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All things hiking Explaining Scotland Suggested things to do

So many people have heard of the isle of Skye, and millions have watched the movies set there. Everyone wants to go and experience the beauty of Skye for themselves. What they forget is that everyone else has now heard about Skye too. There are the down sides … rain, midges, crowds … but it still has a reputation to beat most other places in the Highlands, except perhaps Loch Ness.

Skye is blessed by being mentioned in music, in movies and in history. It has a distillery, castles, stunning jagged mountains and is eminently accessible now there is a bridge. Is it still an island if it is connected to the mainland by a bridge?

The isle of Skye now has iconic status and has made it on to the “must see” bucket list of so many when they plan their visit to Scotland. Unfortunately many just take a day or 2 on a bus tour. If you can, really try to get under the surface and spend a wee bit more time exploring to find those hidden gems most people whizz past.

More people – more the word spreads – more people …

Social media seems to have concentrated the effect of tourists travelling to Skye. You can’t get away from tour minibuses if you’re going to visit all those spots you’ve seen on social media: the Old Man of Storr or the Fairy Pools or the Quirang, unless of course you’re going to go at antisocial times. However, Skye is a very large island and if you’re prepared to divert from the popular hotspots and get away from the road, then you’ll probably be able to find your own peaceful viewpoint – but it will take a little more effort than a 20 minute walk.

The spots most people have heard of will be the busiest. One of the reasons many people have heard of them is that they are accessible. Unfortunately the accessibility generates it’s own issues and if you are driving on the isle of Skye you need to watch out not only for sheep on the road, but also for parking opportunities and take care with motor homes. The roads are not designed for wide vehicles. Be very careful to make sure you are not blocking any access and your car is well off the road if at all possible even if it means you might need to walk a wee bit further to get the best photo.

Skye Munros

Sunset over Am Basteir from Sligachan on the Isle of Skye during the Skye Munros itinerary

Popular sites on the isle of Skye

Quirang

isle of Skye, Quirang

Visiting the Quirang on the Isle of Skye. Easily accessible for most, except wheelchair users.

Heelan Coo

Not unique to Skye but there are many on the island. However, there is also a herd at Rothiemurchus, near Aviemore (Cairngorms National Park) and near Grantown on Spey on the Revack Estate.

Herman Coo locally hiding from the sun

Old Man of Storr

Superlative Skye recon pictures

Clearly visible from the road and from Portree on a good day, the Old Man of Storr is a most photogenic rock formation. You can certainly understand why so many make the short walk up to it. It is on the minibus circuit so even on a bad weather day in the main season, starting in May, it can be difficult to find a space in the car park unless you get out early or arrive late. To be honest, unless you can get away from the other tourists, you may not fully appreciate the site anyway at there is nothing like the presence of other people to destroy a peaceful atmosphere, which could affect your memories.

Cuillin Mountains

Not so popular with most self-drive tourists due to the more serious nature of the walks. Still there are always people stopping by the Sligachan Hotel to take photos. Up close, they are even more stunning but a guide would be advised if you are intending to head into the high Cuillin as the peaks are quite sheer climbs and require some scrambling or in some cases roped climbing.

If you’re really keen to get up into the mountains, maybe bag the munros, you could join us for either the Skye Munros or our less scary version (ie without the roped climbing) – Skye Cuillin for hillwalkers

Dinosaur footprints?

Did you know that dinosaurs once walked on Skye? Perhaps one of the lesser known tourist sites on Skye but still popular enough to make the cafe nearby pretty busy.

Movie sites/backdrops

All these movies have featured shots of some iconic sites on the isle of Skye

The BFGMacbethStardustThe Land That Time ForgotSnow White and the Huntsman47 RoninKing Arthur: Legend of the Sword, and Transformers: The Last Knight, The Ridge, Highlander, Made of Honour, Breaking the Waves

Movie map of the Highlands and Skye

Disadvantages of high season

Lots of traffic on small roads – be careful driving round Skye, particularly if you have a camper van. Some roads are pretty narrow, or even single track and there are a lot of minibus tours driving round the island.

