My Hubby and I love embarking on outdoor adventures together. This summer we wanted to venture a bit further than we had ever been before – so we decided to do a few days of hiking on the Isle of Skye.
The Isle of Skye is the largest of the Inner Hebrides group, and is the second largest island of Scotland, boasting some of the most stunning landscapes. On Skye you will find velvet moors, sparkling lochs, magnificent peaks, jutting ridges, imposing pinnacles and towering sea cliffs which are nothing short of majestic and have featured in many movies.
Be warned though – hiking on the island is not for the faint-hearted! If you are a ‘fair weather’ hiker, this is not the place for you. Go to Madeira if you want sunshine and warmth. Do visit Skye however if you want to explore unspoiled places where only the most adventurous go, and if you want to immerse yourself in raw and savage beauty, but which often comes with capricious, unpredictable weather and challenging terrain that will test both your mental and physical stamina.
Before heading off to the Island, we spent a day hiking in Glencoe – this is me admiring the views at The Three Sisters
Unfortunately, we got really unlucky with the weather – according to our host, we managed to pick the wettest August he had ever experienced during his 40 years of living on the island! Even though we only managed to do a fraction of what we had planned due to the extreme weather conditions, we did manage a couple of hikes that gave us a really good taste of what the island has to offer, and we were also very impressed with the fresh sea food and the hospitality of the local people.
I can wholeheartedly say that the Isle of Skye is one of the most beautiful places on earth and the best way to explore it is on your feet! Below are 4 hikes we did manage:-
Loch Coruisk Circuit
This is the first hike we did – and it kicked us in the arse. The only way I can put this is that every hike we did after this one felt like a breeze.
This lake is the island’s hidden gemstone, because it is notoriously hard to get to as it lies in the very heart of the Cuillin mountain range. They are amongst the toughest mountains of the UK and is only recommended for serious climbers and ‘Munro-baggers’. Apparently, Loch Coruisk was featured in the movie Stardust, in the flying boat scenes with Captain Shakespeare as a scenic backdrop.
You have two choices to access this freshwater lake – the first option is to take a testing 25km out and back hike from the Sligachan Hotel which includes a juicy section over the dreaded ‘Bad Step’. The second option is to take a boat trip from the fishing village Elgol in the morning and then return on the afternoon boat trip. We settled for option two – the boat trip by Misty Isles gave us some wonderful views from the sea and the neighbouring smaller islands Rumm and Eigg. On our way to the lake, we stopped by a seal colony to take some photos of these plumpy and sweet creatures as they were lazing on the rocks. In terms of experiencing the local wildlife, apart from the sheep and cows, seals were the only others we encountered. Disappointingly, all the whales, dolphins, puffins and otters decided to hang out somewhere else the day we visited!
Saying ‘hello’ to the seals near Elgol (Common or Harbour seals, that is)
After leaving the boat, we began our walk by going up some steps that led inland. On our right, we saw the River Scavaig which cascades into the sea over rock slabs. We continued alongside the river, taking in the full length view of Loch Coruisk. We navigated our way through the pebbly shore, scrambling amongst rocky sections, and trying to dodge some deep bogs. We got caught by showers a couple of times, so we had to stop and take shelter by huddling up under bigger rocks in an attempt to remain as dry as possible. The further we went alongside the loch, the deeper and more frequent the bogs became and more difficult to find solid footing. Oh, have I forgotten to mention that there is no clearly paved path alongside the lake?
Finally, we stopped for lunch near the head of the lake, taking a rest by some giant rocks up higher. The views from there were priceless, and it seemed that the far end of the loch had its own micro-climate – everything seemed to be darker, gloomier, windier and wetter at this end, with some thick grey fog encasing the peaks and the wind angrily howling at us. It was like being in the middle of a scene in The Lord of the Rings, lost somewhere in the middle of Mordor. I will be honest – by that point, I was really struggling mentally. I was wet, cold and not feeling very safe at all. I drowned my sorrow into my soggy banana and jam sandwich and was looking forward to being rescued by the boat and taken off this god-forsaken corner of the world.
After the hike I loved to hate!
My Hubby and I agreed to turn back after lunch – by that time, we had been walking for about an hour and a half. We saw a small group of hikers ahead of us in the distance wearing bright orange jackets – we couldn’t decide whether they were insane or worthy of respect as they were carrying on around the lake in these potentially dangerous conditions. Had the weather been more co-operative, we would have followed them. There is a crossing at the far end of the lake with some stepping stones so you can actually get to the other side with relatively dry feet, then you can carry on walking along the north side of the shore. You will eventually reach another crossing in the river, near where the hike starts, with some more piled stones. This bit is quite challenging as you will need good balancing skills to make it to the other side dry.
