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Skye

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The Old Man of Storr, Isle of Skye
Skye (An t-Eilean Sgitheanach in Scottish Gaelic) often referred to as the Isle of Skye, represents the largest and most northerly of the Inner Hebrides located off the west coast of Scotland. The capital and largest town on the island is the picturesque port of Portree.

The island can be seen as a series of peninsulas that radiate from the mountainous centre of the Cuillin hills. Occupied since the Mesolithic era, there are currently about 9,200 people living on the island, although the transient population of tourists swells during the busy summer months. Skye's popularity with tourists is largely due to its remarkable landscape and easy accessibility from the mainland, both by car over the Skye Bridge or by ferry; and by bus and train through adjacent mainland towns.

Skye is part of the Highland Council local government area and is now linked to the mainland by a road bridge. The island is renowned for its spectacular scenery, vibrant culture and heritage, and its abundant wildlife including the Golden Eagle, Red Deer and Salmon. It is also one of the most accessible regions in which to hear Gaelic being spoken, with about thirty percent of the local population being fluent and a sizeable Gaelic college in Sleat.

Villages

  • Armadale - linked to Mallaig on the mainland by ferry.
  • Broadford - spreadout town about 15 miles from the Skye Bridge.
  • Carbost - a clue - think of Talisker
  • Elgol - small village with a boat service to Loch Coruisk and a walk to the fine beach at Camasunary.
  • Glenbrittle - a good walking and climbing base for the Cuillin, Skye's best known mountains.
  • Kyleakin - pleasant bridgehead, good mooring for boats.
  • Portree - the attractive capital of the island.
  • Uig - the exit route for the Outer Hebrides, great brewery.

Regions

Get In

The Skye Bridge - linking back to the mainland

By road

There are two main roads to Skye: the A87 and travels west from the A82 at Invergarry (the A887 also connects to the A87 further north towards Inverness). The A87 reaches Skye over the bridge from Kyle of Lochalsh on the mainland to Kyleakin on Skye. The lesser used but equally scenic route is by the A830 "Road to the Isles" from Fort William to Mallaig and thence by ferry to Armadale (see below). There is an additional seasonal ferry between Kylerhea and Glenelg, albeit via minor roads.

By ferry

Now that the Skye Bridge is open (and free of charge since 2004), it is no longer essential to travel to Skye by boat, but it is still an enjoyable ride. The main route to the mainland is on the Caledonian Macbrayne (a.k.a. Calmac) [1] ferry between Armadale and Mallaig.

Skyeferry [2] also operates in summer between Glenelg and Kylerhea.

For the Outer Hebrides, Calmac [3] run from Uig in the north of Skye to Tarbert on Harris and Lochmaddy on North Uist.

There is also a Calmac ferry from Sconser on Skye to Inverarish on Raasay.

By train

There is, quite incredibly, a railway station at both of the major road entry points to Skye listed above, with the terminus of the West Highland Line in Mallaig and the Kyle of Lochalsh Line terminating in its eponymous destination.

Trains travel about three times a day between Fort William and Mallaig, with convenient connections to the Calmac ferry to Armadale. At least one train a day continues to/from Glasgow. A similar number of trains operate daily between Kyle of Lochalsh and Inverness, from where there are connections to Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Perth. Connections with overnight sleeper trains to/from London Euston are possible six nights a week in both Fort William and Inverness, as well as the daily 'Highland Chieftan' daytime train from Inverness to London King's Cross. For all train times see either [ScotRail or [4].

During the summer months, a restored vintage steam train hauls a rake of restored carriages on a daily round trip between Fort William and Mallaig. Fares are slightly higher than regular ScotRail services, but offer an additional connection.

By bus

Three Scottish Citylink coaches a day run from Portree to Kyle of Lochalsh, Fort William, and Glasgow or Inverness. At least one of these extends beyond Portree to Uig with Glasgow.

Buses 51 & 52 connect Armadale pier (for the ferry to/from Mallaig with Broadford and Portree several times a day (fewer in the winter). Buses 50 & 55 run every 30 minutes over the Skye Bridge between Kyleakin and Kyle of Lochalsh.