Lack of accommodation – it is almost compulsory to pre-book in the height of the summer season now.

Midges – the west coast of Scotland is mecca for midges, particularly on a damp, still day

Rain – check out the rain map of Scotland. The further east you go; the less rain you’ll find. However, when the weather is fine, Skye is magical.

Alternatives:

North West Scotland is one of the best kept secrets we have had here in the Highlands. While flocks of tourists have visited the isle of Skye, not nearly so many have made the pilgrimage north. This is changing now with the advent of the “North Coast 500”.

It’s interesting isn’t it, what can be done by packaging something in marketing terms. There has always been a road around the north coast of Scotland. The road has always been there. Someone had a great marketing idea and renamed the road as the “North Coast 500” and introduced it to the general public as a must-see driving tour to rival Route 66 in the US. They have done an amazing job and now more and more people are driving up round the north of Scotland. New companies and tour experiences are popping up all over the place. If you do go up, more than likely you’ll meet either a convoy of Lamborginis or a convoy of motorhomes!

Torridon:

walking holidays scotland

The spectacular sandstone peaks of Torridon, over 2500 million years old

This is one of our favourite areas of north west Scotland. Personally we think it is more stunning than the isle of Skye and certainly has hiking to rival the isle of Skye. We take groups over to Torridon nearly every year using a variety of large holiday cottages and getting to know the area well. There’s a small community there so much so that we are recognised in the gallery now.

If you do go to Torridon, be sure to pre-book your accommodation and any places you’d like to eat out as there are a limited number of places to go and also a very limited number of places to top up your supplies. It’s a great area for galleries and crafts with many artists taking their inspiration from the surrounding landscape. If you’d like to explore the Torridon area in depth, you should join us for our Classic Torridon itinerary.

Knoydart

knoydart

The ridges of the Knoydart peaks

Another favourite area of ours but only really appreciated by those who are looking to get away from mainstream living or those who love to hike. Knoydart is only accessible by boat or by a long walk-in. Wifi has reached the area so you don’t need to be completely without access to the outside world, but don’t expect to get a strong phone signal.

Knoydart is more remote than Skye but just as beautiful. There are plenty of opportunities to see wildlife as there are far fewer people around and there is a gorgeous beach which is right next to the main campsite. The beach is a definite plus – something which Skye lacks mostly.

We’re heading over to Knoydart again in September so if you have a week to spare at the beginning of September, do come and join us.

Assynt

mountains of scotland

Stac Pollaidh, Assynt, Scotland – north of Inverness

Needless to say we love Assynt and choose to take personal breaks here if our free moments coincide with good weather over there. Our Empty Quarter itinerary makes the most of the most spectacular walking in the area. As with all our trips, you need to take time to slow down and appreciate this area rather than rushing from place to place to fill up your camera with the same shots as everyone else.

Lewis and Harris

images of the Outer Hebrides

Beautiful beaches at Seilbost and Luskentyre on Harris in the Outer Hebrides

The Outer Hebrides are famous for their beaches. You need to look a little harder to find the hiking, but it is glorious wild country not much explored by others. The islands can absorb a lot of visitors particularly if you can get away from the roads. If you follow the coffin road across Harris, you’re unlikely to see many people at all until you look down on the sandy stretches of Luskentyre. Should you be there at low tide, you’ll probably find a long stretch of empty sand pretty much to yourself.

If you like hiking, you’ll love the Western Isles Wilderness itinerary we’re running at the end of September. Looking forward to some glorious light and photo opportunities.

Arran

isle of arran

We often talk about Arran being Scotland in miniature. It is very much true. Arran has mountains, beaches, castles and amazing fresh produce. It is relatively accessible from Glasgow, but really you can easily spend a week on the island without being bored.

