Current Location: Portree, Isle of Skye, Scotland
Isle of Skye is the largest and northernmost of the major islands in the inner Hebrides of Scotland. March is not the time of year that most travelers decide to visit the Isle of Skye. In the summer months, they swarm the island to see the Cuillins and get mere glimpses of natural wonders like the Faerie Pools and Neist Point. In the winter, the famous green hills and rugged landscapes are covered in a dense brown heather and the clouds rarely part. Everyone in Scotland jokes that the dictionary is exclusively composed of different words for rain. However, we found an immense peacefulness being alone with the fog (and without the tourists!).
Maybe this is informed by the music I listened to when I was growing up, but the Scotland of my mind can be seen from two separate angles. It can be twee and adorable like Belle & Sebastian, with elegant continental breakfasts and tie-dyed, spray-painted sheep. Or it can be darkly pastoral, with an almost-surreal landscape, and occultist signifiers in broken-down cairns and castles, like Mogwai or Boards of Canada. Fortunately, on this trip, we got a taste of both styles of Scottish living when we drove over almost the entire length of the territory, and especially so when we were on the Isle of Skye.
There were moments where our small car felt like a submarine. The lichen-covered rocks and sulfurous-looking hills of the countryside were coral reefs, the sweeping grasslands plains of seaweed. I had my drone with me, and the moments that I could successfully fly it (through the onslaught of wind and rain), if you had changed the axes it would not have been dissimilar from diving deep to excavate some kind of shipwreck. Except, unlike the bottom of the ocean, there’s sheep everywhere. So many sheep.
Most of our experiences on Skye were centered around driving. We drove past amazing natural features, like the Old Man at Storr, stopped to see that it was shrouded in haze like the outskirts of Mordor, and got back in the car to move on to the next place. We nearly had heart attacks when we were bounding around countryside one-track roads and came upon livestock, waiting a few minutes for them to disentangle themselves from whatever they were doing and go on their way.
We stayed in a little hobbit house in the town of Broadford. We seriously cannot recommend The Little Skye Bothy enough. It kept us warm and dry with the most incredible view of the mountains in the distance as we awoke. Perhaps the most eventful part of the story was our trek to this scenic hideaway. We had eaten dinner in town and it was dark when we left. The directions suggested that we drive for 5 miles, and that the distance seems much longer than it actually is. And lucky us–the fog came in, to the degree that we couldn’t use our lights at all. There were no signs and a long and winding road stretched out in front of us. We had to go through two livestock gates to get there, but eventually we arrived.
Our advice: watch out for those treacherous single-track (one-lane) roads–essentially just asphalt with minimal markings cascading into the distance as far as you can see. And especially watch out if there’s tourists driving. Being from the countryside in the US, I thought I was prepared for some really rough terrain–but in the middle of nowhere Ohio, we at least manage to have signs!
There are two ways to get to the Isle of Skye, and we tried both of them. The first is the Skye Bridge, which is less dramatic than it sounds, but takes you from the main island of the Scotland to the island. In contrast, there’s also a ferry from the mainland to the island. We took that to get back to Fort William. One of the main requirements is that you back your car onto the boat, and it sits in the hold for the duration. I wish I could tell you that backing onto it was a low-stress affair–I had already managed to switch sides driving, so everything else should be a breeze, right? It was not easy. However, I did all of the necessary maneuvers with extreme fluency. The downside of the ferry ride was not driving the car onto it, as I had expected, but getting drenched by a giant wave while taking photos of the horizon. V laughed from her cozy perch inside the ship.
We definitely did more than just driving. We ate at many sweet little restaurants especially on the island’s largest city of Portree, exploring the finest in affordable vegetarian cuisine that mimicked traditional fare (vegetarian haggis, anyone?). We popped over to the Talisker Distillery and had some of the northernmost-produced alcohol in the world.
Perhaps the reason that we made our way to the Isle was to take a hike. We visited The Quiraing, but our favorite “hike” was Brothers’ Point – Rubha nam Brathairean. It’s a path that transplanted Irish monks used to take as a meditation retreat on the north coast. You’ll rapidly go traipsing through pastures and rollicking hills, beside crofters’ cottages, and down to the shoreline for several kilometers. It feels like the end of the earth. The turf that you walk on, with some slight distance from the shore, is probably the selfsame stuff of which whiskey is brewed. Circle of life.
<3, K (&V)