The Isle of Skye

In June 2018 my boyfriend and I set out for a month long roadtrip through the Scottish Highlands. We had worked to make my boyfriend's car, a small white van, suitable to be our home-on-wheels for a few weeks long trip, and in the last days of May we drove all the way from Lyon to Calais, then hopped on the Eurotunnel Shuttle and landed in England. Then, after a wee stop at the Harry Potter Studios Tour next to London, we drove through England all the way up to Glasgow in Scotland and started exploring the Highlands. We wandered through a lot of this beautiful country, from the Western Highlands, including several Harry Potter locations along the way of course, to the Isle of Skye, the Northern Highlands area and to some parts of the East Coast. A magical roadtrip through one of the wildest countries in Europe, made of winding and scenic roads among beautiful mountains, lochs and glens, lots of rain (yes, take my advice and don't go there in June) castles ruins and sheep at every turn.

Just a wee disclaimer before we start: the articles you will read are not in the right chronological order we followed to visit those places but in a perfect random order haha. It is the only way I found to find the strength to go through the 8000+ photos I took during this trip, edit them and write about all the amazing places we saw!

Around mid-June, nearly two weeks into our journey, we were on the West Coast, close to the bridge that goes from the mainland to the Isle of Skye in Kyle of Lochalsh. The Isle of Skye was one part of the trip that I was most excited about: a place that has names such as 'the Fairy Glen' or 'the Fairy Pools' can only be calling my name. That and the tune of 'The Skye Boat Song', that as a huge Outlander fan I can't stop humming since we arrived in Scotland, have helped to create an image of this island as a mysterious, magical and enchanted place where you can meet faeries and other folklore creatures at every turn. So it's with heads full of whimsical images and the promise of wild and breathtaking landscapes in mind that we set off for Skye.

But, as often during a trip, and especially a roadtrip, things didn't go exactly as planned. We first arrived on Skye late in the afternoon, on a sunny day (and we had seen very few of these since setting foot in this country). A bit tired of all the driving, we decided to stay around the coast of the Island to spend the night in our wee home-on-wheels, after cooking a quick dinner on our camping stove and stretching our legs on the beach. It was a beautiful, peaceful evening, and for once the midges (tiny mosquitos that are a Highland speciality and that attack you by the thousands to get into your mouth, eyes and nose..) were leaving us be.

Unfortunately, we woke up the following morning to the sound of rain battering the roof of the car. We had seen a lot of rain since we arrived in Scotland so we were not really worried at first, but this time it wasn't only rain. We soon realised that there also were very strong winds, and close to zero visibility in our surroundings. We left the coast to drive on the main road that goes from the South to the North of the Isle of Skye, heading towards Portree (the main city of the island). We had planned to hike up to the Old Man of Storr (a large pinnacle of rocks that can normally be seen for miles around) that day, but as we drove towards it we soon realised that it was not going to happen. We drove by several of the locations I had mapped but saw none of them. They were all drowned into a deep fog and the relentless falling rain. The strong wind made the car deviate from the road. We drove by the car park for the Old Man of Storr without realising it was there, as the low clouds made it completely invisible for us to see. Only a few cars belonging to a few brave souls showed us that it was there. We still decided to give it a try, and started hiking up after putting our warmest clothes on, including hats and gloves. But the path was super muddy, we kept slipping and my body was no weight against the force of the wind. Obviously, there was zero view and we couldn't even see ten meters away, so we eventually gave up and went back to the car, completely soaked up.

At this point we were feeling a bit annoyed and disappointed (and cold) as we knew there was not much to do on Skye with that kind of weather. So we drove back towards Portree and decided to stay in and eat something warm and waited to see if the rain stopped. We ordered some late lunch at a very colourful coffee place called 'Café Arriba' and found some comfort in the delicious salmon and scrambled eggs baggle we had ordered. Then we headed out to visit the town centre, with the quaint and colourful houses of the port and its many libraries (always a comfort for me when things go wrong) But in the UK pretty much everything closes at 5pm, so we were left with nothing else to do but try to entertain ourselves in the car.

