It’s a beautiful clear morning in Glencoe and I begin making my way west to Mallaig to jump on a ferry that heads for Isle of Skye.
After driving the previous two days from Edinburgh, I gas up before getting on the ferry because I hear gas stations on Skye are limited (there are a few spread out on the island). Price check: About $43 USD to fill roughly three quarters of a tank of gas in a Toyota Yaris.
The drive to Mallaig should be about two hours but because the sun shines and the water glitters on the horizon, I make it in about three. Scotland has so many beautiful spots to pull off and take photos it really adds to your travel time! I guess there are worse problems to have.
Along the way I stop by a Glencoe book shop and later Glenfinnan where they have a wee museum (click on the pic of the canister to see how Jacobites shared secret messages). I also notice a few things…
Mallaig is a small port town on the west coast of the Highlands. It has a ferry to Skye and the Outer Hebrides. What are the Outer Hebrides? Well Skye is part of the Inner Hebrides which is part of an archipelago (yes Scotland has an archipelago!). The Inner Hebrides are the islands closest to the west coast of the mainland—Isle of Skye, Mull, Rum, Eigg, and Muck among others—while the Outer Hebrides consist of Lewis, Harris, St.Kilda, North Ulst, South Ulst, Barra, and Benbecula. It’s popular to travel to these islands via the ferries from Oban in Argyle (I’ll visit there in a few days) or Uig on Skye.
Know Before You Go
Whether you’re traveling via car, bicycle, or your legs make sure to buy your ferry ticket as soon as possible (at least months ahead). Do not wait the week, day, or hour before it departs. I was given this advice by a native Scot so it’s legit. It’s common to think you can arrive ready to purchase a ticket on the same day only to learn that the ferry is already sold out. Visit CalMac to book your ticket online now! My round trip ticket was $31.81 USD to transport the car. Cheaper if you’re on foot or bringing a bike. Unicorns? Priceless.
If riding a ferry isn’t for you then drive north to Kyle of Lochalsh and take the bridge to Skye.
The ride from Mallaig to Armadale on Skye is about 30 minutes and has a scenic view. When you arrive there is a coffee shop and a few clothing stores to buy things you probably don’t need (aka Tourist Traps).
While driving north to Portree, I notice Skye’s vistas consist more of rolling hills rather than the dramatic mountains of the Highlands. Most of the brown you see in the pictures is heather and will turn purple. There are three types of heather in Scotland and they each bloom at different times of the year.
My life revolves around food. Unfortunately I didn’t do a ton of research on where to eat on Skye so I return to Claymore Restaurant in Broadford. I first visited here on my 3 Day Outlander tour (we popped over on our first day) and I return because it’s familiar and good. Their staff is also quite friendly particularly when I overhear a foreigner brainlessly ask the waitress, “Are there Ubers on Skye?” Insert the loudest, longest, and most offended eye roll I can muster. She could’ve been from the States or Canada (I’m gonna say the States because it makes her sound more dumb). The waitress is very nice in her reply which proves how nice Scots are (or at least Scottish waitresses). In NYC, no tourist would be left unscathed from an utter disdainful reaction for asking a dumb question.
Going back to my point about how nice the wait staff is at Claymore: My waiter ran out to my car after I left to return my guidebook that I absentmindedly placed on the counter when I paid my bill. This moment was a message from the universe that I heard loud and clear—Tip him. I did but didn’t have to. This brings me to…
Tipping at Restaurants in Scotland
After spending two weeks there, I’m still not clear when it’s socially acceptable to do this. There seems not to be a hard and fast rule. My first visit at Claymore Restaurant, I was told by my guide that you don’t have to tip at that establishment. To give you an idea: This was a sit-down restaurant where a waiter took your order and served you. At the end of your meal, you go up to the counter and pay your bill. In my neck of the woods (or on the other side of the ocean) my people tip at a place like this. Apparently not so in Scotland according to a local. Additionally, you don’t tip at bars but you should tip 10%-15% at fine dining restaurants. The tip rule changes from place to place so don’t be afraid to ask locals for their advice. It’s a bit trial by fire.