Ready to be rescued by the boat and transported back to civilisation
We felt defeated that we could not complete the circuit, yet were very relieved to be back on the boat, enjoying a hard-earnt hot cup of tea with some shortbread, courtesy of the boat crew. When the ‘orange group’ of hikers joined us back in the boat (an Irish family), they told us that the northern side of the lake is just as boggy as the southern side and the whole circuit is ca. 8kms in total. Good to know – in case we decide to come back one day for the ‘full monty’, hopefully with much improved weather.
The Old Man of Storr
This is one of the most iconic landmarks of Skye and one of the most popular hikes. It can get very busy at times, and the small tourist car park at the bottom of the A855 fills up fast, so I recommend you visit as early as possible during the day, especially if you want photos with as few people in them as possible.
The Storr is the highest point on the Totternish peninsula and from its summit there are spectacular views in all directions. The Storr is a collection of dramatic basalt pyramids and pillars. The Old Man is the highest of this group of basalt spires – this 50m pinnacle points upwards like a finger and is visible for miles all along the east coast. Here is an interesting fact: in Ridley Scott’s famous 2012 sci-fi thriller Prometheus, the story starts in the year 2089 on the Storr, where an archaeologist discovers the ancient star map in a cave under this rock!
The hike up is very straightforward – the path starts in the car park, and the first third of the route is on a well paved, mud-free path. It is quite steep though – you are guaranteed to get a really good leg and glute workout. After passing a couple of kissing gates, a rocky path will lead you up higher, zig-zagging towards the giant pinnacles, with some breath-taking views all around you.
The Old Man of Storr – just before the gale force winds and the driving rain hit us
The beauty of this hike is the fact that it is so straightforward you won’t even need a map – all you need to do is go up as high as you like following the path and then come back down following roughly the same route – in total, we covered about 5km in an hour and a half including photo stops. As long as you have strong hiking boots with a good grip, you will be fine on the rocks, grass and even the muddier bits, so no advanced hiking skills are needed. The Old Man is impressive in all kinds of weathers – when we hiked up, it was partly covered in storm-torn clouds which gave it a rather mysterious look. Unfortunately, just as we reached the top, we got caught in gale force winds and driving rain so strong my eyeballs hurt! We did not feel safe hanging around much longer in these violent conditions, so we waved goodbye to the Old Man, and came back down to take shelter in the car.
Despite the extreme weather, I felt I had coped much better psychologically than the day before.
This was our third hike on the island. All I can say is that this hike definitely proved that there is no such thing as water proof hiking gear, even if the label says so!
On that morning we woke up to another day of relentless rain beating down on us and howling winds trying to chase us away. We had to summon all our willpower to haul our butts back outside – sitting around was not what we came for, even if it came at a cost of getting soaked to the skin every day.
The Fairy Pools are at the foot of the Black Cuillins near Glenbrittle; their beautifully crystal clear blue pools make some fantastic wild swimming for those brave enough to enter the cold water on nicer days.
This is what the Fairy Pools look like in good weather – the photo credit goes to www.visitscotland.com as we could not be bothered to take the camera out in pouring rain…
From the car park, there are impressive views over the Black Cuillins and the source of the River Brittle. The walk to the pools follows a gravel path gently downhill which we found to be in good condition, despite the treacherous weather. There are plenty of river crossings over stepping stones which makes it more of an adventure, but nothing too challenging. After about 20 minutes, we got to the first and largest waterfall which marked the start of the pools – we were in complete awe as we were trying to take in the breathtaking scenery around us. We were planning to do an 8km round hike in the area, however, unfortunately, the rain and the wind would not stop for a single moment and we both got soaked to the skin after about 20 minutes, despite being kitted out in high-tech ‘waterproof’ hiking gear from head to toe.
…but we did take a selfie to at least brighten our mood!
Upon reaching the top of the pools, we ventured out a little bit further; the dramatic scenery was drawing us in, inviting us to explore it further. We would have loved to continue, however, the weather was deteriorating further with every minute, so we had to call it a day again. Miraculously, we did manage a one hour hike in total, though, approximately 5kms which was just 3 km short of the loop we had originally planned. On the way back, we exchanged some witty remarks with other hikers coming from the opposite way ‘what a beautiful day for a hike’ and ‘good luck mate’, trying to keep our spirits up and foster camaraderie. At the end of the day, you have two choices – you either laugh or smile when everything just seems to conspire against your plans, right?
