Isle of Skye, Scotland
Every time I told someone we were going to drive around Scotland they asked if we were headed to the Isle of Skye. I figured that meant it was a must see. Sure enough, everyone was right!
We stayed in Portree at the Isles Inn. The Inn is also the most popular pub in town and you check in at the bar. The location was perfect, a pipe band even marched down the road one evening right past the hotel (Tuesdays during the summer). (Watch the video here.) Our room had two beds (a double and a single) plus some space for our travel cot. We did have a few complaints though, the curtains did nothing to stop the light, leading to kids that were up till the sun set claiming it was morning. Our TV also didn’t work the first evening, but that had something to do with a short in the pub kitchen. The real issue for us though was the 9am breakfast. Our kids had already been up nearly 4 hours by the time hotel breakfast was available. We ended up bypassing it altogether the second morning and just grabbed a grocery store breakfast (yogurts, pastries and fruit).
We made our first stop before crossing the bridge to the Isle of Skye. Eilean Donan Castle, a 13th century castle, stands on a small island where three sea locks meet. It’s probably one of the most iconic castles in Scotland. The parking lot (free) fills quickly, so we were glad to arrive just as the castle opened. The visitors center has a small cafe, although we did not check it out.
As usual, we were some of the first to arrive. It always feels so magical when we have a place to ourselves, even just for a few moments.
The castle is fully furnished and photos are prohibited inside. Kids can pick up a packet at the visitors center full of activities. They were a bit above our 4 year old’s head but the docents in each room engaged him and helped him finish his packet. There are also plenty of “secret” cabinets and looking spots that children (and adults) are encouraged to peek into.
The boys also loved the steps from the bridge that took them down to the rocky shore. From there they were able to throw rocks into the water and look for small sea life.
We went into the town on the mainland side of the Sky bridge for lunch. There are a few options but Hector’s Bothy is one you’re not going to want to miss. The food was delicious and plentiful. The staff was incredibly nice. They also have free wifi. The desserts looked so good but our bellies were stuffed from lunch. Jeff had a baked potato with a filling. The boys had a kids meal.
Just across the bridge in Kyleakin is Seaprobe Adventures, a submarine boat that has tours throughout the day. The plan was to take an afternoon cruise to see the marine life. We called to ask how the visibility was as it was raining and the water looked murky. We were assured it was clear and good to go. As we were walking to the boat we stopped the families getting off the boat, who told us they couldn’t see much and they all looked quite wet. We decided to abort and move on to something more promising.
We did find a little playground at the main intersection of the island. It was a great place for the boys to burn off some energy.
The Fairy Glen (near Uig) is truly magical, even more so if like us, you get to visit in the rain. Our kids were sure the fairies were living here.
It is a miniature landscape of cone shaped hills and moss covered rock walls. The kids loved exploring. They could pick a hill or valley for us to explore basically without restriction. Jeff’s shoes are still wet from this little jaunt.
The views were stunning in every direction. The waterfalls were running off of every cliff and hill.
Although there were several groups exploring the glen, we all took off in different directions and within moments had the place to ourselves.
This is also a wonderful place to see the lost highland communities. In the 1800’s whole communities were forcibly removed to clear the land for farming.
Once you see one dilapidated stone wall you will start to notice many in the same area. The whole town left, now moss covered. It’s sad and now somehow so enchanting.
We were quite wet at the end of our Fairy Glenn adventure, but sad to say goodbye to this enchanted landscape. It even inspired H to build his own little fairy garden when we returned home to the Netherlands.
Another great stop was Dun Beag Broch, a small fort, likely dating from 100 years BC and reoccupied in the medieval times as a family house. Its round shape is well preserved and perfect for exploring.
It’s a short uphill walk from the parking lot through a sheep field to the top of the fort. The views alone are stunning. We were able to see all the way back to the water, including small towns of white houses dotting the coastline.
You can walk around the upper wall or explore inside the old house. There is a sign board on the far side that shows an artist’s rendering of what the fort likely looked like when inhabited.
If you have a great trip leader like we did he will find the craziest path up and down to the fort, but you will enjoy every moment and scare quite a few sheep on the way.
Dunvegan Castle is worth the stop but perhaps not for the reason you think. Arrive early to avoid crowds (see a theme), bypass the castle altogether and head down to the boat house and put yourself on a seal trip (extra 7 Euro fee required).
A small boat took just our family (arriving early has its perks) out to explore the seal colony that has been living here as long as the castle has been around. The kids were amazed!
We saw seals nursing their new pups on the island shores. There were also plenty of seals swimming around our boat eyeing us up.
In addition to the seals we saw jellyfish – at least two separate varieties – and so many sea birds. Some of the birds come all the way from Africa to nest here.
The castle (and owner) take themselves a bit too seriously. Each room is overly done with clan memorabilia, including a fairy flag that legend has it has helped the clan declare victories in battle over its storied years. The video in the basement, narrated by the current clan head and castle owner, is not to be missed, not for its information but because you will see just how seriously he takes himself.
Dunvegan also has the hardest children’s activity I’ve ever participated in. In each room keys are hidden. Children are asked to find as many as they can and tell the woman at the exit how many. These suckers are HIDDEN. High and low. We had to ask for help in most rooms, but it did keep H engaged. At the end both he and O were given pens as a reward for their hard work.
The extensive castle gardens are also worth exploring. When we were there in July they were bursting with color. We left without fully seeing the grounds in order to get the kids fed, but what we explored was breathtaking.
We had lunch at the Stein Inn, a bit of a drive from the castle, but the perfect location for a delicious lunch. The staff was not very friendly. The food was delicious though and made up for the service! We came in and took the first seats we saw in the front corner. Had we ventured back a bit we would have found tables outside a children’s play area filled with blocks and other toys. (Wish someone had told us!)
The coral beach is just north of the castle and is a bit of a walk. When we arrived at the parking lot it was packed. Once you get on the trail though it hardly feels like anyone is there.
The beach will make you think you are on a Caribbean white sand beach, but pick up the sand and it is clearly small shells and pieces of coral.
It is a great place to let the whole family explore.
We took a drive to see the other island landmarks which can be seen on a loop driving tour. It seemed that each time we reached one of the landmarks the skies would open up and rain on us for just the period we were viewing the landmark! Our favorite though was Kilt Rock. A waterfall plunges off the cliffs into the water just in front of a rock formation that mimics the pattern on a kilt.
The Isle of Skye was truly magical and has landscapes unlike anything else we encountered in Scotland. Each time we got out of the car we encountered something new. I’m glad it was part of our driving tour and think it should be part of yours.
We just wanted to make sure you knew that VisitScotland provided us with an ASVA attractions pass during our visit. All opinions are our own.
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