Andy's EPIC Hikes in Europe Isle of Skye, Scotland
Isle of Skye, Inner Hebrides, Scotland
How to get there by train: Kyle of Lochalsh on the mainland has a train station which is the last stop on the magnificently scenic Kyle line that starts in Inverness, which in itself is accessible from Glasgow or Edinburgh. The journey time from Glasgow/Edinburgh is 8 hours; from Inverness it is just under 3 hours. Alternatively, you can also take a 5-hour bus from Glasgow’s Buchanan Bus Station to Kyle. The Trainline is a good port of call for purchasing tickets.
How to get there by car: Travelling to the island by car is also straightforward: from Glasgow it is around 200 miles, past beautiful Loch Lomond and into the Highlands along Glencoe and Fort William; a journey of around 5 hours.
How to get around: Should you wish to use public transport, a certain degree of patience comes in handy. From Kyle on the mainland, you have to switch over to local bus services. Journey time to the island’s only real town Portree is one hour. Once on the island, transport without a car can get a little tricky though there is a bus network of a dozen or so lines, with Portree as the main hub. On occasion, and to get to the outer reaches of Skye, a taxi/minicab service might be your best bet. Try Skye Taxis. Most visitors to the island though rely on their own mode of transport.
Where to stay: For my visit, I stayed in the aptly named Skye Base Camp which - together with a couple of other hostels - is listed on Hostelworld. Booking.com has a decent presence on the island with around 200 listings (dependent on the season).
When to go: During the winter months, it will be just you and the locals. But daylight hours are short, and some tourist facitilities might be shut. The weather also has a tendency to be atrocious. The tourist season kicks in at the UK's bank holiday on the last weekend of May and lasts pretty much until another bankholiday on the last weekend in August. If you want to avoid the crowds, May, September and October might therefore be more suitable visiting times.
Hike 1: The Old Man of Storr
Start and Finish: car park (3£ for 3 hours), well signposted on the A855, some 10 miles north of Portree.
Distance: under 3 miles (or 4.5 km), two hours
Hike 2: MacLeod’s Maidens
Start and Finish: Car Park in the hamlet of Orbost (accessible by single track), south of Dunvegan on A863
Distance: 10 miles (16 km) out and back, 5 hours
From Broadford, I drove along the western part of the island in the direction of Dunvegan. Just before entering the village a small track leads south to the hamlet of Orbost (just a collection of houses, really) where a big sign advises motorists not to go any further. That’s where you park your car and embark on a straight out and back, signposted hike of 4 to 5 hours. On a cloudy and windswept morning, I had this hike practically to myself and only encountered the odd cross country runner. At the end of the trail, you will find three stacks that are sticking dramatically out of the sea, while you are standing at the top of a 100 m vertical cliff face. The hike takes you through pine forests, sandy bays, along cliff edges and over wild land overgrown with heather and ferns. And of course, there are wonderful views across Loch Varkasaig. If you are lucky, you will spot seabirds and maybe even otters, and might just get a real sense of solitude. For most of my time there, I was accompanied by a magical chorus of bird song. Not as spectacular a sight as the Old Man of Storr. But the Maidens should still make you gasp. And if you still have the energy, why not visit the village of Dunvegan with its cute, compact High Street and nearby Dunvegan castle (16£ entry), the oldest, continually inhabited castle in all of Scotland and seat of the MacLeod clan.