By Eloise Birtwhistle
The landscapes of Western Europe may just be a flight away from the UK, but some of the most unusual and dramatic places of natural beauty are right here in the Scottish Highlands and Islands.
This April, I was lucky enough to spend a Week on the Isle of Skye – something I would recommend to anyone interested in the great outdoors.
There are several ways to travel up to Skye from Glasgow. Personally, I took the bus, which is the longest and, probably, least comfortable option. However, it is also by far the cheapest and the journey up through Scotland is beautiful in itself. My bus ticket included a student discount and cost me £40 for a return from CityLink.
Unfortunately, the main means of accommodation on Skye are Bed and Breakfasts (BnBs), which are relatively expensive. An alternative is taking your own tent and wild camping, which is legal anywhere in Scotland and free. Campers should be warned, though, that this is far from luxurious and may lead to a cold and restless night. I decided to spend the money to stay in BnBs, which I found independently online or through the website airbnb.co.uk.
There are buses between Skye’s villages that I relied on a lot while there. Using the buses is the cheapest option but requires careful planning as they are not regular. Also, the buses will not take you to many of the natural sites that make Skye what it is.
Another option is to hire a car once you’re there. I chose to do this for one day, although you can do so for longer. I found that it is also possible to hire a car with a non UK or EU driving license, but you must be over 21.
What to Do and Where to Go
Now for the fun stuff! Skye has so much to offer, but here are my top five favourite things I did while there.
Portree is the largest town on Skye and a lovely example of the kind of Scottish harbours often seen on the islands. When I arrived I took the afternoon to explore this pretty place’s shops, cafes and viewpoints. From a tower on a hill above the harbour I had a great view of Portree’s colourful buildings and boats, as well as being able to see the Old Man of Storr beyond. I then walked around the hill and watched the sunset across the water and hills before a delicious meal in one of Portree’s many restaurants.
Four: The Fairy Pools
While I was staying in Carbost, on the west side of the island, I took a day trip to the Fairy Pools. This series of waterfalls and pools at the foothills of Skye’s Black Cuillin Mountains are each a little different from the last and continuingly delightful. The water has run off the mountains that surround the Fairy Pools and, as a result, it is clear, pure and a gorgeous green.
Three: Staffin Beach
Staffin Beach, at the top of Skye, has some great sea views and walks surrounding it. However, it gets a place in my top five for one, very special, reason. If you’re lucky, you will be able to find the 65 million year old dinosaur footprints that are fossilised in the rocks of this beach. Although these incredible fossils are often hidden by either the tide or the sand of the beach, a combination of ensuring I visited at low tide and perfect weather conditions meant I was able to find them. The footprints are clear and impressive and I would highly recommend the experience of being able to walk exactly where dinosaurs have once been.
Two: The Old Man of Storr
Portree is a good base for some of the most famous walks on Skye, including the Old Man of Storr. Personally, I went to the Old Man of Storr on the day that I hired a car and the drive was very quick. The walk itself is easy and the views at the top are stunning. When I went, it was misty and a bit wet, but the experience was still well worth it. For me, the views were even more dramatic in the mist.
One: The Fairy Glen
The Fairy Glen gets my top spot because it is unlike anywhere I have ever been in the world. Not sign-posted, but walking distance up the road from Uig, this place has a truly magical feel. After so many dramatic and rugged landscapes, going to the Fairy Glen right at the end of my trip was a surprising and special experience. I’ve decided to not put up any pictures of this miniature environment as it is can’t really be captured on camera. You’ll just have to go to Skye and see it for yourself!