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Skye

The Isle of Skye is the second largest of the Hebridean islands lying of the north west coast of Scotland.

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Visible spectrum image of the Isle of Skye captured by the US Landsat 7 remote sensing satellite from a height of 705km (440 miles).
Visible spectrum image of the Isle of Skye captured by the US Landsat 7 remote sensing satellite from a height of 705km (440 miles).

In 2007 'National Geographic' surveyed 111 islands worldwide that they considered to be "in excellent shape, relatively unspoiled, and likely to remain so." The Isle of Skye ranked fourth.

Skye is famous for the wide variety of geology that can be found so small an area. That same geology has given us magnificent mountain ranges, sparkling lochs and of course outstanding views. In the early morning these are draped with mist. It will therefore come as little surprise that the island is commonly known as the misty isle. Skye is an island of kings, legends and romance. Famed for modern day hospitality from the 14,000 occupants it is little wonder that it so popular with tourists today.

The island is approximately 80km (50 miles) long and varies between 12km (7 miles) to 40km (25 miles) wide with an area of approximately 1,812sq km (700 square miles).

The coastline is so indented that Skye could be described as five peninsulas radiating from a central point. Indeed no point on Skye is more than 8km (5 miles) from the sea. Each of the five areas has a unique character which is further enhanced by the contrasting adjacent areas. This all contributes to the magic of Skye. Four of the five peninsulas Duirinish, Minginish, Trotternish and Waternish have Norse names. The fifth, Strath, is parish name and is centred on Broadford but including the islands of Scalpay and Pabay. It is in Strath that Blaven lies.

Origin of the name

There are many wildly differing opinions on the derivation of the name of the island. The oldest form of the name is 'Scetis' or 'Scitis', as mentioned by Ravenna. In Adamnan's "Life of St Columba" it is referred to as 'Scia.' In the Dean of Lismore's book it appears as 'Clah Sgith' - the plain of the Scots. The Norse wrote variously about 'Skyd', 'Skyda' and 'Scaia.' The Rev Dr John MacPherson of Sleat believed that the name comes from the Norse words 'sky' and 'ey' meaning 'cloud island' but others think that it comes from another Norse word meaning 'shield.' Pennnt and Jameson both thought it came from the Norwegian 'Ski', a mist. James Buchanan in his "Defence of the Scots Highlanders" claims that the origin is Celtic, from Skia - a shield, skian, dirk or a sword, and 'neach', a people. Pinkerton however agues that 'Skia', corruptly called Skye, is named after 'Skua', one of The Faroes.

There is a further theory that the name is derived from the Celtic work 'Skeitos' or the Gaelic word 'sgiath' meaning wing. This view may be supported by looking at the amoeba-like shape of the island on a map. Dean Monro writing in 1549 first advanced this theory though quite how the early inhabitants knew this before the days of accurate mapping is unclear. Other derivations include the Celtic word 'sci' meaning cut and indented, a perfect description of Skye's coastline, the Gaelic work 'sgith' meaning Scots, Celtic 'skia' and 'neach' meaning sword people or the Norse 'skit', a tablet or log used during their occupation. Others reckon that the winged temple of Apollo had among the Hyperboreans lain in Skye - hence winged isle. Ossian always referred to Skye as Eilean a' Cheo - the Isle of Mist.

Brief history

Archaeological evidence suggests that Skye was first populated around 4,000 BC by Neolithic farmers from Europe though there are suggestions that Mesolithic nomads reached the Western Isles 2,000 years earlier. The early Celtic occupants have left behind many castles and brochs (a type of Scottish fort).

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The remnants of a chambered cairn by the side of the B8083 road from Broadford to Torrin and Elgol. Beinn na Caillich 732m (2,400 feet) is in the background.
The remnants of a chambered cairn by the side of the B8083 road from Broadford to Torrin and Elgol.

The Vikings were early tourists to the island in 794 AD though they did overstay their welcome by several hundred years! In 875 Norwegian settlers fled from the revolution in their native land to the islands of north and west Scotland. Over the next 30 years Norway and the settlers frequently clashed before something resembling peace was achieved.

In 1098 King "Magnus Barelegs" of Norway, attacked and took control of the islands quelling an uprising in which the Norse viceroy had been killed. Olave the Red was appointed viceroy and named "King of Man."

