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Issue 92 - Road to Skye

Scotland Magazine Issue 92
April 2017


This article is 19 months old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Road to Skye

Charles Douglas sets off from the Scottish mainland to visit the west coast Isle of Skye

The Isle of Skye has been occupied since the Middle Stone Age, thereafter by Norsemen and followers of Clan MacLeod and Clan Donald. It is also the northernmost island of the Inner Hebrides, its peninsulas fanning out from a mountainous core dominated by the Cuillins and creating some of the most dramatic mountain scenery to be found anywhere. There’s more than one road to Skye, although some of them do involve ferries! In fact, there are two ferry links and a road bridge that connects the island to the Scottish mainland, and there’s also a small airstrip at Ashaig, next to the village of Broadford. Regardless of the route you take, all along these stretches of the ‘roads to Skye’ are spectacular views of mountains and wonderful sea vistas.

The first route pushes northwest of Fort William. The A830 runs through Glenfinnan, Lochailort, Arisag and Morar to the ferry terminal at Mallaig. The settlement at Mallaig, which was created in the 1840s by the 12th Lord Lovat, 21st MacShimidh of Clan Fraser and former owner of the North Morar Estate, is no exception. The town expanded considerably with the arrival of the railway in the 20th Century and by the 1960s was the busiest herring port in Europe. Although Mallaig remains the main commercial fishing port on Scotland's west coast, the industry has since significantly declined. Nevertheless, the local economy has been kept buoyant by virtue of tourism and both the Lochaber College and UHI Millennium Institute, which specialise in distance learning.

Ferry company Caledonian MacBrayne sails the daily 30-minute crossing to Armadale on the Isle of Skye. There are additional ferry services to the isles of Canna, Rùm, Eigg and Muck. Another locally owned service connects daily to Inverie in Knoydart and Tarbet in Morar, the latter of which has a permanent population of less than 10 people and is only accessible from the sea.

The second option runs from Spean Bridge, where the A82 meets the A86 from Newtonmore and runs the length of Loch Lochy to Invergarry. It’s worth noting that, a mile to the north on the A82, after Spean Bridge stands the strikingly poignant Commando Memorial, dedicated to the original men of the British Commando Forces raised during the Second World War. The A82 then continues north along Loch Lochy passing Letterfinlay and Laggan to Invergarry. At Invergarry, a ruin once known as the Raven's Rock overlooks Loch Oich, Until the 19th Century, Invergarry Castle was the seat of the MacDonnells of Glengarry. In the 1960s, Invergarry House became the award-winning and delightfully traditional Glengarry House Hotel.

As a side note, if you fancy a real rural adventure, from a fork on the A87 a single-track road (to the left) runs west beside Loch Garry to Kinloch Hourn. From there progress continues on foot along the southern bank of this majestic, fjord-like sea loch to Barrisdale, climbing over Màm Barisdale to the village of Inverie on the Knoydart peninsula. This arduous journey, which is usually taken over two days, offers access to one of Scotland’s last truly untouched wilderness areas.

Back at Loch Gary, taking the right-hand fork on the A87 takes you north, moving away from the water, to a junction with the A887 from Invermoriston on Loch Ness. This road then continues west along Loch Cluanie, through Glen Shiel to Invershiel, around the north shore of Loch Duich, past Eilean Donan Castle, and along the northern shore of Loch Alsh to Kyle of Lochalsh and the Skye Bridge.

One of the great joys of the A887 approach to Skye is that you pass Eilean Donan Castle, which is situated on a small tidal island at Dornie. This, no doubt familiar, edifice is one of Scotland's most iconic fortresses, was founded in the 13th Century, and held by Clan Mackenzie along with their allies Clan Macrae. Robert the Bruce sought refuge here during the winter of 1306. Damaged during the Jacobite Risings of the 18th Century, the ruins were restored between 1919 and 1932 by Lt Colonel John Macrae-Gilstrap, a wealthy malt producer.

The seaside village of Kyle of Lochalsh overlooks the entrance to Loch Alsh. The local railway station arrived in 1897, and the road bridge was built here in 1995. Today, traffic roars across the 1,640-foot long Skye Bridge to Kyleakin, opening up the hinterland of Scotland's largest offshore island.

