Scottish Highlands - The Skye Life

16th Aug 2020
Photo of Scottish Highlands - The Skye Life 1/17 by Dimple Aswani Shah

Travelling is one among those few interests, that Binoy and me enjoy together. After being married for more than six years, we have used every opportunity to explore new places and have covered multiple cities/towns in over 15 countries so far. We have always wanted to archive our experiences through blogs, vlogs etc and share them with everyone. The idea has always been procrastinated indefinitely owing to busy work schedules and honestly a lit bit of laziness on my part. Finally after much "efforts", I have actually penned down a small part of our UK trip, more or less the highlight of our journey.

Scottish highlands never topped my list, but it was Binoy who insisted that we explore them. From past experiences, this time we consciously decided to mix up our itinerary with cities and small towns.This time around we roughly had 15-18 days, London was a must for us and after researching a lot, we finalized on London / York / Edinburgh / Glasgow and finally Skye, further heading to Inverness and back home. After reading up on internet, we were convinced that renting our own ride would be the best way to explore Skye. I am solely sharing our journey to Skye and exploring the small isle - one of our best experiences yet!

Photo of Scottish Highlands - The Skye Life 2/17 by Dimple Aswani Shah

After completing the first leg of our trip, we were scheduled to drive down to Skye from Glasgow. Even though I am not sharing any images from our earlier trip, I am tempted to share the Urban art scene from Glasgow. The city is one of the cultural capitals of Europe and has a fascinating trail of Street Art by the local artists.

Skye is roughly 350 kms from Glasgow and we planned on staying overnight at Auchterawe (roughly 280 kms from Glasgow) just to rest the night out and I am glad we did, more on that later. Apart from the stops we planned en-route Augustus, we took multiple other halts at scenic spots to enjoy the views and utilize all the photographic opportunities !

Thanks to Binoy's research we got a very good deal from ARNOLD Car Rental. They are worth checking out if you guys intend to visit. They were cheaper in terms of rental, the pre-auth charges were reasonable and we got the same service as other popular international brands. We had to pick the car from their office - they provide a free pick-up service from your Hotel/AirBnb. A small theory test has to be passed along with valid paperwork. You have 2 attempts to pass the test regarding their traffic rules and nothing major. The whole process from us leaving our AirBnb apartment to getting the car was roughly 2 hours so it is advisable to plan ahead.

Photo of Scottish Highlands - The Skye Life 3/17 by Dimple Aswani Shah

Our itinerary from Glasgow to Fort Augustus ( Auchterawe )

We had the leisure of having breakfast and coffee after we picked up our car on our way to Loch Lomond. Scotland is full of Loch's - Irish term for lake or sea inlet. Loch Lomond was a serene place to begin with, there were minimal tourists when we reached. We enjoyed a short walk along the shore. Close to the parking spot, we spotted a small church with some ruins nearby on one side and a secluded beach on the other. Surprisingly none of the tourists were headed that way. We landed up spending more time there than along the coast of Lomond.

Photo of Scottish Highlands - The Skye Life 4/17 by Dimple Aswani Shah
Photo of Scottish Highlands - The Skye Life 5/17 by Dimple Aswani Shah

From Loch Lomond, we were headed for Oban (Approx 100 kms), here people usually stay overnight to visit Finn Falconry and Dunstaffnage Castle. We only planned to visit the McCaigs tower which can be hiked if you have time from the town below or your car can take you right to the entrance. The rustic structure opens to a delightful view of the Oban Bay and you will observe numerous boats with colorful sails during summer. A well maintained garden enclosed in this Colosseum like structure makes a good place to click pictures. Quick Fact - The fort was built by a banker in the 1900's to make sure the masons were employed during the winter months.

From Oban, en-route Glencoe, we spotted a sign directing to Falls of Falloch. It turned out to be a beautiful hidden gem just 5 mins off the main highway (H82). We observed some locals diving from this miniature waterfall and wondered how could they indulge in the cold waters considering the temperature was Approx 10 - 12 degrees.

Photo of Scottish Highlands - The Skye Life 6/17 by Dimple Aswani Shah
Photo of Scottish Highlands - The Skye Life 7/17 by Dimple Aswani Shah

After soaking in this local beauty we continued towards the village of Glencoe (Glencoe Lochan Trail). This place is said to be landscaped to look like the rocky mountains of Canada. Glencoe had an interesting story line but we dint have much to compare as we are yet to visit Canada. The entire village comprises of a single lane with row houses on either sides and well-maintained lawns along the street. We drove past the village over a humped back bridge (A very small one) into the woods towards the parking spot of the lochan. Once inside you will have three trails, all leading towards the lochan. The longest and toughest (not literally) will get you an elevated view of the lochan. Once at the lochan, u will be mesmerized with the beauty of this serene lake surrounded by pine trees and dark mountains. We took a small break at a local cafe 'Glencoe Gathering' before leaving this cozy village.