In 1263 Olave the Black appealed to King Haco of Norway for help in repelling the attacks from the Scottish mainland. The King sent a fleet of 120 ships from Bergen mooring at Kyleakin (Kyle of Haco). The fleet, joined by the barons and princes of the isles, set sail intent of invading Scotland. The fleet was defeated in August at the Battle of Largs.

Skye remained independent of the Scottish Parliament until the signing of the treaty of Perth in 1266.

It was following the Battle of Culloden in 1746 that the most famous visitor to the isle arrived - in disguise. Following the battle, Prince Charlie Stuart was in hiding and dressed as a maid was smuggled in to the island by Flora MacDonald. You can still toast 'Bonnie Prince Charlie' Stuart with a glass of his Drambuie liqueur. He gifted the recipe to the then owner of the Broadford Hotel - at the junction of the road to Blaven. Sadly Drambuie is now made just outside Edinburgh.

The capital of Skye is Portree which literally means 'Kings Port' following a visit by King James V. Broadford is the second largest community on the island.

Climate

Skye suffers from the stigma Scotland and particularly the Highlands carries for continuous rainfall and mist punctuated only by gale force winds and heavy snow falls. A cynic will point out that the Skye is not known as the misty isle for purely romantic reasons. The same cynic will point out that if it not raining it is just about to rain. Metrological records disprove this. For the 12 years between January 1996 and December 2008 the weather station at Lusa recorded rain on only 75% of those days! Indeed in 2009, after rainfall on St. Swithin's Day (July 15th) that according to the myth triggers a further 40 days of rain, Lusa went on to record 40 continuous days of rainfall. It is not that simple however.

Much of Skye's weather is moulded by the North Atlantic depressions that pass near or over the island. Inland temperatures are influenced by the sea temperatures and the strength and direction of the wind. With a heavily indented coastline and changing terrain it is not surprising to find that at any given point in time the weather can vary significantly across the island.

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Temperature highs and lows by month. Averaged over 12 years to December 2008.
Temperature.
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Precipitation average by month. Averaged over 12 years to December 2008.
Precipitation.
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Wind speed average by month. Averaged over 12 years to December 2008.
Wind speed.
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Wind direction. Averaged over 12 years to December 2008.
Wind direction.
 UnitsJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Average temperature°F41.541.543.247.150.755.257.257.955.250.245.942.1
Minimum temperature°F38.337.037.941.243.749.552.352.549.645.742.338.7
Maximum temperature°F45.046.048.753.457.660.862.263.160.455.049.545.5
Average wind-speedMPH11.110.69.89.18.38.98.28.38.68.710.79.6
Accumulated precipitationInches6.74.03.93.03.04.13.23.95.87.16.47.4
Days with precipitation [?]Days26.621.821.820.017.821.322.122.923.024.426.425.0
Frost days [?]Days5.66.95.61.50.30.00.00.00.00.41.16.1
Days with snowDays0.60.62.40.20.00.00.00.00.00.00.00.8
Snow depthInches0.40.20.20.00.00.00.00.00.00.00.00.9
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Temperature highs and lows by month. Averaged over 12 years to December 2008.
Temperature.
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Precipitation average by month. Averaged over 12 years to December 2008.
Precipitation.
Click to enlarge
Wind speed average by month. Averaged over 12 years to December 2008.
Wind speed.
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Wind direction. Averaged over 12 years to December 2008.
Wind direction.
 UnitsJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Average temperature°C5.35.36.28.410.412.914.014.412.910.17.75.6
Minimum temperature°C3.52.83.35.16.59.711.311.49.87.65.73.7
Maximum temperature°C7.27.89.311.914.216.016.817.315.812.89.77.5
Average wind-speedKPH17.817.115.814.613.314.313.213.313.814.017.315.5
Accumulated precipitationmm169.6102.498.676.776.3103.180.098.0146.6181.4161.6188.5
Days with precipitation [?]Days26.621.821.820.017.821.322.122.923.024.426.425.0
Frost days [?]Days5.66.95.61.50.30.00.00.00.00.41.16.1
Days with snowDays0.60.62.40.20.00.00.00.00.00.00.00.8
Snow depthcm1.10.60.40.00.00.00.00.00.00.00.02.4
A summary by month of 12 years of weather observations at Lusa, Isle of Skye. The data covers the period January 1996 to December 2008 and is courtesy of www.weatheronline.co.uk

Skye averages 1,200 hours of sunshine per annum, more than many areas of the Scottish mainland. Average rainfall across the island is around 120cm (47 inches) per annum whilst on the mountains it is a significantly higher 300cm (118 inches) per annum. The latter emphasises the importance of checking the local weather forecast before heading for the hills.