Sharing the initial approach through Glen Shiel, an alternative third route to Skye (and the second ferry crossing) is via the MV Glenachulish, a picturesque six-car turntable ferry that operates from Glenelg to Kylerhea from Easter until October. This involves following 10 miles of the Old Military Road from the A87 at Shiel Bridge over the Mam Ratagan pass to Glenelg, but is well worth the effort if you have the time and enthusiasm. This route takes in the best views of the Five Sisters of Kintail, a spectacular mountain range with three full Munros (mountains over 3000 feet) and two subsidiary Munros.

Kylerhea is the earliest regular crossing point to and from Skye and was considered so strategic that the British Government built the nearby Bernera Barracks to guard it after the 1715 Jacobite Rising. It was from the cobbled pier there, which still exists, that Dr Samuel Johnson and James Boswell made their celebrated tour of the Hebrides in 1773.

Should one land on the island by way of the bridge, the coastal town of Kyleakin will be your first point of call. The settlement takes its name from the ‘Strait of Haakon’, named after King Haakon V of Norway whose fleet moored here before its defeat at the Battle of Largs in 1263. Castle Moil, a ruined 15th Century fortress, stands on the headland. In times past, it enforced a toll on passing ships by hanging a chain from the castle ramparts to the mainland.

From Kyleakin, the A87 continues west towards the principal settlement at Portree. However, long before that, just before Broadford, a mountainous single-track road leads to Kyelrhea and the afore-mentioned Glenachulish ferry terminal. Off the same A87 road, the A851 forks south for those heading towards the Sleat Peninsula.

Not much happens on the west coast of Sleat but on the east coast the A851 passes Kinloch Lodge — the hotel home of the High Chief of Clan Macdonald that offers renowned dining, accommodation, and a cookery school.

At Isleornsay be sure to inspect the Gallery An Talla Dearg overlooking the pier before heading south to the Clan Donald Visitor Centre and Museum of the Isles at Armadale Castle or the Mallaig Ferry Terminal.

En route and founded in 1973, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, beside Kilbeg, is a public higher education college specialising in the Gaelic language with an associate campus at Bowmore on Islay. Both are independent partners of the University of the Highlands and Islands.

Back on the A87 from Kyleakin is Broadford, Skye's second largest settlement. In the shadow of the Red Cuillin, there are breathtaking views across the bay to the isle of Pabbay. Continuing on the A87, the islands of Scalpay and Raasay come into view.

Sligachan, at the junction of the road to Dunvegan, is a small settlement with one of the best viewpoints for admiring the Black Cuillin. History tells us that a violent battle took place here between the Macleods and the MacDonalds in 1395.

Through Drynoch, the A863 travels up the Waternish peninsula to Bracadale and Dunvegan (and its castle) or the B8009 turns west and takes the southern shore of Loch Harport to Carbost and the world-famous Talisker Distillery. Founded in 1803 by Hugh and Kenneth MacAskill it claims to have been the favourite whisky of the writers Robert Louis Stevenson and H.V. Morton.

Throughout the Highlands of Scotland, the Jacobite Risings of the 18th Century led to the breaking up of the old clan system and culminated in widespread emigration to the New World. As a consequence, large areas of Skye's western and northern coastlines are underpopulated and often dramatically inaccessible.

Heading north again, Dunvegan is the ancestral home of the MacLeod of MacLeod, Chief of Clan MacLeod and the powerfully situated castle has been held by the same family for 800 years. Defiant upon a rock , it overlooks the eastern shore of an inlet and, until 1748, the only entrance to the castle was from a sea gate. On display inside there are many fine oil paintings and treasures, the most famous relic being the Fairy Flag, which is said to possess miraculous powers when unfurled in battle. It was last used during the Second World War.

Back on the east coast, Portree is a bustling and attractive town with a pier designed by Thomas Telford. On the site of MacNab's Inn is the Royal Hotel where Flora Macdonald, heroine of the 1745 Jacobite Rising, took leave of Prince Charles Edward Stuart having smuggled him by boat through enemy lines from the Uists. Be sure to visit the Aros Centre, which celebrates the island's vibrant Gaelic heritage.

