Exploring the Isle of Skye in Scotland

Estimated reading time 7 min

As the northernmost island of Scotland, the Isle of Skye has roots in Nordic, Gaelic and even Roman histories. The dramatic landscape has been the home of battles and castles to boot, and today visitors scout out places like Dunvegan Castle. The Scottish Highlands are also home to a wide variety of wildlife including Atlantic puffin and rare mountain hare. A hike along the lochs and lowlands is rewarded by rock pinnacles and ancient ruins. If you are keen on exploring Scotland in all of its natural glory, then the Isle of Skye beckons you.

Hiking From Mountain to Shore

Hiking in the Isle of Skye at Red Cuillin
Red Cuillin

The Isle of Skye is not your typical round island. The coastline is made of jutting peninsulas weaving in and out of narrow lochs. This interesting landscape has made its way inland as you find mountains abound. For true mountaineers, start with the Cuillin, which is Britain’s most daring range. There are actually two Cuillin ranges including the Red Cuillin and the Black Cuillin, the latter of which is the most death-defying at its highest peak of 3,255 feet on Sgurr Alasdair.

Other hiking highlights include the Quiraing that circles around steep slopes of heather and take you to overlooking cliffs. Along the walk are pinnacles and buttresses of rock jutting out of gentle heather, making for a truly awe-inspiring morning jaunt. For hikers less interested in exhaustion, Ben Tianavaig is a short hike on a hill that greets you with coastal views and the occasional herd of sheep passing through.

Storr in the Isle of Skye
Storr

Saving the most famous for last, we have the Storr. This is a rocky hill is actually a landslip aka landslide located on the Trotternish peninsula of the Isle of Skye. Hikers can stroll along the Sanctuary where rocky pinnacles are scattered about, or brave the day and make their way to the Storr’s hill summit.

Waterfalls and Coastline

Kilt Rock - Waterfall in the Isle of Skye
Kilt Rock & Mealt Falls

In addition to being surrounded by water, the Isle of Skye also features some glorious cascades. Start your waterfall adventure at Mealt Falls that emerge from Kilt Rock. This rock formation is constructed of basalt columns that resemble a Scottish kilt in its layers. The rock falls straight down and this is where the Mealt Falls cascades right into the sea.

One interesting feature is the sounds you hear when at the falls. There are these pipes constructed into safety fencing that keep visitors from plunging to their deaths when viewing the falls. Inside these pipes are small holes that happen to pull in wind to create a supernatural noise.

Lealt Falls in the Isle of Skye
Lealt Falls

Lealt Falls is located nearby Mealt Falls, but this waterfall is a whole new experience. Here the water is falling from a gorge that is surrounded by lush greenery and plenty of wildlife. In addition to grazing sheep, you’re likely to see otters, seals and sea eagles in this area. The deep gorge is easily accessible via a short hike and there is a gazing platform for visitors.

History of the Island

Lighthouse in Isle of Skye, ScotlandThe Isle of Skye has been inhabited by dinosaurs, Vikings, Mesolithic hunter-gatherers and several prominent clans including Clan MacLeod. The Vikings may have been the ones to name the island Skye as they referred to it as Skuyo, meaning Cloud Island because of the regular ocean mists. In fact, every winter the fire festival at Dunvegan is celebrated in honor of the Vikings. During this festival, a Viking longboat replica is built only to be set on fire. The rich history of this ancient island can best be explored at any of the local museums.

The Staffin Museum is home to several artifacts including dinosaur fossils found on the island. At the Skye Museum of Island, Life visitors can tour preserved thatched cottages that showcase life on the island in the 18th century. The Colbost Folk Museum is a similar setup where visitors can see replicas of daily life in a black house, which is a traditional Hebridean home.

Isle of Skye’s Castle Life

Dunvegan Castle in the Isle of Skye, Scotland
Dunvegan Castle

But the Isle of Skye inhabitants didn’t depend on thatched cottages and black houses alone. The island is home to several castles each with its own heritage and backstory. The most popular castle on the Isle has to be Dunvegan Castle due to its historic importance. Thewas established in the 13th century with the arrival of the Norse Vikings. It wasn’t until the 19th century that the castle was complete with its Fairy Tower, state apartment, drawbridge and gardens. The castle is the Clan MacLeod ancestral home, along with the supposedly magical Fairy Flag, Sir Rory Mor’s Horn and the Dunvegan Cup.

Another 13th-century medieval castle here is Eilean Donan that sits on the connecting land of three lochs. Built to protect the locals from Viking raiders, the castle remains intact today and is a popular place for weddings and special events. There is a holiday cottage adjacent to Eilean Donan Castle where you can rest in luxury with the castle just outside of your window.

Eilean Donan Castle in the Isle of Skye, Scotland
Eilean Donan

A more modern castle on the Isle of Skye, Armadale Castle is actually the ruins of a country manor. The mansion was constructed in 1790 for the MacDonald family, but today the castle is unoccupied and in disarray. Yet visitors flock to the 20,000-acre estate of the stately albeit abandoned castle to see the gloriously maintained gardens by the Clan Donald Centre. In addition, the Museum of the Isles the Armadale Castle grounds is also home to the Estate where guests can stay in four-star lodging.

Speaking of ruined castles, Caisteal Maol also known as Castle Dunakin is steeped in history. Rumor has it that a Norse princess known locally as Saucy Mary was married the fourth MacKinnon chief Findanus. Today the princess is buried on the Red Cuillin, while visitors can see the ruins of her castle at Kyleakin. The 14th-century castle, or what is left of it, attracts visitors who dare to make the slippery climb up an unmarked path.

Nearby Attractions in the Scottish Highlands

Calanais Standing Stones - Scotland
Calanais Standing Stones

While you are in the area of the Isle of Skye consider a jaunt over to the Isle of Mull. Here you’ll find a similar landscape and history including castles like Victorian Torosay Castle and Duart Castle. This Hebridean island also features luxury activities including water sports, golfing and horseback riding. It is the perfect complement to a stay in the rugged Isle of Skye.

In addition, there are several other islands within boat hopping distance including the Isles of Iona, Lewis, Staffa and the Outer Western Isles of St. Kilda. In fact, the Calanais Standing Stones closely resemble and were built at the same time as the stone monument at Stonehenge.

As you plan your visit to the Isle of Skye, prepare yourself for the gorgeous beauty of this serene landscape. It is truly a world of wonder that is beyond anything that most people experience in a lifetime. You get the opportunity to explore nature and ancient history in a Scottish wilderness. So what are you waiting for? It’s time to pick your date and plan your itinerary for your Scottish Highlands vacation in the Isle of Skye and nearby Hebridean islands. Start planning your Scotland vacation now. 

 

Learn more about Scotland with these blogs:

Insider’s Guide to Scotland

A Few of Our Favorite Places to Visit in Scotland

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