Arrival on the Isle of Skye

Drive to Skye

We headed out on the road with the sun coming out over the mountains and a rainbow over the Loch. Matt turned on the radio to the BBC Gaelic channel we had been listening the night before – it was playing bagpipes! It was an appropriate start to our day.

We had been planning a children’s book about Nessie and Lochy visiting Ogopogo (Canada’s version of Loch Ness). Much to our delight, we drove along a loch called Loch Lochy! We of course had to stop to take a picture. It’s like calling a place Lake Lakey! (The large, featured photo for this post is Loch Lochy)

Matt and I were feeling a lot more comfortable on the road now. Matt said the narrow winding drive we did yesterday was NOT the way to start the trip. However if we’d done that drive today, he’d feel a lot more comfortable than we did then.

Photo of tree stumps on a grassy hill below mountains

We thought it was interesting how visible the clearcutting here was. Back in New Brunswick, they leave forest around the road to give the illusion of dense forest as you drive here. They give no false illusions here with sad expanses of grey, dry stumps and debris.

The weather was very changeable: sunny one moment, rainy the next. The land was very green but for yellowing ferns. There were charming small waterfalls and winding creeks through the jagged rock face. It was like the Rockies, Cape Breton, and Iceland combined!

Photo of the Eileen Donan Castle
Eilean Donan Castle

Eilean Donan Castle

We saw signs for the Eilean Donan Castle castle on our way to Portree. Although this was on my itinerary for another day, we decoded to stop. It is one of the most popular castles to photograph to Scotland!

The castle was quite the sight! The entrance fee was £7.50, so we admired it from the car park. Turned out, this is one of the few castles in the Highlands you can actually admire from a respectable distance without paying admission!

Photo of Portree at low tide with white houses about the loch below mountains
View from the car park at the Portree Youth Hostel

Portree Youth Hostel

We had booked two nights stay at the Portree Youth Hostel. We had originally booked a room through AirBnB in a picturesque farmhouse in Skye, but after chatting with the host, found out guests weren’t allowed to use the kitchen! Finding ourselves a ‘self-catering kitchen’ as they’re called here, meant renting a chic cottage or staying in a hostel.

When we arrived at the Portree YHI, we found it closed from noon to 3pm for cleaning. We sat in the lounge to munch our packed sandwiches and enjoy the wifi. An older woman came and down with us. She was from Montreal, travelling solo. She had arrived here expecting to rent a car, but was surprised to find out they don’t rent to foreigners over the age of 75. So now she’s hitchhiking and bussing across the country!

Photo of Jax, a black lab at the Portree Post Office
Jax, the beloved dog at the Portree Post Office, saying hello

Portree Post Office

We went on an exploratory walk to kill time before checkin at 3pm. We happened upon the Portree Post Office, home of the dog Jax who had made it onto the news back home. He used to lick stamps, but now the glue hurts his tummy. So we got to give him a pet on the head instead. It was glorious!

Grocery Shopping in Portree

We bought groceries at the small Co-op Food grocers, one of two in the town. We picked up the makings of tonight’s dinner and some milk for tomorrow. After we checked in and had a wee nap, we went for a walk around town.

Photo of a gull standing in front of a blue and yellow building
Even the gulls in Scotland are magnificent

First Evening in Portree

It was too late in the day to tackle the itinerary I had planted for our first day in Skye. My plan of Oldman of Storr, the Fairy Glen, and Quiraing had been too ambitious with us driving from Glencoe that morning. So, we set out to explore our new neighbourhood.

We made our way down to the water, admiring the quintessential fishing-town-turned-tourist-destination look. Everything looked so delightful! Even the seagulls here are impressive. They are gigantic and have a different call than back home.

Photo of two seniors talking seriously below a mural of Portree depicting a volcano, Loch Ness, and music coming from the Pier Hotel
Mural at the Pier Hotel Bar in Portree

Pier Hotel Bar – Martin Healy Band

We heard music coming out of a non-descript bar. As we neared, I said to Matt “That sounds too good to be live!” but as we entered we found three Celtic musicians playing away in the cozy bar. There were two seats free at the bar, so we cozied on up and ordered a scotch and a pint to listen.

The atmosphere and the music was wonderful. It was one of those moments that was so perfect, it brought tears to my eyes! The musicians played traditional songs on a guitar, banjo, and pipes – accompanied by a very drunk fisherman who Matt guessed was making up for a very bad day on his boat. We felt like the only tourists in the bar, just us and the locals. The drinks were cheap and they didn’t take card either!

The band was called the Martin Healy Band. They were selling CDs for £5 which we bought even though we don’t have any device at home to play one. Another fellow bought them a round of drinks and much hands were shaken. It was all so delightful!

Photo of a boiling pot of water on a stove
Making dinner at the Portee Youth Hostel

Once the bar began to fill up with people off the street, we headed back to our hostel for dinner. We made pasta with tomato sauce with a side of baguette and cheese. We bought a bottle of French wine to enjoy with our meal, but not a corkscrew could be found in the kitchen! We had to make do with water instead of wine.

After dinner, we went for a stroll around town. It was fun going up and down the lamplit streets. I felt like I was on a movie set. Everything was like the BBC dramas I’d grown up watching here – but it was real life!

Photo of colourful buildings along a pier, framed by trees on a sunny day
View of Portree during the day from the road Isle Inn is on

Isles Inn

We were just about to turn back to the hostel when we heard live music coming from a bar across the square. It was full of people and there was a band playing hits from the 70’s with a Celtic twist. Matt got a beer made with porridge oats and I had a scotch named Scapa. My scotch was very smooth and Matt found his beer to be velvety, easy drinking, and sweet.

We later discovered that the strip that the Isle Bar was on was the tourist strip of Portree. All the hotels and bars here cater to the tourists and look out on the water. That would explain the business! I liked the vibe lower down at the Pier Hotel Bar and hostel better.

Once our glasses were dry, we made our way back to the hostel. The air was damp after the rain and everything glistened in the lamplight. Everything is so magical here!

Photo of a car driving towards the Oldman of Storr
Drive to the Oldman of Storr

Over Land and Sea to Skye – Driving Plan:

My original plan had been to take the ferry to the Isle of Skye and explore the Western side of the Isle, visiting the Old Man of Storr, Quiraing, and the Fairy Glen today. This turned out to be far too ambitious for two jet-lagged travellers with colds like ourselves who were still getting used to the Scottish roads:

Ferry to the Isle of Skye

I had planned for us to drive to Mallaig and take the ferry to Armadale. The ferry would add 30 minutes to our journey, but remove a hour of driving – and nothing says ‘holiday’ like a ferry ride! Although it was autumn back home, the ferry was still on its Summer Timetable. The ticket site required car make, colour, and license plate which we didn’t have until the day before. Sadly, they were sold out.