Skye, Shores and Sea
Skye is Scotland’s second biggest island, but it is still only about 55 miles long and 15 or so across. Given its strange lopsided lobster shape, width is really a matter of opinion more than geographic fact, but its odd outline of serrated headlands means the island has a coastline of about 1000 miles – something to bear in mind perhaps if you’re reckoning on a walk around it before breakfast. It’s a sort of reverse Tardis, more outside than in. No shortage of places to explore here then, and no shortage of activities either – ideal for a week’s break or longer.
This being the west coast of Scotland rather than the Algarve, the weather can be changeable, and sometimes wet, but Skye does have a mild climate, with few frosts away from the mountains, but equally few scorchers. So beaches are for strolling on, for poking sticks in rock pools, flying kites and fishing.
And there are some excellent beaches. The most famous on Skye are the sands of Coral Beach near Dunvegan , coral actually a misnomer as its pinky white sand is formed from dried bits of plant algae. Keep your eyes open here for Eider, Barnacle Geese and Turnstone. At the end of Dunvegan Head (you’ll have to walk the last bit without the benefit of paths) you’ll find the highest cliffs on Skye, Biod an Athair, towering 1000 feet above the waves.
Not far behind in scenic terms are the beaches at Staffin , but don’t just look out to sea or Staffin Island, look down – here and there are some dinosaur footprints.
Only a short car trip south of Portree is Braes Beach, probably the most varied and interesting: views across to Raasay which along with the slope behind shelters the spot, with caves and sea stacks nearby, and pleasant sand.
Glen Brittle Beach would get the best-beach votes of others, not least because it is rather out of the way (not that Skye in ever exactly hectic) on the west coast (the left side of the lobster’s body if that’s how you can picture the island). Take a towel not for the swimming which is very tricky for which you can read potentially dangerous, but for the Demon Shower – nature’s plumbing of a burn above you cascading water onto the willing. Even more remote is Camas Daraich beach, almost on the left edge of the lobster’s tail – a hike from the nearest road, but easily found – it’s on the route to the Point of Sleat . Rockpools, views to Eigg, and lovely washed sands.
The cliffs of Biod an Athair are far from the only geological features worthy of note on the coastline. There are other such cliffs to be viewed, photographed and in some cases carefully walked above, plus sights like Macleod’s Maidens near Idrigill Point (the elbow-bottom bit of the left-hand claw). Ardmore Point on the Waternish Peninsula (the lobster’s head) offers a double rock arch; or the Kilt Rock, so called because of its checked colouration, is just a mile or so from Staffin.
Man-made features are perhaps of no less interest, the lighthouses at Neist Point and Waternish Point impressive, but not half so much so as the beautiful Dunvegan Castle . Rather different in scale, but lovely nonetheless, is the village of Stein on Waternish , designed as a model fisheries settlement by Telford . It failed in its original intention, but remains as a fascinating reminder and a wonderful example of a certain solid branch of Georgian architecture.
An expedition you really should consider during a break is a boat trip with one of the experienced companies who organise such things for specific purposes such as whale spotting – the occasional Humpback, Minkes whose numbers vary year to year, or their smaller cousins the Bottlenose Dolphin. You may also spot basking sharks (harmless if less than handsome creatures), sea otters, seals and looking upwards the lovely sea eagle. Join a glass bottom boat and you’ll see plenty more beneath you too.
Skye has a reputation for its sunsets, spectacular fiery skies that delight the observer and provide plentiful material for the photographer. Some of us can think of few better ways to spend an evening hour than sitting on a west-facing beach watching the sun descend in a display of reds and golds while sipping a glass of the local scotch, Talisker , distilled at Carbost beside Loch Harport, a sea inlet. Come to think of it missing an expedition to the distillery would be almost insulting to the island. Combine the two activities by paying the obligatory call, buying your scotch, and hiking cross country westwards to (fittingly) Talisker Bay.
While we are talking about Loch Harport we should not forget its oyster beds, just one of the fine sources of seafood on Skye, which is famed for the excellence of such fayre served in restaurants all around the island.
For those who fancy catching their own dinner fishing on Skye is excellent. It is not for this piece to go into any detail about game fishing , so suffice it to say that many make the pilgrimage. Boat fishing offshore is productive, local skippers of course knowing the best marks for the seasonally plentiful mackerel, the good-sized pollock to be had here, and other delights like ling. But beach-casting is likely to bring rewards, and (take great care) some of the rockier spots that let you dangle a line directly into deep water will give good sport. Additional species to be found include dabs, coalies, wrasse, gurnard and the ubiquitous dogfish. Enough variety to fill a week if angling is your passion.
If you aren’t content to let your bait act as your underwater proxy, then diving is popular off Skye, which has seen more than its share of shipwrecks over the years. Even though it should go without saying, care, planning and local organisers or at the very least a buddy are essential. Given the cold water, being suitably clad for diving is probably the best way to get into the sea, even if not actually going in for diving proper – for example coasteering (a fancy name for jumping off a (safe) rock and swimming round the coast) has begun to take off, though that seems like the wrong verb.
Thinking above the waves rather than beneath them, Skye has sailing schools and boats of all types for hire, with kayaking a popular pastime (in good weather it should be added). And on the subject of boats, Uig (another pleasant bay) has ferries westwards to Tarbert and Lochmaddy, Sconsor the short trip across to Raasay, and Armadale near Ardvasar a half-hour hop to Mallaig , though if you don’t like sea travel there is of course the bridge at Kyleakin these days.
Skye is a beautiful place, with a wonderful coastline. And bear in mind that at 1000 miles in length, there is plenty enough room for all. We have a wealth of accommodation options on the island, hotels B&Bs and self-catering , in the tiny metropolises, or even more away from it all if that’s what you prefer.
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