Tips and Information for Planning Your Visit to Skye
If you are planning a trip to the Isle of Skye as a first-time visitor, there are few things that it's helpful to know. This beautiful island in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland is well worth discovering. If you go prepared, you will enjoy your visit all the more!
I too went to Skye, also known as the Misty Isle, for the first time this summer. Everything I share here is based on recent personal experience, to help you stay safe, healthy and bring back some wonderful memories of this very special Hebridean island.
Text and non-AllPosters images copyright IndigoJanson, all rights reserved.
Get Ready for a Long, Scenic Drive
If you are coming to Skye from some distance away, you're probably prepared for a long journey. However, if like me your journey begins in Scotland, you might be fooled into thinking the Isle of Skye is not all that far away. After all, the distance between Edinburgh and Glasgow is a surprisingly short one, and even Inverness is not all that inaccessible. And Skye's just off the West coast, so can't take all that long to get to, right?
Wrong! If you are coming to Skye from the south and plan to use the bridge, factor in the time it takes for you to reach Fort William. Then add another hour or so to reach Kyle of Lochalsh (the final point on the mainland before crossing). Since most people don't cross over to Skye and then simply stop, you may need the best part of another hour to reach your final destination on the island.
The road is single carriageway so you could be slowed down further by roadworks or traffic incidents. The good news is that the route is scenic, taking you through glens and alongside lochs. Watch out too for castle Eilean Donan as you near Kyle of Lochalsh. This castle has appeared in a number of movies such as Highlander.
The Bridge is Short but the Road is Long
If you have crossed the Forth road bridge on your way around Scotland, you could be forgiven for thinking the Skye bridge will be similar. In fact, it's a steep but rather short bridge. Not much to see, and you are on the island before you know it. At least there is no longer a toll. It used to cost £5 in British money (around 8 US dollars?) in tolls to cross both ways.
There's a main road that goes from Kyleakin (where you arrive on Skye, unless you came by ferry) to Broadford and then on to the north of the island via Portree.
Broadford will be the first place on the island where you can refuel your vehicle after the long drive. Make sure you have enough petrol/diesel/gas to get you as far as Broadford, as there's not much between here and Fort William or Inverness.
There is a second filling station at Portree, futher up the road. If you are staying some distance from either of these places, top up before going to your final destination. Skye can be a lonely place to be stranded. Be sure to have other motoring essentials with you such as motor oil, and get your hands on a good road map of Skye before you arrive -- this isn't the kind of place where you can pick up tourist maps at every turn.
According to Wikipedia, the island covers 639 square miles and under 10,000 inhabitants. While houses are dotted around most parts of the isle, there's a lot of empty space.
North Skye, Dunvegan and Portree (OS Landranger Map Series): order from UK
South Skye and Cuillin Hills (OS Landranger Map Series): order from UK
Leisure Map Northern Skye (Aa Leisure Maps): order from US
Leisure Map Southern Skye & the Cuillins (Aa Leisure Maps): order from US
Lots of Sheep, Not Many Shops
People go to Skye to get away from it all. So don't expect to see the golden arches, or even many local eateries or village stores. Most settlements on Skye don't resemble the classic British village. They are more often a string of houses and little else.
You might come across the occasional small gift shop (people are big on selling their crafts on Skye if you want a handmade souvenir). These sometimes have ice creams, tablet (a rock-hard, super-sweet cousin of fudge) and other sweet treats. If you need groceries you will have more of a challenge on your hands.
There's a supermarket in Broadford and another in Portree. Both are Co-op owned and are fairly well-stocked to satisfy most of your needs, though might not be as big as your local supermarket back home.
What did you think of this Scottish Island
It's a Bumpy Ride on Skye!
Please don't think I'm all doom and gloom. The truth is, the scenery on Skye is gorgeous! You have maximum freedom if you can travel around by car.
The main road on Skye, the one from Kyleakin up through Broadford and Portree and on to Uig (it's the green road on this map of Skye), is much like the road back on the mainland. It has a good few bends and only a single carriageway, but otherwise is a fairly normal road with markings.