The climate is cool rather than cold. The north the island is drier than south whilst the east is warmer than west. The driest weather occurs during the spring with summer being slightly wetter, but not always. Average summer temperatures of 16°C (59°F) whilst the winters are mild and wet, again not always!

You can find the latest weather observation from Lusa and the forecast for the next three days on the weather page. The same page also lists a number of amateur weather stations on or around Skye, some equipped with webcams.

Getting to Skye

One of the best ways to travel to the misty Isle of Skye is by train. Although Skye itself does not have any railway lines (it once had three freight-only narrow-gauge lines) ScotRail operate regular rail services to two mainland stations which are only a short hop from the island itself.

From Glasgow you can travel the West Highland Line to Mallaig. In summer you can travel in nostalgic style on 'The Jacobite', a steam hauled train service running between Fort William and Mallaig. From Mallaig make the one hour ferry crossing 'over the sea to Skye' by Caledonian MacBrayne (affectionately known as CalMac) ferry to Armadale.

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Kyle of Lochalsh railway station with the Isle of Skye in the background. During 2009/2010 60,164 passengers started or ended their journey here making it the 1,788 busiest of 2,525 stations in the UK.
Kyle of Lochalsh railway station with the Isle of Skye in the background. During 2011/2012 66,270 passengers started or ended their journey here making it the 1,801st busiest of 2,533 stations in the UK.

A longer but worthwhile alternative route is to travel from Glasgow to the capital of the Highlands, Inverness. From Inverness take the train along the Kyle Line to Kyle of Lochalsh. The views from the train on the last section of the line are stunning. If you are interested in knowing more about the history of the Skye railway visit Ewan Crawford's excellent site on the Dingwall and Skye Railway.

If travelling by road from Central Scotland you have two popular routes to choose from; the scenic route via the A82 road through Crianlarich and the slightly less interesting A9 road from Perth.

The route via Crianlarich slightly shorter at 296km (184 miles) from Glasgow to the Skye side of the Skye Bridge. Highlights are undoubtedly Loch Lomond and the dominance and proximity of the mountains through Glencoe. The Perth route feels faster because there is less to look at on the A9. This is a good thing because you will need at least two eyes to avoid the drivers breaking the legal speed limit and indulging in reckless overtaking manoeuvres. The drive from the distillery town of Dalwhinnie towards Fort William is more sedate, skirting Loch Laggan with its views across to Ardverikie House, better known as Glenboggle House in the long-running BBC TV drama series 'Monarch of the Glen.' Both routes meet around Fort William where you face a difficult choice.

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Camas Aird nam Fiasgan, Morrar with the Isle of Rùm in the distance.
Camas Aird nam Fiasgan, Morrar with the Isle of Rùm in the distance.

Follow 'The Road to the Isles' from Fort William to Mallaig and you will pass through Glenfinnan with its famous 21-arch curving railway viaduct. The viaduct was in its day the largest concrete structure in the world. Today it is better known for its regular appearances in the Harry Potter film franchise.

Nearby is the monument to the 1745-46 Jacobite rebellion capped by a figure that many believe is Bonnie Prince Charlie. It is not. On the final stretch whistling the theme from the film 'Local Hero' is mandatory as you pass the white silvery sands of Morar shortly before reaching at Mallaig where the CalMac ferry awaits to take you over the sea to Skye. Cue another song.

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The familiar lines of Eilean Donan Castle as seen on shortbread tins everywhere.
The familiar lines of Eilean Donan Castle as seen on shortbread tins everywhere.

