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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!

 

Autumn in Assynt

2016 heralded the return of our Empty Quarter hiking vacation, this year based from Ullapool. It was also our second visit to the area in 2 months (September was our month for Torridon). If you were ever in any doubt for reasons to head north of Inverness, check these out as inspiration for 2017 and beyond. Perhaps the North Coast 500 is beckoning you or would you rather explore on foot…

It’s easy for us to take this kind of scenery and the opportunity to get out and explore it for granted. One of the advantages of living where we do, only 30 minutes south of Inverness, is that it is possible for us to pop up north for a weekend and feast our eyes on such refreshing vistas as these. If you’re coming from further afield you probably want to consider spending longer in the area, in which case the Empty Quarter trip could be better suited to you. (If you don’t want to take our word for it, read our reviews.)

Top 20 images from a trip full of amazing views and fabulous people:

Grey seal

1. Grey seal watching us in hope of scraps

mountains of scotland

2. Stac Pollaidh, Assynt, Scotland – north of Inverness

mountains of Scotland

3. Who said Scotland didn’t really have mountains?

 

Scottish coastline

4. Stunning scenery from the Scottish coastline

autumn colours

5. The colours of autumn in the north of Scotland

Autumn in Scotland

6. Autumn reflections in Assynt (Northern Scotland)

HIking in Scotland (Assynt)

7. Heading up the ridge, Assynt (Scotland)

lochs and mountains Scotland

8. Spectacular Scottish coastline, Assynt (Scotland)

your guide

9. Your guide showing off his balance skills

autumn light

10. Stunning light and cloud formations, October 2016 (Assynt, Scotland)

Assynt

11. Autumn light and hills in Assynt

autumn in Scotland

12. Stunning scenery, perfect light and amazing clouds (Assynt, Scotland)

sunset in Scotland

13. Sunset over the west coast of Scotland

hiking in Assynt

14. Hikers descending from a long day’s hike in the Assynt area (Scotland)

lonely hiker

15. Standing proud on the ridge while walking in Assynt

autumn sunset, Assynt (Scotland)

16. Perfect autumn sunset scenery and light while walking in Assynt, Scotland

autumn in Scotland

17. Stunning panorama taken while walking in Assynt

assynt-panorama2

18. Striding across the stunning landscape in Assynt (Scotland)

assynt-panorama4

19. There’s something very soothing and spectacular to the eye in the combination of coast and mountain in the same shot, taken while walking in Assynt

assynt-panorama

20. Moody mountains in Assynt (Scotland) – who would believe that most of them are less than 1000m high?

The Empty Quarter 2017 – walking in Assynt

(currently a group only itinerary)

If you’ve been inspired by the photos, why not join us next year all you need is a couple of other friends (min. group of 4) then give us a call to settle on dates. The sooner you can get organised, the sooner we can get something set for you. We will guarantee the price on our website for your group, except for dates in high summer (mid July to end August).

 

 

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