Kilt rock cliff & Mealt falls

We then decided to drive North again, and stopped at Kilt Rock Waterfall viewpoint, on the coast. It's a huge and abprut basalt cliff from which Mealt falls, a tiny waterfall, falls, 60m down into the sea. The bad weather made the cliffs and the black rock-laden coast look extra dramatic. The water had a mesmerizing deep blue tint to it, and we could see the seagulls fighting against the gusts of wind down below. It was cold, damp and we could feel the wind and raindrops lashing our cheeks, but despite that, it was beautiful.

After that, we headed back to the car and drove North along the A855 towards Staffin, a tiny town North of the Island. The roads are quite bad, there are passing places (spaces on the side of the road that allow two cars coming from either ways to meet) but also a lot of potholes. Tourism is going strong here on the island, and we can see that most of the roads are not intended to welcome that many cars.

The visibility was getting worse and worse, and there were sheep everywhere near the roads, looking for ways to shelter themselves from the rain and wind, hiding below the mounds and banks along the road. The moors battered by the rain and winds looked super dramatic, and I must admit that this kind of stormy weather suits the landscape.

The traditional white Highland houses looked like they were standing valiantly against the storm, come what may. When I tried to get out of the car to take photos, the wind nearly knocked me down and felt like it was going to carry me away, and almost pulled the car's door off.

We gave up and stopped driving, as it was getting dangerous, and pulled off and parked the car not far from the Old Man of Storr, and waited there until the morning, hoping that the weather would be kinder.

The following morning, we woke up early after the worst night we ever lived of the whole trip. The wind and rain got even stronger during the night, making the car move and shake all night long, not to mention the pounding of the rain on the roof and the whistling of the wind against the car doors. We were feeling very tired by this bad night of sleep and even more disappointed than the day before, and seeing that the weather was not going to look better we decided with a heavy heart to leave the Isle of Skye for now, and to go back to the mainland.

By driving back towards the bridge that links the island to Scotland we realised after hearing some locals talking that we were caught in an actual storm and that most of the roads were flooded. We knew then that leaving the island was the best thing to do, and we headed towards the East coast of Scotland, trying to leave as many miles as possible between this storm and us. At this point I was so greateful to know that we still had two-three weeks time to roam about in Scotland, it was enough to let us the possibility to come back to Skye at some point later.

And that's what we did: about a week and a half after our first attempt, we took the road once more to Skye, hoping to be a wee bit luckier that time.

So, all the photos you will see in the rest of this blogpost were taken during our 2nd visit to Skye, during which we were finally able to see something else than clouds and thick fog haha.

Sligachan Old Bridge

Our first stop on this second visit was the Old Bridge of Sligachan, a beautiful and narrow Glen (valley) that divides the two different mountain ranges you can find on Skye, the Red and Black Cuillins (the mountains you can see on the back of the photos) I was at first a bit disappointed by this place because from all the photos I had seen before I thought the bridge was in the middle of nowhere, (thanks Instagram for being a deceiving platform) but it was actually just off the main road that goes to Portree, just next to the new bridge that is used today. The proximity of the new bridge almost didn't make it possible for us to have enough distance to take a photo with the full bridge in it. And it was also way less magical-looking than I thought to have the road, hotels and cars just next to the bridge. BUT the old stones bridge (that dates back to the early 19th century) in itself was beautiful, and it was still looking straight out of an enchanted faerie kingdom, standing against the moody and mountainous background. Like many places in the Highlands and on Skye, there are legends and stories around this place, one being that the waters that run through the river below the bridge are enchanted. Many stories tell that water can act as a connection between human beings and the fae world, and these waters have been said to have the power to grant knowledge or beauty to the person who washes his or her face with it.

I love the way places like this one are soaked up deep in magic and ancient folk tales, and this wasn't the only place on Skye where we were going to hear about the faeries! I would have loved to explore a wee bit more beyond the bridge into the Glen, but the weather was still very moody and the paths were drenched. And when you live in your car for a whole month, you don't want your shoes to be soaked up when there's absolutely zero sunlight to dry them, believe me!

