Our first and second encounters were in January 2012, and Skye and I just didn’t click. Something didn’t quite fit. It wasn’t the Misty Isle though; it was me.
Maybe it was the fact that it rained the entire time, with clouds so low they masked the Cuillin mountains. Maybe it was the fact I was focused on work, set on finding stories and sources for The Skye Magazine, half-blind to the scenery surrounding me. Maybe, if I’m honest, it was the fact I was missing my boyfriend (now Mr. Stories My Suitcase Could Tell), who lived on the other side of the world.
Maybe it was a mix of all these elements, but whatever the reason, I just didn’t love the Isle of Skye. I liked it, but couldn’t quite grasp what made this island one of the most popular and well-known among would-be visitors to Scotland.
What was I thinking?!
Fast forward four years, and I’ve now come to my senses, and not only discovered why Skye has such a devoted fan base, but become a convert myself, too.
This spring I found myself returning to Skye with my parents after a three day journey through the southern portion of the Outer Hebrides – and this time I fell completely in love with the Isle of Skye.
The cliffs of Uig seemed to rear out of the sea dramatically as The Hebrides ferry chugged into the bay at lunchtime, the houses little pinpoints of colour above the repeating lines of the crofts. Already, I was intrigued, the landscape drawing me in (and my camera out of its case).
In no time at all we were in Portree, the small, picturesque capital of Skye, with brick buildings set around a well-kept town square and clustered colourfully around a sheltered harbour. It was simply lovely. I mentally admonished myself: how had I managed to miss this fact before?
Picking up a map from the hostel (where we had a super modern ensuite private room that could rival many hotels I’ve stayed in), we hopped back in the car with my Dad at the wheel and headed south to Sligachan.
Even with the skies a threatening grey, the view of the mountains from the Old Sligachan Bridge was stunning. It’s easy to see why it’s one of the more popular tourist spots on the island, hidden just off the main road behind the more modern bridge over the River Sligachan.
I stood on the banks and listened as the water rushed under the stone arches, the wind whipped through the air, and the Cuillin stood watch over the scene. They looked brooding, almost threatening, but they still looked beautiful. I couldn’t quite fathom how I had missed this beauty on my first two encounters with the island (especially as I had driven past this very spot in a hire car en route to Raasay).
Amazed at the seemingly different island I was seeing, we carried on to Carbost, home to the Talisker whisky distillery (shut on Sunday’s, sadly), and a place with a strong significance for our family. It was quiet and peaceful in the late afternoon light, and reminiscent of the deep Norwegian fjords I’ve only seen in photos.
Then it was on to the village of Dunvegan – the seat of the Clan MacLeod! I was rather excited about the chance to see ‘our’ castle, Dunvegan Castle, but unfortunately it was still closed for the winter. (If you find yourself in Skye between March 31st and October 15th, however, you’ll be in luck.)
I’m glad the castle was closed, though, because if it had been open, we might not have doubled back along the road to Jann’s Cakes. This tiny cake shop and cafe is almost as much a Dunvegan institution as the castle.
Jann’s may be tiny, but it was full to bursting with cakes, toffee, fudge, and sweets of every shape, size, and colour. After a good ten minutes of indecision, each of us settled on something sweet from the selection laid out before us (carrot cake and coffee for me, please).
Despite the sweet feast, we still managed to save space for dinner at the incredibly busy West Highland Bar in the heart of Portree. This was definitely not the Skye I had seen four years earlier: this place was lively and crowded, buzzing with that Friday feeling (on a Sunday night, no less), and full of tourists as well as locals.
We woke the next day to the sight of the snow on the Cuillin almost twinkling in the morning sunshine: perfect weather for a quick climb to the famous Old Man of Storr, which we were told would only take 15 minutes.
The Old Man is one of Skye’s most famous sights, a rocky pinnacle on the Trotternish Ridge that can be seen for miles around. As we set off from the car park at the base of the ridge, we wondered why our fellow climbers were decked out in hiking gear and armed with Ordinance Survey maps. Maybe they were heading somewhere else?
As the path got steeper and our lungs got tighter, however, we realised we’d made a mistake somewhere along the line in terms of timing – and in terms of climbing difficulty. It turned out that the car park was a 15 minute drive from Portree; the climb from the car park was most definitely not.
Regardless, the journey was more than worth it. While we didn’t reach the Storr itself – we kept thinking it would be around the next corner, and then the next – the view from the height we did reach was stunning: lochs and hills, the northern end of Raasay, and across the water, the shadowy hills of Applecross on the mainland. If the climb hadn’t already taken our breath away, the view would have certainly done the job.
By this point we couldn’t ignore the clock anymore – Inverness was waiting. We set off south, with another pit stop at Sligachan, before we drove all the way down through Broadford and across the bridge to Kyle of Lochalsh.
Being able to drive off an island was quite a novelty for us Leodhasachs, who have to endure a three hour ferry journey or an overpriced flight to reach a city. The Sgeanachs seem to have the best of both worlds: the calm of island life with easier access to everything mainland cities have to offer.
So what made me fall in love with the Isle of Skye this time around? Maybe it was the mountains or the view from the Storr. Maybe it was the pretty harbour, or the warm welcome. (It was definitely something to do with the carrot cake and coffee at Jann’s.)
Skye feels completely different to its Outer Hebridean neighbours, and as a result our 24 hours there felt more like a holiday, like a visit to somewhere new – even though I’d been there twice before.
It just proves what a difference your attitude can make while travelling. I retraced a few of my steps from my visits to Skye in 2012, and yet this time around, with an inquiring mindset, I encountered what felt like a completely different place. But it wasn’t Skye that had changed; it was me (and of course that fickle travel companion, the weather).
I’m already dreaming of a return trip to Skye, giving the Storr the time it deserves, seeing the famous Fairy Pools, exploring the other-wordly Quiraing. It seems it’s true what they say about the third time being a charm: this time, I fell in love with the Isle of Skye.