness.
Which brings me to my next point: the drive from Inverness to the Isle of Skye is 2,5 hours of pure joy since you will drive along the mystical and magical Loch Ness, the most beautiful highland mountains and old Scottish castles. As of 1995 it’s possible to get from the mainland to the island by crossing the Skye Bridge. The first major town you cross once you’re on the Isle of Skye is Broadford, where you can (and should) stock up on groceries, gas and cash so you have enough to get you by for the first couple of days.
The Black Shed
The Black Shed, a wonderful home away from home, is located near the town of Dunvegan, in the Northwestern part of the island. The scenery is soooooo beautiful and the award winning architecture makes sure you can see the surrounding landscape from each corner of the house. We loved spending our mornings and afternoons on the comfy couch, with the fire place burning, just staring out of the big windows to the famous MacLeods Tables, the rolling meadows, the hundreds of hopping bunnies and the curious herd of black sheep.
Inside, The Black Shed is filled with amazing furniture and gorgeous (local) design items. It has everything you’d ever want. Including homemade bread and scones, fresh eggs and milk. And soft bathrobes and slippers. Yes, that’s right. Since a lot of pubs and restaurants are closed – or have limited opening hours – during the winter months, we cooked at the shed almost every night, which was lovely since we don’t get to eat a lot of dinners together during the week. For us, it was the perfect getaway cottage – and I’m pretty confident it will be for anyone and everyone.
Dunvegan is a cute little – oh so little – town with only a handful of shops and pubs and a small supermarket. Please stop by Jann’s for a delicious homemade and organic lunch or a piece of one of their amazing cakes.
If you head North from the town center you’ll get to Dunvegan Castle only a mile down the road. The castle is the oldest inhabited castle in Scotland and after 800 years it’s still the seat of the chief of the MacLeod clan. Unfortunately, it was closed for the winter season but we were lucky enough to find that the gardens were open on “snow drop day”. Apparently, it’s a thing in February where volunteers who work in the castle’s garden open up the garden to the public. So we had a lovely stroll through the wonderful gardens and afterwards warmed up with a nice cup of tea and a piece of homemade lemon cake. Gotta love that Skye hospitality.
Take A Hike
It’s the beautiful scenery that draws visitors to the Isle of Skye and I honestly think you can’t go wrong wherever you go. Since we were planning on doing a lot of hiking we picked up a little guide book with 31 hikes on the island at the visitor center in Skye’s capital Portree. I highly recommend doing this because you will truly appreciate the scenery after walking through it for hours and hours.
A few warnings though. Hiking on the Isle of Skye is not for the fainthearted. You’ll often walk along steep – and I mean STEEP – cliffs with the wind gushing like crazy. Sometimes you need to wade through the occasional water stream or cross a waterfall. You will get sucked deep in the mud ALL THE TIME. And there are no signs along hikes other than the ones pointing you to the trail head from the parking lot. A lot of hikes recommend using a compass or some other serious equipment (I don’t really know what that would be) but being the wild adventurous (or: stupid) spirits we are, we never used any of that. Just don’t forget to bring proper (waterproof!) hiking boots, enough water and some snacks for an on the go energy boost. You’ll need it.
Oh and also, often there is not even a trail – just something that looks like a little path used by the sheep. Oh right, the sheep. There are so many sheep on Skye. So freaking many sheep. Which I loved by the way (and I may or may not have yelled “STOP THE CAR!” every single time we passed them). So if you’re scared of sheep, I can’t think of anyone who is (but then again I’m afraid of birds and butterflies), please beware that you have sheep (or cow, or highland) encounters everywhere you go.
Portree is Skye’s lovely little capital and it’s well worth a visit for the colorful harbor houses, the best fish & chips on the island and the above mentioned visitor center. And also, Portree has the highest concentration of shops on the Isle of Skye, if that’s what you’re into.
Just a warning though: shopping is not what you’re (should be) here for. If you want to shop I can highly recommend stopping by SkyeSkins, near Waternish, to buy some quality woolen slippers (yes, please!) or scarfs and to see the exhibition on how the production process works. Since it was winter season a lot of the Portree shops and pubs were closed but we were lucky enough to find a group of students who were on a field trip and arranged for the best fish & chips joint to open up especially for them. We just got in line behind them and pretended we were students (and totally got away with it of course) which was a great move since the shop closed immediately after our order. Yessss.
