I’d spent a fairly long time carousing about in Spain, soaking up the sun, when I decided what I really needed was a sobering dose of Scottish downpours to bring me back to reality —a more literal kind of soaking, if you will. I kid, I kid. In spite of its reputation for rain, I’ve always been fascinated by Scotland — the land of bonnie accents, kilts, haggis, Scotch, the Edinburgh Fringe and of course, scenery rivalling that of New Zealand, my home country. I’ll reluctantly admit I knew next to nothing about the rugged, scenic Isle of Skye until the kindness of strangers presented me with the opportunity to visit.
Scotland for solo travellers
Pottering around Edinburgh on my own for a few days, I was hit by a sort of midway post-travel depression. I’d just capped off an incredible experience of working at a hostel in Barcelona, where I’d been constantly supported by a family of amazing volunteers. While my Edinburgh accommodation was nice, it didn’t match that homely vibe I’d complacently enjoyed in Barcelona. I found myself giving up on making new friendships. I didn’t want friends, I wanted to mope around on my own like a moody teenager. Well, that was all well and good for about a day until I became unbearably bored of my own company and instead latched on to the nearest travellers who’d tolerate me — who just happened to be Dakota and Hayley, two American girls in my dorm. Poor things.
Hitchhiker’s guide to hiking with strangers
For the majority of my travels, I’d followed that classic, free-spirited mentality of having no clue where I was off to next. I mentioned this to Dakota, who asked, ‘Hey, why don’t you just come with us to Skye?’ I’d literally met them that day, but these kindhearted girls were happy for me to gatecrash their otherwise well-planned holiday. I was glad to follow whatever plan they had. And so, essentially hitchhiking with them to Skye (although I paid my fair share of the car hire fees), I experienced the most dramatic scenery I’ve seen so far in the United Kingdom. I felt so at home.
Edinburgh to Isle of Skye
We caught the train to Inverness, driving from there across the bridge to Skye. We then stayed in Kyleakin, on the east coast. Beauty abounds on this island, and it’s all free to visit! The Skye is the limit (hehe). It is possible to use public transport on the island, but if you can afford car hire, do ride in comfort and independence.
What to pack for Skye
It was May, not a particularly busy month for tourism. The sun was consistently reluctant to show its face. I was definitely not prepared for hiking. I had my trusty Timberlands, a warm downy jacket, and layers — but the rain, man, the rain! We went to the Fairy Pools. It rained. We hiked at the Quiraing. It rained. Looking for the Storr? It’s raining. If there’s anything I learned, it’s that when packing for a trip to Skye (or anywhere in Scotland for that matter) don’t forget wet weather gear or you’ll end up using a towel for a scarf and your own hair as a hat. Much as I grumble about the weather, to be honest, the greyness and fog gifted a certain bleak beauty, complementing Skye’s natural topography. Summer visitors will experience something distinct, but my photos all came out with a natural moodiness — no filter required. The whole island is an Instagrammer’s paradise, so embrace your vain side and have a photo shoot. An absolute must for your packing list is good walking shoes or hiking boots. While the walks are not difficult, you’ll thank yourself for selecting a waterproof pair.
Places to visit
Aeons ago, natural disasters — earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, etcetera — created much of the world’s natural beauty. For Skye, the earth was rocked by landslides, resulting in an enchanting, undulating landscape fit for a fairy kingdom, showcased in the following places:
For mind-boggling, captivating views, don’t miss this section of northern Skye. We hiked at two spots: the Storr, and the Quiraing landslip. The latter, made up of stomach-dropping cliffs, plateaus and pinnacles tucked away from view, was my favourite part of Skye. We climbed to a lofty plateau for a photoshoot, taking in the deep valleys and pools of water below. Of course, towards the end of the hike, these views suddenly disappeared when the Skye sky unleashed a massive load of fog and rain. Momentarily blinded, I hadn’t a clue where we were going. Luckily, we re-encountered the path, and didn’t end up hiking off a cliff! Despite its vast expanse and a few steep, uphill sections, the Quiraing hike is a novice-proof loop that’ll lead you back to the carpark, rain or shine. For a pinnacled landscape with views out over the ocean, the Storr is another must visit. The highest pinnacle, called The Old Man of Storr, was masked somewhat when old mate fog reappeared. Luckily, it made the site more eerily captivating.
Fairy Pools and Fairy Glen
It’s no wonder Skye celebrates folklore when the beauty of its scenery is so bizarre and bewitching. The Cuillin Mountain Range, source of the river Brittle, empties out to produce the famous Fairy Pools. You can swim in them — not that we did, didn’t want to disturb the fairies (oh who am I kidding, it was raining and far too cold, of course). We had a whole day of hiking ahead of us, but if you’re more prepared for a dip, go for it! Continue your fairy experience amongst dipping hills, creeks, and stone formations at the Fairy Glen of Uig. The permanent feature is a rock spiral. Scrambling up to the peak pinnacle, you’ll enjoy a vantage point over a green sea of dips and diving hills. Although not as impressive as the Quiraing, it’s still worth a visit for a picnic undisturbed by hoards of tourists.
Neist Point Lighthouse
High on a hill was a lonely lighthouse, lay ee odl lay ee odl lay hee hoo! Built in 1909, the lighthouse and keepers’ cottages sit atop cliff edges at the tip of Neist Point. The lighthouse became automated in the 90s, and so the keepers left. Eerily, the rooms appeared to have been suddenly abandoned overnight — beds were made up, furniture remained in living rooms — but vandals had left the place derelict. Long scrolls of paper were strewn across the living quarters. Windows were smashed or left wide open. I was a bit creeped out, but the craggy cliffs surrounding the buildings and nearby beach were great for exploring. Visit this spot for an eldritch peek at history and dramatic views out over the sea.
Trusting new travel buddies
Exhausted after hiking in the relentless Scottish rain all week, I opted to chill in the car while the others went to get snacks. They left me with the keys and I thought to myself, wow, I might know them fairly well now, and they hopefully know I’d never do anything, but that’s pretty trusting to leave a practical stranger with all your things. The following day when we parted ways, I brought this up. They cracked up laughing and said “We though the exact same thing!” Hayley had paused when leaving the car and said, “Is it really a good idea to leave this stranger in the car?” Dakota replied, “Well, good thing we trust her.” I’m very grateful they let me rain on their parade for a week. Going with the flow, I hadn’t realised how unmissable Skye was before I’d experienced it. Take my word for it and plan your trip to Scotland!