Where? Skye, North West Scotland
Who’d want to go? Those wanting to escape into a children’s book of forests, mountains and monsters
Known for? Stunning mountains, lochs and friendly locals
Creatures to spot? Golden eagles, otters and red kites
Local food? Seafood, seafood, seafood
History? Enough castle ruins and Mesolithic rock to get my archaeologist aunt VERY excited
Ever since my best friend Rosie ran up to me in the playground after a family holiday on the island, I’d wanted to go. She wove stories of fairy pools that turned back time and beastly creatures hidden in the depths of lochs – even the very name Skye itself whispered of mysticism.
Whilst there were no castles in the clouds as my 11-year-old-self imagined, Rosie had not exaggerated. Crossing Skye Bridge and plunging into the famous Cuillin Hills, it was clear Skye was still imbued with some unspoken magic. Just one hour’s drive from east to west and the view shifted dramatically – one moment, muffin-shaped mountains rose gently in the distance, the next the land pinched up into sharp snow-caps, glassy lochs wrapped about their bases.
I finally arrived on the west coast in Carbost, a small village nestled on the shores of Loch Hariport. Staying at the Old Inn Bunkhouse, renowned for its live music and cheap accommodation (from £25pp for a shared dorm), I met a medley of local characters. Manager Ali entertained us with his stories over breakfast, including one tale of a group of retired policemen who’d hire out the whole pub every year and insist on wearing the tartan chair cushions on their heads. “Why?” I asked. He shrugged. “Beats me.”
The village was also home to the Talisker Distillery, a moody building set over a bridge of whisky-coloured water, as if the barrels in its cellars had leaked throughout the centuries. I skipped the whiskey tour, far more interested in the dozens of local artists who had chosen Skye to be their home of inspiration. Picking up a local guide, I left Carbost behind to go on a creative pilgrimage instead.
Playing eenie-meanie-mini-mo with the clusters of craft shops on the map, my finger landed on Russell Sherwood’s photography studio, on the Harlosh Peninsula. Surrounded by hundreds of sunset and thunderstorm landscapes, Russell told us of his younger years of driving top-model prototype cars in secret through the Spanish mountains, before turning to the camera. He was immensely proud to live on this island. “But Skye is becoming busier.” He sighed, wistfully. “I might move further out into the Hebrides.”
It felt as if everyone on Skye had a story to tell. Even the archer who nearly shot me with an arrow on a secluded beach stopped to chat for an hour (after apologising profusely that he hadn’t seen me sitting on that rock, he probably felt obliged to answer all my questions about the local area.)
Leaving Russell and the deadly archer on the west coast, I wound my way up north to Portree, Skye’s largest town. Set in a bay of bobbing fishing boats and pastel-coloured houses, it felt like a Cornish seaside town, with a few extra mountains thrown in for dramatic effect. It was perfect for picking up local produce, browsing bookshops and grabbing a bite in the Relish Deli, selling yummy homemade soups and sandwiches.
My last day, and I drove up on the north east coast in search of a recommended café. The landscape turned jagged and the roads became busier as hillwalkers clambered up The Old Man of Storr, a famous collection of black rocks that reared from the ground like the broken teeth of a fallen giant. But my stomach rumbled, and so I drove on to ‘Pie in the Sky’ café. In a charming tearoom buzzing with conversations from all over the world, I was sent straight to pastry-encrusted heaven.
I’d seen barely a fraction of what the island had to offer, but after my four-day road trip one thing was clear, my 11-year-old’s idea of a magical land hidden in the clouds wasn’t too far from the truth. This is a country where stories are woven into the fabric of the land, as veined with words as it is with water. I’ll be back to hear more.
Pie in the Sky Café: I bought a pie for lunch. And afternoon tea. And then some more for dinner.
The Old Inn, Carbost: Great pub with live music
Old Man of Storr Rocks: A walk to remember
The town of Portree: Restock on local shortbread and fudge
Visit the Fairy Pools: Don’t you want to live forever?
Glenelg Inn: Opposite Skye by the ferry, but worth a pop in for its cosy fire, famous fish and chips and Lola, the resident dog with a princess complex.