Continuing ahead we were advised to take a halt at Fort William (Small Town) but we gave it a pass. We instead took a stop at Loch Achtriochan, which was again not a part of our itinerary and located just off the highway. If I am correct, the area is very much part of Glencoe and is a relatively small fresh water lochan. Binoy took numerous selfies at this location without bothering to include me in. The landscape was no doubt very beautiful but I am still confused what got to him !

Our Airbnb at Auchterawe was a pleasant surprise, it was literally in the middle of a dense jungle. Our trip so far had cities and towns, so coming home to this beautiful cottage was just WOW. Yes, we had read about it online and seen pictures beforehand, but you don't really expect people to live in the middle of nowhere right, that too with no one locking their doors ever! Our host, Sara was friendly and she had no issues with us exploring her property. We also recommended our friends visiting later that year to spend a night at the same place and they loved it too. Next morning we woke up to a wonderful view of sheep grazing on green pastures through our window.

Instead of leaving early we decided to explore the closest town - Fort Augustus. It offers the most famous Loch Ness tour. This tour is also available from Inverness which we took at the end of our trip. Interesting Myth about Loch Ness - Legend says that the deep depths are home to "Nessi", a mythical creature spotted on a few occasions without any substantial proof to support it. By the way even we did not spot it on our tour, although I did hope some controversy could stir on our visit. Back in Fort Augustus, the town was quiet and we enjoyed a short walk along the Ness watching tourists board their ship.

The journey here onwards was something I guess, we are going to remember forever. Our drive was no less than those perfect Video Game graphics in a continuous loop surrounded with mountains, forests and loch views. The only way to reach Skye until 1995, was through a ferry ride. A bridge connecting the Isle to rest of the land was built later for easier access. We booked a ferry from Glenelg Skye Terminal - Glenachulish. They have the last manual turntable ferry in Scotland. The prospect of a turntable ferry ride was an enticing one and a must for people like us. Being from Mumbai we don't get to witness something like this often.

Although there are multiple ferry routes to get to Skye, this was rated as the most scenic. I did miss shooting the part where the ferry rotated to place the ramp appropriately for cars to get in as I was busy enjoying the show like a surprised soul. It was a rainy day, the weather was cold and super windy, yet everything around was beautiful. I personally think, Scotland can never be dull, even on a gloomy day.

Photo of Scottish Highlands - The Skye Life 8/17 by Dimple Aswani Shah

Once over the other side we realized the roads got extremely narrow with steep hair-pin bends and in certain places it was difficult to figure out which way the roads were turning. We were headed towards Dunvegan (Close to Dunvegan Castle) where we had booked our cozy AirBnb apartment hosted by Mali. It was quiet, neat and a good location for us. Most of the tourists prefer to stay in PORTREE as it is a proper town with supermarkets, restaurants and pubs at walk-able distance. It is the capital and largest town of Skye. Since we were late with our bookings and we had specific needs, we chose to stay in Dunvegan.

Few things to keep in mind if ever you plan to visit Skye, summers are the best time to visit but rains can be unpredictable, so keep some buffer time on hand and plan accordingly. Highlands are usually quiet and people lead a simple lifestyle. People like us would find it hard to survive beyond 4-5 days. Things may have been different had we stayed put in Portree but I am almost certain that a week is max what we could spend in Skye. A minimum of 2 full days would be required just to explore the best hikes/spots in the isle.

Photo of Scottish Highlands - The Skye Life 9/17 by Dimple Aswani Shah

Our first random shot in Skye !

The longer hours with sunlight in summer enable you to cover more in one day with resting time in between. Most of the attractions in Skye involve hiking or a decent trail before you make it to the actual location. Since we are not professionals or regular hikers we did not carry hiking boots for this trip and Skye is filled with pastures and muddy trails. So once it rains, your regular sneakers are basically of no use. Its gets really muddy and slippery. We were lucky to have managed somehow without missing out on a lot of things.

We arrived at Mali's early afternoon and thought of calling it a day as it was already drizzling. But after a warm cup of coffee and some rest we thought of visiting the Coral Beach, just 20 mins from our home. Sunsets during summer are around 9 PM, which is good for late risers like us.