Get Around

By bus

An excellent rural network of local buses is provided by Stagecoach Highlands [5], who recently acquired the local operator Rapsons (you may see either name on travel information or your bus). Buses run regularly between Portree and Kyleakin, Broadford, Armadale, Uig, with less frequent buses serving remoter corners of the island, often on school days only and at the beginning and end of the day. Buses include:

  • 49, 49B Portree /
  • 50, 55 Portree / Kyle of Lochalsh (for coach and train connections to Inverness, and coach connections to Fort William and Glasgow),
  • 52, 52C Portree / Broadford / Armadale (for ferry connections to/from Mallaig and trains to Fort William and Glasgow)
  • 53, 54 Portree / Fiscavaig
  • 56A, 56B Portree / Struan / Dunvegan
  • 56 Portree / Dunvegan / Glendale
  • 57C (clockwise) & 57A (anti-clockwise) Portree / Flodigarry Peninsula
  • 59 Portree / Peinchorran

Fares rise by distance travelled, with a half hour journey usually costing about £3.00. In early 2009 a number of fares were increased slightly and the useful three day Rover ticket has been discontinued. The only remaining special ticket of interest to tourists is the £6.00 one day Rover, which will normally make sense if you are using more than two buses in one day (although drivers will normally advise you if it is cheaper to buy that or singles).

An area guide for Skye and Lochalsh lists all bus times, and is issued twice annually for winter and summer seasons. It can be downloaded in pdf format from Stagecoach Highlands [6] by clicking on 'Timetables' and then scrolling down to 'Skye and Lochals'. It is strongly recommended to check times in advance, paying special attention to any timetable notes relating to days when the bus runs or does not.

Most services start and end in Portree, the island's centre of business and commerce, and from where you can also catch the multiple-daily Scottish Citylink [7] departures to Fort William, Inverness and Glasgow. Most areas can easily be reached by bus, and the courteous local drivers will assist in finding destinations (and will watch out for you if you say you're returning later in the day). It is not an uncommon sight to see a bus driver stop next to someone's house to deliver some groceries or at a remote newsagents to drop off today's newspapers!

By car

Although substantial European and Scottish funding has been made available to improve and widen certain key routes (most recently the southern section of the Armadale to Broadford road), major roads are still quite narrow and can get congested in high season. However in low season driving in Skye is a delight with only the occasional sheep wandering onto the tarmac to concern you. On narrow single track rural roads pay attention to passing places and drive courteously, being ready to pull over to allow an oncoming vehicle to pass.

Car hire is available in Portree and Kyle of Lochalsh, but can be expensive. When travelling to the island in the high season, call ahead for availability.

By bicycle

Many of the roads in Skye are well cyclable, although traffic can be a problem in late summer. If you're cycling, make sure you have good raingear; Skye is wet even by the drizzly standards of Scotland. The ferry from Mallaig accepts bicycles, and the ride from Armadale north to the bridge is pleasant.

Hitching

Hitching is never one hundred percent safe, but residents of Skye are generally very open to giving rides in remoter areas (especially if you've missed the last bus of the day or it's raining).

See

Castle Moil, Kyleakin
  • Old Man of Storr - one of the famous sights.
  • Dunvegan Castle - great castle in the north of the island with singing chief.
  • The Clan Donald Centre [8] at Armadale is set on a large estate and preserves the ancestral home of the MacDonalds at Armadale Castle. Facilities open to the visitor include the castle grounds (attractive gardens), several hiking trails, and a new museum, the Museum of the Isles, covering the history of the area (extending back as much as 1500 years). The grounds and museum are open during the summer 7 days, 9:30-5:30; the grounds are open for outdoor visits year-round, while hours at the museum during the fall are Wednesdays only, 11-3, and it is apparently closed during the winter months. Admission £4.90 for adults, £14.00 for families; admission covers both grounds and museum.
  • There are other castles on the island that are in a state of disrepair, if not outright ruins, but still scenic:
    • Castle Moil (Caisteal Maol) near Kyleakin
    • Dunscaith Castle on the wild west coast of the Trotternish Peninsula
    • Duntulm Castle north of Portree; Duntulm Castle Hotel (see under "Sleep") is nearby
  • Kilt Rock and Waterfall
  • Loch Coruisk to many people the very finest loch in Scotland - surrounded by shapely peaks. Accessible by boat from the village of Elgol or bu walks from Sligachan (long but not hard) or from Elgol via Camasunary (but this involves a 'bad step')
  • MacLeod's Maidens - Skye's magnificent coast off the Dunvegan road is often forgotten in the allure of the Cuillin. The UK's highest cliffs are to be found here. The 'Maidens' are very striking sea stacks and give a target for a walk.

Do

  • Learn Scottish Gaelic at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Skye's famous Gaelic college. Attend one of their short courses or do a full degree. Visit Sabhal Mor Ostaig.
  • Go walking in the Cuillin, Skye's most famous group of mountains, or enjoy the coastal treks elsewhere on the island. Visit Isle of Skye walks, a free and independent guide to walks on the island.
  • Walk/climb the Quiraing.
  • For the less adventurous, there are boat tours of the Cullins during the summer months leaving from the remote village of Elgol. The views are stunning and you'll get to see some seals too.
  • The Isle of Skye Music Festival [9] is a mid-June event featuring popular music with both regional and international entries. This year's edition is on June 16-17 at a semi-abandoned airfield site near Broadford.
  • A good independent guide to places to visit and things to do on Skye can be found at The Skye Guide

Buy

  • Go to the Skye Silver shop in the north.
  • Woolen goods are a noted product of Skye. Look for them at the gift shop at the Clan Donald Centre (above) or in Portree or Armadale.

