Hiking, Biking and Lodging on Scotland’s Isle of Skye

“Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing . . . over the sea to Skye.”  So goes the Skye Boat Song, commemorating Bonnie Prince Charlie’s escape to the Isle of Skye in 1746. It’s one of many romantic stories – some of them true – about Skye, the largest of the Inner Hebrides, off Scotland’s west coast.

The “bonnie prince” was Charles Edward Stuart, pretender to the British throne. He had passionate followers; the one of legend and song was Flora MacDonald, who helped him escape in disguise after a major defeat.  Visitors today can trace some of the prince’s route as he was sheltered by sympathizers.

Cuillin MountainsUntil 1995, the only way to reach Skye was by boat. Ferries still sail from the mainland, but now there is a bridge as well, from Kyle of Lochalsh to Kyleakin. The weather is moody on the “Misty Isle,” but that doesn’t stop thousands of visitors. There’s a stark beauty to the barren moors, steep cliffs, and the Cuillin mountains.

Skye offers plenty of activity. Hikers and climbers find a network of trails, and water sports abound.  You can go for bicycle rides (Fairwinds Bicycle Hire rents bikes), go bird-watching, or take a boat tour and see dolphins, sharks, whales, seals, and eagles. Misty Isle Boat Trips, Aqua Xplore, and Bella Jane all offer various boat rides.

Numerous artists’ studios are open to visitors. At Three Herons Studio Gallery, Ken Bryan displays his dramatic island photographs, and Polly Bryan’s weavings are shown. At Duncan House, 30 miles out of Broadford, Garth Duncan creates carvings and silver work.  Born in America, Garth moved to Skye and now makes and sells jewelry, buckles, swords, pins and more.

Waterfall - Isle of SkyeBrowse through craft and souvenir shops, and check the array in the Elgol Shop and Post Office. Coffee, candy, take-away tea, fresh shellfish, home-baked  pastries, tourist information, and walking sticks are just a few of their useful items.

The Skye Museum of Island Life, north of Uig, recreates a community of the past, with a thatch-roofed croft house, barn, and blacksmith’s and weaver’s shed.  A graveyard behind the museum has a Celtic cross memorial by Flora MacDonald’s grave.

Skye is rich with ancient standing stones and fortress ruins, and it has the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland. Dunvegan Castle has been the stronghold of the MacLeod clan for nearly 800 years. The castle and gardens with magnificent rhododendrons are open for tours. You can even see a lock of Prince Charles’ hair and Flora MacDonald’s embroidered pin cushion. Armadale Castle, the former home of the MacDonald clan, has 40 acres of gardens to tour, plus a fine museum with historic artifacts and a restaurant in a baronial hall that was once the horse stables.

tigh-an-dochaisThe island’s most notable restaurant is The Three Chimneys, on Loch Dunvegan. The award-winning food and service in this 100-year-old former cottage are superb. It overlooks a lovely garden, the loch and hills.  A few steps away is The House Over-By, with six well-furnished suites.  Another winner, but quite different, is the contemporary Tigh an Dochais B&B. Its three well-furnished rooms view Broadford Bay, and guests can walk to the beach, go kayaking, or get cozy with a book in the library. A full Scottish breakfast is served.

kinloch lodgeOne of Skye’s best wine lists is at the Restaurant at Kinloch Lodge, where the menu features local and seasonal produce, game, and shellfish. Stein Inn, on the shore of Loch Bay, is a charming spot where the menu features seafood, venison, and Scottish salmon. And who could resist a place called the White Heather Hotel? In Kyleakin, the hotel has nine rooms and a view of the harbor. A generous breakfast is served and the hosts offer suggestions for day trips.

glenview-isle-of-skyeAll these are wonderful, but I will always feel a special warmth for the Glenview. I arrived at the country inn with a miserable cold on a rainy afternoon, wanting only a cup of tea and a comfortable bed. I got that and more. The Glenview’s five rooms have all the amenities, including internet access, and a peaceful atmosphere. The restaurant serves excellent three-course dinners – maybe a mushroom/lentil tart with hazelnuts and pesto sauce, chicken confit and roasted garlic, and a chocolate orange mousse cake. It’s enough to improve anyone under the weather. The “Continental” breakfast includes cereals, fruits, porridge, and homemade breads. Bacon and eggs are available, and smoked kippers.

Another place providing comfort and joy is the Talisker Distillery. The only distillery on the island, it offers tours and tastes of its malt whiskey.

For more information, check out Andy Hayes’ post on Discovering the Isle of Skye and Katie Hammel’s story on The Scottish Isles.

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