Upon leaving Inverness, we headed south traveling along side the famous Loch Ness. It is an impressive lake – the vast chasm of a fault line filled with more water than all of the freshwater bodies of England and Wales combined. It is 23 miles long, less than a mile wide and 754 feet deep in places.
Loch Ness tourism of course thrives on the legend of the Loch Ness monster. This legend first came to be in 1933 when a couple swore they saw a giant sea monster shimmy across the road in front of their car by Lock Ness. Suddenly, ancient legends about giant monsters in the lake emerged, dating as far back as the 6th century. Since then, “reliable” sightings have been reported by monks, police officers and sonic imaging. Certainly, ‘Nessie’ has bolstered the local economy, with attractions and souvenirs. We didn’t spot Nessie, nor did we stop at any of the commercialized exhibits.
On the banks of Loch Ness sits Urquhart Castle. The castle is an empty shell, but is beautifully situated on the banks of Loch Ness. Founded in the 13th century, Urquhart played a role in the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th century. It was subsequently held as a royal castle, and was raided on several occasions by the MacDonald Earls of Ross. The castle was granted to the Clan Grant in 1509, though conflict with the MacDonalds continued. Despite a series of further raids the castle was strengthened, only to be largely abandoned by the middle of the 17th century. Urquhart was partially destroyed in 1692 to prevent its use by Jacobite forces, and subsequently decayed.
Further in our journey, we can across what is probably the most photographed castle in Scotland – Eilean Donan Castle. The original castle on this site dated from 800 years ago and was the stronghold of Clan Mackenzie. The original castle was destroyed in battle in 1719 and rebuilt between 1912 and 1932 by the Macrae family (who were bodyguards to the Mackenzies in the 14th century). Advice from other visitors was that the interior of the castle was quite underwhelming so we passed on entering and just took the requisite photos. As a side note, we passed by the castle on a subsequent day so that is why we have photos with the tide both in and out.
Not far from the castle, we came to the Skye Bridge which connects Kyle of Lochalsh on the mainland with Kyleakin on Skye. This bridge was opened in 1995 – previously ferry travel was required.
The Isle of Skye (“Skye comes from the Old Norse for “The Misty Isle”) is the largest island of the Inner Hebrides. The island has only about 13000 residents – and definitely more sheep than people. During the Highland Clearance of the early 19th century, many human residents were forced to move off the island to make room for more livestock. Sheep are everywhere – in the fields and on the roads. Being springtime, there were the most adorable lambs bounding about!
We spent 3 nights on Skye – at an Airbnb about 6 miles outside of Portree. Beul na Mara was a gem! Located on the banks of Loch Snizort Beag, this beautiful suite is attached to the end of the home of the proprietors, Rosie & Tim. It included a lovely sitting area, with a second floor loft with a spacious bedroom and ensuite bathroom. A wonderful enhancement is the breakfast that Rosie left each day for us to enjoy the next morning – not only did it provide us with a great start to the day, but there was enough for us to take for snacks and picnic lunch for the day!
Within a short walking distance to Beul na Mara was the Skeabost Hotel. We had dinner on two evenings at the hotel restaurant. The food and service was excellent, as was the lovely view!
Portree is the main village on Skye. It is nestled deep in its harbour and is conveniently located for exploring the rest of the island. We wandered the area a bit, enjoyed some snacks and dinner one night and caught up on our laundry at the local launderette.
We spent two days exploring Skye. One day, we drove around the Trotternish Peninsula. This drive takes you across windswept views, unique geological formations and some of Scotland’s most dramatic scenery. For much of the drive, you are driving on a paved single-track road. Drivers use the ‘passing places’ to allow two way traffic and to let speed demons pass by.
The Old Man of Storr is a 160-foot-tall tapered slab of basalt rock standing apart from the rest of the Storr (as the mountain is named). This block slid down the cliff about 6500 years ago, landing on its end and being whittle by weather into a pinnacle. There is a two hour hike to the Old Man, but we settled for pictures of this Skye icon from the road below.
As the River Lealt tumbles into the sea, it carves out a a long and scenic gorge.
Kilt Rock is named because the 200-foot-tall sea cliff is said to resemble a Scotsman’s kilt, with its vertical columns of volcanic rock sitting atop a lay of horizontal sedimentary rock. There is equally dramatic scenery on the cliffs opposite to the Kilt Rock.
At the tip of the peninsula the scenery is beautiful and we came across the crumbling ruins of Duntulum Castle , which was the first stronghold on Skye of the MacDonald clan. The castle was abandoned in 1730.
The Skye Museum of Island Life is a cute little exhibit of seventeenth century thatched stone huts. It explains how a typical Skye family lived a century and a half ago and was well worth the 3 pound admission fee.
On our second day, we travelled across the island to Dunvegan Castle. Scenically and strategically located on a rock overlooking a sea loch, the castle is the residence of Clan MacLeod. The Castle offers an interesting look at clan history and aristocratic lifestyles, as well as beautiful formal gardens.
Not far from the castle, we took a hike to the Fairy Pools. These picturesque pools are formed at the base of small waterfalls coming down the Cullin Hills. The Cullins are are dramatic, rocky hills that stretch along the southern coast of the island and dominate Skye’s landscape.
I was so excited on Skye, and throughout the Highlands, whenever we spotted any Heilan Coos. They are just so adorable!
We loved the Isle of Skye and definitely recommend that anyone visiting Scotland should allow at least two days to explore and enjoy the fabulous scenery!
Bev & Harvey