TRAVEL: A SHORT BREAK ON SKYE

Anna Melville-James gets away from it all on the largest and most popular of the dramatic and beautiful Hebridean islands

The ancient Celts called it The Winged Isle; the Vikings praised it as the Cloud Island; nowadays, those in search of tranquillity would call it the perfect solution. It may be the largest and most popular of the Hebridean islands, but it is still a wild, Gaelic kind of place with its volcanic rocks, glass-surfaced lochs and spectacular mountains. Go to uplift the soul and recharge the batteries.

When to go

With weather conditions ranging from sunny through squally to downright tempestuous, Skye is an island of elemental contrasts throughout the year. Tourist high-season runs from June to roughly the end of September, incorporating the best of the weather and the worst of the midge season. Take repellent if you pack nothing else. Out of season, an emptier Skye offers crisp, icy weather and misty lochs as well as a much-reduced gnat problem. Wear waterproofs and the year is your oyster.

Getting there

The benefit and bane of Skye lies in its remote location. Driving from the south is recommended only if you can share it and you have plenty of time. A better option is a fly-drive, with daily services to Inverness by easyJet (tel: 0990 292929) from pounds 48, and British Airways (tel: 0345 222111) from pounds 100. Auto Shuttle Express can convey your car to Scotland while you travel by rail or air (tel: 0990 502309). Otherwise, hire a car at Inverness for the four-hour drive to Skye.

Trains from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh cost pounds 24.70. Scotrail (tel: 0345 550033). From there you'll have to cross the toll bridge at pounds 5.70 per car each way. Trains from London Kings Cross to Kyle start from pounds 81 return. The sleeper train from Euston to Inverness with connections to Kyle, costs from pounds 99 return. National Rail Enquiries (tel: 0345 484950).

Coaches travel to the Isle of Skye and Lochalsh from Glasgow and Inverness with connecting services to most main cities in the UK. Citylink (tel: 0990 505050); National Express (tel: 0990 808080).

Ferry links from the Scottish mainland at Mallaig to Armadale cost pounds 4.40 per person and pounds 25.50 per car for a five-day return (passengers only out of season) from Caledonian MacBrayne (tel: 01475 650100).

Getting around

Driving is by far the easiest way to get around and a car is essential for those who want to see most of Skye in a short time. Public transport exists, albeit of the "one bus a week" variety, and services and timetables can be obtained from Tourist Information. However, with isolated settlements and yawning expanses of mountain and moorland in between each, it is strictly a last resort. Travelling with the mail on the Post Bus Service is again more of a novelty than a practical solution, although the eccentricity makes it worth trying at least once. Details from Tourist Information.

For the more robust, cycling is an exhilarating way to see the spectacular scenery at close range on generally quiet, mostly single-track roads with a variety of inclines to test your fitness. Fairwinds Bicycle Hire (tel: 01471 822270); Island Cycles (tel: 01478 613121).

Where to stay

For a small and relatively unspoilt island, Skye is well equipped to deal with visitors. Accommodation ranges from budget-friendly b&bs as numerous as the sheep that scamper along the roads, to five-star hotels. At the luxury end of the market, the House Over-By, adjoining the Three Chimneys (tel: 01470 511258), offers six, split-level double bedroom suites with en-suite bathrooms (pounds 140 per night for two people sharing, including breakfast). More Malibu condo than middle of the Highlands, they have minibars, CD-players and dimmer-switch lighting, all strangely decadent in the middle of a bout of stroppy Highland weather.

The Flodigarry Country House Hotel (tel: 01470 552203) has seven en-suite rooms, some in the nearby cottage of Jacobite heroine Flora MacDonald, with stunning sea views, priced from pounds 49 with breakfast.

The Clan Donald Visitor Centre, Armadale (tel: 01471 844305/ 944227) comprises six self-catering cottages in the grounds of the centre, looking across the Sound of Sleat to the mainland, and the Flora MacDonald suite. Prices per week from pounds 310 in low season for a cottage sleeping four to six people, and pounds 330 for the Flora MacDonald suite, sleeping four people. Short-break deals available on request.

Outdoor activities

This is rugged country for rugged visitors. The northern MacLeod territory of Skye is majestically bleak and harsher than the southern Macdonald stronghold of Sleat, "The Garden of Skye", but both offer hill-walking for those who want to breathe some of the freshest air around. The vertiginous, patterned Kilt Rock and the eerie pinnacles of the Quiraing all make for bracing exploration, as do Coral Bay, Trotternish Ridge and MacLeod's Tables in the north.