Portree isn’t particularly interesting to be honest. I arrive in the early evening and not many shops are open. I am just passing through en route to my B&B in Edinbane and need to grab a coffee and something to snack on.
A Portree Place to Eat
Café Arriba, Portree, Isle of Skye—Up the stairs and a colorful café with tables, pillows, and window benches greet you. Their menu appears great for breakfast and lunch (no dinner) or just a coffee and dessert if you prefer.
Back on the road I drive further north to my B&B in Edinbane. It’s a village between Portree and Dunvegan. As I get close, I drive down the wrong road and then when I’m on the right road drive past Cnoc Aluin! Eventually I arrive. As I get acquainted with the house, I ask my host Irene if there is a key for the front door?
“Oh we keep it unlocked,” she says matter of factly.
I freeze because in my urban mind unlocking your home will allow psycho killers, burglars, and other unsavory characters that roam the streets (and Scottish hills) to enter and kill you in your sleep.
She assures me it’s safe.
That night I go down the road to Edinbane Inn to grab a whisky because if a murderer is gonna come into that house, I don’t want to be there! Jokes aside, I want to check out a local pub and get my whisky on.
Irene says there is live music playing so I pop over. Shortly after I arrive, I make a new friend at the bar.
Steve lives on Skye and is having a drink while his wife is at choir practice. He’s a painter and wears a grey sweater vest over a button down shirt. Behind his wire-rimmed glasses is a friendly demeanor and natural openness. Even sitting on a stool next to me I can tell he has a lean angular body with white hair that tops off his head. He asks me where I’m from and what made me decide to visit the Inn tonight.
“I heard there was live music,” I say and look around to a room with tables filled with only locals eating and drinking. I guess that’s its own kind of music.
Steve proceeds to ask the bartender whether they play live anymore on Wednesdays? Nope. Sundays now. Both of them clearly know each other as the bartender runs through the local musicians that Steve knows and which instruments they play.
“Sometimes we’ll have Sam who plays the accordion.”
“An accordion?” Steve asks bewildered then chuckles. “I wouldn’t cross the street for an accordion!”
He kindly buys me a drink. Local hospitality. I learn that one of his sons lives in Spain so he and his wife like to go and visit the grandkids. I ask if they fly and like most Europeans he says, “No. We drive.”
I’m not used to driving a few hours and being in another country with a different language. If I want to experience that I have to take a plane!
“We’ll normally take a long weekend to visit,” he says.
Remembering my introduction at the B&B earlier today I ask, “Do you lock your doors?”
“Not even on a long weekend?” My pitch creeps higher in anticipation. Surely on long weekends…
“No,” he replies then seeing the surprise on my face he retorts, “What if the neighbor needs to borrow some milk?”
He’s so matter of fact about it that I wonder why I didn’t think of it. Oh that’s right, I’m from New York City.
Get In at Edinbane Inn – Edinbane is a village between Portree and Dunvegan (where you can check out the Isle’s castle). This Inn is a popular restaurant with the locals and it also provides accommodations. Live music on Sundays!
It’s my last day in Skye and that means gift shopping and more adventure seeking!
Edinbane Pottery, Edinbane, Isle of Skye– In the center of the village lies the pub but if you drive past you’ll find this craft shop. Filled with all sort of dishes, bowls, cups, vases, utensils – you name it! It’s a great place to get handmade items that are uniquely Skye.
Island at the Edge, Edinbane, Isle of Skye – As you drive along the roads in Scotland, keep your eyes peeled for small, unassuming signs for a local craft shop. Often people will sell their wares from their home like Island at the Edge! Yasmin owns the shop and sells her knitwear including Harris Tweed items. The wool she uses is from the sheep that she and her husband breed on their croft. They are staying in a motor home while they build their house which seems a common activity here. Before I leave, I pick up some beautiful knitwear for the winter in NYC. You can check out their FB page here.
