A Road Trip Planner
How does one describe the Isle of Skye in a word? Diverse? Scenic? Mountainous? Incredible? Panoramic? A single adjectives just can't carry the day when there are picture postcard opportunities around every corner.
When planning out my trip, I scoured the Internet for the most picturesque places I could find. Easily I saw many of them, but I will say, 2 days on Isle of Skye is not nearly enough to do the place justice. But below is proof that there are ways to pull it seeing an incredible amount of it.
See below the general path I took across the island. I'll detail each of these stopping points and give some suggestions on what to expect.
Getting to the island, you'll pass Eilean Donan Castle of Highlander fame on A87. It is worth a stop on your way in. At Kyle of Lochalsh there is now a very nice bridge, so you can save the time wasted with the ferry.
As an American, one thing I noticed on this drive - the lack of billboards. Nothing like unspoiled scenery. It is the same through most of Scotland, but it really struck me here.
I will note, you'll be tempted to pull off the road many times on this drive, but be careful of places that look like pull offs, they are not always in great shape. No need to get a flat tire via a jagged rock on the way in. Also, filling with petrol before you hit the island isn't a bad idea. Or you can wait for the towns of Broadford and Portree.
Besides the diversity of landscapes, there is something about driving on an island with such majestic green and brown mountains, some snow covered, towering over you as you drive in.
This was my jumping off point for my trip through Skye. Many people will choose Portree for it's many services, but I liked being out by the loch and within close proximity of Talisker Distillery, and just down the road from the Fairy Pools.
There aren't a lot of food and entertainment options here, but The Old Inn served nicely. The last evening I was there, I got to hear some local musicians on drums, fiddle, and bagpipes while sipping some nicely-priced scotch and enjoying a venison burger.
But it was the dazzling walk at sunset back to my bed and breakfast that made me want to never leave this place. The sky was so pink and shimmered off the loch.
Waking up the next morning to what I was told was unusual sunshine, it was time to go exploring this beautiful island.
There are many spots where you'll just want to pull over and soak in the atmosphere. This spot near the Gesto Bay along A863 is one of those spots.
My first stop was to be Dunvegan Castle, which is not far from Neist Point Lighthouse, but the combination of a shortage of time and the castle not opening until 10 AM forced me to switch my plans.
Neist Point Lighthouse
Location: Waterstein, Isle of Skye, UK
Most people will plan to visit this location for a spectacular sunset. Knowing that, I chose to come in the morning because I like my photos people-free if possible. Early morning sun didn't reduce the amazing effect of this place one bit. You feel like you're at the end of the Earth.
The drive in is a bit touch and go. It is a single track road and it has a lot of blind hills, but enough passing places to make it work. I did watch one guy back up quite a ways though. You also will want to be alert for sheep in the road. Meanwhile, when you get to the location, there is no fee and a decent amount of parking. Then you take a very long staircase down toward the peninsula and then to get the best shots, you'll be doing some more climbing. Bring some water and prepare for some exercise.
What you can't see here is the wind. It was very chilly. Bring something to cover your ears. The climb up the hill is at your own risk. There is not a walkway. But it can be done. Just don't get in a rush. The view is magnificent in all directions from this spot!
Location: Portree, Isle of Skye, UK
You can choose to take the shortest direction between Neist Point and Portree, but know that it will include a single track road. Not really an issue as there wasn't much traffic, except one aggressive driver who was speeding on a blind hill. Parking was easy, as I found a nice free car park just a stairs climb from the main part of town.
Portree was a perfect spot to stop for lunch, gas up the car, and take in a local bagpiper (a teenaged bagpiper who was quite proficient) and the lovely port scenery. I stopped at a small grocery to pick up some snacks and water for the remainder of my day on Skye. It was also a good spot to replenish my money supply using the Bank of Scotland ATM.
Next stop was the Old Man of Storr. Just make your way up the A855 north, it's not far.
Old Man of Storr
Location: A855, Portree, UK
You'll see this wonder from a distance on a clear day. Parking on Easter weekend was tough. It is all parallel parking in the dirt, wherever you can find a spot. I was lucky to find one right away.
Prepare for a long and winding path to the top. I went up the most direct path (there is another option as well that looks longer). It took about 45 minutes to climb to the top without stopping. You'll walk through about three gates on the way. After that last gate, it gets rocky and pebbles will make you slide so be careful (down is actually more dangerous)! There is a beat down grass paths in certain spots that can ease the ascent.
