Scotland has more than 750 islands, but only one of them is so beautiful that National Geographic named it one of the most beautiful islands in the world. It is described in all guidebooks on Scotland and is certainly a must-see – it is the Isle of Skye.
If you’re limited in time and can’t explore every corner of the country, choose the Isle of Skye as your ultimate destination – you will never regret it. This is an amazing land with waterfalls, valleys, mountain peaks, and absolutely unique landscapes. It is commonly referred to as “Scotland in miniature”, the name I can’t completely agree with, because Skye is an absolutely unique land which could hardly be compared with something else.
Well, getting there has been no difficulty since 1995 when the Skye Bridge was constructed to connect the island with the mainland. The bridge is not very spectacular, but it is worth attention – without it you would have to queue for your ferry to get to your point of destination. During our first trip we quickly passed the bridge, paying no attention to it, and only on our way back we understood its importance for locals.
Skye is the largest island in the Inner Hebrides archipelago and the second largest island in Scotland after Lewis and Harris archipelago. Its 1,656 sq. km. territory is home to only 10,000 inhabitants, making it almost deserted, so you get an opportunity to relax and enjoy its nature with amazing scenery. But remember to keep your fingers crossed to have nice weather during your trip. Portree is the most populous city of the island. If you stay there, you can easily get to any part of the island by car for half an hour at most. Take care about your accommodation in advance, as the number of tourists is much higher than in other parts of Scotland.
The island keeps many legends and mysteries that still excite the minds of many visitors. The most important landmark and hallmark of the island is a mountain ridge called Trotternish with a solitary rock on the top known as Old Man of Storr. A legend tells about a huge giant who lived on Trotternish. And when he died and was buried, several fingers remained stuck out of the ground. They turned into stone and took the form of famous Old Man of Storr. According to another legend, there were giants who fled from their pursuers, but turned around while running and turned into stones. Indeed, from a distance the statue looks like a sitting old man who is thinking about something and gazing into the distance. The bizarre rock is 50 meters high and looks really fascinating in the immediate vicinity, especially if the rock is wrapped in mist. The path to the top to the Old Man and back is 5 km long and does not require any special training background because the road up is quite easy and is not exhausting.
The ascent and descent will take you about 4 hours. If you are lucky with the weather, you will see the spectacular landscape. On our way to the Old Man, the top was so wrapped with mist that we could walked by the Old Man of Storr and could not even notice it. We saw the rock only when came very close to it. Mist made this amazing place even more mysterious. By the way, the mysteriousness of this place was noticed by famous Ridley Scott, who shot the Old Man of Storr in his Prometheus. In the movie, here was the cave with alien creatures depicted on walls. The landscape nearby is really very untypical. Huge black stones are scattered in a chaotic manner, and, most interestingly, rock fall happens here even nowadays, so be very careful while walking.
Having said goodbye to Storr, we moved on to explore the island. We took the way to one of very picturesque waterfalls – Kilt Rock or Kilt Falls. The water stream falls from a 90 m height directly into the Atlantic Ocean. The waterfall got its name because its rocks resemble pleats on the traditional Scottish menswear – kilt. The waterfall is surrounded by high vertical basalt columns. If you shoot it from the waterside, the waterfall shows all its beauty to you, but, having no opportunity to see it that way, we enjoyed the view from the shore.
Near the waterfall Kilt Rock, there are footsteps of dinosaurs lived there more than 170 million years ago. The Isle of Skye is also referred to as “the capital of Scottish dinosaurs” because archaeologists still find here evidence of sauropods. Their footprints are very well preserved because they were left on sandstone and limestone exposed at low tide.