The Old Man of Storr

We then tried our luck for the second time this trip to hike up to the Old Man of Storr. The good point was we could see it from the distance while driving North from Portree towards it, which wasn't the case at all on our first, disatrous visit. Still, the weather was beginning to be quite moody again, and we were a bit scared this second attempt would be as fruitless as the first one, when we were forced to give up halfway through the hike. We parked the car and realised that the wind was quite strong this time again. No rain in sight yet, but a lot of moody and threatening dark clouds. We put on every warm piece of clothing we had, and even took our thick medieval wool cloaks, in case the opportunity to take cool epic photos arose. They can be quite useful against the rain too, but have proven themselves to be quite useless against the wind: they kept flapping around as we walked.

To be honest, this was for me the most difficult hike of the trip and I don't keep a good memory from it. I'm quite used to walk and roam around, including in some steep and mountainous landscapes in my home back in France or elsewhere. But the weather, once again, made this hike particularly challenging. The wind was super strong and pushing me backwards with every step I took. So much that the way up seemed to last forever. Not to mention the mudiness of the track, but what would Scotland be without a bit of mud, eh?

So after what felt like an eternity we finally arrived near the 50m high rocky pinacle, the 'Old Man' himself, that juts out like a shard carved into the rock by the hands of a giant. It's surrounded by a group of massive, craggy rocks, and the fog that kept swirling and unfurling around them made the whole scenery look like a magical, mystical place straight out of a fantasy book or movie. No wonder this place has been used as a cinema setting more than once.

As we kept going up behind the Old Man, more panoramic views revealed themselves to us: from here you can see the sea (The Sound of Rasaay, the stretch of water between Skye and the Scottish mainland) but also quite far both South and North of the island. And strangely, as much as the wind was strong while we were hiking up here, it had now stopped completely. It was late afternoon and it felt very quiet, peaceful and eerie to be alone up here, walking alongside these giant rocks. The sheeps were the only one to be frolicking around, breaking the silence here and then with their bleating sounds. Before going back down to our car, we sat there for a moment, on one of the hills surrounding the Storr, and enjoyed a bit of the silence and quietness, and the taste of victory after finally managing to see this natural wonder with our own eyes.

The Quairing

As we took the road to the North of the Island once more, we got closer to this fantastical and spectacular landscape that is The Quairing, between Staffin and Uig. Here, high plateaus stand alongside dark basalt cliffs and craggy pinacles. Just like the Old Man of Storr, they were formed during a massive landslide, and part of it is still moving today, requiering repairs of the road that leads to it every year. The winding tiny single track road that goes up to the viewpoint on top of the Quairing probably is one of the most scenic drive on Skye and in Scotland.

As we arrived on top, we walked a few meters to reach the viewpoint and I found myself absolutely amazed by the landscape, the rich tapestry of its textures, the particularity of the relief, the depth of the different hues of green changing with the sun and the clouds that came and went, the sea on the horizon. The ridges and hills rolled towards the sky like great green waves and the little lake nestled at the feet of the hills mirrored the clouds that were passing by. It's one of the most deserted and lunar landscape in Scotland, only scattered here and there by boulders and of course, sheep, which are perfectly suited to these vast grassy stretches and its many nooks and crannies where they can hide from the bad weather. For a few moments, I was wondering if I still were in Scotland and not in the middle of Iceland...

We were really tired that day, and looking back that makes me regret that we did not hike around a little in this place of wonder and amazement. This roadtrip through Scotland, has, on many occasions, teached me a lot about letting go. I'm always scared about missing out on amazing places when I travel and sometimes I'm literaly eaten up by the guilt of not having hiked further, climbed higher, or driven enough roads. This month-long roadtrip has helped me understand that while traveling (and even more especially traveling with limited comfort like we were doing, sleeping in our car for a month) you just cannot hike at every stop and climb every mountain. Sometimes you're too tired, sometimes you don't feel like it, sometimes the weather is terrible. And that's okay. It does not mean that your experience is not valid, or that your trip is ruined. Thank you Skye, for helping me understand this. And the fact that our visit to this island was quite challenging makes that, today, places like the Storr and the Quairing are calling me to go back.