Alternatively enjoy the A82 as it climbs away steeply from Thomas Telford's Spean Bridge past Scott Sutherland's poignant bronze Commando Memorial before dropping back down to hug the shore of Loch Lochy. At Invergarry you turn left on to the A87, regarded as one of the best "drivers roads" in the United Kingdom. The road climbs up to 360m (1,200 feet) rewarding you with spectacular views of the lochs of Glen Garry. Passing the artificially enlarged Loch Clunnie, the five sisters of Kintail, Loch Duich and the elegant Eilean Donan Castle you arrive at Kyle of Lochalsh and the Skye Bridge.

Skye by air

At present it is not possible to fly directly to the Isle of Skye by scheduled air service. The best option currently available is to fly in to Inverness Airport and travel onwards by road or rail to Skye.

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From 1935 until 1972 aircraft from Glasgow Renfrew Airport landed at low tide on this beach at Glen Brittle. Flights transferred to the new airstrip at Ashaig near Broadford.
From 1935 until 1972 aircraft from Glasgow landed at low tide on this beach at Glen Brittle.

The first regular passenger flight to Skye landed on the beach at Glen Brittle on 5th December 1935. Operated by twin-engined six-seater de Havilland DH84 Dragons of Northern and Scottish Airways, and with a flying time of under two hours, aircraft flew outwards from Glasgow Renfrew Airport on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings returning on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday afternoons - all times subject to the tide of course. This arrangement came to an end in April 1972 with the construction of a permanent airstrip at Ashaig, 5.5km (3.5 miles) east of Broadford, by The Royal Engineers of the British Army. Loganair operated weekday services between Glasgow and Ashaig using twin-engine DHC Twin Otter aircraft until the Government withdrawal of operating subsidies in 1988 made the route uneconomic.

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A bleak and deserted 771m (2,530 feet) runway 11/25 at Ashaig, Broadford. When this photograph was taken in 2006 the Portacabin-style terminal building that stood far left had been demolished but has subsequently been replaced by a high-security shipping container "building." The runway lighting is a recent addition to support air ambulance operations.
A bleak and deserted runway at Ashaig, Broadford.

Today Ashaig airstrip continues to serve air ambulance flights and perform a role as a refuelling point for Coastguard and Royal Air Force rescue helicopters. It remains a popular destination for light and microlight aircraft from around Scotland. Bizarrely the airfield briefly appeared in the opening minutes of the 1980 Hollywood blockbuster 'Flash Gordon.' It was the venue for the Isle of Skye Music Festival in May 2006 and 2007.

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A Cessna C172NA from Liverpool departs Ashaig airstrip for the short hop to Plockton.
A Cessna C172NA from Liverpool departs Ashaig airstrip for the short hop to Plockton.

Since 1988, and on an almost annual basis, consultants have been engaged, plans formulated, debated and shelved. A recurring theme is the re-introduction of flights to Ashaig but only if an estimated £11m to £48m (US $18m-$80m) is spent on infrastructure improvements, specifically lengthening the runway. A constraining factor is that current UK regulations do not permit the use of single-engine commercial aircraft operations in conditions of poor visibility. This limits the types of aircraft that can be used to ageing and rarer twin-engine types like the Twin Otter; aircraft manufacturers are simply not building suitable aircraft for this route as the single-engine rule does not apply to much of Europe and North America. Wilder ideas include the building of a new airport near Portree capable of accommodating low cost airlines and Boeing 737 sized jet aircraft.

In spite of the single-engine limitation, trials by Loch Lomond Seaplanes in February 2009 of a nine-passenger, Cessna 208 seaplane service between the Glasgow Science Centre and Portree harbour were deemed successful but no further plans for a permanent re-introduction of scheduled services to Skye have been announced.

Over the sea to Skye

The modern way of arriving on to the island is by shuttle bus over the Skye Bridge which bridges the narrows between Kyle of Lochalsh and the island. Before 1995 it was different and Skye truly was an island.

As an island the only way of making the crossing from the mainland of Scotland to Skye was by boat. In the early 17th century Lauchlan MacKinnon was granted charters in 1616 and 1627 to place a ferry in the water.