Neist Point Lighthouse
Upon entering The Black Shed we saw an amazing photograph on the wall of the Neist Point Lighthouse and we decided right away that we’d go up there first thing the next morning. It was built in 1909 and is one of the most famous lighthouses in the UK. Both the location and the architecture are simply stunning and the fact that it is now abandoned makes it even more amazing. It’s a short hike down from the parking lot to the lighthouse, but don’t forget: what goes down, must also come back up. And it is steep. Pretty damn steep.
You can wander around the lighthouse and have a peek inside but you can’t go inside the actual structure. From the lighthouse grounds you can walk through the meadows to the cliffs (and say hello to the sheep) which will give you an amazing view over the rough and rugged coast line. Pro tip: walk North from the car park through the meadows to get the iconic photo opp of the lighthouse and the long-stretched cliff it stands on.
From there you can go even further North and walk along the high (HIGH!) and steep (STEEP!) cliffs of Northwestern Skye. Pro tip 2: just before you reach the Neist Point car park, stop your car and walk towards the cliffs through the meadows. If you walk on long enough (without falling into the ocean) you’ll see the lighthouse peek up on your right and a waterfall on your left – a truly magnificent sight.
The Old Man of Storr
This is probably the most famous hike on the Isle of Skye and it supposedly can get very crowded in summer, but since we were oh so clever to go in February we had the trail to ourselves almost the entire time. Even though it’s classified as a medium walk and this one is actually well paved, it’s a pretty steep climb – especially if you want to go all the way to the top which can be quite a scramble. Totally worth it though.
This is without a doubt our favorite part of Skye which is why we came back later in the week to do another hike through this spectacular landscape – the most spectacular landscape in Scotland. The Quiraing is actually a landslip on the Trotternish Ridge which is why there are massive pinnacles, hidden plateaus and other interesting rock structures. You can’t come to the Isle of Skye and skip hiking the Quiraing. You just can’t. Yes, I’m snobbish like that.
By the way, like with all hikes on the island, please keep an eye on the weather. It can – and will – change rapidly. And you don’t want to get caught by a hale or snow storm while you’re out on the steep slope in the Quiraing. This hike is not suitable in all weather conditions. As it takes you near high cliffs it’s not recommended in windy conditions or if visibility is low. That’s why we decided to turn back early the first time we came out. The second time though, we were set on completing the hike which is 7km and marked as medium in terms of length but hard in terms of difficulty. Especially the final part of the hike is pretty challenging since you have to climb up and then down a serious hill without any signs of a trail or path – particularly when it’s covered in snow and ice. We were very tired and muddy once we made it back to the car but we felt totally awesome so high fives all around.
If you’ve seen the movie Stardust you may recognize the magical landscape of Fairy Glen. Even though it’s located not far from harbor town Uig, it can be difficult to find this lovely fairyland. Leave the A87 just south of Uig near the Uig Hotel, climbing the narrow road to Sheader. After a mile or so you’ll find a little pond on your right. Park your car (be nice and don’t park like a prick) and head up the hills behind the pond. Welcome to Fairy Glen!
Once again we were the only ones there and with the soft, thin layer of that morning’s snow, the landscape looked even more magical. I am telling you, this is what fairytales are made of. You can climb to the top of “Castle Ewen” – the high rock tower – to get a magnificent view over the area.
I have to be honest, it wouldn’t have surprised me at all if a little hobbit had appeared from behind one of the hills. But then again, I must have said a thousand times that I can’t believe they went all the way to New Zealand to film The Lord Of The Rings when they could just as easily have filmed everything on the Isle of Skye. I’m talking to you Peter Jackson! Just saying. Anyway, Fairy Glen cannot be missed (although you can miss it quite easily, so keep the route advice above at hand).
The Coral Beaches
Five miles North of Dunvegan you can find the beautiful coral beaches, without a doubt the best beach on Skye. Although the name might suggest otherwise, the beach is not actually made of coral but it gets its name from fossilized algea, known as maerl. From the car park it’s a short 1 mile walk through muddy grassland (say hello to the cows) to the actual beach. Once you get there make sure to climb the grass-covered hill for an amazing view across the ocean.