The Fairy Pools

A beautiful road winding between green hills and the beautiful Red Cullins led us to our destination. When we arrived to the Fairy Pools that day, the light looked perfectly magical and eerie, like only Scotland knows how to do it. The sun was playing on the mountain side, the clouds playing hide and seek with the craggy peaks of the Black Cuillins mountain ridge, and we could see the path following the Brittle river, deep into the valley, and its many waterfalls and pools glistening in the sun from afar. It certainly looked like we were about to enter into an enchanted faerie kingdom.

This place was one of the locations I was most exciting about, both the name and the dramatic looking mountain range in the back had something in them that sends me right to Middle Earth! It was one of the most popular and busiest places we visited on Skye, but we easily understood why, as it's one of the easiest to reach, no scrambling or hike needed here but a peaceful stroll along the many streams and pools. The path goes along the stream, into the valley and towards the mountain and along many crystal clear pools, smalls waterfalls and underwater archs. It's easy to understand why this place has earned the name of 'The Fairy Pools' as it really looks like one of the enchanted places the faerie folk would be happy to live in. Each pool and waterfall looks different than the previous one, and despite the moody weather that day, the turquoise colour of the water looked mesmerizing. There were many people on the first and easiest part of the track, but as we started walking towards the upper part of the valley and the foot of the Black Cuillins, the path became stonier and a bit boggy, and a bit steeper, so there were way less people on this part.

Sgurr an Fheadain

But even more than the crystalline waters, I couldn't take my eyes off the mountain ridge behind the pools, with its dark edges standing out against the clouds. The Black Cuillins are among the wildest and most rugged looking mountains I have ever seen. It's actually an ancient volcano, and as someone who lives surrounded by them back in France, I could feel the geological power of the place. The dark colour of the stone and the fact that no vegetation manages to cling to these rocky peaks gives them a strange, mystical and almost intimidating aura. Their raw, abrupt and unwelcoming look made me think more than once of J.R.R Tolkien's Mordor from Lord of the Rings, also born from volcanic activity and depicted like this in The Two Towers: "Far away, now almost due south, the mountain-walls of Mordor loomed, like a black bar of rugged clouds floating above a dangerous fog-bound sea."

One jagged peak in particular, the imposing triangular-shaped 'Sgurr an Fheadain' that overlooks the whole valley of Glenbrittle, looks particularly dauting, and offers a strong contrast with the faerie looking pools down in the valley. I felt completely hypnotised and drawn by this strange, dark and fascinating mass and thought of the power of attraction between the ring and Sauron. This mountain made me want to climb it, to lose myself in it, to discover what kinds of secrets it was hiding. Nonetheless, I think you got it, but I kind of fell in love with that mountain and still today, I think it's one of my favourite I have ever seen.

Neist Point

While visiting places like the Fairy Pools, it's easy to forget that Skye is an island. But most of the time, while driving through the dramatic and romantic landscapes of the island, the sea is everywhere. And although I'm much more a mountain person than a sea person, some of the sceneries on Skye could make anyone fall in love with the sea again. One of those places is Neist Point, the name of a lighthouse that was built in the early 20th century and which is located on the most westerly tip of the island. This is a pretty famous spot for landscape photographers and on Instagram (one can, once again, easily understand why) so I had seen hundreds of photos of this place before visiting it, but it still managed to make me fall completely in love with it. There is something so wild and magnificent about this dramatic and craggy coastline and its little abandonned lighthouse overlooking the Atlantic ocean.

First, there's something so dramatic and romantic about the idea of a lighthouse standing alone at the edge of a cliff, at the edge of a land, with nothing beyond it but the vastness of the sea, its tides, winds and waves. Any good story could begin in a place like that, at the end of the world. Neist Point is located on high, dark stone cliffs, which are teeming with seagulls and other sea birds flying excitedly around the cliffs. It's also said to be one of the best spots on Skye to see minke whales or daulphins, although on this relatively quiet day we saw none. Here, like on the whole island, there are sheep roaming freely around us and grazing peacefully on the short green grass that covers the cliffs, sometimes going further and further afield towards the edge, blissfully unaware of the emptiness that lies before them.

