The Misty Isle

On the drive out to Skye we made a quick stop to get our castle on. We chose the Eilean Donan to pop our Scottish castle cherry, largely because it’s one of the most hyped, also because it was on the way. Pretty awesome building in a stunning location. We found it neat that it’s privately owned and presumably the family can just hang out and weekend there. Alan remarked how he appreciated Scotland since it made you feel like you were in Scotland, as opposed to places that are lovely but really if you were knocked unconscious and dropped there, you could have guessed any number of locations upon awakening. But it’s hard to guess anything other than Scotland with bagpipers, castles, mountains, a cold blustery shoreline and a Scotch whisky in hand.

Once on the Isle of Skye, we drove out to Elgol one day to catch the boat to Loch Coruisk. While technically on Skye, rather than a separate island, this mountain-ringed lake is accessible only via boat (or long hike) and is so remote that you truly believe you’re on a deserted island once there.

The ride in affords some fantastic views of the surrounding landscape and the few white houses dotting it. It seems like almost all the homes in Skye are white, which only makes the contrast of green, blue and white more stark (when blue skies actually appear, rare as they are).

The boat also pauses alongside a seal colony on the way there. How are seals so cute? Honestly. Their adorable whiskers and the way they seem to wave hello.

Once at Loch Coruisk we braved the river crossing in search of the best views. The water was a bit high, making the way across challenging. I was lucky enough to be assisted by not one, but two strangers who passed quicker than I.

There were no good samaritans to help me on the return across the river (except Alan, sort of), but fortunately my forced walk through the water helped clean the mud off my boots from my multiple accidental introductions to peat and mud sinkholes.

Luckily the messy and soggy walk was well worth the views. Quite spectacular. And we even saw a small herd of deer!

But the most beautiful scenery on Skye had to be the awe inspiring views at the Quiraing. I am so glad we accidentally fell into a hike around this area. This was a highlight of our whole trip.

The hills here are full of jagged, steep rocks, but they are blanketed by verdant grasses. It looked almost like the scenery you might find in the American west, but lush and green. The land sweeps upward then ends abruptly in a cliff, with pinnacle formations and ocean views a constant presence.

The pictures really speak for themselves. It’s intoxicating up there.

We hit up our second Scotch whisky distillery with a visit to Talisker. Whisky is always a little strong for my pallet, but the 10:30 am tour and tasting was pushing it for me. Alan, on the other hand, was a happy camper. We had signed up to be Friends of the Classic Malts at the Oban distillery (another Diageo brand), which meant we got free tours at Talisker (woot woot). But the highlight, for sure, was seeing Alan’s eyes light up as they stamped his “passport.” This must be what it feels like to take a little boy to a train museum.

Just up the street is a most adorable lunch spot: the Oyster Shed. Boy did we fall in love with this place! We ordered fresh oysters that were shucked right before our eyes, and with the purchase of six we got a glass of wine for free (something for me to enjoy now, eh?). There is also a little stand of sorts just outside the shed where you can order prepared foods and we also picked up small crab rolls. Certainly hit the spot. (Pro tip: do not be tempted by the jarred pates. We made the mistake of buying the pheasant pate with morello cherries and it had the exact same smell, appearance and consistency as the canned food we used to feed my cats).

We rounded out that wonderfully lazy day with a slow drive around some more of the beautiful Skye scenery, stopping to pop into a few art galleries and one delightful tea shop. I will never get enough of tea and scones.

Or this stunning Scottish scenery!

During a brief respite from the rain (actually it might have still been raining on us at this point), we got a stunning glimpse of the full arc of a rainbow. Positively picturesque.

And we spotted these two bunnies chasing each other around a small concrete box, and it was cute enough to become an internet meme.

The grand finale, and one of the most striking vistas we’ve seen, was Neist Point. This tiny peninsula juts out into the sea, and is adorned by a beautiful lighthouse. You can walk out to the end, but we smartly opted instead to walk up a bit towards the rocks on the other side of the small bay. We were surprised to have the area almost entirely to ourselves, and the view was well worth braving the gale force winds. I still can’t wrap my mind around the fact that it’s this cold here in August!

The cows and the sky were not so bad to look at either.