Less of a stroll and more of a commitment is the renowned Cuillin Ridge, 30 challenging mountain peaks, drawing climbers from all over the world. The symmetrically weathered cones of the Red Cuillins and the jagged ridges of the Black Cuillins provide some of the most dramatic scenery in the Highlands. Not for inexperienced climbers, the peaks should be conquered only in the company of an experienced guide, especially as magnetic rock will send your compass whirling. Contact Skye Highs (tel: 01471 822116) for mountaineering courses and private guiding. For other outdoor sports, the Whitewave Outdoor Centre (tel: 01470 542 414) offers kayaking, windsurfing, and archery. Pony- trekking is available at the Skye Riding Centres (tel: 01470 582419), and for loch fishing for brown and sea trout, permits must be obtained from Portree Angling Association (tel: 01470 582 304).

What to see and do

This ancient isle has been inhabited since prehistoric times and is rich in archaeological and historical sites. Iron Age brochs, stone circles and castles are dotted all over, reflecting the brooding and often bloody history of the island. Dunvegan Castle (tel: 01470 521 206), the 800- year-old seat of the MacLeods, is still inhabited by the 29th chief, John MacLeod of MacLeod and his family. The fortress is set in gardens alongside Dunvegan Loch and is open throughout the year. Among its attractions are Jacobite relics belonging to Flora MacDonald and Bonnie Prince Charlie, and the Fairy Flag of Dunvegan.

The History of Clan Donald and the remains of the family seat, Armadale Castle, can be found at the Clan Donald Visitor Centre, Armadale (tel: 01471 844305). The centre's stunning gardens reflect the sheltered, temperate climate of southern Skye, while indoors, anyone with a Macdonald in the family can trace their ancestry at the genealogy centre. Other ghosts of castles past include ruins at Duntulm near Uig, the original seat of the Macdonalds, Knock Castle in Sleat and Castle Moil by Kyleakin.

The Aros Experience Exhibition Centre, Portree (tel: 01478 613649), tells Skye's history from the islanders' perspective. There is a cafe, an audiovisual exhibition, and guided forestry walks are also available.

The Museum of Island Life, seven restored crofts depicting life on Skye in the last century, is worth a visit when it's not raining - it's on an exposed moor. When the rain does come down, visit the Skye Serpentarium (tel: 01471 822209).

For a wee dram after all that activity, make your way to the Talisker, Carbost (tel: 01478 640314), home of the peaty single- malt Highland whisky, and get drunk on just the smell of fermenting barley during a guided tour of the distillery.

Food and drink

Skye cuisine is generally a hybrid of traditional Scottish dishes and innovative outside influences. The Three Chimneys, Colbost (tel: 01470 511258) is an intimate, candlelit crofter's cottage with big views and a clutch of culinary awards. The chef, Shirley Spear, uses local seafood, including mussels plucked that morning from the nearby loch. A gigantic seafood platter is pounds 55 for two people. Meals are simple and imaginative, accompanied by a broad wine list. A three-course fixed-price menu is pounds 27.50 and the a la carte menu starts at pounds 25 for three courses.

Skeabost House Hotel (tel: 01470 532202) is a former hunting lodge set in 12 acres of secluded gardens. A generous buffet menu (pounds 7.85) is available during the day, and otherwise, menus at pounds 18.50 for three courses, with the emphasis on fish and game. Sample the Skye prawns, local salmon, scallops and lobster, so fresh it jumps off the plate.

Kinloch Lodge (tel: 01471 833214), home of the high chief of Clan Donald and the renowned Scottish cook, Lady Claire Macdonald. Log fires, portraits of ancestors and family heirlooms add to the atmosphere. Five-course dinner menus are available from pounds 37. Skye crab and Skye-grown organic salad leaves and roast rack of black- faced lamb are recommended.

Flodigarry Country House Hotel and the Water Horse Restaurant, Staffin (tel: 01470 552203), in the shadow of the towering Quiraing, offer panoramic sea views over Flodigarry Island. Four-course menus are pounds 28.50, bar meals from pounds 7.95.

For fish and chips, the shop in Portree is recommended. To be eaten while sitting on the harbour wall and watching the sun go down.

Out of town

Island-hopping Highland-style means visiting the surrounding, smaller Hebridean isles of Raasay and Rona at the top of Skye, and Rum, Eigg, Muck and Canna at the bottom, off the Sleat Peninsula. All the islands are areas of outstanding natural beauty and wildlife havens for species ranging from Golden Eagles, porpoises and red deer to white-tailed sea eagles. Caledonian MacBrayne (tel: 01475 650100) runs cruises and day returns to all the islands from the mainland or Skye.

Further information

Contact Skye Tourist Information, Portree (tel: 01478 612137), and the Highlands of Scotland Tourist Board (tel: 0990 143070).

Anna Melville-James flew with easyJet (tel: 0990 292929; www.easyjet.com) to Inverness. Car hire was from Sharps Reliable Wrecks (tel: 01463 236684).

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Extras
indybest
News
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
education
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform