The Isle of Skye is reported to be the 4th prettiest island in the world according to National Geographic Traveler (actually I found it off a different site so not sure how credible that is). Regardless if the rankings for Skye are true or not, it’s still a spectacular island to visit, especially if you’re a fan of nature and “pretty things.”
I explored Skye with International Student Tours; in a nutshell, they put together the whole itinerary (jam packed and planned to the hour), drove us around to the various destinations, shared some history along the way, and, when Jen, our tour guide, wasn’t speaking, played music based on the destinations.
As someone who loves learning the context behind a destination, I really enjoyed having a tour guide point out sites and spew out history facts. As someone who associates experiences with songs (Summer 2016 will always be “Closer” and Fall 2017 is all about Oh Wonder’s Album e.g. “Lose It“) I really appreciated how Jen carefully choreographed songs to the scenery. And, as someone who appreciates a well planned trip, it was nice to sit back and know that everything was taken care of because you had an hour by hour itinerary in front of you.
So in the spirit of listening to songs themed to the experience, here’s one of the songs played during the tour you can enjoy while reading this post XD
Two day tour took us (Vanessa and I) to many places in Skye:
Isle of Skye Trip Destinations
Day 1: Depart Edinburgh at 8:00AM
Day 2: Depart Kyleakin at 8:00AM
- Isle of Skye + Breakfast
- Sligachan Bridge and Cullins
- Old Man of Storr
- Kilt Rock and Sound of Rassay
- Mealt Falls and Loch Mealt
- Lealt Gorge & Falls
- Portree – Lunch
Back to Edinburgh/Conclusion, Arrival 10:00PM
Each of these places was a unique experience and has it’s own story, so I made one mega blog post for the whole experience with links back and forth between the table of destinations and the details about each destination.
Luss – Loch Lomond
Luss (pronounced with an o sound halfway between loss and luss) is a small town off the shores of Loch Lomond, the largest lake ON the island of Great Britain (the largest island in the UK is actually in Northern Ireland). Apparently Luss is a popular place for marriages to take place because the town is so cute and the lake is so pretty. Today it was okay – typical Scottish grey skies.
Loch Lomond and Luss are most famous because they’re featured in a song “The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond.” Peter Hollens does a really great mix of the song:
By yon bonnie banks and by yon bonnie braes,
Where the sun shines bright on Loch Lomond,
Where me and my true love will never meet again
On the bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond.
O ye’ll tak’ the high road, and I’ll tak’ the low road,
And I’ll be in Scottland a’fore ye,
But me and my true love will never meet again,
On the bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond.
Historical Interlude! In one interpretation, the lyrics “you take the high road, I’ll take the low road” refer to the “road” of life and death, respectively. The Jacobites did not support their current ruling king. Therefore any Jacobites who were captured during the Jacobite uprising was executed in London for treason; however some were allowed to live and return home to warn people not to defy the king. The song suddenly takes a whole new meaning when you think of it being sung from a Jacobite rebel sentenced to die.
Loch Tulla (read Tala)
Loch Tulla was a SUPER short stop. The big thing we learned here was that Scotland is pretty decent when it comes to Salmon. They have their own “Scottish Salmon” some of which is found in Loch Tulla, and ever since this trip, I’ve started buying more salmon because it’s local and I really really like salmon (tastes good and you get poly-unsaturated omega fatty acids).
Additional win – I spotted my first Unicorn 🦄 ! His name is Princess Adrian.
I’m surprised it took my so long to even find a unicorn! After all, it’s Scotland’s national animal. Jump back in history to the 12th century. England declare the LION to be their national animal. The Scots decide we need a national animal too! So they consult their book of animals to choose one that can stand up to the lion. According to medieval legend, the Lion has two natural enemies: the unicorn and the elephant. Never having seen an elephant before, the Scots chose the unicorn, and it has been their national animal every since.