Talisker Whisky Distillery, Carbost, Isle of Skye – Get your whisky on and visit this distillery. Whiskies from this part of Scotland are very peaty and smoky (peat comes from the earth and is used to dry the barley). If you take a tour you can have a sample when it commences. Also, they have a nice though small exhibit area where you can learn about whisky history and the distillation process. Don’t forget to become a Friend of the Classic Malt so you can get free admission (becoming a friend is free)!
If you’re yearning for something unbelievably delicious to pair with your fresh bottle of Talisker, look no further than The Oyster Shed! Yasmin from Island at the Edge suggests I go there (she knows the owner). It’s conveniently right up the road from Talisker Distillery. You could walk though it’s uphill and could be difficult if your whisky sample was more than just a sample.
I don’t want to give away too much but this wee box of seafood delights blew my mind mouth. So fresh. So incredibly tasty.
Have you ever lost breath because you’re eating so quick? Your taste buds are dancing like it’s Carnival except everyone is as white as the clouds in the sky, wearing kilts instead of bright feather bikinis, not gyrating to the pulsating rhythms of Brazilian music, only to the ear-piercing bagpipes as the brisk Scottish wind whips your face.
More Food on Skye:
The Old Inn, Carbost (down the street from Talisker Distillery) – A great pub on the waterfront of Loch Harport. They offer food as well and if they have their homemade banana chocolate pie – EAT IT AND DON’T SHARE WITH ANYONE.
Though whisky is the national drink of Scotland, artisanal beer is growing in popularity. You’ll find small breweries throughout Scotland. Skye Ales are very good and I suggest trying them when you visit a pub or restaurant.
Neist Point Lighthouse – “If you want to take great photos, get to Neist Point as the sun sets!” says Irene my B&B host. It’s the last leg of my day and I drive about an hour from Carbost all the way to Neist Point. This lighthouse opened in 1909 and sits on the westerly part of Skye looking out to the Western Isles. Today, it’s abandoned and derelict.
I suspect that the local kids party there due to the scattered beer bottles and mattresses strewn about or as part of an initiation, they scare each other into staying there alone at night. The place has a certain “just-abandoned” feel to it with all of its detritus as the salty wind batters against the walls. Although, I feel like there’s another story. Apparently the place once provided accommodations to tourists but that seemed to fall by the wayside. It’s now owned by a local committee but I’m not clear on why the place is ill maintained.
Regardless, the sights are dramatic as the sun sets. Standing along the bannister you feel flung out to the edge of the world.
Know Before You Go:
Though there is a handrail, steep stairs lead down from the car park so be careful. Beware of many sheep (who also take the stairs *see photos above*). There is a parking lot and no admission fee. Also, give yourself enough time to visit. A website claims it’s about 45 minutes to walk to and from the lighthouse which must be based on a jazzercise routine. If you’re not jazzercising there, give yourself about two hours to take in the sites and snap a lot of (Instagram) pictures if you want to make the entire walk. The length is about 2.2km or a little less than 1 1/2 miles.
For my foodies or those who, like me, base their lives around food: There are no concession stands or bathrooms there.
It’s so expensive to get items shipped to Skye that locals tend to make Inverness their shopping mecca for bulk groceries or clothing. They stock up, maybe spend a night or two in town, and then head back to Skye. Steve, my friend at Edinbane Inn, joked that when you take a trip to the mainland be careful to tell your neighbors—soon you’ll get so many requests your car won’t be big enough to carry everything!
My day is long. Snowflake and I drive from Edinbane, to Carbost, with a quick stop by the Fairy Pools (I didn’t walk very far), then onto Neist Point Lighthouse and back to Edinbane. We began from approximately 9:30am until approximately 10:30pm. The day is long in Scotland and the sun sets at around 10pm in spring.
Check out my video of the day below!