Kintail & Glencoe

glencoe

The dramatic hills of Glencoe

Do you really need to say more than just “Glencoe“? The scenery is very dramatic. You can appreciate it from the road, but there are even more fabulous sites to be seen if you are able to hike up into the peaks which line the road. Summer programme will be forthcoming 2019 or 2020.

glencoe

Atop the Aonach Eagach ridge in Glencoe

In short

Planning a summer trip to Scotland and want to go to the Isle of Skye? Make sure you pre-book and resign yourself to being in company if you want to visit the popular sites. All is not lost though as there are ways to avoid the crowds. Personally we like to head out and find our own space, so we tend to keep our visits to Skye out of the main season, which fortunately also means away from the midges and most of the campervan!

 

Knoydart or Skye – hard to choose

Walking holiday options on the west coast of Scotland are almost endless. Knoydart or Skye – where to go? One of the most popular and endlessly filmed locations is the Isle of Skye. The dramatic jagged images of the Skye hills have formed the backdrop for many a dramatic movie. However, there are places which are just as satisfying to walk all up and down the west coat where the views are as magnificent or even more stunning. We’re heading over to Skye and to Knoydart in May this year. See our assessment here of the advantages and disadvantages of each to help you make a decision.

Knoydart or Skye – factors to consider

1. Skye’s reputation

Skye has a huge reputation as a destination in Scotland based on the dramatic nature of its scenery and its romantic attachment to the Stuart/Jacobite legend. The attraction of Skye for hillwalkers and Munro baggers comes from the nature of its terrain. There is nothing to match the jagged peaks of Skye in the UK. The closest comparable peaks are in the Alps, when you may also have to contend the the altitude and the additional possible complication of altitude sickness.

Skye Munros

Topping out on the Innaccessable Pinnacle in glorious sunshine weather, Skye May 2016

2. Accessibility of Skye

Skye is more accessible. The bridge over to Skye has made it much more accessible to everyone, especially now there is no toll. However, it has also taken away a small part of the mystique which comes from taking a ferry to get somewhere; it makes you feel more like you’re going somewhere exotic and unknown, almost as if you’re abroad. That’s now missing from the Skye experience (unless you choose to take a ferry route or are island hopping through the Hebrides), but is still a part of going to Knoydart

3. Using Ropes

To reach the actual Munro summits on Skye you will need to do some roped climbing. It is the ambition of many a Munro bagger to reach the top of the Innaccessible Pinnacle. Some will never make it as you do need to have some elementary rock climbing skills and a very good head for heights (see Skye photos below)

4. No bridge to Knoydart

Knoydart is only accessible after a boat ride from Mallaig or a long walk in along the peninsula. There is no motorised transport allowed on the peninsula for visitors i.e. you can not take your car there. It still has the feel of being remote and inaccessible. You feel privileged to have the opportunity to visit. Even the public ferry is a relatively small boat but most groups end up chartering wee motor boats to get down the loch to Inverie.

Knoydart

Loch Nevis looking towards the islands of Eigg and Rhum

5. No roped climbing experience needed in Knoydart.

All the peaks in Knoydart are accessible to a walker without the use of ropes.

6. Views

You can see the Cuillin Ridge clearly from Knoydart while climbing the peaks there.

7. Food options

Both have excellent dining opportunities, especially if you like seafood.