Glencoe – Three Sisters
While many people associate Glencoe with the three beautiful ridges (named high, low, and black ridge in Gaelic) called the “Three Sisters,” Glencoe is also remembered for the Massacre of Glencoe. While I won’t elaborate more on the event here (it’s kind of a mood killer), I will elaborate on some other interesting associations with Glencoe
- The carrots in Scotland are Orange because William of Orange wanted them to be so (they were purple before??). This has more to do with the Massacre of Glencoe. The Washington Post weighs in here
- Glencoe is seen in Skyfall!!
I thought Glencoe was OKAY. Maybe a little hyped up as the most beautiful place in Scotland, but still super cool to stand in the same spot as Daniel Craig.
Fort Williams for Lunch
Fort William was just a lunch stop! It was a pretty small town and didn’t have tons of food options as it’s more of a ski town than anything (what our Jen said). Vanessa and I ended up eating at a Morrison’s, which is a grocery store. The store had a cute cafe attached (seems the be the trend with all large grocery stores) and probably the cheapest food outside campus (pretty sure the University subsidizes some of the campus cafes).
The cafe was kind of a mix between Jester City Limits and a regular cafe. You can either order from the menu, or you can get your food cafe style from the fridge and heat it up. Tea was sold by the tray, which included a tea pot, a cup and saucer, a spoon, and your selection of tea – then you added hot water after purchase. I just thought that was the cutest thing! A mini tray just for your tea.
Vanessa got the traditional Scottish breakfast, which she said was actually better than the one she had at a restaurant, and I got a grilled cheese with tomato soup, because I was just craving a grilled cheese.
Well, it wasn’t ACTUALLY on the schedule, I know this because even Jen seemed surprised when it happened (of course!). Even though I should probably feel more…sad(?) scared(?) worried(?) about the accident, it was actually quite exciting!! I’ve never been in a bus accident before! ALSO no one got hurt.
So let me recount the story of our highland car accident.
I was staring out the window only semi-watching the road outside and I feel our bus pulling a relatively sharp turn. Then I see this other bus, on the other side of the road also pulling that turn. Seemed pretty normal (they pull really sharp turns here), until I felt a jolt. That was not normal. Our bus driver yells “F$#K F@#KITY F@&K, I KNEW HE WAS TOO CLOSE, I KNEW WE WEREN’T GOING TO MAKE THAT TURN” (continues to grumble). Charlie, and some of the other people in the first two rows, is screaming, am screaming because they’re screaming. The window I was just looking out of, shattered.
You’ll notice that it’s actually just the FIRST pane of a double pane window that was shattered. So really, we never felt a thing.
Jen attempted to make us feel better by saying it’s quite common to have accidents in the Highlands because the roads are so narrow and winding…so we got a REAL Highland experience! Our bus driver got out to settle things with the other bus driver. It took quite a while, but at least we had the heat going. The real hold up was that the other bus driver only spoke Polish and couldn’t understand that he needed to fill out forms. After a couple unsuccessful minutes, a call was sent out for “anyone who could speak Polish” and we found a friend of a friend who could translate. After an hour of back and forth, and waiting on the Bus Officials in Glasgow to say that our bus was safe to drive (how would they know if they couldn’t see it?!) we sped out way to Kyleakin.
Well, we weren’t planning to stop at all after the car accident… but I mean one quick stop can’t hurt anyone right? Loch Garry is special because it “looks like Scotland,” and it kind of does! If you get the right angle and the trees aren’t in the way.
Eilean Donan Castle
I present: the most photographed castle in Scotland (by who’s count? Jen’s)
Eilean Donan Castle (pronounced ee-lane, doe-nan) sits at the intersection of three Lochs: Loch Alsh, Loch Long, and Loch Duich. We arrived at the castle just as the sun was setting, so the sky in all my photos is slightly purple rather than the normal Scotland grey, and with the bit of yellow in the back? – how lovely!
My favorite part was running very quickly across the bridge and being the FIRST one to reach the castle – I felt like a kid again. Jen said we only had a few minutes and I was determined get across the bridge and explore the other side. Man, the view was so worth it, and I really needed the chance to stretch my legs.
