For years I’ve known of the Isle of Skye, it’s been on my bucket list for a very long time, and I can assure you it measured up to expectations. The island, accessible by a magnificent bridge has dramatic, isolated, raw landscape. Cliffs that sheer from hundreds of meters down into the ocean, sharp jagged peaks that pierce the skyline, and thick vivid green and purple shrubs that hug the barren terrain.
I teamed up with Aberdeen 4x4 on a project, taking one of their Land Rover Defenders across the country, via the Cairngorms, and stopping off at the Glenfinnan Viaduct, then up and around the Isle of Skye, then back across the country via Inverness to Aberdeen. The trip has left me with a hunger to return to Scotland, and to Skye!
Day 1: Sunday (Aberdeen - Braemar)
After arriving at Aberdeen airport late afternoon, picking up the Land Rover Defender and having a stop at the supermarket to pick up the week’s supplies, we headed west to the Cairngorms along the A93. During some research before the trip I had read that throughout Scotland were a lot of old Military roads, also referred to as ‘General Wade’s Military Roads’ and the A93 had at one point been one of these. We headed towards Braemar, a small town in the heart of the Cairngorms where we stayed at Braemar Caravan Park, unpacked, erected our tent, and had a nice Haggis and Beef Burger in the Invercauld Arms and went to bed in our little tent!
Day 2: Monday (Braemar - Glenfinnal - Skye)
We woke and left early heading south, back on the A93 through the Cairngorms, stopping at the edge of the National Park for a coffee and some breakfast. The landscapes in the part of Scotland are an attraction in their own right, so just driving and stopping every now and then is a lot of fun, and even more fun with a well put together roadtrip playlist!
We were aiming for Fort William where we needed to buy some camping supplies, and then on the Glenfinnan Viaduct. This viaduct sets the scene for an almost Hogwarts Express steam train running through the Scottish Valleys. I had done my research and found out that two afternoon trains were due one around 3.00pm and another about 3.20pm in either direction, meaning we needed to find a good spot, and set up lunch - spicy Korean noodles boiled on a small gas camping stove.
The lighting was just perfect to capture and light up the steam train as it ran across the viaduct between the two mountains.
After finishing our noodles we headed back to the car. We were supposed to drive on to Mallaig (about 45 mins from the viaduct, west) to catch a ferry (£15) to Skye, however due to strong winds the Ferry unfortunately was cancelled, meaning we had to drive back to Fort William and north towards Isle of Skye.
While this was not planned, this part of our road trip turned out to be one of the most stunning; we counted 4 rainbows as we drove the car round 5 Lochs (Loch Lochy, Loch Garry, Loch Loyne, Loch Cluanie, and Loch Duich). Every corner resulted in us in awe; shouting in excitement at each other at the sheer beauty and vastness of the landscapes we were seeing in front of our very eyes.
I had originally planned on the way back to stop at Eilean Donan Castle a 13th Century Castle set slightly into the Loch so surrounded by water in three directions. However, as we were passing now and the sun was starting to set, it was looking incredible so took some time away from the driving wheel to chill and enjoy the view.
Back in the seat again and we were heading across the Skye Bridge, which takes you up to a great height enabling you to see all the surrounding islands in the distance and the weather at the time was fairly clear.
On arriving in Skye we needed to find a spot to wild camp, I thought I knew of a place down towards Elgol, so we headed in that direction but were warned that in the area the cattle walk freely so there have been incidents where campers tents have been trampled. So after reaching Elgol, we headed back along the road we had come just past Kilbride where we took a small single track road down about 2km to bay where it opened up and was grassy patch where we could camp. By this time it was pretty much dark, so needed the assistance of the car’s lights to put up tent, and soon after we went to sleep.
Day 3: Tuesday (Kilbride - Dunvegan)
In the morning when we woke, we found a sunny day, surrounded by sheep, lovely still water across the bay so made breakfast and coffee and sat and enjoyed the views. After we went for a walk around the area and stumbled upon the farmer’s house who invited us in for tea and biscuits and proceeded to tell us about his livestock, life and the history of the area. I found this super refreshing, to have a complete stranger offer such generosity (especially when he knew we had just camped on his land), when you compare it to how hostile people are in London!
When back in the car we drove north stopping at Sligachan, fairly central to the Island, where a well known and recognised bridge is, we walked around, took some photos and were back on the road taking the A863 towards the west. Here, one can also drive more west than we did and visit the Talisker Distillery for a tour and tasting session, which friends have told me is excellent!
