The Isle of Skye has been voted 4th best island in the world by National Geographic.
And the story begins…
It’s summer, that means time off work for us and we decide to do something different. We quickly search for affordable flights but everything seems to be unrealistic and no, we are not looking for a private jet. It’s just another school holiday here in England.
We’ve heard so many times of Scotland’s beauty and that alone made us say yes, let’s do this. I personally don’t know where I am heading to, but we love discovering new places. We were expecting mountains, valleys and very rich flora and fauna. What I wasn’t expecting was for this island to become etched in my heart forever.
We’re packing some clothes, I throw the tent in and some sleeping bags in the back of the car and off we go. Of course, we didn’t go straight to Scotland. More often than not we choose the longest( scenic) route. But that’s mainly because we can’t help stopping at anything that looks worthy to visit. So, a trip that was meant to be an 8 – 10 hours drive, took 4 wonderful days.
Somerset County – Cheddar Gorge
The weather is really hot so we stop in Cheddar Gorge, a limestone gorge in the Mendip Hills, near the village of Cheddar. The Gorge is absolutely beautiful, it reminds me a bit of Romania with goats climbing as high as possible and the pretty flowers sprinkled all around the cliffs. Cheddar on its own is a great destination for a day out in the summer when there is still light until late. It is really famous for its caves and of course for the tradition of making cheddar cheese. About half a mile from the Gorge, back into the village of Cheddar, you can visit the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company. Fun fact, the first mention of cheddar cheese in written history was in 1170. The caves of Cheddar Gorge keep dairy products cool enough for an industry to develop. The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company is the only cheesemaker left in Cheddar.
We spent about two days here, exploring the surroundings and taking advantage of the brilliant weather. There’s a lot to do in Somerset County, therefore I’ll have to talk about it in another post.
Everywhere we looked in the village, the “sorry, no vacancy” sign hit us right in the face. Clearly we are in full season, it’s time for a strategy as it’s getting late. Soon enough, we pass by a campsite with a big sign in front that says: ” fire allowed”…Yay! Exactly what we wanted. Placed right next to a forest, it felt like a real life saver. What a cosy end to a beautiful day!
A different route…
After two amazing days of living in a tent, we decide to stick to the goal of visiting the Scottish Highlands. Well, as much as we can because we left Somerset and in a couple of hours here we are, breathing the Welsh air. For whoever knows United Kingdom’s map, you can tell it’s the most tangled, topsy-turvy, scattered route we can follow. We don’t regret it even a bit because the Welsh landscapes in the summer are wonderful.
But we gotta do what we gotta do. Therefore…towards Scotland!
The dry stone walls of Scotland
As soon as we step in Scotland, we notice something apart like the dry stone walls. The walls are a common thing for rural Scotland, to us they look beautiful, something close to art. They still serve as boundary markers and as fences to keep the sheep in. Originally, the land was cleared of stones for better grazing and to grow crops. The stones were then piled up around the margins to contain the livestock. The history of Scottish dry stone walls is profoundly linked to the clan system (which was the main political system in Scotland) Some of them date back to the 1600s.
After a long drive, we stop in Perth, to visit a friend. He and his family are not just friends but they’re also passionate travellers like us. Exactly the kind of people you want to talk to when time is short and you want to see the best spots. Because he knows us well enough, he is giving us a route to follow. He would love to give us more climbing routes and long paths to follow but when you have small children you can’t do much of that.
Next day in the morning, we leave Perth behind, heading towards Crieff. Then, sure enough, we reach another beautiful side of Scotland named Lochearnhead.
The views start to get more and more impressive and we are wondering how have we not been here before in all these years. Finally, Fort William lies in front of us, the outdoor capital of the UK. It’s pretty crowded, looking like an anthill, everyone with their own point of interest. Some of the people look ready to go hiking while others are keen to practice some water sports. It looks really promising, but we only stop here to have lunch.