Worth looking out for is the Black Cuillin, made up of basalt and gabbro, and the Red Cuillin, which is mostly weathered granite. On the northern peninsula of Trotternish, the Kilt rock takes its name from the tartan-style patterns in the cliff. The Quirang, on the A855 north of Portree, comprises a spectacular series of rock pinnacles. To the south is the rock pillar known as the Old Man of Storr.

Beyond Loch Snizort to the west is the Waternish peninsula, which ends at Ardmore Point's double rock arch. The Duirnish peninsula is situated between Loch Dunvegan and Loch Bracadale. Minginish is between Loch Scavaig and Glen Drynoch in the west and Loch Harport and Glen Sligachan in the south and east. Loch Coruisk, an inland fresh water loch at the foot of the Black Cuillin was visited by Sir Walter Scott in the early 19th Century and painted by J.M.W Turner, among others.

From Portree, the A87 travels north up the Trotternish peninsula past Snizort, where there are ruins of a small cathedral that was allegedly founded by St Columba. At Uig, there is a ferry service to Tarbert on the island of Harris and Loch Maddy on North Uist in the Outer Hebrides.
From Uig, the A855 swings north to Kilmuir. This is the location of the Skye Museum of Island Life, a thatched cottage that provides an insight into how crofters lived long ago. At Duntulm there are dramatic cliff tops with sightings of golden eagles and spectacular views across the Atlantic towards Harris and Lewis — this is well worth a visit!

Duntulm was first settled as a Pictish fortress, part of a string of similar fortifications that stretched across the north of the island. Ownership of Trotternish often changed hands many times until it became the home of Donald Gorm in the 16th century. The ruins of Duntulm Castle, where the Macdonald of Sleat chiefs lived prior to building their headquarters at Armadale, can still be seen.

If that's not enough, there's also a whole host of craftspeople, artists, and galleries on the island that are sure to satisfy even the most demanding holiday maker.

Where to Visit:

1. Armadale Castle
Armadale, IV45 8RS
Historic house, gardens and Museum of the
Isles. Spiritual home of Clan Donald.
+44 (0) 1471 844 305

2. Dunvegan Castle
Dunvegan, IV55 8WF
Ancestral stronghold of Clan Macleod.
+44 (0) 1470 521 206

3. The Talisker Distillery
Carbost, IV47 8SR
Single malt whisky distillery with
visitor centre.
+44 (0) 1478 614 308

4. Colbost Folk Museum
Colbost, IV55 8ZT
Traditional croft house depicting 19th
Century life.
+44 (0) 1470 521 296

5. Giant Angus MacAskill Museum
Dunvegan, IV55 8WF
Born in 1825, Angus was 7ft 9in tall.
+44 (0) 1470 521 296

6. Edinbane Pottery
Edinbane, IV51 9PW
High quality, hand
made ceramics.
+44 (0) 1470 582 234

7. Skye Museum of Island Life
Kilmuir, IV51 9UE
Thatched cottages illuminating historic island life.
+44 (0) 1470 552 206

8. Flora Macdonald's Grave
Kilmuir Cemetery,
IV51 9UB
The last resting place of the heroine of the 1745 Jacobite Rising.
+44 (0) 1470 552 206

9. Uig Pottery
Uig, IV51 9XX
Functional and unique dishes, mugs
and ceramics.
+44 (0) 1470 542 421

10. Isle of Skye Brewery
Uig, IV51 9XP
Producers of memorable island ales, Skye Red, Gold, and Black.
+44 (0) 1470 542 477

11. Sabhal Mòr Ostaig
Sleat, IV44 8RQ
University of
the Highlands
Gaelic College
+44 (0) 1471 888 000

12. The Oyster Shed
Carbost, IV47 8SE
Famous farm shop and seafood takeaway.
+44 (0) 1478 640 383

Where to Stay:
Hotels, 13, 18, 19, 20 and 21 are members of the Scottish Hotel Awards scheme.