We slowly made our way to Kinloch Campsite, positioned right on the edge of Loch Dunvegan, which is an inlet from the sea. Here we freshened up, cooked up a Paneer and veg, tomato based curry and rice and had an early dinner.
A lot of the day had been wet/overcast, but started to clear a little in the last couple of hours of sunlight, so we headed for Neist Point Lighthouse, a kind of magical place I had seen photographs of, but wanted to see with my own eyes. The rock formations are dramatic and vertically fall from 100s of feet up down into the North Atlantic.
We waited patiently for the sun to seep through the clouds but unfortunately didn’t, still it left us with a moody skyline, which looked great. What we were unprepared for here (but in other areas also) were the swarm of midges (tiny fly-like insects which bite - think mini mosquitoes).
Day 4: Wednesday (Dunvegan - Staffin)
Wednesday was quite a casual day, we didn’t get up until late, ate breakfast overlooking the lake, and set off east. We drove to Uig, and from there drove around the Northern coastline on the A855; a beautiful single track road with stunning views across the Harris Isles. It felt very remote and during this part of the trip we saw fewer cars than in other places. We found ourselves when driving this part stopping every 5 minutes or so to take in the awesome views and take some photos.
We stopped off at the Single Track Coffee Shop, that sold us some very good quality coffee and amazing chocolate brownies! I think what really made this cafe though was the stunning views. Would highly recommend!
We drove on round the coast on our way to Staffin where we would camp the night at Staffin Campsite. I simple, but nice place, the owners seemed very hospitable and gave us quite a lot of advice about where we could eat or drink in the evening, however we decided to use up what we had and made salmon and pea tagliatelli over a BBQ, accompanied by a local beer!
Day 5: Thursday (Staffin - Portree - Fairy Glen - Quiraing - Staffin)
The weather when we woke was less than perfect; which was to be expected in Scotland in September, so we headed to Portree early to find coffee and a breakfast. Portree is Skye’s largest town, an old fishing village, with a beautiful harbour area and a few very nice fish restaurants, which we would experience later that evening. We had breakfast and coffee in Cafe Arriba, a very colourful cafe, with a good menu, coffee and Wifi. We spent an hour or so here while the bad weather passed, before we jumped back into the Defender and went on.
I had previously seen some images of The Fairy Glen in Skye, but hadn’t done that much research all I knew is there was a fairy-like castle and some stone circles in an area of mounds. We made our way here to explore the area, and I have to say when I arrived I was quite surprised that it did actually look like something out of a movie; it looked enchanted, beautiful little mounds, with one higher than the rest you could climb up; known as Ewan Castle.
We drove back to Uig from Fairy Glen, then took the single track road a little north that took us through a mountainous barren landscape eventually leading us to the Quiraing. The weather was unfortunately not good enough for us to get out for a hike, however I did explore the area a little.
We then headed back to Portree to warm up in The Merchant Bar, followed by dinner at The Lowerdeck Seafood Restaurant, I really recommend this place, I thought the prices were reasonable, the fish was fresh, and cooked very well, and we had mussels for starters, cooked in a curry sauce. On ordering I thought it would be a little strange, but actually a very refreshing change from the standard white wine and garlic sauce most places serve them in.
Day 6: Friday (Staffin - Old Man of Storr - Inverness - Carrbridge - Aberdeen)
Our final day, we woke early with the aim of climbing The Old Man of Storr, we arrived at the carpark at the base at about 7.30am, and started walking, unfortunately the higher we walked the more cloud cover came; the old man was well hidden in clouds while we were up, however it did offer incredible views across the landscape, the sun shining through holes in the clouds across onto the sea. By the time we had made our way back down to the car, and cooked up some noodles for breakfast it was about 10.30am and we had to be on our way, but the clouds around the Old Man of Storr had disappeared.
The rest of Friday was a lot of driving, having to cross the country, this time we went a slightly different way, headed to Inverness then through the Cairngorms, with a quick stop in Carrbridge, a small village which has an old stone bridge crossing the River Dulnain.
Scotland is an incredible place which has so much to offer, it has honestly left me thinking about when I will next return (maybe this winter!). Skye and the surround area offers vast and dramatic landscapes; great for road trips and hiking. Another thing I was really impressed with is that all of the attractions we went to, we never needed to pay an entrance fee, and weren't over populated, however we were just out of peak season. That said prices for other things; accomodation and food on Skye were fairly pricey, not far off London prices actually.
It’s an awesome place and photos don’t really do it justice, even the best! So go and explore it for yourself! And if you’re keen to explore it by 4x4, I’d highly recommend talking with Gary from Aberdeen4x4!