CORAL BEACH - The track to the beach passes through a farmland and you may encounter cattle and sheep on your way along. This also means you have to be careful with cattle poop scattered around 🙂 . After crossing the coastline you will see a small hill, this hike of roughly 5-10 mins will give you a great view of the beach.

Photo of Scottish Highlands - The Skye Life 10/17 by Dimple Aswani Shah
Photo of Scottish Highlands - The Skye Life 11/17 by Dimple Aswani Shah

First Full Day in Skye

Photo of Scottish Highlands - The Skye Life 12/17 by Dimple Aswani Shah

Fairy Pools

On Day 1, after a sumptuous homely breakfast we started around 8 AM and headed for Fairy pools. At the foothills of Cuillin (perfect mountains for those interested in trekking ), fairy pools are an apt experience for less adventurous swimming in the wild. Skye is very touristy in Summer and parking can be an issue, so getting there early, let's say by 9 AM would be helpful to avoid huge crowds and get a decent parking spot. With multiples pools at small intervals, there is a small hike to get to the first pool. One can continue beyond to reach the subsequent pools and also get a better view of the Cuillins. Make sure to at least carry your swimwear and take a call after testing the waters. Used to tropical weather in India, Skye was a bit cold for us to actually dive in. None the less, the sight of crystal-clear blue waters in the form of miniature falls at intervals was fascinating.

Talisker Bay Beach

Forecasted as a rainy day, our initial plan was to visit the distillery as it was an indoor activity. Unfortunately, the rains were on the heavier side and the distillery tours were running full. We got a very late afternoon slot and hence had to cancel Dunvegan Castle scheduled later on the same day (Another semi indoor attraction). But on the bright side, we decided to visit the Talikser Bay beach after it stopped raining. The weather in Skye has a character of its own. Don't be surprised with sunny intervals with clouds on a rainy day. Even with mild thunderstorms, the sun may shine for some time to lift your spirits.

We first confirmed our 3 PM Slot at the distillery and then headed towards the beach, just 10 mins away. From the parking area a 15 mins trail opened to lovely green pastures with sheep's grazing, surrounded by impressive cliffs finally leading us to the grey sandy beach. Luckily, there were very few tourists and it wasn't crowded at all. We spotted some people trekking the cliffs around us, probably locals.

Photo of Scottish Highlands - The Skye Life 13/17 by Dimple Aswani Shah
Photo of Scottish Highlands - The Skye Life 14/17 by Dimple Aswani Shah

Talisker Distillery

Scotland is famous for their whisky and I was keen on visiting atleast one distillery. Talisker is one of the oldest distilleries of Skye and their staff sure knows their blend very well. From comparing their single malt with bourbon to advising on how much water to be added for the perfect blend and extract each flavor, our french origin guide knew it all. It was a perfect afternoon for me, although I wouldn't say Binoy would agree, as he was just there on my insistence. Our tour ended with walking through the barrels of whisky kept for aging (No actual access - we could see through a glass wall) and then tasting of an 18 year old scotch with a candid discussion within our group.

Photo of Scottish Highlands - The Skye Life 15/17 by Dimple Aswani Shah

Neist Point

Next on our list was the most beautiful spot in Skye for us - Neist Point. I would suggest for this attraction to be visited at the end of your trip. Visiting the Light House at Neist point requires decent amount of fitness and freshness. After a quick coffee break we straightaway headed towards Neist point - an hours drive from Talisker Distillery. The trail to the Light House, is a tiring route (especially when you are climbing on your way back). We would suggest, not to be in a hurry to get back from the light house. Try and make stops on the cliffs on your way up. The light house was 'OK' for us and we genuinely preferred exploring the cliffs more. We got some excellent shots at the edge of the cliffs, which were extremely steep looking out into the ocean.

We had earlier read on TripAdvisor about a lane next to the parking area for a stunning sunset view. Catching up with our breath we made it on time and it was absolutely worth it. It was a tourist spot on its own with many fellow visitors and landscape photographers geared with their equipment. It was peaceful to watch the sunset with the entire landscape including the light house in view. We were done for the day after Neist point and all I could think off was a nice warm meal and then catching up on some sleep.

Day 2

The following day was expected to be bright & sunny and accordingly we had planned hiking activities for this day. We left early and packed a picnic basket for lunch since we weren't expecting (that's what we read online) a lot of café/restaurants on our way today.

We decided to go clock wise of the Trotternish loop against the traffic and it gave us sufficient break between 2 major trails. We first headed for Fairy Glen, as it was relatively a lighter trail to accomplish.

