Twenty years ago I discovered a magical place called the Isle of Skye. A small ferry type boat took about 20 of us young and impressionable folks from mainland Scotland to Skye. We landed in a quaint and quiet little fishing town called Kyleaken. An even smaller group of us decided to take the island van – tour. This tour stirred my soul and brought back my child-like wonder. It was my first time realizing since a young girl that fairies do exist. They live in Skye’s fairy glen, swim in its fairy pools and cross its fairy bridge. It was an enchanting land of steep cliffs, castles and rugged yet brilliant scenic views.
Fast forward 20 years to my second visit. I had to go back to the place that stirred my soul and brought back child-like wonder. In my past visit I had not hiked and this time I wanted to explore the Isle in a new way. However I didn’t expect what I would soon encounter… bus load after bus load after bus load of people. What had happened to the small van – tours? Word of this magic Isle had spread like wild fire and everyone wanted to experience the Isle of Skye and where its fairies live. I was so happy I had had the opportunity to experience Skye and its magical places without the crowds. Unfortunately it no longer had the same magical feel. However, it still was the same enchanting land. Luckily most of the tourists weren’t into hitting the trails, so off to the trails I went!
My home base for two nights was the cute town of Portree shown in the three photos below and labeled in the map above (map is from Lonely Planet). From there I took buses and taxis to the start of two different hikes. My last night I went back to Kyleakin, where I found a couple of short hikes.
The first night I arrived in Portree I enjoyed not just warm summer weather, but a warm welcome from the town’s Scottish bagpipe band, as well as a not so warm welcome from a few midgies (small Scottish mosquito-like bugs). The streets were adorned with colorfully painted homes, B&B’s, hotels, stores and restaurants. I managed to lock down a place to stay for two nights, even though online it showed the town was fully booked.
Day Hike #1: Old Man of Storr
Mileage: 3-miles of various trails when starting from the carpark
After waking up later than planned, I missed the morning shuttle bus to the start of the Old Man of Storr hike. (During the summer months bus 57 runs 4 times daily from Portree to and from the Old Man of Storr and Quiraing hiking trails). Reluctantly I forked over 15 British pounds for a taxi ride vs. 5 British pounds for the bus. The Old Man of Storr hike is one of the most popular hikes among tourists on the Isle, so if you can go early morning for sunrise or late evening for sunset you will miss the crowds. I made it just in time for the mad house of people. However, as I climbed higher, I noticed only those in actual hiking clothing made it to the top. The heeled dress boots didn’t quite cut it. And yes, a woman was hiking in dress boots!
The Storr Mountain is the highest point on the Trotternish Ridge at 2359 feet high. It is a 984 foot thick sandwich of around 24 layers of volcanic rock formed between 55 and 61 million years ago. (interesting facts I found on a sign at the trail-head).
There are about 5 kilometers or 3.1 miles of well kept trails in this area that start from the car park where the bus from Portree drops you. When you get close to the top of the trail, hold onto your hat as a tunnel of wind that flows between two steep points almost knocks you off the trail.
You will probably want to spend a good two hours enjoying this beautiful scenic area. Take some snacks and the bus schedule so you don’t miss the last bus back to Portree. I decided I didn’t want to wait for the last bus and finding no off-road foot path, I walked the main road back to town. I enjoyed the 7-mile walk, but it’s definitely not the safest option with cars whizzing past you, nor one I would do again.
I highly recommend this Old Man of Storr hike – a must do when on the Isle of Skye. For those of you looking to hike more than 3 miles, you can continue along a trail that takes you to the Summit. Check out “walkhighlands” (http://walkhighlands.co.uk) detailed directions of that trail.
Day Hike #2: Quiraing
Mileage: Starting from the Car Park, 4.4 miles round trip, starting from the bus stop drop off and back add 2.5 miles
My second day on the Isle of Skye I decided to explore the Quiraing area, also part of the Trotternish Ridge which was formed by a massive landslip creating high cliffs. The same bus (57) that takes you to the Old Man of Storr hike, continues on down the road for more stops, one being the Quiraing loop hike drop-off. From the bus stop it is about a 20 to 30 minute walk up a winding road to a car park where the hike starts. Be sure to let the bus driver know that you want to do the Quiraing hike so when your stop comes he/she will point you in the right direction.
The actual hike is a 6.8km loop taking about 2 hours with no stops. However, hiking in this area is mesmerizing. You may find your pace slowing, your heart opening and a desire to sit and enjoy the enchanting surroundings take over. You could end up spending several more hours than intended “walking” this loop. If you love taking photos you will be in photographer heaven. Unfortunately my photos do not do this place justice, and I believe the only thing that probably does, is being there in person! It really is about the feeling you get as you hike through this mossy green wonderland. Do I recommend this hike? Absolutely! Don’t miss it!
For more details of this impressive hike check out “walkhighlands” section by section description here.
Day Hike #3 – (Combo hike): Kyleakin’s Short Castle Hike & The Kyleakin Trails / Slighean Caol Àcainn
After spending the night in a stuffy camping trailer with about 8 others I was ready for fresh air and coffee. Why was I staying in a trailer you ask? Well, silly me thought it would be fun to make reservations at the same friendly hostel I stayed at 20 years ago (Skye Backpackers). What I didn’t know is that in order to make room for all the new tourists, they had acquired a couple of old camping trailers and Sheri was lucky enough to land a bed in one of them. Before I left for my days hike, I made sure to cancel my second night and book a bus back to mainland Scotland as the Isle’s crowds didn’t leave any B&B or hotel rooms empty.
I picked up coffee at the town’s tiny general store and then walked the half mile to the town’s castle called Caistol Maol, also known as Bare Castle. The walk takes you over a waterway and by cute Scottish homes, till you reach a more rugged path past a beach leading to the ruins. It’s a great wake-up / warm-up hike to get you ready for your next hike of the day. The hikes only way-marker came at the last 200 meters to the castle. Start this hike from the general store and head in the direction of the castle. You will figure out how to get there; it’s not hard! If you visit Kyleakin don’t miss this one mile round-trip hike.
My next hike of the day found me walking to the opposite side of town and then almost out of town to a trail system located directly behind Kyleakin (about a mile walk). On the back side of town are two trails called the Kyleakin trails.
I took the shorter 1.5 mile trail as I had a bus to catch mid-day. This trail takes the trekker uphill through mixed woodland to spectacular viewpoints over Kyleakin, the Isle of Raasay and north to Cuillin Mountains – popular hiking mountains. (If I was staying a couple more days on the Isle I would have gone on a couple of day hikes in the Cuillin Mountains.) The second trail takes you to the same view points, but also through open moorland and conifer trees prior to the climb. This adds about 3/4 of a mile to your total mileage. If you have the time, I would recommend the longer trail. Both trails are very easy and well marked.
Do I recommend this hike? If you are in Kyleakin, yes, but I wouldn’t go out of your way to do this hike. I regret not heading to Cuillin Mountains.
To find more hiking trails on the Isle of Skye, such as in the Cuillin Mountains, I highly recommend going to this site: https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/ You won’t just find hikes on the Isle of Skye here, but day hikes and long distance hikes all over Scotland. Enjoy!
Next up… trekking in Iceland.
Until then keep on trekking!