Neist Point and the Lighthouse
After visiting Dunvegan Castle and its gardens on our last day on the island (and the only dry afternoon), we still had some time before our final dinner – a special treat at the award-winning Three Chimneys Restaurant in Colbost. We decided to drive to the most westerly part of the island (about half an hour from the castle) which was quite an adventure in itself as we were following single track roads, often needing to dodge sheep and other cars. (In fact, on our way back, we came to a halt as a group of sheep were taking over the whole road, as they were being ushered back to their dens by a shepherd dog!)
Dunvegan Castle – the longest inhabited castle in Scotland, the family home of the MacLeod Clan
Finally, the sun decided to come out at Dunvegan Castle – a rare moment worthy to be captured on camera!
When we arrived at Neist Point, the striking cliffs and the sea below us were dressed in the soft colours of dusk – the stunning scenery made our hearts ache even more knowing that was our final evening on the island.
We followed the path from the cliff top car park, down to the lighthouse – it is a concrete path with steps and a railing which makes it an easy walk, and some unfenced cliffs later on. There is only one safe route, so this walk uses the same path both ways down and back. It covers a distance of just over 2 km one way, with the average time to complete the walk being 45 minutes (with no photo stops). Unfortunately, we did not have much time left before our dinner, so we did not venture out that far, otherwise this is THE place to watch the sunset on the island!
Breathtaking views over Neist Point
The walk down to the lighthouse
Tip tips for hiking on the Isle of Skye
My Hubby and I both feel we have some ‘unfinished business’ with the island so will definitely consider returning for more hiking adventures in the future. If this article has convinced you to visit the island, below are some tips I wanted to share to help you get the most out of your hiking trip!
Arranging your visit
- If you are travelling from the UK, the best way to travel is to catch a flight to Inverness and then hire a car from there. The drive from Inverness is around 2 hours. There are petrol stations in Broadford and Portree on the island which are the two biggest towns.
- Make sure to book your accommodation well in advance. The Isle of Skye is becoming hugely popular amongst tourists so hotels, guest houses and Air B&Bs fill up in a blink of an eye. If all else fails, you can always do some wild-camping for a more unique experience (Scotland is the only place it is legal to do so in the UK).
- There are limited options for grocery shopping on the island – Broadford and Portree have a few grocery shops such as Co-op for the basic essentials. Bring your own energy gels, drinks and snack bars for hiking (or peanut butter, in my case).
- The weather is capricious – a sunny morning can unexpectedly turn into a wet day with gale force winds and showers, it is impossible to predict accurately what the day will bring so always take the weather forecast with a pinch of salt.
- The best way to dress for hiking is to layer up. Your hiking kit should include a waterproof jacket, sturdy hiking boots, soft wooly socks designed for walking (not running socks as they will not cover the full height of your walking boots, causing chafing), and cold weather clothes. Leave home your running shoes, plimsolls, sneakers, welly boots, macs and umbrella – let me break it down for you: the Isle of Skye is on the same latitude as Alaska where you would not turn up in your summer clothes, not even in the middle of the summer holiday season.
Now ready to go to Skye! (Photo taken on the beach in Oban, where we stayed overnight before heading off to Skye)
- Avoid cliff-top walks in strong winds; the winds can get so strong that they can tip you out of balance. In any case, do not ever wear loose fitting, flappy raincoats, unless you want to take off like a bird!
- If you are caught in gale force winds, try to stop in a safe place if you can, and wait until they die down before continuing; face away from the wind to protect your eyes from debris.
- Be careful on steep grass slopes and wet rocky surfaces which may be slimy – always wear shoes with a strong grip to prevent slipping. If you are unsure, find another route or use 3 or 4 point contact for more stability.
- Plan out your hiking route in advance and always carry a map with you – do not rely on GPS or maps on your smart phone as signal strength is very weak or non-existent in remote areas.
- Take extra food and water – even shorter distances can turn into longer than expected hikes if the paths are compromised because of bad weather.
- It is always useful to leave a change of clothing and shoes back in the car in case you get really muddy and wet during your hike – believe me, you will be very thankful to yourself!
Have you been on the Isle of Skye? If so, what did you think of it? Let me know in the comments.
Photo credits: all photos except the Fairy Pools one were taken by my wonderful Hubby – thank you, Simon 🙂