Eat

Budget

  • Self catering Most of the larger villages on Skye have some kind of small shop, but don't expect a broad range or supermarket prices. If basing yourself in Portree you will have a choice of local shops and supermarkets, including:
    • Co-Operative Woodlands Road (on the A87 out of Skye towards Uig) tel: 01478 612483. Portree's only large supermarket is - luckily - one of this large chain with a wide range, including excellent organic, fairtrade and ethically sourced produce.
    • Somerfield Bank Street, tel: 01478 612855. Centrally located small supermarket; more convenient than the Co-Operative but noticeably more expensive on many items. Note that Co-Operative acquired the Somerfield chain in 2009, and it's possible that this will close or change hands in the near future.
    • Portree Butchers Wentworth Street, tel: 01478 612551.

Mid-range

  • Café Arriba Quay Brae, Portree (overlooking the harbour). Tel: 01478 611830 [10] A must for any visit to Portree. Broad and constantly changing menu of Mediterranean style snacks and meals, with good coffee and plentiful vegetarian choices. Also the perfect spot to sit out a rain shower, with views over the harbour.
  • Lower Deck Restaurant on the harbour in Portree, tel:01478-613611 specialises in simple, fresh seafood dishes, e.g. fish and chips £7.50.
  • The Old Inn Carbost. tel 01478 640205. [11] Adjacent to the bunkhouse and B&B of the same name, take caution from guidebooks that report superb meals and snacks: the professional chef is only employed during the summer season so expect pretty average pub grub between autumn and Easter.

Splurge

  • Flodigarry Country House Hotel tel:01470-552203 [12] was apparently once very good, but now past it: food is unimaginative, overcooked, and poor value at £36/head for three courses and coffee.
  • Loch Bay Seafood Restaurant Stein (at the end of the loch front road in the village) tel.01470-592235 [13]
  • The Old School House Dunvegan, tel. 01470 521421. Perhaps the greatest surprise to be found in Dunvegan: behind a modest facade sits one of Skye's finest restaurants, with a small but confident and ever changing menu of superb dishes. Much of the meat and fish is locally sourced, although vegetarians should expect no more than one or two main courses to choose from. Mains from £9 - £20.
  • The Three Chimneys Colbost, Dunvegan, tel: 01470 511258 fax: 01470 511358 email:eatandstay@threechimneys.co.uk [14] was voted one of the 50 Top World Restaurants by "Restaurant" magazine. Book well ahead!

Drink

Breweries and distillery

  • Cuillin Brewery tel: 01478 650204 [15] Easily found adjacent to the Sligachan Hotel & Restaurant, at the junction of the A87 Broadford - Portree Road and the A863 to Dunvegan. Micro-brewery that also offers tours.
  • Isle of Skye Brewing Company in Uig tel: 01470 542477 [16] Brewery tours and a shop open from Easter to mid-October. The breweries most popular bottled beers Black Cuillin (a dark porter), Red Cuillin (an amber) and Hebridean Gold (a golden ale) are available in most pubs throughout the island.
  • Talisker Distillery tel: 01478 614300‎ [17] On the shores of Loch Harport in Carbost, on the west coast of Skye (and not in the village of Talisker itself) Talisker is Skye's only distillery. Producing a hefty, aromatic and distinctly peaty whisky that is similar to those from Islay. Tours of the distillery are offered at intervals throughout the day by friendly and informative guides. Reservations recommended, especially during the summer. Tickets £5 with including a £3 discount in the shop at the end of the tour.

Note that Isle of Skye [18] is a blended whisky produced near Edinburgh, with no extant connection to the island.

Pubs

  • Basement Bar beneath the Dunvegan Hotel, Dunvegan. tel: 01470 521497 [19] A spacious pub with several pool tables and views across the water to Macleod's Tables, usually quite spectacular at sunset. Note also the more refined surroundings of the lounge bar in the hotel upstairs.
  • The Old Inn Carbost. tel 01478 640205. [20] Note the words of caution with regard to the menu above, but this is a friendly and cosy pub that - while busy with tourists during the summer - is a charming local during the winter with a stunning view along Loch Harport from the patio.
  • Pier Hotel Portree Harbour 01478 612094‎. A haven from the tourist crowds, the tiny bar of the Pier Hotel is predominantly frequented by locals. Visitors should expect to be part of the conversation the moment they enter the bar.

