The Isle of Skye’s famous Kilt Rock
(It took me a few months and a return visit to Scotland to finally start getting caught up on my blog posts, and what better place to start than this enchanting jewel of Scotland.)
One of the most popular destinations in all of Scotland is the Isle of Skye. At least this is what I had gathered from other hostel-goers, who all seemed to be coming from there, or were getting ready to visit. Early on, Skye had been on my possibilities list, and the myriad endorsements from others sealed the deal for me.
Traveling to the Isle of Skye involved a train from one side of Scotland to the other, from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh (a name I never could pronounce with any confidence) where I enjoyed a healthy wait for the one afternoon bus to Portree, the main tourist destination on the island. I wanted to give myself a reasonable amount of time before I had to reverse the process, so I booked myself into the neon yellow hostel just off Portree’s town square for four nights. This funky abode was a far cry from the more modern, sterile hostels I’d stayed in earlier. Run by Pat, a marvelous man who knew all of his guests’ name, this colorful (literally and figuratively) place would serve as the perfect crash pad after long days of hiking in the mists that seemed to forever surround the area.
Skye didn’t appear to be aware we were in the height of summer. Everyone was dressed in long sleeves, boots and rain jackets befitting early Spring, and there was no waiting for a nice day in order to explore this vast, magnificent island.
So early on my first full day on the Isle of Skye, I went off to hike one of the trails just outside of Portree. From the moment I stepped onto the path, I felt as though I had slipped inside the images on the myriad postcards which populate the island’s souvenir shops. It was a heady mixture of emerald grasses, mountainside waterfalls, murmurs of low-tide waves embracing the rocky shoreline and a stroll through a tunnel of trees which led me to a clearing ringed by an ancient stone wall, which offered a view of the bluff I was to climb.
At its summit, a mist was beginning to roll in, and by the time I reached the base of the hill, it had blossomed into a thick grey cloud which rested contentedly on the slope, with no indication that it cared to move along anytime soon. It had a haunting, magical quality – quintessential Scottish Highlands – and I eagerly began my ascent into the mist.
There is something about walking in a cloud that is exhilarating. Everything becomes one color, and feels mysterious and unknown, and as if anything could happen at any moment. Given that the path beneath my feet was slippery, and I couldn’t actually see it, I made the climb at a glacial pace. In the distance below me, I could hear the voices of a party of hikers, exchanging banter and exclaims of wonder at the loveliness of their surroundings. I stopped and stayed silent, hoping they wouldn’t follow me up the hillside. Soon I heard them pass beneath my vantage point and continue along a lower path, completely unaware of my presence. It made me feel as powerful and elusive as those mischievous highland fairies I’d been warned about repeatedly. And just like that, as if those fairies knew I was stealing their thunder, hiding on that hillside, the fog surrounding me lifted, making me mortal again. With that, I continued to the summit where I stood in humble amazement at Skye’s majestic beauty.
On another day during my stay, I did something out of character, and joined a daylong sightseeing tour. Public transport is limited in the Isle of Skye, so this is the best way of hitting all the island’s highlights. I had been told about the tour by my hostel roommate Danielle, a witty, energetic Canadian who had just completed hiking the West Highland Way. She and I joined a group of eight other tourists and our knowledgeable, humorous tour guide Bill from Real Scottish Journeys on a jaunt around Skye in a minibus which fearlessly conquered the steep and sometimes rocky terrain.
It was a great day out, with stops at the island’s most jaw-dropping vistas and wonders, including the Fairy Pools, the Fairy Glen (more of those pesky highland sprites) and a curious rock formation known as the Old Man of Storr. The weather was hit and miss throughout the day – sometimes we traveled in the clouds, at other times we moved in sunshine.
And what I discovered from this was that Scotland is resplendent when the sun is shining… and yet I actually prefer the overcast skies and fog. To me, the highlands are at their most beautiful when they are shrouded in that timeless mist.
It was a cozy, mirth-filled day trekking around Skye in our cozy van, and by the end of it, Danielle and I had made a fun new group of friends. At the conclusion of the tour, she suggested to the group that we all go for drinks. Happily, most of our group joined us to try some of the famous area whiskys (that would be the Scottish spelling). With help from a few knowledgeable locals we mingled with at the bar, we sampled some of the interesting, “peaty” whiskys which are a specialty of the highlands. It was the perfect, most picturesque ending to our wondrous day.
Travel tip: The charm of an ancient pub filled with the camaraderie of new friends gives a person a sense of warmth which can ward off even the dampest highland chill.
Top Row: The vibrant hostel in Portree; mist rolling in on the highlands; with Danielle on a bracing peak.
Bottom Row: The closest we got to seeing the Old Man of Storr on a foggy morning; finally, sunshine and a glimpse at a broch (the Iron-Age round stone structure — no one can agree what it was used for); amusing anecdotes and warm whisky with new friends.