The Isle of Skye , is the largest and northernmost of the major islands in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland – United Kingdom.
The island’s peninsulas radiate from a mountainous centre dominated by the Cuillins, the rocky slopes of which provide some of the most dramatic mountain scenery in the country. Although it has been suggested that the Gaelic Sgitheanach describes a winged shape there is no definitive agreement as to the name’s origins. The island has been occupied since the Mesolithic period, and its history includes a time of Norse rule and a long period of domination by Clan MacLeod and Clan Donald.
The 18th century Jacobite risings led to the breaking up of the clan system and subsequent Clearances that replaced entire communities with sheep farms, some of which also involved forced emigrations to distant lands. Resident numbers declined from over 20,000 in the early 19th century to just under 9,000 by the closing decade of the 20th century. Skye’s population increased by 4 per cent between 1991 and 2001. About a third of the residents were Gaelic speakers in 2001, and although their numbers are in decline, this aspect of island culture remains important.
The main industries are tourism, agriculture, fishing and forestry. Skye is part of the Highland Council local government area. The island’s largest settlement is Portree, known for its picturesque harbour. There are links to various nearby islands by ferry and, since 1995, to the mainland by a road bridge. The climate is mild, wet and windy. The abundant wildlife includes the golden eagle, red deer and Atlantic salmon. The local flora are dominated by heather moor, and there are nationally important invertebrate populations on the surrounding sea bed. Skye has provided the locations for various novels and feature films and is celebrated in poetry and song.
Peninsulas : Skye may be understood as a number of distinct peninsulas that extend out from the Cuillin, the mountainous centre of the island. A largely missable central plateau north of the Cuillin separates Portree on the east coast and Dunvegan in the west. In the north (from west to east): Duirnish Peninsula — includes Glendale, Colbost and the scenic lighthouse at Neist Point.
Waternish Peninsula — has some pretty villages, in particular the village of Stein, but is otherwise often overlooked by tourists. The ruins of Trumpan church are well worth a visit both for the church itself and the fabulous sunsets that can be experienced there.
Trotternish Peninsula — is the largest and most frequently visited, thanks in no small part to the stunning rock formations of the Old Man of Storr and the Quiraing. The A855 road (and 57A / 57C bus routes) circumnavigate this beautiful part of Skye, with plentiful options for walking and climbing, as well as numerous attractive small settlements for overnight stops or holidays bases.
In the west: Minginish Peninsula — offers amazing (but cloud dependent!) views south-east towards the Cuillin, as well as a scenic coastline. The Talisker Distillery (see ‘Drink’ below) is on the tranquil shore of Loch Harport in Carbost. In the south: Sleat — is the gently rolling landscape that includes the southernmost tip of Skye and the pier at Armadale for the ferry to and from Mallaig.
1 Armadale – linked to Mallaig on the mainland by ferry.
2 Broadford – a village spread around a large bay looking onto the Inner Sound & across to the mainland, about 8 miles from the Skye Bridge.
3 Carbost – a clue – think of Talisker – also a very good beach.
4 Colbost and the Duirnish Peninsula
5 Dunvegan – a village, most well known for Dunvegan Castle, home of the Chiefs of Clan MacLeod for 800 years.
6 Elgol – small village with a boat service to Loch Coruisk and a walk to the fine beach at Camasunary.
7 Glenbrittle – a good walking and climbing base for the Cuillins, Skye’s best known mountains.
8 Kyleakin – original ferry landing from Kyle (before the Bridge), now a picturesque and peaceful fishing village with views of the harbour/loch/mountains & Castle Moil
9 Sligachan – Located between Portree and Broadford, close to the Cuillins. Nearby Sconser – location of the Isle of Skye Golf Club & ferry link to the Isle of Raasay, great views.
10 Portree – the attractive capital of the island.
12 Uig – ferry link to the Outer Hebrides, great brewery, the Fairy Glen and close to the Skye Museum of Island Life.
Skye is part of the Highland Council local government area and is now linked to the mainland by a road bridge. The island is renowned for its spectacular scenery, vibrant culture and heritage, and its abundant wildlife including the Golden Eagle, Red Deer and Salmon. It is also one of the most accessible regions in which to hear Gaelic being spoken, with about thirty percent of the local population being fluent and a sizeable Gaelic college in Sleat. There is a tourist information in Portree.