The picturesque plateau Quiraing is situated in the north of Skye and is certainly worth a visit. It is unique as it dates back to the Ice Age. Unfortunately, it is now destroyed because it is formed by solidified lava. Its plates are in constant motion, and rock fall is very common here. The total trail to the plateau is 6.8 km long, but we, very active tourists, have gone a much longer distance and almost walked Quiraing from the back side. So, our walk was 18 km long. Because of our carelessness we made a huge mistake that made our trekking quite stressful – we got the trail in the afternoon and did not take into account that the sun sets earlier in mountains than elsewhere. Even before we realised our fault, a strongest wind got up making our movement extremely difficult on narrow paths. There was nobody but us. Countless sheep were gazing upon and rushing up and down the hills so freely that they could easily knock us off our feet. Our way back was as dark as midnight, we had to walk in single file holding each other by the hand as we could easily stumble. So, a fairly easy hiking tour turned into an exciting journey with lots of memories. But we’ve learned the lesson well.
We hurried to visit a very famous castle, a patrimony of “immortal” Clan MacLeod for more than eight centuries – Dunvegan. It is the oldest castle in Scotland which is still inhabited. Today it is home to the 30th chief of the legendary clan Hugh MacLeod and his family. The ground floor of the castle is a museum which keeps the relics of the ancient family and is open to visitors. Upper floors are closed for the public and it is there where Hugh’s family lives. When we were in the castle, the owner was away on business in London, but the museum staff told us that he often went out to talk to visitors. In the castle you can see numerous portraits of all members of the ancient clan, their relics, awards, trophies, firearms, uniforms and many other items which were used by people who lived in the castle for more than eight centuries. The most famous relic shrouded in mystery is the Fairy Flag. According to a legend, the Fairy Queen, in whom the chief of the Clan MacLeod was in love, gave him this piece of silk. The flag is said to have the power to protect the clan three times with the magic of fairies. After the third time, the flag will lose its power. The flag has been used twice already to protect against the militant Clan MacDonald attempted from time to time to conquer the Isle of Skye which belonged to the Clan MacLeod. It is held at the castle along with another relic, the Dunvegan Cup which is believed to be the Holy Grail giving immortality and happiness to its owner.
The castle is situated on a basalt rock on the shores of Loch Dunvegan and looks quite forbidding and unfriendly. A lot of money goes to maintenance of a huge garden surrounding the castle. When you see how well plants and flowers are attended, you feel that owners put their heart into gardening. Here you can find numerous varieties of tulips, pine trees, palm trees, and even exotic plants in greenhouses. Moreover, there is a very pretty waterfall dedicated to the fairies living here. There are separate tickets to the garden and combined tickets to the garden and the castle.
Finally, I’d like to tell you about the biggest disappointment awaited us on the Isle of Skye, the famous Fairy Pools. Most guidebooks on Scotland describe this place as unique and unforgettable. Shoots made there set your pulse racing high when you anticipate seeing the scenery. Fairy Pools are cascade waterfalls where crystal-clear mountain water makes several streams and merges into one big pool. It looks really spectacular… on photos only. The first time we came here was early May, hoping to see spectacular waterfalls shown on photos. But we were very disappointed because the reality seemed to be too bad to be truth. We shot a little and decided to come back in another season, hoping the scenery will change. Our second visit was in early October, and, again as in the case of Quiraing, we have gone the distance twice as long as the path to the Pools. We had almost climbed the mountain which is far behind the waterfalls. And all because we couldn’t believe that what we saw were those Fairy Pools. So we decided to walk a bit more, and then even a little bit more… Most interestingly, we were not the only ones who refused to believe their eyes. Some tourists nearby were also wondering where are the pools. As a result, we covered the distance twice longer than a trail to the waterfalls and returned to Fairy Pools just to take pictures of what we saw. I don’t want to visit this place for the third time. I’m not going to come back here as I could hardly see what pictures on the Internet show. Our experience shows that Photoshop tools may play a very bad game with tourists. Anyway, I don’t dissuade you from visiting that place. Everyone should come to make his/her own opinion. Maybe you’ll be lucky to unveil the secrets of magical waterfalls described so beautifully.
To summarise my story about the Isle of Skye, I’d like to say that this land makes you come back again and again to enjoy its incredible rocks and cliffs and endless blue sea washing it from all sides. Here, when you stand on the edge of the world, you really feel absolute harmony, a feeling we lack in the hustle and bustle of our everyday life. The Isle of Skye will definitely attract everybody who once has been caught by its magical nets.