The Most Beautiful places in Scotland - Isle of Skye
Exploring England, Scotland, and Wales
In this series, I've been looking at some of the most beautiful places in Scotland, from historic cities like Edinburgh to remote islands like Colonsay, from the Highlands to Orkney. Along the way, I'll be sharing some of my favourite photos from over 15 years of exploring Scotland.
By my reckoning, our family has visited the Isle of Skye seven times over the years. It isn't nearly enough. Skye is one of those places you just want to come back to again and again. The scenery is breathtaking, sometimes bleak, and at the same time always stunningly beautiful.
My favourite area is the north-eastern corner north of Portree, with the Trotternish Ridge and the Old Man of Storr, but to be honest almost anywhere on Skye is heaven on earth - especially with a camera in your hand! Here are some of our favourite places to enjoy the landscape of Skye.
South of Broadford, a minor road leads to the picturesque fishing village of Elgol. The cliffs at Elgol are remarkable; they are striated in a striking honeycomb pattern. From the harbourside, you can get amazing views across Loch Scavaig to the peaks of the Black Cuillins.
A visit to Elgol not only gives you a chance to enjoy the stunning coastal landscape, but you can take one of the regular cruises across Loch Scavaig to Loch Coriusk, a freshwater loch at the heart of the Cuillin Hills. The peaks of the Black Cuillins almost encircle the loch, creating a superb natural amphitheatre.
Cruises to Loch Coriusk usually allow plenty of time ashore for enjoying a walk all the way around the loch (if you walk briskly) or at least up one side and back. Or do what we did and simply climb the hills above the loch for simply amazing views.
The loch terminates in the Scavaig River, which must be one of the shortest rivers in Scotland. It only stretches 100 yards from the south-eastern end of the loch until it empties into Loch Scavaig.
Be aware that though boat trips to Loch Coriusk are frequent they are completely dependant on the weather, so it is always good to check ahead, even if you have pre-booked.
Old Man of Storr
Possibly the most famous natural rock formation in Scotland and a magnet for photographers, the Old Man of Storr is a rock needle that projects from a shoulder of The Storr ridge north of Loch Leathan.
There is a parking area at the north end of the loch and from there a signposted trail leads uphill to the rock needle, where you can often see climbers abseiling the Old Man.
Though you can certainly get very good views from the base of the rock, I recommend extending your climb further up the ridge until you are at a higher elevation than the top of the Old Man. The views from up high are simply stunning, and you can easily see across to the Scottish mainland.
You can get wonderful views of the Black Cuillins from several places on Skye. I've already mentioned two; Elgol and Loch Coriusk, where you are at the heart of the Hills themselves.
Another famous viewpoint is from Sligachan, where the A87 and the A863 meet. The former stretches between Broadford and Portree, while the latter branches off towards Carbost.
At the junction is the Sligachan Hotel, one of the island's favourite meeting places and a haven for hill-walkers. Near the hotel is a picturesque old stone bridge across the River Sligachan. Photos of the bridge with the Black Cuillins beyond often appear on calendars. Footpaths lead from Sligachan to Glenbrittle.
Sligachan is the best place for walks up and over the Red Cuillins.
From Sligachan footpaths lead to Glen Brittle (two words for the glen itself, not to be confused with Glenbrittle, one word, for the hamlet at the western end of the glen). From the Forestry Commission Scotland parking area in Glen Brittle a trail leads along Allt Coir a Mhadaidh to the Fairy Pools, one of the most beautiful spots on the Isle of Skye.
The Fairy Pools is a series of crystal clear pools at the foot of the Black Cuillins. In warm weather you can bathe in the Pools in an unforgettable setting. The area around the Fairy Pools is simply stunning; one of the most beautiful natural landscapes in Britain.
There are waterfalls along Allt Coir a Mhadaidh, and trails lead up into the Cuillin Hills. This is one of my favourite places in Scotland (even if I did once lose my favourite winter jacket in the Forestry Commission parking area)!
From Carbost a minor road leads south through Glen Eynort to Loch Eynort in Minginish. What an incredibly beautiful and peaceful location!
By the shore of the loch are two ruined and roofless chapels set within a single burial ground. The smaller of the two chapels dates to the medieval period and was built to replace a much older chapel dedicated to - and likely founded by - St Maelrubha, a 7th-century monk.
The medieval building late became a burial chapel for the MacLeods of Talisker. Beside it is a 17th-century chapel. The setting, with the chapels standing above the waters of the loch, and lush green hills rising on all sides, is simply breathtaking.
