Isle of Skye
Part 1 of our Inverness visit was about the city itself and some of the day trips we took from the city centre. Of course a trip to Inverness would not be complete without a visit to the Isle of Skye. So part 2 of our holiday in the highlands is an epic day trip to the Isle of Mists.
Prior to our holiday, I had booked a day tour with a tour company called WOW Scotland who drive you around various places in a bright purple and green minivan. It was very bright. On the bright side, you always knew where the minivan was. Several tour companies offer day trips to the Isle of Skye, some stop at whisky distilleries, but this one stopped at several film locations used in movies. As a film buff – I naturally had to book to go on this tour.
As we left Inverness, the tour guide spoke of the Caledonian Canal and how it connects four major lochs of the Great Glenn: Loch Dochfour, Loch Oichy, Loch Lochy, and Loch Ness. The tour guide went on to talk about how the canals built linked the Atlantic and the North Sea, as centuries ago, Scotland was allied with France and not with England due to the Jacobite rebellion.
I appreciated the history lesson as we drove along the rolling hills. Throughout the day at each stop, there would be snippets of history and interesting tidbits to enhance the tour experience.
The first stop was Urquhart Castle. This is one of the oldest dome castles in Scotland and was used as a filming location for Robin Hood. We didn’t go too close here, but close enough for a quick photo opportunity. After this day trip we actually went back to visit the ruined castle, which I wrote about in Part 1.
Nearby in the same village was the first modern sighting of Nessie in 1933. Soon after, other sightings were reported near the same place. Hilariously, the tour guide noted that near these sightings is a pub that sells over 600 different varieties of whisky. And that maybe the source of the sightings might have been down to the whiskies.
We passed the Glen Shiel bridge, where there was a battle between England and the allied Spain and Jacobites fighting for the Old Pretender (son of James II and VII of England and Scotland). This was one of the early Jacobite uprisings that were squashed by the English.
Eilean Donan Castle
The next stop was Eilean Donan Castle. Initially this was a look out post and not a castle. It was partially destroyed during the Jacobite uprisings, and then rebuilt 200 years later.
This was the film locations for Highlander, Made of Honour, and The World is Not Enough. The views here were lovely and it was quite peaceful here. In the morning we went behind the castle to take pictures and it was very quiet, but you could see crowds of people at the front of the castle.
We came back here in the evening and it was empty, so we then took pictures at the front of the castle. The good thing about this tour was that the tour guide knew when these places would be less crowded to take better pictures. We didn’t have time to go in, but it looks interesting enough from the outside that next time I’d like to have a look inside.
We crossed the Skye Bridge over to the Isle of Mists aka the Isle of Skye. As we drove over the bridge we shouted at the top of our lungs “We believe in fairies!” – just in case there was a troll under the bridge. You can’t stop on this road bridge, but the views were pretty amazing. There was a rainbow as we crossed, and for the first time ever, I saw a rainbow from end to end.
Highland Coo aka big cows
We made a quick stop to see some highland cows. They looked so chill, munching on the grass, completely unfazed and uninterested in us humans. We were informed that there are 200 breeds of sheep in Scotland, and one of these breeds was originally from Spain. Spanish ships came over to Scotland to assist in the Jacobite rebellion, and on these Spanish ships were livestock, including their own native Spanish sheep.
Due to stormy weather, the ships arrived in Scotland with battered crew and the sheep ended up making Scotland their new home. I enjoyed the animated history lessons from the tour guide as we drove past rolling hills under misty clouds. I recall the tour guide mentioned that stereotypically one experiences all seasons of the weather in one day in Scotland. He added that one can experience all seasons of the weather in one photo in the Isle of Skye.
Our next main stop was a tiny little town called Portree, the capital of the island. It was created as a fishing village many many years ago. There was a harbour with multi coloured houses, reminding me of Balamory. It was very very windy here – definite fresh sea breeze and crisp air. From the harbour you can also see some distant islands covered under mist.
Some shops are locally sourced so if you’re after gifts from Skye made from Skye materials, then it’s great. I managed to find some tea towels and coasters of Skye, which I was quite pleased with. Apparently most places close at 3pm, as it’s now coming into the off season so there are fewer tourists. It did look rather idyllic to live, but if places close at 3pm, it’s probably not the most practical place to live. I did enjoy the fresh sea air though.
As we continued on with the tour, I recalled the tour guide noted the sunny and bright weather to the left of the minivan. But we were driving round the hills to the right where the weather was atmospheric and dramatic with misty clouds instead. At the time I had no idea what he was talking about, but alas, he was indeed correct.
Soon we reached the Quiraing. A vast and magnificent landscape. A film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth was shot here, starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. We parked near a cemetery and climbed up a slope up to some grasslands. As we reached the top it started raining, and as we continued walking along the wind picked up so it was practically raining sideways!