Photo of Scottish Highlands - The Skye Life 16/17 by Dimple Aswani Shah

Skye in general is so beautiful that you would fall in love with it wherever you go. But a little history kind of adds some emotion to your journey. The beautiful rock formations were picturesque and secretly I was wishing to witness the fairies I had read so much about. A small cliff in the middle of the rock formations will enable you to have a good view from a slightly higher elevation.

We spent around an hour or two at fairy Glenn and left for for Quirang - 1 of the 2 majors trails and a relatively difficult hike. Google is absolutely accurate when it comes to locations and streets especially in the western world. Skye was no exception, but surprisingly the location for Quiraing was incorrect. We drove past the actual destination and had to check with locals, who gladly helped us.

The hiking trail is a bit tricky (7.2 odd kms circuit). It's a mix of steep climbs and narrow lanes with certain parts that allow only one person to pass at a time. We really missed having our boots on this trail, as the land was still mushy from the previous days rains. Another unexpected encounter was with the midges! Yes there were lots of them, so much that we decided to turn back. We had almost made it to the end, and it was unfortunate as we could not complete the circuit.

From the entire Trotternish loop, the 2 most treacherous trails were Quiraing and Mann of Storr. We had three stops before Storr - Brothers point, Kilt rock &Mealt falls, and Lealt Falls

Photo of Scottish Highlands - The Skye Life 17/17 by Dimple Aswani Shah

Brother's Point, Lealt Falls & Kilt Rock

Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls, & Lealt Falls, are the quickest spots that do not involve any major hike, none the less offer spectacular views. Rubha nam Brathairean ( Brothers Point ) on the other hand is a small and easy trail to walk along the stunning coastline.

Mann of Storr

Our last stop for the day was an iconic spot in Skye, Man of Storr. It was a difficult hike for us specially after Quiraing and we took breaks on our way up. As we kept going, the view got better and better. Luckily for us, when we reached near the top, close to the structures referred to as Old Man, we were able to see a beautiful rainbow. We comfortably sat on the rocks taking in the views ahead and snacking up on the Energy Bars 🙂 !

It was a long day and we had to make it back before sunset. Most of the scenic spots are nature preserved, you will not really find any lights to guide you in the dark. We spent the rest of the evening exploring Portree.

Bidding Adieu to Skye / Dunvegan Castle / Sligachan

Leaving Skye was the most difficult part of our trip. To add to it, I had grown fond of Malli's two daughters during our short stay. We left with the thought to come back again for sure.

We did not forget about Dunvegan Castle, one of the oldest inhabited castles of Scotland with beautiful gardens and access to Loch Dunvegan. Apart from the castle tour, they also have Seal trips which are famous to spot herons nesting.

SLIGACHAN BRIDGE - Another spot not to be missed before leaving Skye. It is an old rustic bridge in the middle of rugged surroundings with majestic mountains as their backdrop. Although it was a bright day, it was remarkably windy. The picture Binoy captured with my windswept hair, I felt no less than a Bollywood actress.

Boradford Airtstrip / Applecross / Bealach na Ba Road

While leaving Skye we opted to take the Skye bridge and headed straight for Applecross. This place was again suggested in multiple blogs by a lot of fellow travelers. There was a small surprise in store for me before we made it to Applecross. Since I was driving, Binoy was in charge of navigation and I stopped my car just perpendicular to a small runway. I thought it would be a mistake as there was no road further. This is when he mentioned about the plane ride at Broadford Airstrip.

I was speechless, I don't know where he read about them. It was a relatively new company with limited reviews online. None the less, my experience was mind blowing and I am glad I did this before my first Sky Dive (that's our next trip). We were summarized on the safety measures and risks involved during the flight and mind you, no parachutes! It was a 2 seater plane and we had to take individual turns for a flight of 30 mins. The pilot, also our guide was kind enough to let me control and maneuver the plane for a few mins. The aerial view of the Culllins and Skye bridge was just enchanting!

Driving ahead, we took a detour to Applecross (Bealach na Ba Road), one of the highest altitudes in Scotland. The roads are mostly single lane and definitely not for amateur drivers. Although there are plenty of passing places, one has to be vigilant on the steep and narrow hairpin bends. One can see rugged mountains, various Loch's and different landscapes on the way to Applecross. We took a brief stop at the viewpoint, which was super windy again but totally worth it. Last stop in Applecross was a cozy café "The Junction".

With all smiles we left for Inverness (lovely city), stayed there for a of couple days after which we left for Mumbai. All in all, Skye was the highlight of our tour and it was way more beautiful than what we had expected. This trip to Skye has got me curious about the other isles of the highlands and we look forward to exploring them soon !