Over the sea to Skye

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I finally managed to visit Skye last week. Me and my trusted companions landed at Inverness Airport on Friday afternoon and we headed towards the Isle of Skye straight away, allowing for a short stop at the local Tesco superstore. There is only one supermarket on the island, and it’s a Co-op, which means high prices and limited choice. The only other Tesco I know of is located in Ullapool. We filled the boot with food, wine and rum and embarked on a 3 hour journey via the Skye Bridge. It was already 8 pm or so when we arrived at our self-catering cottage near Dunvegan. As we opened the car doors we got instantly attacked by a rather horrific swarm of infamous Highland midges. I encountered them briefly last year during our North Coast 500 trip, but I had never seen anything like it. I can imagine it’s very difficult fighting these little monsters and even the best of midge sprays only help for a while. The locals are used to them (immune perhaps after centuries of assault) and reacted quite apathetically to our outrage. Now, if this was somewhere like Dubai, the sheikh would order the best scientists to come up with an artificial virus or a new innovative chemical to wipe out the midges and make it more bearable for everyone in summer months. This is, however, Scotland. You get eaten alive and develope huge ugly blisters all over your forehead – deal with it. No mobile signal for miles and miles – so what… Nowhere to park, narrow roads in appalling condition, lack of public toiletes, tired and overpriced hotels – if you don’t like it, go home. Skye, being undeniably gorgeous, attracts so many visitors that no matter how poor the infrastructure, how expensive the accommodation, how bad the midges are, the island will never run out of tourists willing to pay for it all. We saw lots of Americans and Japanese tourists and I suppose that most visitors never come back, which is another reason for not improving the facilities. Why bother – they will keep on flocking anyway year after year after year. In neighbouring Ireland, they managed to adapt the very popular Ring of Kerry to modern needs withough spoiling the natural beauty of the area. Where there is a will, there is a way.

We had to sleep with all windows shut (20 degrees at night!). Needless to say, no aircon in the cottage and 2 fans did not help much. We couldn’t leave the cottage before 9 am and we had to be back inside by 6 pm, to avoid midges. This obviously left no room for sunrise and sunset pictures. Great shame, as the days are very, very long there and we lost hours of potential sightseeing because of this. The weather was stunning, apart from a few hours of rain on Sunday morning. I packed my warmest and thickest fleece, waterproofs, boots and ended up wearing none of it. We wanted to see the most popular locations, however most of the time there was nowhere to park, especially when a coach or a campervan or two decided to park there at the same time. For that reason, we only caught a glimpse of the Old Man of Storr.

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Our first attempt to see the Coral Beach was a fail. Again, nowhere to park at 5 pm. We came back the next morning and had it all to ourselves – for about an hour. After that, more campervans, cars falling into ditches, nervous drivers trying to get out of the impossibly packed car park. Skye in a nutshell.

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I loved the Staffin Beach, even though I could not see any dinosaur footprints. Great place for a mini picnic. Another must-see locations are the Fairy Pools and the Quiraing, offering splendid hiking opportunities. My companions are not really into hiking so we did what every aspiring Instagrammer does: arrived, took selfies, shot some pics and got back in the car.

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What I don’t particularly recommend is Dunvegan Castle: £14 for a ticket and no guide. With a guide it would have been a fascinating tour I’m sure… I am bored senseless by old portraits, furniture, worn carpets and such. The gardens however are lovely, even in a dull weather.

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One of the best moments for me was driving towards Aird of Sleat. The views reminded me of Amalfi, Italy. The whole area is renowned for cute little galleries and we stopped at a couple of places selling hand made goods, apparently very popular among the Americans.We chatted with the resident artists, many of whom came to live on Skye from other parts of the UK. I bought a hand painted souvenir and brought back ‘Art Skye’ booklet with me. Next time I would love to see more art on Skye.

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The majestic Cuillin range is visible from almost everywhere. The views towards Raasay are superb too. That’s why Skye it’s often called mini-Scotland. It has got everything, from mountains to waterfalls to rivers to lochs.

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I think that 3 full days are a minimum to fully experience what the island has to offer. Portree itself did not wow me, although I loved the view across the harbour. Booking several months in advance is a must. May is a good time to visit according to the locals; nice weather and still relatively midge-free. I can’t recommed any eateries, because we only stopped for a coffee or a soup here and there. I was under impression that there were two categories of dining on Skye: great quality and expensive therefore unsuitable for a budget trip or mundane with limited choice, and actually not too cheap either. No wonder people bring their own supplies from the mainland, just like we did.

On the whole, it was a great little trip. Hopefully I will never have to fly to Inverness from Luton again (Luton is another story altogether…scary, scary place). Coming back took me an entire day with a delightful (not) stop in Birmingham and utterly disgusting meal at Herman ze German. I believe there are flights from Manchester, and I can always hop on a train to Glasgow and continue from there.

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Till the next time!