Sleep

Skye's busiest tourist season is from Easter until the end of September, when accommodation usually requires reservations and when some prices rise. Some places close during the winter.

Budget

  • Portree Independent Hostel, 01478 613737 [21] is where you're most likely to end up staying if on a budget in Portree. Formerly the town's post office, the unmissable bright yellow building is just off the town's main square (where all local and long distance buses stop). Small lounge, drying room and large well equipped kitchen / dining room. £12.50 - £14 per person per night.
  • Sabhal Mor Ostaig Halls of Residence, 01471 888000 near Armadale in Sleat. Stay at Skye's famous Gaelic College, Sabhal Mor Ostaig. Bed and breakfast; individual en-suite rooms and good breakfast. Book the penthouse in the tower for the most spectacular views. Evening meals available too (check serving times) Visit Sabhal Mor Ostaig.
  • Scottish Youth Hostels Association have three hostels on Skye and one on Raasay. They are a cheap alternative to expensive hotels or B&B's. They are very busy during the summer and some can be closed or only available to groups during the winter. Call ahead or check online for details. They are:
    • Broadford Hostel 01471 822442 or 08701 553255. Perhaps Skye's least attractive hostel, but conveniently located in this practical town, an ideal base for exploring.
    • Glenbrittle Hostel 01478 640278 or 08701 553255. The remotest of Skye's hostels, some distance from the nearest bus but accessible on foot, bicycle or by car.
    • Uig Hostel 01478 542746 or 08701 553255. Convenient not only for the north of Skye but also ferries to the Outer Hebredes. The daily Glasgow - Uig bus stops near-by.
    • Raasay Hostel 01478 660240 or 08701 553255. Open from May to September.
  • Camping is very popular with visitors to Skye, and there are numerous campsites dotted around the island, some in extremely picturesque settings.
  • Dunvegan Hotel Bunkhouse, 01470 521497 [22] Two small rooms with bunks adjacent to the Dunvegan Hotel (see below). Linen provided, small bathroom but no kitchen facilities. £12.50 per person per night.
  • The Old Inn Carbost, 01478 640205 [23] Five multiple occupancy bunk rooms in this excellent hostel, recently built overlooking Loch Harport in the small town that is also home to the Talisker Distillery. Large kitchen / lounge upstairs with balcony and views up and down the loch. Adjacent to the Old Inn for food and drinks. £14 / £16 en suite. Bed & breakfast accommodation (£37 / £42) and self catering family chalet (£110 per night) also available.
  • Flora Macdonald Hostel 01471 844272 [24] Located a couple of miles from the pier at Armadale (with a free pick-up from the ferry available with advance notice) this modest hostel has a number of self catering rooms in its main building and newer lodge. Tranquil setting but with no local amenities accessible on foot, so bring supplies. £15 per person per night.

Mid-range

  • Kinloch Lodge Located at Sleat, tel: 01471 833214 [25] cozy, seven room lodge for when you need to get away from it all.
  • Clan Donald Centre includes a limited number of cottages; see link above under "See".
  • Self Catering Cottages are available at various locations over the island - e.g. Staffin Bay Cottages.
  • Glenview Hotel, 01470 562248 [26] offers comfortable accommodation just ten minutes from the Old Man of Storr.
  • Dunvegan Hotel, 01470 521497 [27] Small family run hotel in the quiet town of Dunvegan. Lounge bar and restaurant and pub downstairs. Stunning views (especially at sunset) west towards the Macleod Tables. £80 / £90 a night (more expensive with a view).

Splurge

  • Sligachan Hotel, 01478 650204 [28] is a famous gathering place for climbers and walkers. Pricey (£90 and up for twin room with breakfast, at least during peak season), but you can't beat the location. There is also a bunkhouse.
  • Duntulm Castle Hotel, 01470 552213 [29] is near the ruins of Castle Duntulm north of Portree. A 19th-century shooting lodge in an attractive setting.

Get out

  • The four Small Isles of Eigg, Rum, Muck and Canna are accessible by Calmac ferry from Mallaig on the mainland, although note that during the winter service is limited and that throughout the year the daily timetable changes, so overnight trips are often necessary.
  • A great deal of beautiful and historic country is on the Scottish "mainland" side of the Skye Bridge, beyond Kyle of Lochalsh. Eilean Donan Castle is near the tiny village of Dornie not far beyond Kyle of Lochalsh and is well worth a visit.
  • Calmac ferries connect Skye to points in the Outer Hebrides, notably Harris (via Uig). See Get In for more information.



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