From 1841 until October 1995 you could hop on a ferry and enjoy the short crossing to Kyleakin on the Isle of Skye. Sadly this is now a distant memory. In 1968 a study proposed bringing the narrows by suspension bridge. With a central span of 1,200 feet and costing £2.9m (US $4.8m), it was estimated that the bridge would take only three years to build and be operation by 1974. It was October 1995 before a swept arch concrete bridge was finally built, not with public money but with private money from Britain, Germany and America. Kyleakin is now completely bypassed.

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The Skye Bridge from Kyle of Lochalsh.
The Skye Bridge from Kyle of Lochalsh.

The small island of Eilean Bàn acts as a stepping stone for the Skye bridge. The six-acre island was bought in 1963 by Gavin Maxwell (1914-1969), author of 'Ring of Bright Water.' He planned to turn the island into a zoo for indigenous west highland wildlife. He lived there for a short time in 1968 after his house at Sandaig was destroyed by fire, but ill health prevented him realising his dream and he died at Broadford hospital in September 1969. Maxwell's otter Teko is buried on the island which since 1998 has been managed by the Eilean Bàn Trust. The trust comprising of the local communities of Kyle and Kyleakin plus the Born Free Foundation, have turned the island in to an otter and wildlife sanctuary. Leaving the island to the right is a lighthouse built in 1857. It was designed by David and Thomas Stevenson, father of novelist and poet Robert Louis Stevenson. After 136 years of service the lighthouse was decommissioned by the Northern Lighthouse Board in 1993 with ownership being transferred to the Eilean Bàn Trust in 2011.

Next off to your left you'll spot the ruins of Castle Moil behind Kyleakin. At night the ruins are easy to spot thanks to the floodlighting installed a couple of years ago. It is reckoned that the castle was built some time in the 15th or 16th century though legend has it that it was built by a Norwegian Princess who became known as "Saucy Mary." She strung a large chain across the straits and demanded a toll from passing ships - except Norwegian vessels which passed free of charge. How she overcame the engineering difficulties of moving such a large chain, and keeping it taught is lost in the mists of time and legend.

The castle, abandoned in the early 1600s fell in to a state of disrepair and was badly damaged by storms in 1949 and 1989. Recent work has ensured that the remains of the castle have been stabilised.

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From January 1998 frequent Skye Bridge users could buy books containing 20 discounted on-way tickets like this one. This single crossing ticket for a car cost the equivalent of £2.86 compared to the normal toll of £5.70 during the summer months or £4.70 over the winter. This ticket expired the day after tolls were abolished.
From January 1998 frequent Skye Bridge users could buy books containing 20 discounted on-way tickets like this one. This ticket expired the day after tolls were abolished.

Despite the economic importance of the bridge to the area it has been surrounded in controversy with the highest toll charges in the United Kingdom and indeed, at the time, the highest toll per mile anywhere in the world. A nine year protracted and at times bitter campaign of protest and non-payment followed, spearheaded by the Skye and Lochalsh Against Tolls (SKAT) movement. Finally in June 2004 the Scottish Parliament announced that tolls were to be abolished by the end of the year and, to the surprise of many, they were on 21st December 2004. (Incidentally by early 2008 tolls on Scotland's three other toll bridges were abolished).

There are still two ferry alternatives to the bridge over the sea to Skye though with the abolition of the bridge tolls the viability of these services is now in doubt so use them while you can!

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'The Glenachulish' at Kylerhea.
'The Glenachulish' at Kylerhea.

Heading south there is the vehicle and passenger carrying Glenelg Ferry. 'The Glenachulish' used to operate on Loch Leven south of Fort William until displaced by the opening of the Ballahullish bridge in 1975. It is capable of carrying up to six cars and swinging them through 180 degrees on a manually operated swing deck, believed to be the only ferry of its type left in the world. The ferry makes the five minute crossing between the palindrome village of Glenelg and Kylerhea during the summer months only. This stretch of water is the narrowest point between Skye and the mainland creating a vicious tidal race like a river in spate. Despite this hazard it was traditionally the main crossing point to Skye and was used for hundreds of years for cattle drives to the mainland. This was the route that Dr Samuel Johnson and James Boswell took in 1773. From Kylerhea a hilly and winding single-track road takes you on to the island and is an interesting challenge for car drivers used to city and motorway driving. Not recommended for caravans!