You'll thank yourself for making the climb. Once you reach the top, there is a lake to the right. I found it a great place to rest and look up at the rocks. You don't necessarily need hiking shoes, but I'd advise against slick sole boots, and just be careful with tennis shoes.
My lungs actually were sore after this and the Lighthouse climb back to back.
It's fun watching the people make their way up, wondering "how much further!"
Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls Viewpoint
Location: A855, Portree, UK
The road north of Old Man of Storr is excellent. Once you reach Kilt Rock though, the parking lot is rough. Also, this draws a lot of people, so realize, it took me lifting my camera over a lot of heads to get this photo. If you hang securely to the hand rail and lead over a bit, you'll see the rocky coast and falls.
Look for the food truck, if you're there at the right time of day, and try some haggis. Just don't ask what it is!
What you can't see here, as you drive a little further north past the falls is the Staffin Slipaway Beach and bay. This is a stunning view in all directions.
The Quiraing and Road to Uig
Location: Quiraing Car Park - Unnamed Road
Watch for the sheep! You're now turning down a road that I'm not sure even has a name or number. And it's single trackness made me wonder at times if I was supposed to be driving this road. There is not a lot of room to maneuver and you need to also watch for people in the road. The road winds around to a wonderous view at the Quiraing car park.
This was the one place where I just couldn't find adequate parking. Make sure to come early and get your spot. The walk along the Quiraing (I hear) is incredible. But again, I was also limited on time.
I will say, as I continued down the road toward the town of Uig, I used profanity a little more than anywhere in Scotland. But it is still worth it. You'll hear Christopher Lambert calling "Heather? Heather?" as you drive this path. Incredible views if your stress level can handle it.
Location: Uig, UK
The end of this crazy single track road is the best part! Suddenly the port town of Uig will appear to your left and on this sun drenched day, it was truly a jaw dropper.
But I did let my frustrations with the crazy drive get the better of me on the way down the A855. The road is extremely narrow and rounds a very sharp bend, where I happened to meet a huge village bus. I had no passing spaces anywhere near and I would have had to back up quite a bit. The bus driver, knowing he was just a few feet from one he had just passed, backed the bus up to let me by. I can tell you, I don't think I'd have the nerves to drive that bus!
Time to head back toward Carbost and the Fairy Pools. Along the way, I saw Hugh's Castle as something to potentially visit on my Google Maps. However, this is private property and I didn't see a castle. Oh well.
What I did see looked like the Rocky Mountains in the distance. I stopped to take pictures (as did another passer by). Little did I know, I was about to drive right to those mountains - all part of the Cuillins Mountain Range.
The Fairy Pools
Location: Glenbrittle, UK
Someone told me they thought the Fairy Pools were overrated. That was why I left them until last, even though the road to them was right in front of my bed and breakfast. Let me just say, they are definitely worth visiting. Not only because of what I saw there, but because there were tons of other people there backing up that assertion. Maybe Yogi Berra's old adage "it's so busy, no one goes there anymore" hold's true.
There is a decent amount of parking, but getting to the place was annoying. Scotland, if you're going to spend money on widen a road from single track to double, this is the one! You will spend more time standing in passing places than actually getting to your destination, depending on the time of day.
Prepare again, for a decent walk from the parking area.
If you have mobility problems, this isn't going to be easy. There are five big rocks you'll need to cross to get to your destination.
You'll follow the stream and reach a series of water pools and small water shoots and falls. The mountains stand over you all the while. Getting a picture without people on this particular day was not going to happen. People jump in the pools, and all over the rocks. I walked and walked as the show seemed to go on endlessly. The path will lead right up into the mountains. People or no people, it was beautiful to see.
As I left (around 19:00 or 7:00 PM) traffic wasn't as bad because everybody was going the same way. I did see a poor woman try to pull over to the side to let someone with a caravan go by, she ended up bottoming out her car. She would have been better to have made it to a passing place by backing up a little.
Where to Stay
I give a hearty recommendation to David and Christine at Marsco Bed and Breakfast. I had an amazing view from my room. Parking wasn't too tough. And it was about a 20 minute lovely walk into the town of Carbost and down to Talisker Distillery and The Old Inn. Wonderful hosts who serve an excellent breakfast and who were kind to leave me some road trip food when I had to leave early the last morning. Just know they are a cash only business - thus the reason I had to hit the ATM in Portree.
Enjoy your stay on the Isle of Skye and let me know how things went for you on your trip - and if this guide was helpful at finding some of the highlights!