The snowy Old Man of Storr | The Fairy Pools | The Old Inn | Family time 💙
The journey to Skye is not an easy one. But it is one I have been doing annually for the last 8 years as I am lucky enough to have family living there giving me the perfect excuse for numerous trips to this beautiful part of the world.
There’s no doubting that the Isle of Skye’s main attraction is it’s stunning scenery. Several Hollywood directors have chosen Skye as the backdrop to their blockbuster films due to its jaw dropping vistas.
I have driven from Bournemouth to Skye (all 14 hours of it) just once. At that was enough for me to decide I would never do it again. It is a hard slog for one person to do on their own unless you have the time to make stops along the way. So, with no direct flights to Inverness (which is the closest airport to Skye) going from the south coast, I have to fly with either Easyjet from Bristol or Gatwick or British Airways from Heathrow. Once in Inverness you then have the choice of hiring a car or catching the coach to complete the last leg of the journey over to the island. My family and friends will know that I usually fully advocate the coach when travelling solo and with return journeys from Inverness to Skye for as little as £35 with Scottish Citylink (www.citylink.co.uk) it is an easy and stress free option, allowing you to gaze freely out of the window and enjoy the scenery. This time however, the flight and coach times did not match up very well and so blissfully unaware of the approaching weather system coming in from the Atlantic, I opted to hire a car instead (Europcar has a desk in the airport terminal building once you arrive).
Filled with jagged mountains and sparkling lochs, the 3-4 hour drive is normally one of my favourite parts of the trip as the breathtaking beauty is unrivalled by anywhere else I have travelled in the world but having been inundated with the recent weather reports and warnings of snow just prior to setting off, I was dreading the journey and beginning to wish I had just booked the coach.
Now don’t get me wrong I am by no means a nervous driver! I drive blue light vehicles for a living and have negotiated the Hai Van Pass on a (very slow) moped in Vietnam, driven on sheer ice roads in Southern Iceland and navigated the vast intersections of both America and Australia. But something about the impending drive from Inverness Airport to the Isle of Skye was making me feel very anxious as I sat at Heathrow Terminal 5 waiting for my flight.
People are curious as to why I always choose the winter months to visit as it can be bleak and desolate and often lead to difficult journeys. But this is my favourite time of year here. The already dramatic and stunning views become even more so as the famed Cuillins and Quirang become draped in snow making for an almost other worldly experience. Plus, it avoids the influx of tourists who clog up the roads and swarm all over my favourite spots.
So was I brave or stupid for attempting the journey amidst severe weather warnings and when for the first time ever, Police Scotland had advised against all travel? I’ll let you decide…..
After a quick 60 minute flight from Heathrow, I had touched down in Inverness. As the aeroplane doors opened and passengers began to disembark I was immediately hit by a wall of icy air. It was COLD. My phone thermometer was registered at -4 and I can only imagine this is how Jon Snow felt when he arrived at The Wall.
Inverness airport is small. So 10 minutes after leaving the plane I had already collected my bag and had the keys to my hire car ready to begin the nerve wracking drive.
As you leave the city and begin to creep past Loch Ness it is almost impossible to keep your eyes on the road as they are continuously drawn to the left in order to try and catch a glimpse of the mythical monster whose residence in the vast waters has been so often documented.
The snowy conditions did make for a more difficult journey, especially meandering though the higher ground at Kintail, but the sun was shining and with it’s new white powdery coat I have never seen Scotland look more beautiful. After mentally ticking off the iconic check points of Urquhart Castle, the Cluanie Inn and Eilean Donan, the Skye Bridge soon came in to view just as the sun was beginning to set. The colours in the evening sky were spectacular and after the anxiety of the drive I decided to stop at Hector’s Bothy (www.hectorskyle.co.uk), one of my favourite spots in the Kyle of Lochalsh, for some tea and home made cake.
Finally crossing the bridge, I continued my journey along the outer edge of Skye, passing the Cuillins and through Portree, until I reached the North East of the island. I wanted to stop and take photographs of the wintery scenes around me but the snow levels were ever increasing as I inched higher up the island so I decided that doing this in my flimsy trainers was not a good idea as I would either get very wet feet or end up on my bottom. My camera would have to wait until I was better prepared and more appropriately dressed.
Four hours later I finally arrived in Staffin and pulled into the familiar driveway of Achtalean, my family’s B&B (www.achtalean.co.uk), where I was greeted by waiting smiling faces, a very happy dog and a roaring fire. My nerves instantly settled and it was time to relax…..
I always sleep well here. It’s so dark and quiet at night and during the winter months it doesn’t get light until gone 8am. Feeling refreshed after a full 12 hours sleep, I excitedly threw back the curtains to reveal that even more snow had settled overnight.
This weather forecast for the day was changeable and the transient snow showers coming in over the Trotternish Ridge meant that I was confined to staying local and at low levels. However, this gave me the perfect excuse to return to some of my favourite places on the island.
The township of Staffin has some of the most photogenic and famous sights on the island. Approximately 20km North East of Portree, it sits quietly in the shadows between the Trotternish Ridge and the Quiraing. Amenities here are few but it certainly makes up for that with its enchanted beauty.
I started the day by heading back South towards Portree (gladly upgrading my tin can hire car for my dad’s 4×4 Landrover) as I wanted to photograph the Old Man O’Storr with it’s tablecloth of cloud and snow. Dominating the skyline from every angle, he stands proudly silhouetted against the backdrop, acting almost like a guard to the gateway of Staffin. As I stood at the edge of the Storr Loch I was not disappointed with the view as I looked back towards the Trotternish Ridge. The whole area was glistening brilliant white and the Old Man was still able to command attention even amongst the surrounding clouds.