The road marked in pink on the Isle of Skye map does not have markings and is just wide enough for vehicles to use in both directions. You will need to drive more slowly than usual (40mph or thereabouts). The road surface is solid but it is topped with chips that will constantly ping up against your car. Sheep lurk perilously close to the road in places and sometime walk onto the road.
The orange roads on the map are single track with passing places. In places they are rough going and have poor surfaces and cattle grids.
Drive on the grey roads at your own risk! If you avoid them completely, you will miss out on some of Skye's most scenic spots, so instead be prepared for the sometimes nerve-wracking experience. Pot-holes, blind summits and cattle grids are part of the experience. To reassure you a little, people are generally very good at stopping at passing places and generally being considerate drivers.
If you have a DSLR, include a Wide-Angle Lens
I'm so glad I had a chance to visit Skye. So, among the warnings, let me again say that it's a very scenic place in a wild and rugged kind of way. You will see the ocean just about everywhere you go, plus hills (especially beautiful when covered in purple heather), jagged peaks, and have a good chance of seeing wildlife ranging from whales and dolphins to sea eagles.
Don't just take your camera. Take a spare battery or your battery charging dock. Make sure you have plenty of memory on your card too.
You will want a wide-angle or short zoom lens (something like an 18mm-55mm) if you have your DSLR with you. Also pack a telephoto lens if you are going wildlife watching. A point-and-shoot camera is also great as it has a versatile range and should help you capture the beautiful landscapes.
I was given a great piece of advice when I arrived on Skye. The sun was shining but it was extremely windy and I didn't see a hurry to start taking photos. I was told not to hold back as who knew if it would be sunny tomorrow. The weather can change quickly on the Misty Isle and is anything but predictable.
Discover the Peaceful Scenery of Skye in 12 Gorgeous Images
Go Prepared to Fight the Pests
Have you heard of midges? They are a teeny, tiny flying insect that are the blight of many a tourist's trip to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Once one bites you, the rest will be quick to follow, and you could be itchy for a few days.
On the positive side, if you are going to Skye at any time except July-September, you won't need to worry about midges. Of course, many of us do choose the summer months to visit, so here are a few midge-avoidance tips.
You can buy lotions and sprays to try to keep this menace away from you. Avon's Skin So Soft (Bug Guard in the US, just look for the Avon Skin So Soft dry oil body spray in the UK) is widely believed to be one of the best deterrents. DEET-containing repellants can be effective, otherwise look for citronella-containing natural alternatives. There's one called Smidge that was designed with midges rather than mosquitoes in mind. Smidge also host the online midge forecast so you can have advance warning of whether midges are likely to be a problem.
Midges like to hang around water and will only be able to follow you on a wind-free day. They are active when light is lower and so shouldn't pester you on a bright, sunny day.
OK, so that's the midges. There's more. Ticks.
These nasty little blighters will dig their jaws into your skin and hang on tight. Prevention is far better than trying to pull them out with tweezers (if you have to do that, follow the safe tick removal guide), especially as rarely they can lead to Lyme Disease.
You'll probably do a fair bit of walking on Skye. Wear long trousers (US: pants) and tuck them into your socks. When you get back, brush yourself and your clothes down and check for any passengers on your legs and feet in particular. They are not big but will look like a dark scab that's coming loose. Resist the urge to touch them as then need to be removed properly with tweezers or a tick removal device. If you have nothing other than your fingers, cover them with a tissue and wash your hands with soap afterwards.
Keep Looking Up!
Back to nicer things. You could be lucky enough to see one of Skye's beautiful sunrises or sunsets if the weather's right. In summer there are long hours of daylight this far north so be prepared to draw back the curtains early to see the sunrise.
While on Skye, I was hanging around for the sunset and turned around in time to see a beautiful moonrise. After dark, the island can be an astronomer's dream if you manage to have a cloudless sky.
Rainbows are common thanks to the changeable weather, and I saw a sun dog too. Visitors in the darker months could even see the Northern Lights on Skye. October is said to be the best month for this.