A land of giants, fairies, witches and selkies, located somewhere near the edge of the known world. Where dark tongues of mist cling to even darker volcanic hillsides. Where a 65-million-year-old geological experiment has been baked to perfection and is laid bare for all to see and praise. Where beaches sparkle and surprise, some Caribbean, some black volcanic, some coral. Where the views in every direction say, Oh Ya Beauty! Where dinosaur families once roamed and left their footprints on today’s coast line. Where Vikings raided and integrated, left their place names and descendants. Where Highland Clans fought for control of their bloody landscape. Where todays residents continue to lovingly fight for the betterment and protection of their island.
A land of shinty (I’ll tell you later!), fabulous whisky, bagpipers and stronghold of our Gaelic community. Where the legendary Wild Ginger Haggis wearing MacSween tartan kilts roam the heather clad slopes, driving herds of native Highland cattle through the burns and over the bealachs, maybe. Where one of the nations favourite daughters made her name. Where Kings and Queens have danced and feasted under moonlight. Where Kings and Queens have brought great naval fleets under the banner of war. Where the greatest warriors, witches and warlocks came for their schooling. Where the midges can be brutal. Where else?
Failte gu An t-Eilean Sgitheanach. Welcome to the Island of Skye.
I remember the first time I went to Skye. It was 21 December 1996, one ‘o’ clock in the morning, parked in front of the old bridge outside the Sligachan Hotel and the tears were rolling down my cheeks. The trident head peaks of the ice covered Black Cullin hills soared up endlessly into the night sky. Every star was out, I mean every single one. Maybe even a hint of Milky Way through those rose-tinted glasses. A moment that has forever remained etched in my memories. For the hillwalker and climbers of the UK, Skye has a serious reputation. It’s a place to go when you have your skills in place, not a place to learn. Particularly in winter. I was here to test those skills. But that, my friends, is another story.
These days I am still lucky enough to visit the old bridge outside the Sligachan Hotel on a regular basis. I cannot believe I get to places like this with my work. For me it is one of the finest road-side mountain views in the whole country. However, as well as drooling over the views nowadays, the guide within me also wants to tell you about things. About the river of eternal youth that runs below the bridge. About the tale of the one-eyed women who crossed the bridge. About that night when Davie and I raced sand beetles and drank Talisker on the coastal campsite until the sun came up. About the nearby Gurkha inspired hill race. About that epic night in Hotel when…well actually I’ll keep that one for the tour!
Skye is a gem. I had a young French girl on the coach a couple of years ago. She described Skye as having a “savage beauty”. Summed it up perfectly for me. There is a reason it is so popular. Smaller cruise ships have added the island to their itinerary and the bridge had added to the accessibility. The 2nd largest of our almost 800 islands yet home to only around 10,000 people, there is a lot of space to enjoy. White-tailed and Golden eagles soar the skies along with falcons and buzzards. Rumours of the increasingly common Greater Spotted Photographer arriving in September to capture the incredible soft light. Puffins collect to nest along exposed cliffs during the warmer summer months and the tropical Gulf stream weather system brings all kinds of interesting sea life to our shore, basking sharks and Orca included. Dolphins regularly chase the ferries heading out to the other islands and are great fun to watch from the observation lounges. Seals lounge lazily on shorelines. Red deer roam the island freely, as do the almost infinite number of sheep.
The place is dripping with history, culture and wildlife. Quite often there can be a fair bit of dripping from the sky on Skye. It isn’t known as the Misty Isle for nothing. As we quite often say, there is no such thing as bad weather on Skye, just a bad choice of clothing. Up in the north west corner lies Dunvegan Castle, ancestral home of the Clan MacLeod and their famous Faerie Flag. Also, Neist point and its lighthouse. At the Northern tip of Trotternish at Kilmuir lies the memorial to a lady called Flora MacDonald, the rescuer of Bonnie Prince Charlie and a true heroine. This cracking spot offers contemplative views over The Minch to the Outer Hebridean isles. The Minch itself home to the legendary Wee Blue Men. Then there is the Fairy Glen, the Fairy Pools, Kilt Rock with its waterfall and views over the Atlantic to the mainland. Broadford - the home of Drambuie, Portree – the capital town and possessing of traditionally cute wee harbour. Skye delivers a sanctuary for our Gaelic community and a sanctuary for lovers of wild places and raw nature. Michelin starred restaurants or cheeky wee fish n chips. Iron age forts and Jurassic age footprints. Down on the quieter Southern edge lies the Garden of Skye, Armadale and its own castle, home to the MacDonalds of Sleat. Talisker Distillery awaits to share its smoky, coastal delights. World famous geology. Too much to possibly include everything in one trip, but we squeeze in as much of the good stuff as time and weather allow.
All seasons hold their charm on the island. Spring for the return of colour and fresh life in the fields. Summer is the best day of the year! Come autumn, Skye enters its golden phase. Purple heather clad hills, orange bracken and nae midges! Winter holds its own as the islands takes a collective deep breath with the solitude becoming much more noticeable.
I could go on (and on…) but you get the idea. Why not come and Highland Experience the whole thing with us and a mini-coach full of other gallant explorers from all around the world? Make friends and make memories. Make sure you do!
Oh, and shinty, I nearly forgot. Try to imagine a game which is across between field hockey and medieval warfare. Yep, that’s close enough!
-Mark Ruis, Driver-guide