Kyleakin – Saucy Mary’s
So even with a car accident, we still managed to hit all the spots on the itinerary. We crossed the Isle of Skye bridge (the only bridge that connects Skye and mainland Scotland), and arrived in a town called Kyleakin (kye-lack-in). There really isn’t much in Kyleakin, I think it’s really just a rest stop for people who are exploring Skye.
We stayed at a hostel called Saucy Mary’s. What an interesting name you ask! Well there’s an interesting story behind that and I don’t feel completely comfortable telling it on my blog so I’ll leave this little link here (It’s actually kind of funny, maybe you should read it).
Vanessa and I got SUPER lucky and were assigned into a 2 bed room (so it was just us, in a WHOLE room!) #party! but not really because both of us were pretty tired. We headed over to the restaurant-bar attached to the hostel for dinner and drinks (gotta try that local brew right?). We met two guys, Hunter and Devlin, when they offered to share their table with us (thank you!) and we got into an interesting conversation about marching band and cocktails. Live music was scheduled to start at 9:00PM so Vanessa and I stuck around until then. As the music played, they tried to get a dance floor going, but it’s kind of hard to dance to Scottish Folk music unless you’re well versed in the art of the Ceilidh.
Although the hostel provided what we needed, my personal recommendation – don’t stay at Saucy Mary’s – because the bartender not very nice, actually he wasn’t nice at all, so not nice, I would categorize him as an A$$ because he doesn’t understand customer service. That’s all I will say.
And that wraps up day one! (Oh not a great ending – need to insert happy thoughts). While I wasn’t blown away by what I had seen today, the history was interesting, and it was super fun traveling and chatting with Vanessa.
Isle of Skye + Breakfast
Well good morning! It’s a beautiful day on Skye: the sun is rising, the sky is blue, and we get free breakfast! We’re up and checked out of our rooms by 8:00AM ready to explore the island.
Sligachan Bridge and Cullins
The first stop on Skye day two is the Sligachan (sig-la-caan) bridge near the Cullins (yes it sounds like the Cullens from Twilight), which is a range of mountains on Skye.
While it may look all pretty and peaceful, don’t let the island fool you. Skye, especially the Cullins, has some of the roughest terrain and weather in Scotland and has served/currently serves(?) as military training ground.
What are all these people doing here? Why, they’re dipping their faces in the ice cold water for 7 seconds – no more, no less. Why? CUE MEDIEVAL FAIRY TALE!
Once upon a time, in a land far far away – jks it was just Scotland – clans were fighting with each other. To make peace, the prettiest maiden from one clan had to marry the handsomest man from the other. All was going well, as the maiden traveled with her stable boy to the other clan’s land, until oops she fell and ruined her good looks. The maiden begins to panic because she’s afraid the other clan will think her clan pulled a one on them, but then the stable boy just tells her to keep the wedding veil on at all times, get married, and then all will be good! Actually, not good. The maiden and her stable boy are seriously in trouble, as the other clan gears up for war, and while running away they find themselves on the River Siglachan. Suddenly the FAIRY QUEEN appears and she asks them what’s the matter. After not-so-fair maiden recounts her story, the Fairy Queen tells her to dip her face into the Sligachan River for 7 seconds (no more, no less) and she will be beautiful again. She does this #success; the not-fair-maiden becomes fair again! The stable boy, seeing this, tries it himself and becomes very handsome (so I’m told), and the horse, realizing that something’s up decides to try as well. When the horse takes his head out of the water he becomes… a UNICORN (I legit think that is the best part of the story). The fair maiden, the now hot-stable-boy, ride away into the sunset on their unicorn and they lived happily ever after. THE END*
*not really sure what happened to the clan gearing up for war…
While I did NOT stick my face into the ice cold water for 7 seconds (pretty sure my Texas-raised body cannot handle that), I did accidentally stick my feet into the water for ~7 seconds? (AKA I fell) as I hopped around the rocks in the River Siglachan.
Old Man of Storr
Ugh I’m just on a roll with these stories because I am about to throw out another – the story behind the Old Man of Storr. The Old Man of Storr is actually just a rock formation (see image below). Ironically, the closer we got to the Old Man, the harder he was to see because he started blending in with the background.