13. Glengarry
Castle Hotel
Invergarry, PH35 4HW
19th Century country house hotel by the castle ruins. SHA Country Sports Hotel of the Year (Highlands) 2017.
+44 (0) 1809 501 254

14. West
Highland Hotel
Mallaig, PH41 4QZ
Relaxed, with harbour and island views.
+44 (0) 1687 462 210

15. The Morar Hotel
Morar, PH40 4PA
Friendly, characterful hotel just two miles
from town.
+44 (0) 1687 462 346

16. Lochalsh Hotel
Kyle of Lochalsh, IV40 8AF
Warm Highland hospitality in scenic location.
+44 (0) 1599 534 202

17. White
Heather Hotel
Kyleakin, IV41 8PL
Excellent location close to the Skye Bridge.
+44 (0) 1599 534 577

18. The Portree Hotel
Somerled Square,
IV51 9EH
Centrally located and recently refurbished. SHA Town Hotel of the Year (Islands) 2017.
+44 (0) 1478 612 511

19. Duisdale
House Hotel
Sleat, IV43 8QW
Former hunting lodge offering stylish island hospitality. SHA Boutique Hotel (Islands) 2017 and Country House Hotel (Islands) 2017.
+44 (0) 1471 833 202

20. Toravaig
House Hotel
Sleat, IV44 8RE
Charming, cosy country house with refined and convivial atomosphere.
+44 (0) 1471 820 200

21. Skeabost
Country House
Skeabost Bridge,
IV51 9NP
Recently refusbished, waterfront hotel with golf course. SHA National Island Hotel of the
Year 2017.
+44 (0) 1470 532 202

22. Hotel
Eilean Iarmain
Sleat, IV43 8QR
A privately owned hotel with beautiful views
and a quiet, cosy and casual feel.
+44 (0) 1471 833 332

23. Kinloch
Lodge Hotel
Sleat, IV43 8QY
Charming country
house with award-winning dining.
+44 (0) 1471 833 333

24. Broadford
Youth Hostel
Broadford, IV49 9AA
Dormitories and
private rooms.
+44 (0) 1471 822 422

Where to Eat:

25. Waterside
Seafood Restaurant
Kyle of Lochalsh
IV40 8AQ
Yummy seafood — queenies, langoustines, salmon and crab.
+44 (0) 1599 534 813

26. Creelers of Skye
IV49 9AE
Small, family run,
multi award-winning seafood restaurant.
+44 (0) 1471 822 281

27. Ullinish Country Lodge Restaurant
IV56 8FD
Fine dining and a fireplace lounge.
+44 (0) 1470 572 214

28. Castle Moil Restaurant & King Haakon Bar
Kyleakin, IV41 8PL
Set in the Castle Moil complex across the water from the ruined fort.
+44 (0) 1599 534 164

29. The Red Brick
Cafe @ Jans
Portree, IV51 9HL
Freshly made food,
great menu, and popular with locals.
+44 (0) 1478 613 417

30. The Waterfront
Fish and Chip Shop
Broadford Bay,
IV49 9AB
Considered the best
fish and chip shop on
the island.
+44 (0) 1471 822 158

31. Loch Bay Restaurant
Stein, IV55 8GA
High-dived scallops. Family-run restaurant.
+44 (0) 1470 592 235

32. Scorrybreac Restaurant
Portree, IV51 9DG
Small, welcoming, fine-dining restaurant with an excellent reputation.
+44 (0) 1478 612 069

33. The Old
School Restaurant
Dunvegan, IV55 8GU
Local seafood, Scottish beef and game.
+44 (0) 1470 521 421

34. Red Skye Restaurant
Breakish, IV42 8PY
Superb traditional menu served in an old schoolhouse.
+44 (0) 1471 822 180

35. Kinloch Lodge
Sleat, IV43 8QY
Michelin-starred restaurant with superb food.
+44 (0) 1471 833 333

36. The Three Chimneys
Dunvegan, IV55 8ZT
A world-renowned Scottish restaurant beside the sea.
+44 (0) 1470 511 258