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She may not be pretty but she is very practical. During the busy summer months the MV 'Coruisk', plies the waters between Mallaig and Armadale carrying up to 40 cars and 249 passengers at a time.
She may not be pretty but she is very practical. During the busy summer months the MV 'Coruisk', plies the waters between Mallaig and Armadale carrying up to 40 cars and 249 passengers at a time.

Further south is the popular Caledonian MacBrayne Mallaig to Armadale ferry. This service carries vehicles and passengers throughout the year, taking around 30 minutes to make the crossing.

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A handbill for the 1951 summer sailings between Mallaig and Armadale by the "twin-screw MV Blaven."
A handbill for the 1951 summer sailings between Mallaig and Armadale by the "twin-screw MV Blaven."

Since 2004 the summer service has been operated by the MV 'Wedding Cake' 'Coruisk.' Her mirror-image bow and stern design plus the misleadingly top heavy design means that she is not a classic beauty but she makes up in practicality what she lacks in looks. She can do the crossing facing in either direction allowing up to 40 vehicles to roll on and one end and roll off at the other. During the winter months she is replaced by the smaller, sophisticated MV 'Lochnevis' built along more traditional lines but requiring vehicles to reverse on to and drive off the 16-vehicle deck. Many an entertaining minute can be had enjoying the diverse range of reversing skills demonstrated by car drivers.

In addition to deputising for the 'Coruisk' during the winter months, the 'Lochnevis' runs the lifeline service throughout the year from Mallaig to a group of four islands known collectively as 'The Small Isles'; Canna, Eigg, Rùm and Muck. It is well worth taking the time out to experience a landing or non-landing Small Isle cruise to these islands. Caledonian MacBrayne - usually shortened affectionately to just CalMac - timetables and fares for all of their ferry services can be found on the CalMac website.

A new seasonal Skye passenger ferry service started on 1st June 2004, taking 1½ hours to travel the 50km (31 miles) from Gairloch to Portree. Unfortunately the Skye built MV 'Spirit of Skye' operated by 6° West - named after the line of longitude crossed by the ferry - proved unsuitable for the sea conditions and the service was suspended after three months. The vessel relocated to Loch Ness and successfully operated the 'Loch Ness Express' to Inverness until 2007 when she was sold and flown to Kazakhstan for conversion in to a Presidential launch. Attempts by 6° West in the Spring of 2007 to re-introduce the Gairloch to Portree service with a new vessel sadly came to nothing.

Driving on Skye

Special care should be taken when driving around the island. Some visitors (and locals) are apt to treat the twisting and narrow roads as northern extensions to the mainland motorway network and drive at the sort of speeds that can only come from the certainty of knowing that nobody and nothing else is on the road ahead.

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Sweeping roads, stunning scenery and unpredictable weather make Skye a real favourite with drivers and advertisers alike. A car heads north from Portree towards Staffin through the rain, sunshine and scenery. The Old Man of Storr is in the background.
Sweeping roads, stunning scenery and unpredictable weather make Skye a real favourite with drivers and advertisers alike.

At the other end of the spectrum, Skye attracts tourists who drive at excruciating low speeds, looking sideways at the passing scenery, discussing it with their passengers and stopping unexpectedly in the middle of the road. While the main routes on Skye are double carriageway, large areas of the island are still single-track road. Using passing places for parking and not allowing faster vehicles to overtake on single track roads is guaranteed to get you removed from Christmas card lists.

Driving hazards are further compounded by the weather. It can rain in Skye. Really rain. Heavy rain and low cloud. Heavy rain, low cloud, wind, snow and sleet. All can combine to make driving conditions treacherous. Drive appropriately for the conditions.

Although based on the mainland at Kyle of Lochalsh, the fascinating collection of photographs of wayward vehicles, large and small on the Central Garage website graphically demonstrate what can happen when things go wrong.

The other major road hazard is sheep, all 100,000 of them. That is 55 of the woolly brained creatures per square kilometre (140 per square mile).

Beware of the wildlife

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WMCs (Woolly Mobile Chicanes) are a constant hazard on the roads around Skye. Whilst most are road trained professionals who stand motionless staring contemptuously, apprentices can seriously damage your insurance premiums. Treat WMCs with respect.
WMCs (Woolly Mobile Chicanes) are a constant hazard on the roads around Skye. Whilst most are road trained professionals who stand motionless staring contemptuously, apprentices can seriously damage your insurance premiums. Treat WMCs with respect.