Isle of Skye – pure island happiness
Once we cross the Skye Bridge, we suddenly get a strange feeling that this land is from another world, so full of mystery and beauty. Some call the island “Land of fairies” because of its mysticism. We are so happy we’re on a road trip, this way we can stop as many times as we want to. So many waterfalls coming from unexpected places, beautiful cliffs and mountains. We want to call our friend from Perth to thank him but unfortunately, on this island reception is really poor. To be fair, I think it’s part of its beauty, anyone stepping in kind of gets lost in time and space. So, if you want to explore the island don’t count on your phone as it won’t work. Take maps with you or a sat-nav( anything offline will do), more so because the Isle of Skye isn’t abundant in road signs either.
It’s already evening and we are in Portree, the main town on the Isle of Skye. The town is only about 200 years old and was created as a fishing village, at the beginning of the 19th century by Lord MacDonald. I find Portree to be very pretty with narrow streets and surrounded by hills. It’s a good place to come back after you’ve seen the island as it’s a good shopping experience. You can find loads of handcrafted items. Although there is a campsite nearby, we pick a B&B that proves to be a good choice as we get the chance to taste their traditional food like black pudding and haggis. Have you had them before? What do you think of it? Portree is a good place for accommodation, not to mention it has some really nice pubs with wooden beams and a fireplace.
I must say we felt Scotland has so much to offer after we have seen Dunvegan, thought to be the oldest occupied castle in northern Scotland. We did enjoy our visit here and that’s mainly because it’s a strange blend between the past and the present. On one hand, we see a family (Clan MacLeod) that has lived in the castle for more than 30 generations and on the other hand the stories about the fairies, that seem to be part of their life here.
In the castle, they have on display one of the most controversial possessions of Clan MacLeod – the Fairy Flag. This is one of the Highlands myths and fantastic tales seem to come alive at every corner. Despite the different legends, the Fairy Flag is indeed something special.
Worthy to mention is the boat trip you can get here to see the seals. It was absolutely amazing to see them so close to us, some of them getting so close to the boat that you could even touch them. It was very cute and touching to see a mommy seal breastfeeding her baby. Absolutely adorable!
We left all these wonders behind and at one point we got near Staffin, where you can find the famous cliffs called “Kilt Rock”. These cliffs look a bit like a tartan kilt. There is also an impressive waterfall by the lookout point that goes straight into the sea. The pictures we show here are not the best ones as it is quite difficult unless you have a drone.
Duntulm Castle – the ruins above the sea
A special place to see on the Isle is definitely Duntulm Castle. There isn’t much left of this castle, that’s why it isn’t mentioned in any flyers or magazines. You’ll find the ruins of Duntulm, standing on the cliff of basalt (cliffs of Totterish) looking across The Minch (known as Scotland’s fjord) to the Isle of Lewis.
As I said before, due to poor reception and no sat-nav, we’ve had to follow the signs and any other clues that we could find. At one point, we met a local man and we asked him about the Castle. He start laughing and said there’s no castle here just some very old stones. Now, maybe to him, they were just some stones but these ruins have a lot of history behind. One of the earliest written records of Duntulm is from when King James V visited in 1540 and said that he was impressed by the castle’s strength and the hospitality he was shown here.
We were lucky to enjoy such a beautiful sunset here. The scenery is absolutely superb. The dramatic view, especially when you get near the cliff edge will leave you speechless. Now, I know exactly why according to a European Environment Agency, Scotland is one of the quietest destinations in Europe. There’s no more to add, just simply enjoy the silence.
The End is not here…
When it comes to the best places to visit on the Isle of Skye, there are many worthy to mention. But I think discovering it all by yourself will make your journey unforgettable. We are coming back to this Isle, as I feel like we haven’t finished exploring it. This time we’ll try to travel via ferry from Glenelg to Kylerhea, the route that promises even more beauty and more wildlife.
I love that you can stop on any rock and take it all in, the spectacular views, everything. We are so delighted and lucky to have spotted a whale in this place. We need to come back for the Coral Beach, to swim in the sea that on a sunny day looks as blue as a tropical beach.
See you on my next adventure!