There are just a few passengers on the ferry from Mallaig, a fishing port on the mainland, to Armadale on the Isle of Skye. Most travellers prefer the more convenient option of reaching Skye – by car and taking the Skye Bridge, opened in 1995. From the ferry deck, the island looks beautiful and mysterious with the Cuillins, its highest mountains, enshrouded in mist. The ferry deposits us in a village near the end of Sleat peninsula, a place of lush vegetation and dense forests nowhere else to be found on the island.
So! We’ve arrived on Skye! Wow, what a beautiful trip that was! First – the fantastic West Highland Train from Glasgow to Mallaig, then a short but beautiful ferry hop, and a local bus to Portree, the island’s capital town.
Long distance call, anyone?
Once again it turned out that our thorough research on-line ahead of the trip paid off. Our car rental exceeded our expectations and simply is the finest car rental we’ve ever experienced! We booked our car on line with a company from Portree called M2 Motors. Not only did they offer the best deal on Skye, but their car hire service made our visit easier and nicer.
Portree – harbour area
How was it so? After a long flight, train trip, ferry, and a bus ride to the town of Portree, we were really tired, ready to crash. Add to it 8 hours of time zone difference, and you can understand we were simply cooked. I expected car rental procedures to take half an hour or more. To our surprise, our car was delivered to the bus station where we were met by a charming gentleman. He showed us the car, gave us the keys – and presto – after just quick formalities, off we went to our rented cottage! To even greater surprise, we were told to simply drop off the car in the same place on our way home. Simple? Yes, very much so. And, to make it even nicer – when we were already getting off to Glasgow on our way back – the company manager popped in to the bus station, just to thank us for our business, and to wish us a good journey home! Wow! At 7am! Just to say “hi”! And did I mention – the little, peppy Renault was just perfect for what we wanted?
Early morning view at the Storr
M2 Motors made us feel more welcome on Skye, same as our nice host who rented us a tiny but nice Dunyre self-catering cottage. Yes, that was another lucky thing. Perfectly fitted for two or three persons, offering a fantastic view towards the Storr, modern equipment, internet, and an excellent price, Dunyre is run by very helpful and pleasant hosts who made our stay truly enjoyable. Yes, I know – this sounds like a “plug” – but both above businesses honestly deserve very highly to be known to the public for their above-average service. And if you happen to plan to visit Skye and Portree, then this may be a useful info for you.
Ok then, let’s get back to our story. You can find an astonishing variety of scenery on Skye. The Black Cuillins is the most spectacular mountain range with dark, jagged volcanic peaks. In the Trotternish Penninsula there is another ridge called Quirang, full of dramatic pinnacles and gullies. The ridge rises to its highest point at the summit at the Storr – where years of erosion formed a distinctive pinnacle, the rock needle visible from a long distance: The Old Man of Storr. Between the ranges, undulated hills interpenetrate in a gentle way embellished by moors and cascading brooks. All that scenery is surrounded by extraordinary picturesque coastline, a smorgasbord of bays, hidden lochs, caves, tidal islands, massive cliffs and waterfalls.
Kilt Rock waterfall
What is making Skye’s scenery even more breathtaking is the extraordinary luminous quality of light. It creates a delicate chiaroscuro, a gentle transition between dark and light. It also helps the colours to be more saturated. Skye is situated rather far north; in December, winter nights last almost 18 hours, the 4 hours long nights in June are never totally black, they remain in a kind of twilight.
Well, I had to stop the car sometimes every 100 meters! Views along the north east shore are nothing short of amazing. Just out of Portree – you get the view over the Storr formation. Morning light made it a spectacular photographic feast. Every hundred yards the view changed, with densely saturated colours of moors, rocks, cloudy sky, glens and tiny lakes. Skye is a photographer’s paradise! No wonder quite a number of celebrated photographers actually live there!
Next we arrived at Kilt Rock with the famous waterfall pouring down from a cliff straight into the sea. While the view of the waterfall itself is restricted by tight access to the shore, it is nonetheless spectacular and worth stopping your car. (If you plan to photograph it, try to be there in the morning, because around noon you will lose the direct sun on the water, which makes for sparkly and vivid display.)
rock landmarks (inuksuit)
After passing a few villages and stopping our car for a quick photo another dozen times, we came near to Quirang – another amazing area. Past the Quirang and Flodigarry, the very northern tip of Skye welcomed us with open views of the sea, and quite unexpectedly, with a display of rock landmarks (inuksuit) created by visitors over many years.
Next, we went to Uig, driving a single-lane, winding road looking down at this small town connecting the northern isles via local ferry. A short drive from there, and we arrived at another stunning destination. One of the best examples of the more intimate scenery – The Fairy Glen, is a magical miniature landscape (obviously made by the magic of the fairies!) made up of grassy, cone-shaped hills and pockets of bizarrely twisted bonsai-like trees.
Trees at the Fairy Glen
This tiny oasis stands among much higher hills and mountains like a land of garden gnomes. Perhaps the combination of awe-inspiring nature (sought by the Romantic artists as an experience of the Sublime), and of pastoral, more gentle landscape, is what makes Skye so truly exceptional. What an unexpected delight!
We returned to Portree tired and happy, and with plenty of photographs. For next day, we decided to go see the Old Man of Storr and the Neist Point Lighthouse – but this is another story, for another time…
One of many old croft cottages
Please stay tuned for more from Skye – coming soon!
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Next parts linked here: part 2
Thank you for stopping by.
Commentary: Margaret Gajek and Derek Galon
Photographs: Derek Galon (please respect copyright)