Access : Coordinates: 57.307, -6.23 / By car : There are two main roads to Skye: the A87 and travels west from the A82 Fort William – Inverness road at Invergarry (the A887 provides another connection to the A87 further north towards Inverness). The A87 reaches Skye over the bridge from the Kyle of Lochalsh on the mainland to Kyleakin on Skye. The lesser used but equally scenic route is by the A830 “Road to the Isles” from Fort William to Mallaig and thence by ferry to Armadale (see below).
By ferry : Now that the Skye Bridge is open (and free of charge since 2004), it is no longer essential to travel to Skye by boat, but it is still an enjoyable ride. The main route to the mainland is on the Caledonian Macbrayne (aka Calmac) ferry between Armadale and Mallaig. Skye Ferry, a seasonal car ferry (from around Easter till mid-October) operates between Glenelg and Kylerhea, reachable via minor roads. For the Outer Hebrides, Calmac run from Uig in the north of Skye to Tarbert on Harris and Lochmaddy on North Uist. Many travellers bound for the Outer Hebrides will travel through Skye en route to Uig, usually on board the multiple daily Citylink buses from Inverness or Fort William and Glasgow. A Calmac ferry also operates from Sconser on Skye to Inverarish on Raasay.
By train : There are two railway stations that serve Skye from the mainland, with the terminus of the West Highland Line in Mallaig (MLG) and the Kyle of Lochalsh Line terminating in its eponymous destination (KYL).
- Old Man of Storr (between Portree and Staffin). The rocky outcrop is one of the famous sights. Expect a 2-3 hour walk, from the carpark to the Old man and back down.
- Dunvegan Castle & Gardens (in Dunvegan). Is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland and has been the ancestral home of the Chiefs of Clan MacLeod for 800 years. Experience an extraordinary castle and Highland estate steeped in history and clan legend, delight in the beauty of its formal gardens, take an exhilarating boat trip to see the seal colony, enjoy a meal at the MacLeods Table Cafe or browse in one of its four shops. Dunvegan Castle
- Armadale Castle and the Clan Donald Centre (in Armadale). Ancestral home of the MacDonalds, on a large and spacious estate around the Armadale Castle. The castle grounds (attractive gardens), several hiking trails, and the Museum of the Isles are open for visitors.
There are other castles on the island that are in a state of disrepair, if not outright ruins, but still scenic:
- Castle Moil (Caisteal Maol) (near Kyleakin). Caisteal Maol
- Dunscaith Castle (on the wild west coast of the Sleat Peninsula).
- Duntulm Castle (north of Portree Duntulm Castle Hotel is nearby).
- Kilt Rock and Waterfall.
- Loch Coruisk. To many people the very finest loch in Scotland – surrounded by shapely peaks. Accessible by boat from the village of Elgol or by walks from Sligachan (long but not hard) or from Elgol via Camasunary (but this involves a ‘bad step’)
- MacLeod’s Maidens. Skye’s magnificent coast off the Dunvegan road is often forgotten in the allure of the Cuillin. The UK’s highest cliffs are to be found here. The ‘Maidens’ are very striking sea stacks and give a target for a walk. See Walkhighlands for a description of the hike.
- Neist Point Lighthouse.
- Skye Museum of Rural Life, Kilmuir, By Portree, Isle of Skye, 206, A semi-recreation of a pre-modern Highland village, consisting of single storey cottages and crofts. £3.00.
Activities : Learn Scottish Gaelic at Sabhal Mor Ostaig, Skye’s famous Gaelic college. Attend one of their short courses or do a full degree. Visit Sabhal Mor Ostaig.
Go walking in the Cuillin, Skye’s most famous group of mountains, or enjoy the coastal treks elsewhere on the island. Visit Walkhighlands (Isle of Skye walks), a free and independent guide to walks on the island.
Walk/climb the Quiraing.
Go next : Plockton / Eilean Donan Castle at Dornie / Loch Ness.