The hike up was super refreshing! It was great to move around so much instead of being cooped up on the bus the whole time, also, as I’ve probably said 10000 times by now, the weather was AMAZING! We spent most of the time walking up and down hills and taking photos with the amazing view.
Look new cover photo!
Okay now onto the story. Once upon a time, there was a man and his wife. Every day they would climb up to the top of a hill and watch the sunset together (audience: awhhhh). Eventually they grew old and one day the wife told the man she couldn’t make the climb anymore. So the man went to the top of the hill to watch the sunset alone and cried. Then a brownie appeared (which is some kind of mischievous mythological creature) and asks the man why he’s crying. “My wife can’t climb up the hill to watch the sunset with me anymore” said the man, and the brownie was like – I can help with that, I can make it so that you and your wife will be able to watch the sunset for forever! – and he promptly turns the man and his wife into two adjacent stone pillars. While the Old Woman of Storr has long fallen, the Old Man of Storr still stands and watches the sunset. At least they’re together forever right?
Kilt Rock and Sound of Rassay + Mealt Falls and Loch Mealt
They’re all kind of one and the same. Kilt Rock – so named because it looks like a kilt – is the far rock formation in the picture below. It’s hard to see, but the yellowish ring at the base combined with the vertical pattern of the rocks, kind of looks like a kilt. The Sound of Rassay large is the whole body of water, and Mealt Falls is the waterfall, which comes from Loch Mealt (not pictured).
Just to give a gauge on height, then taking this photo, I was absolutely terrified of dropping my photo into the water.
This is one of my favorite spots in the whole trip. The water was such a pretty blue-green, the sky so clear. Now I understand why they named Skye the 4th prettiest island in the world.
Lealt Gorge & Falls
Lealt Gorge was just another one of nature’s playgrounds; I ran up and down and jumped on top of rocks while simultaneously avoiding sheep poo. The gorge is actually the bottom half of the photo, but the mountains on top are nice too.
Oh remember the broken window? and the bus officials in Glasgow who said it was safe to drive with? They took it back. The bus window was now deemed unsafe because they were worried that if another accident happened – like if a sheep ran into the bus – it would shatter the last pane and actually hurt someone (no lie, that’s the example they gave). The four seats in front of me had to be vacated – so we shuffled some people around buses and that was the end of that. Spoiler alert – there were no further accidents so that window remained in tact.
Portree – Lunch
Finally it was time for lunch at Portree, the capital of Skye. With all the jumping around I did today, it’s no wonder I was so hungry. As Skye is an island, and Portree their capital, it’s not surprising that they have some of the best Fish and Chips since they get the local catch for free. Since all the tour guides tell their tour groups this, it also wasn’t surprising that the lines for fish and chips were very long. Vanessa and I decided not to go to the “original” fish and chips place because we were too hungry to wait.
I am a huge fan of fish and chips in general (which is so not healthy), but adding salt and vinegar? Oh yes VERY much a fan.
The line for food was quite long, so we didn’t have much time to explore Portree. Also, it was a Sunday so most shops were closed anyways. Vanessa and I cut it pretty close trying to get back to the bus on time but we made it and settled in the the long bus ride home.
Return to Edinburgh
To help us pass the time on our bus ride home, Jen put on three movies. The first was Brave (YAY!), the second was a horror movie called the Wickerman (BOOO), and the last was Highlander (ehhhhh). By the second movie, most of the bus was tired of the constant noice, I was out by the third one. The Wickerman scared me too much to keep watching.
My favorite part of the whole experience was definitely Skye. The weather held out for us that day. The sky was so blue and the water, also so blue, and everything was blue. It was an amazing experience and definitely one I would recommend everyone visiting the island just once – in whatever style they prefer most. For those of us who like history, definitely a guided tour. For others who enjoy going at their own pace and stopping spontaneously to explore, then Skye is probably better as a self designed road trip with friends. But definitely go! As Jen said, beauty of Skye just “eats at your soul until you’re just lightness.”