The snow had clearly bought out my inner child and it wasn’t long before I was lying on the ground making snow angels, instantly regretting the decision as I was now significantly colder and wet through 🙊
After warming up back in the car, there was time for a quick stop at the Kilt Rock waterfall before finishing the day with some dinosaur footprint hunting at the Staffin Slipway and Staffin Beach.
Found here is a cluster of dinosaur footprints embedded on the sandstone rocks found on the beach. The prints are covered by the sea at high tide and are often covered by sand in the summer. The best time to see them is after a winter storm, when the sea has swept the sand away. The Staffin Museum (www.staffindinosaurmuseum.com) is also worth a visit if you are particularly interested in the history, archaeology, landscape and geology of the area. Opening hours are limited but entry is free and it provides a wealth of information and dinosaur artefacts.
What a difference a day makes…..
The weather system from the previous day had lifted and today we had the most glorious sunshine on Skye.
Yesterday was spent hunting for dinosaur footprints but today I was on the search (again) for the notorious Skye fairies. Heading towards Glenbrittle, the Fairy Pools are the island’s most notorious attraction with millions of visitors arriving each year hoping to catch a glimpse of the tiny winged creatures.
The Fairy Pools are a wonderfully magical place and I tend to visit every time I am on Skye in the hope I will one day spot the ever elusive fairies that are said to inhabit the island. The relatively easy walk down to the pools from the Glenbrittle Road is engulfed by some of the island’s most spectacular scenery with the jagged outline of the Black Cuillins towering high above and the distinctive and almost menacing gashes of Waterpipe Gully slashing their way down the facing slopes. Many people enquire about the local legends associated with the pools and the surprising answer is that there are none. Even the origin of the name remains a mystery and I can only assume that the pools were so called due to their mystical appearance or perhaps after someone luckier than myself that once did spot the fairies taking a dip here.
Although the fairies may have evaded me once again, my spirits were soaring high on a cocktail of sunshine and fresh mountain air.
After stopping to assist some stranded tourists who had managed to get their car stuck in the snow, we arrived at the Old Inn (www.theoldinnskye.co.uk) just as the sun was dipping behind the mountains. The low light was illuminating the nearby loch with a pastel pink hue. What better way to end the perfect day than at my favourite beer garden with the most spectacular views of the Cuillins and amongst family and friends?
As the day turned to night I fondly listened to my dad exchange stories and anecdotes over a Guinness or two with his fellow Mountain Rescue team buddies. It was then a quick pit stop at the local curry house in Portree before home to bed!
The snow had returned with a vengeance today and it was looking very bleak outside. The steep driveway up to the B&B looked more like an ice rink and I swiftly retreated back under my duvet. I took this as a hint from Mother Nature that I should spend the day catching up on some University work.
Just like that the snow was gone! And annoyingly the rain had taken its place.
After a chilled out morning and doing some errands with my family, I headed back to Portree for a walk in the Aros Forest and a wander around the shops.
Still suffering from the foot injury I sustained before my last trip to Budapest meant I was limited on how adventurous the walks could be. I would normally be at the front of the queue to scramble up in to the Cuillins and I am still desperately trying to tick another Munro off my list. But I know my limitations and unfortunately would struggle with anything other than a gentle incline at the moment.
However, the walk up to the top of the forest provided me with some stunning views over Portree and along the Trotternish Ridge.
Portree is home to one of the most attractive ports in Scotland. Its deep, cliff edged harbour filled with fishing boats is circled by multicoloured houses making it an idyllic postcard picture. The shops are quaint and you could easily while away a couple of hours (and pounds)wandering the cobbled streets.
Once again the weather had got the better of us and the rest of the day’s itinerary had to be abandoned due to the endless downpours.
Much to my relief the roads had been completely cleared of any snow and so the early start for the drive back to Inverness was met with much less anticipation than the drive there.
The long journey back to the airport gave me some time to reflect back on all the amazing trips I have had to Skye.
Everything about this island evokes a sense of wonderment and excitement. The legends, myths and fairytales come to life with every step you take and you will soon find your imagination running wild. Images of swimming fairies mischievously playing tricks on the normal folk or pirates smuggling their haul down in the caves of Lealt or dinosaurs magnificently roaming freely over the vast hills are conjured up in your mind as you explore the history of this remote area of the Highlands. It is truly mysterious and mythical here and much of the landscape would not look out of place in Narnia or Middle Earth. I often expect to see an Ork or two run widely past me. Fantasies aside, Skye is also a playground for adrenaline junkies with a host a outdoor activities on offer from cycling, climbing and conquering a Munro (sadly I only have Bruach Na Frithe to my name).
My time here, although hindered by the weather and my foot injury, has on this occasion been filled with nostalgia and relaxation. I still have some unfinished business with those damn fairies and abseiling down the Inaccessible Pinnacle is still firmly on my Bucketlist. I will hopefully make it back to Skye one day soon. However, after eight wonderful years the B&B is on the market for sale as my family have decided to relocate back to the South of England. So I am glad to have been able to have used this trip to revisit many of my favourite places on the island for fear that this may have been my last visit.
As I left the Isle of Skye for potentially one last time it was under the same dramatic skies as when I arrived.
Now, safely back in my home town, I have a heavy heart for the beauty and fond memories that I have left behind but I also feel immense gratitude that I have been lucky enough to call a place that is consistently voted the most beautiful country in the world my second home.
But then again I am biased 😊