It was majestic. It was as if we were in some mystical medieval tale, traipsing through the land to find a mystical artefact. Such vibrant green grass and rolling hills partially obscured by magical mist. This would have been a lovely walk in the summer. In autumn though, we didn’t last very long outside! It’s one of Britain’s largest landslips and actually still moves a little each year.
Mealt Falls and Kilt Rock
The next stop was almost as magnificent and definitely less rainy and cold! Mealt Falls is one of the few waterfalls in the world that drops directly into an ocean. Loch Mealt, a freshwater lake, feeds into this waterfall. Behind the waterfall is a 60m high sea cliff named Kilt Rock because, of course, it looks like a kilt.
The fountain was quite low down below the cliff edge so you have to lean over a little to get a decent picture. Dinosaur remains were found here at the bottom of this cliff. At the top near the viewing point there are plasters of the dinosaur footprints so you don’t have to go to the bottom to view the real footprints.
As I was taking in the scenery and breathing in the fresh crisp air I thought I was going crazy hearing eerie singing winds. But the metal railings preventing you from falling into the ocean have holes in them so when the wind comes through they make haunting windpipe sounds. As you walk along the viewing point you can see the vast water – it was magnificent. It wasn’t raining at this point, which I really appreciated.
Old Man of Storr
Not too far away was a quick photo opportunity of the Old Man of Storr. This was used as a filming location for a cave scene in Prometheus. Caused by an ancient landslip, this was a breathtaking rock pinnacle peeking under a cloud of mist.
When we passed this initially we couldn’t see anything as it was so misty. On our way back from Mealt Falls, the mist had cleared a little and we saw it: this foreboding rock. I imagine it would be a lovely walk or hike in the summer. In autumn, the mist definitely enhanced the dramatic atmosphere.
And of course, we come to the main event: the Fairy Pools. Located in Glenbrittle, the pools are fed entirely from rain water. When we visited the weather was wet and windy, which wasn’t great – but at least there were no midges.
The first set of stepping stones was low and the rocks in the middle were a little unsteady. A few people were uncertain about hopping over but the water was low and the current was weak, so a few people just walked in the river and used the stepping stones to keep them upright. I managed to cross over and my shoes did get a little wet but nothing a bit of walking didn’t shake off. I saw a few dogs try to race across but their owners held them back – they were super eager dogs!
The second set of stepping stones are larger and steadier so you can hop along them. The space between a couple of stones was a little too wide for me so I had to step down into the water and leap up to the stepping stone again. Again, nothing too strenuous. It wasn’t raining when we visited so my shoes eventually dried off.
Walking up, it did get a little steep but it wasn’t too bad. I would say moderate walking, not as bad as Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, where I felt we were practically rock climbing some parts. Can get quite muddy, so appropriate footwear is required. Here it was much flatter, though there is a little gradient, you can easily pause and look all around you.
There were misty mountain tops and the sun was shining through the clouds – it was sublime. The sound of the rushing water was also relaxing. Ah, nature. We soon reached the bottom of the Fairy Pools. When we visited it wasn’t raining so there wasn’t as much water as I expected. In fact, it was a lot smaller than I expected it to be.
I felt there were loads of people around, considering the time of year. I can’t imagine being able to get a decent photo in the summer when it would most likely be absolutely heaving with people. We walked up close to the top where we saw a man on top of the fountain, eagerly climbing in for a good photo opportunity. I wasn’t sure if he was brave or stupid to be honest – some people really do anything for a good photo opportunity, I suppose.
After taking everything in, we made our way back down as we had limited time on the tour schedule. As we walked down we saw a mother carrying her baby in her front, dog lead in one hand and phone in the other hand. Where was her partner helping her? She managed to make it across the two sets of stepping stones ok.
I made sure to take more photos on the way down, as the hubby was rushing me on the way up so I didn’t take as many photos on the way up. This was my chance. Earlier the hubby had shown me how to take panorama photos and this was the perfect place for it. The scenery was so breathtaking, how do you know when to start or stop a shot?
Five Sisters Of Kintail
What a long day. On our journey back to Inverness we passed the Five Sisters Of Kintail. The tour guide informed us of the legend: five sisters waiting for five brothers to marry but they go off for war. The five brothers did not return, so the sisters asked the wisest woman they knew why. The wise woman replied that the five brothers would not return in this lifetime. And so the five sisters turned into mountain peaks to wait for their lovers.
Definitely a jam-packed day. I actually fell asleep on the journey back to Inverness – the walking and weather definitely took it out of me! I am glad we managed to visit Skye and managed to see so many breathtaking and magnificent landscapes – it has really made me appreciate nature on a whole new level.
I would definitely recommend WOW Scotland as a tour company, the guide was very friendly and informative. Definitely worth a trip to Skye, you can do it all in a day.