We spoke recently of a hotel that completely made our stay: Hazel Bank in England’s Lake District. Well, our B&B on the Isle of Skye almost had the capacity to break our stay, what with its moldy fruit breakfasts and sharp cracked toilet seat (ridiculous that they haven’t changed that), not to mention the fully carpeted bathroom (the germs that must stick in there!!). And of course there was the aggro chicken welcome committee. This chicken came uncomfortably close to pecking our ankles, and I have to say it was rather creepy. But it was kind of cute and funny, so I won’t blame the innkeeper for that one. And I’ll give them props (despite Alan’s allergic reaction and consequent dismay) for their adorable little cat. He was such a sweetie.

And because Skye is just that beautiful and I couldn’t stop taking pictures… here are a few more to savor.

Practical Info

The Isle of Skye has appeared on lists of the world’s best islands, and it lives up to the hype.

It is a good idea to reserve accommodation far in advance. I contacted perhaps 30-40 places and only one was able to offer us a room the four nights we wanted. And while this place wasn’t so bad, it may be the only place we’ve stayed on the (Europe) trip thus far that we would not recommend.

Transportation: We drove from Glen Coe/Fort William. It is a scenic drive, and the stretch of A87 east of Dornie (I think it may be Glen Shiel) is terrific. There are some ferries from the main land to the island but we took the bridge. It is cheaper (free) and doesn’t require any reservations, and this way we could stop at Eilean Donan Castle right on the way.

On the island, it is highly recommended to have a car (there are at least a few petrol stations, and at least the ones by Portree and Broadford seemed reasonably priced). There is bus service, but that would be very limiting. It is a big island and driving between points may take a long time, e.g. it is about an hour and a half from our B&B to Elgol.

Accommodation: We stayed at Skye Redwood House, which is right by Greshornish House Hotel on Google Maps, in or near Edinbane (about half an hour from Portree). It has a nice waterfront setting and a very spacious room and the owner seems nice and well-intentioned, but we cannot recommend it (at least the B&B portion, there are also self-catering cottages). Loving touches are absent; the toilet seat had a huge and bothersome break; there was mold on the berries at breakfast; in four nights they never cleaned the shower or emptied the trash; the list goes on…

Food and Drinks: I should mention that lox-lovers will enjoy Scotland, as eggs with smoked salmon has been on the breakfast menu at most B&Bs. The pizza at L’incontro in Portree was on point, the service not so much. We picked up crackers, cheese and pate from Relish another night. There are several dining options in Portree.

Dinner at Edinbane Inn was good and it is a cozy, pub-like setting. After visiting Talisker distillery we had lunch at The Oyster Shed, which sells game and seafood including delicious, plump oysters shucked when you order. They also sell various pates and some cheese. Tea and scones at Ceiteag’s in Glendale was lovely.

The Three Chimneys is touted in local print, and I think Kinloch Lodge has a Michelin star.

Activities: A visit to Loch Coruisk is highly recommended. You could hike there, but I think it’s very long and may be hairy in spots. We did what most do, which is take a boat from Elgol (book ahead, at least in summer). We went with Misty Isle. They take you to Coruisk and on the way you see a seal colony. Then you have an hour and a half to walk around before the return boat, or you can stay longer and take a later boat. We started to walk around the Loch but realized it was a long trip on very muddy terrain. Depending on recent rainfall, you may need good balance to cross the river at the start of the circuit without getting wet. Misty Isle charges £20/adult and we were very pleased with their service. Bella Jane is another company that offers this trip.

Our hike around the Quiraing was a highlight of our whole trip. The scenery is just magnificent. There is an obvious parking area around the high point of the minor road that cuts across the Trotternish peninsula connecting Staffin and Uig. We did the hike counter-clockwise, i.e. we headed out along the base and returned above the escarpment. It took us about 2.5 hours. Also on the Trotternish peninsula (which we circled clockwise) is the famous Old Man of Storr. The hike up is steep and a couple miles, which I didn’t realize so I only went about half way in my flip-flops.

Talisker is the only distillery on the island, and we enjoyed our tour. It usually costs £7 each, but was free for us after we joined the Friend of the Classic Malts program (also free).

Eilean Donan Castle is not on the island of Skye, but it is nearby. Admission costs £6.50/adult.

Other things you might look into doing: Dunvegan Castle; Coral Beaches near Dunvegan; Fairy Pools near Glenbrittle; visiting galleries and craft shops, see; sea kayaking through various operators.

August 13-17, 2014 (Wednesday-Sunday)

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