Knoydart

 

See our pictorial comparison below:

SKYE

We’ve chosen 3 images from our Skye collection. They certainly give you an idea of the kind of terrain which makes up the ridge. If you’re on social media (and connected to the right people, which includes us!) you might have seen the famous film of Danny Macaskil riding his mountain bike along the ridge. In fact, you don’t even need to have been on social media as a short programme about the making of the film was shown on BBC TV.

isle of skye munros

High in the Cuillin mountains of Skye

 

Skye Munros

Sunset over Am Basteir from Sligachan on the Isle of Skye during the Skye Munros itinerary

 

 

Sunset over the Cuillin Munros

Sunset over the Cuillin hills in Skye

 

KNOYDART

Britain’s most remote wilderness (on the mainland) – Knoydart does have a very special feel to it.

knoydart

The ridges of the Knoydart peaks

 

Knoydart walking

Eve negotiates the ridge

 

Knoydart hiking

Mick admiring the view in Knoydart

 

VALUABLE RESOURCES FROM AROUND THE WEB

Knoydart:

The Knoydart Foundation – http://www.knoydart-foundation.com/

The Old Forge, Britain’s most remote pub – http://www.theoldforge.co.uk/

Britain’s most remote wilderness in video – http://www.theguardian.com/travel/video/2013/jun/11/britain-wilderness-scotland-knoydart-peninsula-video

John Muir Trust in Knoydart – https://youtu.be/rGCL7uBRw5s

Skye:

Walkhighlands: The Black Cuillin

TripAdvisor: The Black Cuillin www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Attraction_Review-g186585-d196763-Reviews-Black_Cuillin-Isle_of_Skye_The_Hebrides_Scotland.html

Black Cuillin Ridge of Skye – http://www.mountainhiking.org.uk/scotland-mountains/skye/skye4.shtml

Danny Macaskill – The Ridge – https://youtu.be/xQ_IQS3VKjA

The Munro Show – Sgurr nan Gillean https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lfc-dDsfV6c

How do you measure wilderness?

Are there wolves in Knoydart? No – but then there aren’t any wolves in Britain so we can’t really use this as a measure of wilderness in this instance.

Are there bears in Knoydart? No – but again we don’t have bears in Britain.

So – no bears, no wolves, is it wilderness?

Knoydart is wilderness as soon as you leave the village of Inverie. There are no roads for 19 miles; you can’t take a car there; there’s no train station, no buses but courtesy of hydro-electricity there is electricity and there is a running water supply for the residents of Inverie.

Check out the video below made by the Guardian and Wilderness Scotland – then you can make your own decision.

 

Wild Knoydart

We’re returning to Knoydart on Saturday 9th May 2015 with a group of hikers. We haven’t been back for 2 years so it will be interesting to see what if anything has changed. When we first stated to visit Knoydart in 2008 there was no Wi-Fi access freely available. Now you can pick up a network at the pub (The Old Forge) and at the pottery/cafe across the road. Most self-catering properties also offer internet access. Seems like no one can be without their electronic entertainment these days and the thought of being unconnected with the wider world gives us the heebie-jeebies.

However, it is still not possible to drive on to the Knoydart peninsula. (Some of the locals in Inverie have motorised vehicles, but once you leave the hamlet, you won’t really see another vehicle until you return to Mallaig.

Knoydart definitely retains it’s sense of being a special place apart from the rest of mainland Scotland, because it has to be reached by ferry or on foot.

Knoydart blog

Remote = survival?

Knoydart might be remote and take a lot of time to reach (though not as remote as trying to reach Everst base camp), but this doesn’t mean that you need to feel in any way deprived or on survival rations.

The advantage of being in a smaller community, less easily accessed by the rest of the world, is that it is a safe environment for children to grow up in and one where security of your own assets does not need to dominate your daily life. Locking up is not essential as it is downtown.

The natural larder

Access to the internet and social media, does not provide any of the basics of life such as food. However living by the sea means that you need not go hungry. Seafood is amazing at Knoydart as you will have seen on the video and the platter at the Old Bridge Inn has to be seen to be believed, as below.

Seafood platter, Knoydart

 

We hope you will consider joining us on one of our visits to Knoydart. We usually go in May and spend the majority of the time exploring the stunning surroundings and sampling some of nature’s larder. If we’re lucky we also get to have up close and personal encounters with some of the local wildlife – we have seen a pine marten fom the kitchen window of our accommodation.

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