September 24-26 2017
Nothing like a rainy day to make you want to get on the road….well not quite, but you gotta do what you gotta do, so we set off for Skye in these not so ideal driving conditions. After our tire blow-out, the mechanic installed our spare tire, a tiny and supposedly “temporary” tire on our rental car. For those who have not read my post on Inverness, I’ll just say we had a flat and we’re limping along on one of those “fake” tires. Our first order of business was to locate a garage that had the right size tire, we were lucky to locate one in Portree, Skye which was our destination. Here I’ll just repeat that getting tire insurance when you rent a car is a must!
But we would not let a little rain or a little tire deter us from exploring, so we set our GPS towards Eileen Donan Castle. This castle was a very scenic stopping point along our route and we arrived just in time for lunch (must have a view to eat well). This 13th century castle in fact is the most photographed castle in Scotland. It was originally built on a small tidal island where three sea lochs (lakes) meet. The castle was the stronghold of the clan Mackenzie and their allies the MacRaes but it was lost and partially destroyed during the last Jacobite uprising in the 1700’s. In 1919 Lt. Co. John MacRae-Gilstrap started the restoration of the castle which included a stone Romanesque style bridge that now ties it to the mainland. The tour of the castle takes about an hour and is worth while to view the restored rooms, decorations and family pictures of the MacRaes, it has a very lived in feeling. It is a popular place for events and weddings. Due to the rain our pictures look dark and gloomy but the location and the surrounding hills are breathtaking. We also enjoyed a nice cozy lunch in the cafe, and visited the gift shop which in my opinion is the best part of any museum tour 😄
From there it was on to The Isle of Skye and our hotel destination, The Cuillin Hills Hotel in Portee, which is the capital of Skye. The rain abated for this part of the trip to afford us beautiful scenery along the way and the entry into Portree is stunning with rollings hills, cobble stone streets and colorful sea front houses. Our hotel was on top of a hill overlooking this scenic harbor and guests were having afternoon drinks on the front lawn enjoying the great views. After a much needed rest we made it downstairs to the lobby bar and enjoyed an excellent single malt whiskey before dinner. The hotel has a turn of the century feel to it with excellent service and a fabulous restaurant. Reservations for dinner are a must and the food is superb only to be rivaled by the excellent views of the harbor, on a sunny day, with the sun hitting the water at just the right angle, it makes it seem as if the boats moored there are floating in the air, truly a site to see.
The next day we set out bright and early to explore the island. There are two loop roads you can take, one headed northeast and the other (bigger loop) on a western direction. We took the latter of the two driving on the A850 west from Portree towards the small town of Stein. When we stayed in Inverness we noticed beautiful sheep rugs all over our guest house which our hostess, Lorraine, told us could be purchased in the town of Stein in the Isle of Skye. In fact this is the only place they can be found as we later confirmed (beware of cheap imitations that can be found in some touristy shops in Portree and other places around Skye) so we were eager to see them and maybe buy one for our home. We found the factory of Skyeskyns and took a short tour of the tannery which was very educational to me as I had no idea how they cured these skins. Our guide explained that these animals are not killed for their skins alone, these sheep have already been sold for their meat so there is no waste. The final process leaves the skins extremely soft and you can purchase a single, double or triple skin. We bought a white triple, wich had some unique brown spots strategically placed to give it more character, and had the skins shipped to our home in the U.S. I can’t wait to set my feet on it as I get up on a cold day.
This entire loop drive, which hugs the coast and takes you through amazingly beautiful countryside, can be easily done as a day drive with plenty of time to stop along the way, take pictures and grab some food. I must warn you that the roads are a bit challenging especially for us that drive on the right side. Just when you are getting the hang of staying on the left side, not blowing up your left side tires on the curb, the Scottish, especially in Skye pull another fast one on you by getting rid of two lane roads and instead making the roads one lane with “passing spaces” placed along the way. The right of way belonging to whoever has a passing space on their side of the road. Confusing, yes, and we were all looking for on coming cars. It was great to have extra pairs of eyes on roads like these and we had Vivian who is Leo’s sister and Jim his brother-in-law with us on this trip, which made for excellent conversation and lots of fun on the road. After Stein we stopped for lunch near Dunvegan Castle which is the most western castle in the Isle of Skye. We didn’t tour the castle itself inside, but rather choosing to admire it from the outside and walking the gardens for picture taking and the views.
No day on our trip through Scotland would be complete without some whiskey tasting and lucky for us there is an excellent distillery on this loop road, that’s the Talisker Distillery located in the village of Carbost. This is a very picturesque fishing village with some nice places to shop and eat. We were a bit rushed because we wanted to get in some shopping in the town of Portree and the stores close at 5 pm, so we didn’t take the tour but picked up an excellent bottle of their Storm Single Malt Whiskey.
We made it back to Portree with plenty of time to shop. There are some excellent stores wth beautiful Scottish wool clothing and scarves etc. and we picked up a few items to bring back. We were able to return to the hotel for a nice happy hour drink outdoors and enjoy the lovely view from their gardens in front of the hotel.
We fell in love wth the Isle of Skye and hope to be able to return and spend more time in this beautiful and remote part of Scotland.