Skye is the largest of the Western Isles in Scotland and with only two-and-a-half days to explore this was always going to be an intial impression to be followed up at a later date with some proper exploring. Skye is only about 50 miles across but with a coastline slashed by sea lochs it takes time to travel about – apparently to travel the entire coastline would take around 400 miles of walking!
The thing I love about travelling in Scotland is the sense of wilderness – it is the only part of the United Kingdom where you can get away from civilisation. Skye definitely feels a bit wild, and wonderfully noncommercial. Each hill has its own pattern of heath and rock; veins of scree and water. Clouds roll through and enliven the landscape with their shadows.
We decided it was important to at least travel to Skye by boat, even if we took the much quicker route back across the bridge. It was pouring with rain on the ferry from Mallaig, but maybe it was for Bonnie Prince Charlie in his little boat as well.
Fresh off the ferry the Wandering Kiwi family had our best lunch in a long time in Broadford (Skye’s second largest village). The sea-changer Harley Street osteopath turned restaurateur David Wilson serves up a fine line in French food in the most unlikely setting. New Orleans gumbo is a speciality and ‘Creelers’ was certainly attracting the French tourists as well as the Kiwis when we visited.
I read somewhere that to live on Skye you need to be “resilient, inventive, humorous, tough, self sufficient, waterproof, patient and lucky”. I wasn’t really believing that as I gobbled down spicy, rich gumbo and the pan-browned local hand-dived King Scallops on saucisson d’Auverge with a green bean veloute, all washed down with a fine lovely Chablis.We were wowed by our first gastronomic experience on Skye.
It is true that Skye’s remoteness has in the past made it a challenging environment in which to thrive. Nowhere is far from the sea and before proper roads were built everyone here depended on the sea for their livelihood and transport. Tourists flock to the marvellous Talisker distillery and visitor centre because of its gorgeous setting beside Loch Harport but the site was chosen because of the sheltered harbour where old Clyde ‘puffers’ could dock easily and carry a cargo to whiskey to the markets in Glasgow.
You often have to book ahead if you want to the distillery tour but you can always enjoy a free tasting at Talisker – just ask at the front desk. I loved the delicate 10-year-old and the Distillers’ Edition with notes of dark chocolate but chose the Port Ruighe in the end to take home.
After the Talisker visit we went across the road to The Old Inn and enjoyed a pint of Eagle Ale from the Cuillin brewery on their back terrace to watch the sun on the water and the hills overlooking the loch. You can really taste how pure the water is in the drinks.
Someone who still depends on the sea for his livelihood on Skye is Paul the Oyster Man – his shack is a couple of minutes up the hill from Talisker in Carbost. He has extracts from Alice in Wonderland and tales of Flora Macdonald and Charlie pasted up on the walls. Last year he shucked 62,000 oysters and the fresh seafood selection we took home to feast on was amazing. Creamy oysters, fat scallops, lobster tails and more.
Dunvegan Castle has not only the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland, having been the home of the chiefs of the Clan MacLeod for over 800 years, it has been named one of the top ‘days out’ for families in the United Kingdom! It does have a romantic, crenellated castle perched on a craggy coastal outcrop, five acres of lush formal gardens, and tours out onto Loch Dunvegan in traditionally-built clinker boats to see the resident harbour seal colony. Mix that with an estate steeped in history and legend – I have to agree it is quite a day out.
Various stories surround the provenance of the ‘Fairy Flag’ – a disintegrating piece of silk now carefully framed behind glass. But all agree that it has miraculous powers and will lead the clan MacLeod to victory in any battle… There are many other clan treasures on display in the house and the views from the battlements are wonderful. A picnic in the walled garden surrounded by lush planting was the perfect end to our visit to Dunvegan.
Last but not least Elgol. A village on the shores of Loch Scavaig at the end of a long, winding road. Bonnie Prince Charlie hid in a cave here under the protection of the staunchly Jacobite Mackinnon clan but it was far too rainy and midgy to walk there. Elgol is still hauntingly beautiful in the rain, with its craggy shoreline and views across to the Cuillin. From the cafe on the hill we ate delicious scones and tea and watched a pod of dolphins out at sea.
A final note on the scones. I am a fan of scones and cream teas and I have them whenever I can. I have to say I ate the best scones in my life on Skye. Scones plural because there were two contenders – The Dunvegan Bakery (Skye’s oldest since 1870 don’t you know) has fat, fluffy scones and the Cuillin View Coffee shop in Elgol has small, melt-in-the-mouth scones with additions like pear and ginger that don’t even need butter. Both equally good in their different ways.
So that was our wandering on Skye – clearly there are many reasons to make a return visit.
By Natasha von Geldern
Have you been to the Isle of Sky? What would you recommend?