Sheep are inordinately stupid and apt to amble, sheepishly, on to fenced and unfenced roads with little or no warning. The most common breed of sheep on Skye is the blackface, originally from Central Asia and introduced to Scotland in the 16th Century. There are over 100,000 sheep on Skye with other breeds such as the Cheviot and Border-Leicester being found on the island.

Skye has a special breed of sabre-toothed midges than seemingly overrun the island during the summer months. Despite the variety of ointments and potions that visitors cover themselves in, the only way to avoid the Skye midge is to leave Skye!

Back in 1824 geologist John MacCulloch (1773-1835) anchored in the Sound of Soay wrote:

"It is the toss up of a die whether the world shall be possessed by midges and gnats, or by man. That their teeth are sharp, is too well known, and I can answer for the goodness of their noses. We had anchored about a mile and a half from the shore; yet they scented us; and in about quarter of an hour, the vessel was covered with this 'light militia' of the lower sky. There are not many things more ingenious than the snout of a midge."

Skye at night

Compared to the major towns and cities found on the mainland, Skye is peaceful and relaxing with a civilised pace of life.

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Skye at night? Star trails over Cill Chriosd Church, near Broadford. The picture consists of 47 consecutive 30 second exposures layered together. The thick layer of frost forming on the camera, tripod and me discouraged more exposures.
Skye at night? Star trails over Cill Chriosd Church, near Broadford. The picture consists of 47 consecutive 30 second exposures layered together.

During June and July there is over 17 hours of daylight to enjoy between sunrise and sunset. This reduces to a depressing short seven hours of daylight in December.

At the height of summer there is plenty to do in the evenings however you should bear in mind that as far as nightlight is concerned, Skye and Ibiza are at opposite ends of the cultural and evolutionary scale. When it comes to top quality restaurants Skye is spoilt for choice. The best restaurant island, and indeed one of the best in the United Kingdom, is undoubtedly the prestigious and multi award-winning Three Chimneys. They also offer 5-star accommodation at 'The House Over-By.'

Hotels and pubs across the island lay on live entertainment in the evenings with an eclectic range of English and Gaelic music. Audience participation does not get much better than a cèilidh. This is traditional Scottish dancing at its best, occasionally performed solo, frequently in pairs or entertainingly in sets of eight people. Exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure it is a socially acceptable way to discuss The Gay Gordons and to swap partners all night long.

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Blaven at night. This single exposure of 30 minutes duration was taken in almost total darkness with the stars as the sole source of light. The layering of shorter exposures used in the Chriosd Church photograph is a better approach than a single long exposure as this image shot on a digital SLR suffered from chroma noise and the effects of sensor heating.
Blaven at night. This single exposure of 30 minutes duration was taken in almost total darkness with the stars as the sole source of light.

The Aros Centre on the outskirts of Portree has a compact and cosy auditorium that regularly hosts live evening events from light entertainment to light opera. The auditorium doubles as the islands only cinema where the latest blockbuster film can be seen within a couple of weeks of national launch. The centre is worth a visit at any time of day or night to sample their super soup and tasty toasties.

Do not forget to experience the sense Skye's air of nothingness. Wait until darkness falls, go outside, find a place to lie down (safety tip: avoid doing this on roads no mater how quiet they might be) and look up. On a clear night with a sky free of clouds and man-made pollution, and a Skye free of light pollution, you will see hundreds and then thousands of twinkling stars. The longer you look the more you will see. Remember when you see a shooting star to wish for either; (a) less midges*, (b) less rain* or (c) another couple of weeks holiday on this magical Isle*.
* Delete as applicable

Retire back indoors, pour yourself another glass of Talisker, Skye's finest peat flavoured water, collapse in front of the peat fire and exercise your mind by trying to come up with a place where you would rather be. It will not be easy.

Gallery

A selection of photographs of Blaven appear below. More photographs of Blaven, Torrin, Isle of Skye and beyond can be found on the Gallery page.

