Isle of Skye

Some info for my readers on our trip to Skye

We organized our trip around a rough tour of ancient castles in Scotland.  Of course Dunvegan Castle is the most incredible one, but more on that later.  Our trip started in Callander with Doune Castle (of Monty Python fame), then on to Oban with the massive Dunstafnage Castle (The ferry to the western isles, including Lewis, leaves from Oban), Glen Coe with Inverlochy Castle, Skye with Dunvegan Castle and the Duntulm ruin, Laide, and finally Bridge of Allen.

Skye

We drove to the Isle of Skye across the Skye bridge.  We had been warned, but the toll still carried some sticker shock.  Fortunately it is now free!  The massive modern concrete bridge does not blend well with the rustic green Isle and country style architecture in the towns around the area, but it makes getting on and off of Skye very easy.  As you pass over the bridge, a small ruined castle pokes out from one of the inlets.  


You have to hike along the shore to get to it.  We got about an 1/2 hour into the hike, before deciding that it looked smallish and lunch was more important...


Sheep rule most of the Isle.   Shepherds go anywhere with their sheep.  In fact, a friend of mine from Scotland tells me that laws in Scotland prevent you from keeping people (or sheep) off your property.  We were not to sure about this when we went, but folks did seem to go anywhere they wanted to look at things or to tend to their flocks.  Sea towns dot the coastal sections, including a fairly large city, Portree, on the east coast.  We had a nice Italian pizza dinner there - believe it or not.


A word about the roads.  Skye has two main loops.  Only part of these loops are what they call a "dual carriage way," that is, one lane for each direction. The rest of the single carriage ways - single lane roads with traffic traveling in both directions!  There a little wide points in the road where you let oncoming cars by.  You become very adept at timing your travels to allow you to pass oncoming traffic in the passing areas!  Needless to say, travel on the single lane roads can be very slow going.  If you look at the Isle of Skye Google map you will see the two loops.  The green A87 is the dual carriage way.  The red roads are all single lane "main" roads.  If I recall correctly, Dunvegan has a dual lane road to it from the main highway, but that was an exception for off-main-road streets.

We drove the lower loop on one of the days we were there.  I believe that the Duntulm ruin is along that loop.  Duntulm Castle was originally occupied by the MacDonalds, with whom the MacLeods has some run-ins.  It has long since fallen into decay.  It used to be an "ocean view residence;"  be very careful when looking around in it. 


The outer walls go straight down to the ocean, hundreds of feet below.  Also, the "car park" is back at the main road.  Once you park, you must walk along the ocean cliffs to the castle ruin.  Fortunately, the path treads inland, so there is no need to worry about the heights unless you are near the outer walls of the ruin itself.  Make sure you have a full tank of gas before departing, I do not recall many stations around the loop, and you only travel at 30 miles an hour on the single lane roads.

Dunvegan

What can I say.  Dunvegan Castle was all I expected and more.  Dunvegan has been continuously occupied by the head of the MacLeods since the 12th Century AD - except for a brief period after the Potato Famine.  I believe at some point it had grown run-down, but the current head of the clan and Dame Flora MacLeod have done much to restore it in their respective tenures.  Originally, the castle could not be accessed by anything other than the sea, but they built a permanent road to back of the castle about one hundred years ago.  They do periodic tours of the public areas of the castle, but large sections of it remain private, as the clan chief's family lives there.  The public areas serve as a museum of the clan's heirlooms, including the most important item of all to the MacLeods, the Fairy Flag of Dunvegan.  They have it mounted for all to see - do not miss it!  I highly recommend, also, that you buy the book of MacLeod lore by Dame Flora.  It has her researched version of the Fairy Flag saga, as well as other stories of the clan history.  If you are a direct MacLeod descendant, be sure to let them know.  They have special guest book for descendants of the clan, apart from the normal one at the front door. 



Dunvegan Gardens

Some of the most impressive gardens I have ever seen surround the castle.   They break down into several sections with different designs.  One section, I recall, has a distinctive Japanese feel (the section with the waterfalls), while another has a European symmetric layout.  Be sure to leave enough time to fully explore them all.  


Beyond the gardens is a path that takes you out to the point opposite the castle.  If I recall correctly, boat tours of the surrounding coastline launch from here.  That is the point from which I was able to take the shots of the whole castle.  The point lies just far enough away to fit the castle in typical camera's field-of-view.

Dun Struan Beag Broch

Brochs are roundish forts created by the pre-Celtic civilization on Skye several thousand years ago.  We only found one.  Dun Struan Beag Broch sits atop a hill off the main road and is clearly visible.  You can park along the road and hike over the pasture up to it.  Try to time your visit to miss the numerous tour buses that stop.  I think it's much better enjoyed without throngs of people.  The park service has placed an explanatory plaque at the base of it that covers its history and uses.  Brochs supposedly dot the landscape on Skye, but I suggest you do some extensive digging online for exact directions.  We did not see any others. 


Other tidbits for visiting Scotland:

Misc

  • If you get sick/injured, Britain has national health care.  My understanding is that even tourists are covered.
  • VAT pays for the health care along with everything else.  As a U.S. citizen you do not have to pay VAT, but it gets included in every price.  You can get VAT back at British customs on the way out.  You have to fill out a form.  Do so, if you have time.  - We did not.
  • Make sure to get some 100% wool sweaters while you are there.  They are relatively inexpensive and the best winter clothing I have ever found.
  • Gas is ~$7.00 per gallon - best not to think about it while you are there.  It will only make you grumble ;-).

Customs

  • Keep every receipt for everything you are taking home.  U.S. Customs can be picky.
  • You can mail yourself up to $200 worth of goods per day, so long as the package is marked "For Personal Use."
  • You are only allowed to bring home a single liter of alcoholic beverage, so choose your Scotch carefully!
  • $800 is the maximum allowed worth of souvenirs per a person .  That's a lot, but beyond that U.S. Customs will tax you.
  • "Duty free"  shops are only VAT free - not US Customs free - so they count to the $800.


-Adam