Waternish Peninsula / Stein
If you enjoy sunsets, the Waternish Peninsula on Skye's west coast is the place to come. Almost anywhere will do, but if you'd like to combine a good meal with the scenery try the village of Stein, where you will find the Stein Inn by the waterfront.
At the tip of the Waternish is the ruined medieval church at Trumpan, home to a terrible clan massacre.
If you take the B884 up the west side of Loch Dunvegan and follow the road to its end by Loch Mor you will find yourself on the fringe of Neist Point, the most westerly point on the Isle of Skye and another excellent place for sunsets. It is also a very good place for whale watching and catching a glimpse of porpoises and dolphins.
At the very tip of the Point is a historic lighthouse that must be among the most famous in Scotland. The lighthouse was built in 1909. The tower stands 142 feet above sea level.
Neist Point has been used as a setting for at least two feature films, including the 2012 film 47 Ronin and the 1996 film Breaking the Waves.
At the base of the cliffs are rock formations similar to those found at the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland. It is thought that the Irish causeway extends under the sea to Skye and emerges near Neist.
Loch Mor itself is also worth enjoying, though there is no obvious place to park. We simply pulled off onto the road verge.
Just south of Staffin, on the east coast of the Trotternish peninsula is a sheer cliff with a peculiar rock formation that resembles vertical folds like those in a traditional Highland kilt. Immediately south of Kilt Rock a waterfall issuing from Loch Mealt tumbles over the cliff edge and falls straight down to the rocky shore far below.
There is a signposted viewpoint that allows reasonably good views of Kilt Rock and the waterfall. If you plan on photographing the waterfalls I suggest getting there in the early morning, as later in the day Kilt Rock will be in the shade.
Trotternish Ridge / The Quiraing
North of Staffin the Trotternish Ridge splits apart, creating an area of otherworldly rock formations known collectively as The Quiraing. To describe the Quiraing in words is impossible; you have to see it in person. The rocks create bizarre formations such as The Castle, The Table, and The Needle.
Some of these are self-explanatory. For example, The Castle really does look like a medieval castle from one angle, while The Table is a flat-topped plateau where the local clans used to hide their cattle in times of trouble. The Needle is also self-explanatory; it is a slender column of rock jutting up into space. The Quiraing is one of those places that you simply must experience for yourself.
We've already mentioned the Fairy Pools, but Skye has another fairy-elated beauty-spot, the Fairy Glen near Uig on the west side of the Trotternish peninsula. Uig is best-known as the spot where you can catch the regular ferry service to the Western Isles, but it is worth visiting just for the chance to see the Fairy Glen.
Here you will find 'Scotland in miniature', an area of dramatic miniature peaks, small lochs and beautiful valleys, all crammed into a space you could easily traverse in 15 minutes. One feature of the Fairy Glen is Castle Ewen, a natural rock formation in the shape of a medieval fortress.
North of Portree are the conjoined lochs of Loch Fada and Loch Leathan. In the early morning you get fantastic views south along the lochs towards the snow-capped peaks of the Black Cuillins, while in late afternoon and evening you get equally stunning views north up the lochs to the Old Man of Storr rock needle.
Caves of Gold
One of Skye's hidden gems, the Caves of Gold, or Uamh Oir in Gaelic, are similar to the famous Fingal's Cave on Staffa, but on a much smaller scale. The caves are formed of striking hexagonal basalt columns.
Unlike Fingal's Cave, you can't enter the Caves of Gold, but you can enjoy a lovely walk down to the cave entrance. This is a wonderful area for seabirds and you can usually spot plenty of shags as well as dolphins and porpoises in the nearby waters.
The path to the caves starts from the end of the minor road to Bornisketaig, from Kilmuir township on the north-west side of the Trotternish peninsula. The going is steep near the shore, but our family of four with our six-year-old daughter made it, so you can too.
If you take the minor road north from Dunvegan Castle on the east side of Loch Dunvegan you will soon come to Claigan. At the end of the single-track road is a parking area and a signposted trail leads further north along the loch to the Coral Beach, which is, as it sounds, a beach made of crushed pieces of coral (though, to be technical, it isn't actually coral but calcified Red Coralline seaweed, or maerl).
The views along the beach are glorious and on a sunny day you feel you have been magically transported to a tropical paradise.
These are just a few of our family's favourite places on the Isle of Skye. We could easily include a dozen more!