Eilean Bàn lighthouse. Click to enlarge.
The 21 metre (70 feet) tall Eilean Bàn lighthouse was designed by David and Thomas Stevenson and built in 1857. It was decommissioned by the Northern Lighthouse Board in 1993 with ownership finally passing to The Eilean Bàn Trust in 2011.
M/S 'Explorer' off Armadale. Click to enlarge.
M/S 'Explorer' catches the light under a threatening sky off Armadale. Six months later she struck a submerged iceberg off the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica and sank, fortunately with no loss of life.
The Red Hills of Torrin. Click to enlarge.
Beinn na Crò, Beinn Dearg Mhòr and Beinn Dearg Bheag from the west bank of Loch Slapin.
Elgol. Click to enlarge.
Elgol beach with the Cuillin ridge in the background.
Elgol. Click to enlarge.
Elgol beach with the Cuillin ridge in the background.
The end of the road. Click to enlarge.
The end of the road at Elgol pier on a hot summer's day. Okay, being pedantic the end of the B8083 road from Broadford to Elgol is further up the hill to the right at the Glasnakillie road junction. Blaven is the rightmost peak.
Elgol Primary School. Click to enlarge.
Elgol Primary School surely has one of the best playground views of any school in the UK.
Elgol rocks. Click to enlarge.
Elgol beach is a magnet for geologists and photographers alike. It is not hard to understand why.
Hanging about Elgol. Click to enlarge.
A small group watch some abseilers honing their technique of the famous honeycomb rock.
'Hebridean Isles'. Click to enlarge.
Caledonian MacBrayne ferry 'Hebridean Isles' catches the evening light at Uig pier.
'Waverley' at Portree. Click to enlarge.
Paddle Steamer 'Waverley' approaching the pier at Portree.
Skye Bridge. Click to enlarge.
The Skye Bridge.
The Wedding Cake. Click to enlarge.
The MV 'Coruisk' leaves Armadale for the 30 minute crossing to Mallaig.
The Old Man of Storr. Click to enlarge.
The majestic 48 metre (157 feet) high Old Man of Storr.
Portree. Click to enlarge.
Portree, the capital of Skye.
'The Glenachulish' at Kylerhea. Click to enlarge.
'The Glenachulish' rests at Kylerhea. The single screw ferry was built at the Ailsa Shipyard in Troon during 1969 and is believed to be the last ferry in the world to operate with a full deck turntable. The Glenelg lighthouse and slipway are visible on the opposite bank at the extreme left whilst the village of Glenelg nestles in the bay off to the right.
'The Glenachulish' times nine. Click to enlarge.
The effect of the fast flowing tide through the Kylerhea Narrows is visible in this composite photograph of 'The Glenachulish' as she approaches Kylerhea. This is the closest that Skye gets to mainland Scotland and was the favoured crossing point until the railway reached Kyle of Lochalsh. The village of Glenelg is visible far right.
Isle of Eigg. Click to enlarge.
The distinctive shape of An Sgurr on Eigg as seen from Elgol.
Isle Ornsay pier. Click to enlarge.
Isle Ornsay pier.
Kyle Akin. Click to enlarge.
Kyle Akin with the village of Kyleakin to the left and Kyle of Lochalsh and the Lochalsh Hotel to the right.
Highland cow. Click to enlarge.
A highland cow at Drinan stares back.
Sheep!. Click to enlarge.
A rare photograph of a sheep on Skye that is not standing on or near a road! Cheviot sheep at Camas Malag with Blaven in the background.
Abandoned cottage, Elgol. Click to enlarge.
Infra-red photograph of an abandoned cottage near Elgol.
Kilmarie House. Click to enlarge.
An immaculate Kilmarie House.
MV 'Loch Striven'. Click to enlarge.
Calmac's 'Loch Striven' on a run between Sconser on Skye and the Isle of Raasay.

More information

Apart from the official Isle of Skye website, information on events, accommodation and travel can be found on The Highlands of Scotland Tourist Board's Visit Highlands web site. Undiscovered Scotland covers the whole country with excellent information and photography.

Whilst on Skye pick up a copy of the West Highland Free Press newspaper. This is published every Friday and covers all the news from Skye, the Highlands and Islands.

Finally, the Links page lists a variety of useful Skye related websites grouped in to more than 20 different categories.

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