The concrete path allows you to walk down to the lighthouse and back, and to have several vantage points on the cliffs along the way. It takes around an hour to walk around Neist Point, if you take your time, but was it was my boyfriend's birthday the day we visited (we had been eating at the little 'Inn' on Stein on the coast for Lunch), so we took our time and wandered lazily around the cliffs, taking in the peaceful and quiet of the place, climbing several of the steep cliffs around the ligthhouse, looking down at the waves crashing against the rocks and breathing the sea air.

The Fairy Glen

Our final stop on the Isle of Skye was the Fairy Glen, "the Fairy Valley". With a name like that, you bet I was excited to discover this place. It's a bit off the beaten track and we struggled a bit to find it, took the wrong road twice (life without a GPS haha) but when we eventually arrived there, it felt like we were stepping in some sort of hidden magical realm.

The place is hidden between farmlands, and stands out because of its many cone-shaped hills dotted with ponds, waterfalls in the distance and cairns and stone circles, among some natural rock formations. As soon as we arrived there, I felt such a deep feeling of peacefulness, with the definite impression that the place was deeply sunk into magic. Although there's no definite link between the place and the local folklore or any local legend that would explain an otherwordly origin, some say faeries created the dramatic landscape and sometimes still dwell within it. And indeed, it looks just like the kind of place one would meet mythical creature and expect to find representents of the fae folk. Among the many places in Scotland and on Skye that are steeped in faerie lore, this definitely was one of my favourite spots to find magic.

We took our time to visit this place, feeling it was worth spending a few hours dwelling in its quietude. We wandered and climbed several of the lush, grassy hills and rocky mounds, taking time to soak in the special atmosphere of the place. Small ponds were sprinkled here and there throughout the knolls and mounds covered with moss. The many hills, painted with the most vivid green on this early summer days, and dotted with sheep eating their way into the Valley, reminded me a lot of the Shire of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, where Hobbits are living a quiet and happy life farming and gardening, nestled under their rolling hills.

"The most peaceful of all the regions in Eriador, the Shire, is the home of the Hobbits. Famous for its rolling hills, quaint streams and green fields, it is one of the most beautiful lands in all of Middle-Earth for its simplicity. Hobbits homes are nestled against the countryside, flower beds and vegetables gardens as much a part of the land as several rivers that flow through it." The depiction of the Shire as a quiet, green countryside and the visual adaptation of Peter Jackson's movies (filmed in New Zealand) resonnated with me so much during this visit that I wouldn't have been surprised if we would have stumbled upon a Hobbit Hole hidden below one of the hills.

One of the hills has a natural rock formation that looks a bit like a ruin (right photo) and has been thus nicknamed 'Castle Ewan'. Climbing on top involves a bit of scrambling on a steep and narrow trail but offers an amazing vantage point (left photo) on the surrounding hills and the mysterious stone spirals on the ground below. For me, these stone spirals added a bit of witchery to the already magical atmosphere the Valley holds, and the story goes that if you walk your way into the spiral by following the rocks, you can then leave a coin or token at the centre of it as an offering to the faeries for good luck, and I could see many people doing that the day we visited. I didn't do it myself but I must be honest and say that I learned afterwards that the stones are removed every winter by the locals, in an attempt to keep the Glen in its original state, and therefore we should respect that and stop moving the stones and leaving non organic objects there while visiting. The place already holds so much whimsy, and the ability to make us believe we are striding along somewhere that doesn't belong to our world.

And here ends this blogpost about our trip to the Isle of Skye. This wee island on the west coast of Scotland is a real little gem, gathering in a smaller supercify everything that makes Scotland a magical country: mystical rocky peaks, vast green moors dotted with sheeps, dramatic and craggy cliffs and enchanted places that look straight out of a different world... I found there some pieces of Iceland, of the Faroes islands, of Ireland. This island is a little world in itself, a little piece of land cast away at the edge of the world. Skye has so much beauty to offer and we have loved driving through its narrow roads. I think that, looking back, I can even say that we enjoyed getting caught on a actual storm there.

I hope you enjoyed this wee account of our adventures on this magical island, and I leave you with a few more photos to look at. I see you next time to tell you about another part of our roadtrip through the Scottish Highlands! By the way, what would you want to read about next? The West Highlands (Glencoe..)? The Harry Potter locations we visited along the way? The North Highlands? Tell me in the comments!


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