Back in April of 2015 Jim and I were invited to a wedding (for Mike & Rebecca!) in Sligo, Ireland. We decided to make a trip of it, rent a car, and really explore the country. It was a fantastic experience and we walked away from that vacation with a bit of a crush on Ireland and thoughts of buying a retirement home there. As such, it should be no surprise that we had been thinking about a trip to Scotland for a number of years. In early May, we finally made that dream a reality and shipped ourselves up to Scotland.
Our first destination was the Isle of Skye or in old Norse – “cloud island.” If you’ve ever seen photos of Skye, you will understand why this was our first choice for exploring. Skye is one of the largest islands, full of opportunities for hiking, gourmet food, wildlife sightings (otters, penguins), rocky beaches, and not to mention amazing landscapes/rock formations.
Northern Scotland is not especially well served by public transportation, so we decided to fly into Edinburgh, rent a car, and make the six hour drive on our first day. What’s the worst that could happen, we thought? Jim had now driven on the opposite side of the road in Ireland as well as outside of London, so we felt this would be another great opportunity to see the unseen sides of Scotland on our own timetable.
All appeared to be going well on our drive – we were listening to music, impressed by the greenery (really, the yellowery…gorse was EVERYWHERE) as well as the mountains (not hills) and differences between the Irish and Scottish countryside. About mid way through our drive we stopped for a late lunch at a little cafe, surprised to find it was (1) open and (2) still serving food, both of which served as proof we were no longer in France. After 20 or so minutes on the road we received an alert from our car that one of the tires had low pressure. We stopped at the next gas station (it was closed), but it did not have an air machine. After inquiring with the Inn next door, we were told the next station was maybe 20 minutes (or 20 kilometers) up the road – Shiel Shop. Our car continued to mention the low tire pressure and when we arrived at the next station we found neither an air machine nor open store. What’s worse, the front left tire was now completely deflated. Unfortunately, our rental did not have a donut or the necessary tools to change a tire. So, we called the rental accident & road assistance number. Almost four hours later (on the phone they reminded us that we were essentially “in the middle of no where”), around 10pm, a tow truck towed us to Kyle of Lochalsh where he fixed our tire.
While I don’t recommend getting a flat tire in a foreign country, I will say it was a bit of an adventure riding in a tow truck (man they are very high up), traveling at unbelievable speeds on the tiniest of roads, and chatting with a local who pointed out numerous sights along the way. I’d also never watched someone change a tire in a shop (it is fascinating)…it was also fun to learn Jim spent some time working in a garage and was in charge of tire changing. There was also some eerie foreshadowing, as the driver had mentioned we were the 14th flat tire he’d fixed that Sunday. We asked if that was normal, his face and shrug implied it was. Not super comforting.
A little after 11pm our tire had been changed and we were off to our hotel (where thank goodness they were still around to let us check in). It had been a surprising start to the trip, and we slept like rocks.
The next morning we had set our sights on hiking the Quiraing. Ideally, we would’ve gotten up early and been the first to arrive, but after our late evening, we decided to sleep in a bit and have a proper breakfast in Portree. Should you find yourself there on a bank holiday, The Granary was open and quite tasty. In fact, this is the spot where Jim ordered a Scottish breakfast and tried his first haggis (a Scottish dish consisting of a sheep’s or calf’s offal mixed with suet, oatmeal, and seasoning and boiled in a bag, traditionally one made from the animal’s stomach). A bit to his surprise, he loved it, which he described as a super savory oatmeal (I still thought it tasted a bit metallic…but I don’t like liver or oatmeal).
After our lunch we made the drive to the Quiraing (which they taught us how to properly pronounce at the restaurant – Kuh-rang). The day had started out sunny, but by the time we arrived the clouds had rolled in. Determined to explore, anyway, we marched ahead, knowing we’d turn back if it became too foggy. Armed with a map, we made our way up the trail.
The above photos are toward the beginning of the hike, when the visibility was probably the best. You can see the variations in the terrain. Here we passed lots of hikers heading back toward the parking lot. Most looked miserable, many dressed in regular clothing. This is also close to where we saw a woman carrying a lamb which she said had taken a tumble down the mountain. We weren’t sure where she was taking the lamb, but we were about 110% sure she wasn’t supposed to be holding him or taking him anywhere. Regardless, it was the absolute cutest lamb I’ve ever seen (more on my lamb love, later).
In the photos below you’ll see how quickly the green land was replaced by rocks. I want to say there was only 30 minutes between the first set of pictures and the second below.
Something else to note from the photos above is how much foggier/mistier it became the longer we were on the trail. It’s recommended you wear waterproof clothing and shoes (we did), and I cannot recommend this more. In fact, if you have waterproof pants, wear them. And definitely wear a hat (it kept my face from being drenched) along with some waterproof gloves. It’s colder, wetter, and boggier than you can imagine (at one point the ground was so boggy it was like walking on a sponge, where the ground enveloped your foot up to your ankle between steps).
Somewhere around the two hour mark we decided it was raining too hard and visibility was too low, so we turned around to head back to the car park. Based on our map we think at this point we should see the water where all that fog appears, instead.
While probably the wettest hike (though La Garganta Verde was pretty wet, too), this was also one of the most enjoyable as neither of us had ever seen landscape like that, let alone hiked on it. On our walk back to the car we decided we’d go back to the hotel, change into dry clothes and then set out to explore more of the island. Perfect. Or so we thought.
I didn’t mention this before, but the road to get to the Quiraing is a single lane road, riddled with gigantic potholes as well as sheep. It’s the sort of road that doesn’t look like you should be driving on it, but it is exactly the road you drive on. We successfully maneuvered to the parking lot, but did not have the same success on the way out. About 15 minutes into the drive we received the tire pressure alert, again. We pulled over and immediately you could hear the air rushing out of the tire (back, left) like a balloon whizzing around a room. Our hearts sank as we repeated the process from the night before, waiting about four hours for the tow-truck to arrive.* This time, though, there weren’t any tires available to fix our car, so they’d need to take it to the shop and keep it overnight. So, another truck driver drove us to our hotel.
* I’d say the only part that kept us sane was all the lamb eye-candy frolicking around. Lambing season must have just started as there were gorgeous, little, white lambs everywhere. I had no idea how much I love lambs, but I LOVE lambs. If you’ve never seen a baby lamb run, you’re missing out as it is quite possibly the most adorable vision on the planet. Here’s a video that isn’t quite as cute, but still pretty great.
Luckily, our hotel (The Skeaboast House Hotel) had a restaurant and we were able to eat dinner without needing a car. The dinner was great (especially after a long day) and the staff made so many great recommendations for things to do the following morning. Unfortunately, though, we didn’t get our car back from the shop until noon, it was pouring rain (so visibility in general on the island would’ve been poor), so we decided to start our drive back down the island to the Loch Lomond area.
The parts of Isle of Skye we saw, we loved. My wish is that it’d been a little bit drier with a bit of sun, our rental car had been an off-roading vehicle, or we’d hired a company to drive us around on the island. Regardless, we made some lasting memories and can now laugh.
Isle of Skye, we love your scenery, but we hate your roads!