The Fairy Pools
This is one of the most famous landmarks on the Isle of Skye and I can totally understand why. The crystal clear pools are situated at the foot of the dramatic – especially when covered in snow – Cuillin hills and it’s not hard to imagine little fairies having a dip in this magical wonderland.
You can reach the pools pretty easily with a short hike from the car park, but please walk on towards the Cuillins for even more magic. You have to cross a few streams and step on some wobbly rocks so be careful. I am asking you – does this look like Mordor or what?!
This peninsula on the Southern end of the Isle of Skye is often referred to as the “garden of Skye”. The MacDonald clan has its seat here and you can visit their supposedly splendid Armadale castle, but of course it was closed during our visit. We heard that it would be possible to do a lovely walk in the gardens but either we’re really stupid and couldn’t find the entrance, or the gardens were closed as well. We’re still happy we drove down here because the landscape is so different and I totally get Sleat’s nickname. We did a short hike at the point of Sleat which was quite nice and we met some lazy cows. Then we drove to the Northern part of Sleat to see yet another cool ruined castle. Near the tiny town of Tokavaig, you can park your car and walk through the swampy meadows to Dunscaith Castle, which has amazing views of the Skye coastline and the Cuillin Hills.
You don’t have to be a connaisseur to know that Talisker is one of the finest Scottish whiskies, but what you probably didn’t know is that its distillery is based on the Isle of Skye, in the town of – no shit, Sherlock – Talisker. It’s often said that its smoky and rich flavor is a resemblance of the rugged landscape of the Talisker Bay and the wind and waves of Skye. If you’re not big on whisky you should still try to make it to Talisker since you can find the best seafood shack right behind the distillery. The Oyster Shed is the only oyster farm on the Isle of Skye and they’re open all year to sell you the freshest oysters, lobster, langoustines, mussels, crab and all sorts of smoked fish. For a few quid (yes, I love saying that) you can stuff your face with the best seafood. Yes please. YUM. So freaking yum.
The Three Chimneys
Speaking of food… We are ashamed to say this because we are big on food, like very, very big on food, but we had no idea that there was a Michelin star restaurant practically 5 minutes from our Skye home. I know, I know. Usually I do extensive research on where to have the best meal before we go on a trip, but this time I didn’t. Maybe I forgot, maybe I just thought there wouldn’t be any gastronomic restaurants on the Isle of Skye. Boy, was I wrong. There are actually two Michelin star restaurants on the island. On Sleat you can find the Kinloch Lodge, and in Colbost – on the shore of Loch Dunvegan – you can enjoy a wonderful food experience at The Three Chimneys. The latter has been cooking up the best local food since 1985 and we were lucky enough to get a reservation here. Scott Davies is the current head chef (he’s only the third chef in 30 years!) and he was runner-up in BBC’s MasterChef the Professionals in 2013, so you know something good’s cooking here. The Three Chimneys is listed as one of the World’s Best 50 Restaurants and it definitely lived up to its world famous standards. Highly recommended!
And don’t worry if you forgot to bring a proper outfit for this high class dining experience: just drive up to Ella’s Café in Uig to buy some vintage jewelry like I did :). And grab an amazing organic lunch while you’re there.
Know before you go
We absolutely loved our trip to the Isle of Skye and we’re already planning to go back out here next year. If you can’t wait to visit this lovely little island after seeing all the beauty it has to offer, please read some final tips below. Happy planning, happy traveling!
- Bring waterproof hiking boots. Even if they’re freakishly ugly. You need them.
- Pack a waterproof jacket and have it with you at all times. Rain will come unexpectedly.
- Do groceries at Broadford because supermarkets are scarce and small.
- Make sure you always have enough cash on hand – credit cards are not a big thing here.
- Don’t be an annoying tourist and use the passing places to let locals pass you by.
- Be nice and wave when someone lets you pass first. People are extremely friendly here.
- Always say “Hi!” to people (and animals!) you cross when out and about.
- Bring plenty of water and snacks on hikes.
- Keep an eye on the weather and just be sensible.
- Stay away from cliffs when it’s windy. And it will be freaking windy.
See the map for all the locations mentioned in this post.