Part Two of my Scottish Highlands trip, where I use Highlands to refer to any land north of Edinburgh and Glasgow (entirely inaccurate, I know). I had high aspirations for Isle of Skye after hearing about it from my boyfriend, who also attended an academic conference in Scotland in June of 2016. His words were “Lots of Scotland could pass for upstate New York, but you will always wish you had more time in the Isle of Skye.” Quite high praise coming from him! By September however, the weather had turned for the worse, and thus, because I have so few photos from Isle of Skye, this post would be more aptly called “Isle of Skye and then some.” (In retrospect, this was probably my payback from the absolutely fabulous weather I had in Germany just two weeks previously.)
You may recall from Oban and the Inner Hebrides that my cruise tour schedule was messed up, and I spent a day driving up toward Skye to visit the Glenfinnan Viaduct, aka the famous Hogwarts Express. I also visited Castle Stalker on the way back, allowing me to bypass these attractions when I finally drove from Oban to Skye. This post includes photos from my stop-off at Castle Stalker, Glenfinnan Viaduct, the Old Man of Storr hike (on the actual Isle of Skye), a few extra images from Skye, and a stop at Eilean Donan Castle (which makes appearances in several famous movies).
So, pretending I did this in a sensible order, we start with the drive from Oban to Skye, stopping at Castle Stalker and Glennfinnan Viaduct. Castle Stalker, perhaps recognized for its role in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, is an authentic Scottish castle located on Loch Laiche. The castle was first built around 1320, and the present form was mostly completed in the mid-1400s. Throughout history, the Stewart of Appin Clan most often held claim to the castle, although ownership passed hands several times in the past 700 years. Today, Castle Stalker is privately owned and maintained, and tours are offered during the summer months.
The next stop, Glenfinnan Viaduct, is a picturesque railway crossing along the West Highland Line. It is a popular tourist attraction to take the Jacobite Steam Train from Fort William to Mallaig, but this viaduct in particular holds special interest for Harry Potter fans, as it’s where the Hogwarts Express was filmed for the movies. There is separate parking from the Glenfinnan Monument (also beautiful), although you can walk to the train from either lot. A short 2.5-mile loop takes you around the valley and back to the main road, but the famous views can be achieved in as little as a half mile (which was nice, as it was raining when I visited). The steam train seems to pass over this viaduct around 11:00am and 3:00pm (45 and 30 minutes after departing Fort William) during the summer months, but double check the train schedule before visiting. I am a huge Harry Potter nerd, so this was one of my favorite sites from my Scotland trip.
From Castle Stalker and Glenfinnan Viaduct, I needed to make it onto the Isle of Skye, where I had an Airbnb for the next two nights (The Chalet @ 24 – hard to find in the dark but a beautiful and private setup, perfect for a solo traveler). Because I got a late start in the day, most of my drive was completed at night on the narrow, winding, and dark highland roads. Not an experience I care to repeat anytime soon. Thankfully I had been pointed to a cell phone app that allows for off-line navigation, as I was not paying for international cell service. The app, Sygic, was a lifesaver, and I highly recommend it. Just make sure to download your travel region beforehand!
After my horrible allergic reaction in Oban, the colder than anticipated temperatures in Scotland, and the harrowing drive to Skye, I was delighted to crank up the heat and sleep in at my Airbnb. With a great amount of effort I managed to get up the next day and drive myself to Portree, the largest town on Skye. There I had a quick lunch and stopped to buy an extra jacket (best purchase ever) and a knit cap that soon became my favorite hat ever (unfortunately the hat was lost entirely too soon in an illegal Chilean dance party – more on that later!).
With the new jacket and hat I was able to force myself out of the car (without camera, because it was raining quite heavily) at the Old Man of Storr. Parking is on the side of the road and the ~2.75-mile path is easy to follow to the base of the rock formations. At the time, it was a horrible experience. It was cold, windy, and wet. I was warm enough for the first few minutes with my new jacket and raincoat, but my water-resistant pants were quickly soaked through. I rushed to the top, snapped some cell phone pictures, and practically ran back to the car to warm up. (I may have driven around the rest of the island without wearing pants.) Even in horrible weather, the scenery was gorgeous and the trail not too slippery. I can only imagine how it would have looked with clearer skies.
After Old Man of Storr I drove north and looped around through the center of the island passing the Quiraing on the way, another walk I had hoped to do. Instead, I pulled the car to the side of the road and snapped a couple of pictures before ducking back into warmth. I must say, at the time, this seemed like one of the worst experiences ever. Since then, I have spent 8 days backpacking in Chilean Patagonia and camped overnight in a snowy Yellowstone, and I have come to learn how valuable proper rain gear is to enjoying your time outdoors no matter the conditions (water-proof pants, not water-resistant). Now, I think I could do these hikes with no problem.
After the Old Man of Storr and the Quiraing drive, evening was closing in. I was on the western side of the island so attempted to make a quick stop over at the world famous Talisker Distillery, which unfortunately closed just before I arrived. Accepting defeat, I returned to Breakish for the night and grabbed a delicious dinner at the quaint Red Skye Restaurant. The next morning, I woke up to head back to mainland Scotland. On the way I visited the famous Eilean Donan Castle in Kyle of Localsh. You may recognize this castle from movies such as Made of Honor and James Bond – The World Is Not Enough. You can enter the castle for a small admission fee, but I just walked around the outside and visited a small bakery across the main bridge. I had big plans to drive around Loch Ness for the rest of the day, and needed to be on my merry way.
This concludes my “Isle of Skye and then some” post, but I wanted to add one small section I don’t normally include: My Biggest Regret. I think I have been fairly lucky in my travels, and always managed to see the sights I want to see and do the activities I want to do. However, I was just not having any luck on this Scotland trip. One thing I desperately wanted to see on the Isle of Skye was the Neist Point Lighthouse, where my boyfriend was lucky enough to camp during his Scotland trip. So, if you are reading this and make it to the Isle of Skye, do me a favor and don’t miss it! And if you are so inclined, show me your awesome photos afterward. I would love to see them!
As always, thank you for reading, and I look forward to sharing the rest of my Scotland journey with you!