The Isle of Skye is one of those rare places that’s as magical as everyone says it is. It’s stunning, dramatic, other-worldly. Skye is everything everyone says it is – and then some.
Our alarm buzzed away at 05.45. After a blast under the hot shower, we packed our bags and headed round the corner to the ferry terminal. As it was raining, the CalMac ferry staff suggested we wheel our bikes through the puddles, leave them near the foot passenger gate, and wait inside – advice we were only too happy to heed. What I hadn’t realised was just how deep the puddles were. I stepped forwards… and my entire foot was submerged. Another day of soggy socks. Lovely.
Once aboard the ferry, we turned our attention to breakfast: squashed hot cross buns, washed down with the carton of orange juice included in our packed lunch from the hotel (complimentary, and a substitute for the hotel breakfast which we were missing out on). When we reached Skye, it was sunny. We pedalled along the seafront, then zig-zagged out of Idrigil on the A855 to reach the single track road leading to the Quiraing (Cuith-Raing).
The Quiraing was breathtaking: dramatic cliffs cascading towards the sea, a carpet of green and a ribbon of tarmac unfurling across the landscape. It’s a landscape that’s – quite literally – always moving. Many thousands of years ago, sedimentary rock fractured beneath the weight of the dense layer of volcanic rock above it – and the hillside split and tumbled towards the sea. At the foot of the Quiraing, in Flodigarry, fissures still form in the tarmac and repairs are required on a regular basis.
We locked our bikes by The Tea Pot (a café in a van, operating in the car park), and wandered off along the path. We had neither the kit nor the time for a proper hike on this occasion, so we contented ourselves with a short walk along the cliff top. I’d love to go back to Skye and explore its hiking trails – and if you have any recommendations, I’m all ears.
It’s not until you begin making your way down from the Quiraing that you realise just how steep the cliffs are. We sped down the single track road, fingers hovering over the brakes, easing off on the corners. I was glad the road was quiet, as I wouldn’t have fancied being sandwiched between drivers distracted by the scenery.
Our next stop, a little further along the coast, was Kilt Rock (Creag an Fhèilidh) and Mealt Falls. Only, this was a rather water-less waterfall. (If you want to see what it looks like when the water’s in full flow, head over to Clazz’s blog.) Whether there’s water flowing over the cliff or not, it’s a pretty spot and worth a detour just for the views out to sea. Kilt Rock, like the Quiraing, is part of the Skye Ecomuseum – an open-air, self-guided discovery trail across north-east Skye. I didn’t spot any wildlife from the viewpoint, but I loved the little nuggets of Gaelic on the sign. Two highlights:
- Common dolphin – Leumadair Cumanta, which translates as ‘[the] common one who leaps’
- Minke whale – Muc-mhara, which literally means ‘sea pig’
A little further on, Laurence spotted another Skye Ecomuseum sign – this one for Brother’s Point (Rubha nam Bràithrean). We turned off onto a dirt track, and left our bikes beside a small cemetery. From there, it was a short (but fairly steep) walk down to the shore. A few years ago, a group of palaeontology students found dinosaur footprints here. The sign informed us there were at least fifty, some as big as car tyres. I didn’t spot any – so either those dinosaurs were as light on their feet as Olympic gymnasts, or my eyesight is terrible. Almost definitely the latter.
We couldn’t resist pottering amongst the rock pools, and spotted dozens of teeny-weeny jellyfish propelling themselves through the water. They were about the size of a five pence piece – or a dime if you’re from the other side of the pond.
When we hit An Leth-Allt (which the sign had translated as the not-so-snappy ‘the divided burn or burn with one high bank’), it was lunch time. We cracked out the sandwiches, crisps and bananas the hotel had given us, and enjoyed the views of the falls – there was no shortage of water crashing over the rocks here.
Onwards: to the Old Man of Storr (Bodach an Stòir). The Old Man of Storr began life as part of the Trotternish Ridge and, like the fragmented cliffs of the Quiraing, was separated from it due to a landslip. Compared to other parts of Skye, the Old Man of Storr was positively crawling with people: the car park was virtually full; a few large groups were milling around by the road; and dozens more people were either embarking on, or returning from, the trail. We didn’t do the walk (though I’ve earmarked it for a future trip), instead opting to admire the pinnacle from afar.
Portree’s pastel-coloured terraced houses came into view before too long, and we promptly set about Googling cafés. We settled on Birch, a light and airy café in the centre which happened to be directly opposite some rather nice murals (below). I opted for a lemonade and a salted caramel tart. Laurence was more adventurous in his choice, and went for a coconut and chilli hot chocolate (even I had to admit it didn’t taste as weird as it sounded) and a slice of cake.
We didn’t spend a huge amount of time in Portree, partly because it’s pretty small but mostly because we wanted to reach Sligachan before we turned in for the night. Grey clouds lurked overhead, but mercifully no rain came. Sligachan is a picturesque little place, surrounded by mountains, and we’d happily have camped there had the campsite been open. As it was, the owners had put a note at the entrance reading ‘health before wealth’. Hopefully it’ll be up and running when we next make it out that way.
With the campsite closed, we scanned Google Maps for a fresh target for the night. Nowhere leapt out at us, as our route through Skye followed the A87 for some distance yet, so we decided we’d keep our eyes peeled as we pedalled. The A87 hugs the shore of Loch Sligachan, before cutting inland just past Sconser. One mile quickly became two, and two became four. We glanced around us, scouring the hillside for something that wasn’t a bog-in-waiting should there be rain overnight. Eventually, we found a spot overlooking Loch Ainort. We scarfed down our tea, then hastily retreated to the midge-free sanctuary of the tent.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
- Transport | Caledonian MacBrayne run a couple of services a day between Tarbert and Uig (Skye) and, as of June 2021, a single ticket for a foot passenger cost £6.70. There’s no extra cost for bikes, nor a requirement to reserve a place for them in advance. Book tickets at www.calmac.co.uk; their Twitter feed (@CalMacFerries) provides regular service updates and fields customer queries.
- Amenities | Portree has several cafés, plus a Coop if you need to stock up on food supplies. There’s also a tourist information centre if you’re short on ideas for places to visit and things to see and do while you’re on Skye.
- Maps and guides | There are so few roads on Skye, it’s pretty hard to get lost. That said, if you’d prefer to have a map to hand OS Landranger 23 and 32 cover this day’s ride.
- Distance | 75.90km/47.4 miles from Uig to Loch Ainort, with 1,175m of elevation gain.