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Easiest Places to Visit via Rental Car on Skye? What to See via Tour?

Halò,

My husband and I will be visiting Skye for the first time in May (staying three nights in Portree). I have arranged for a full day with Skye Jeep Tours for one of our days. I realize May is still quite a bit of a way out and am mindful that weather can impact and may alter whatever we plan. However, I am wondering what those of you who live on the island and others of you with extensive knowledge and experience on the island might suggest we plan to visit ourselves (via our rental car) and what you would suggest we plan to see and do with our Skye Jeep guides. We will, of course, be taking our guides’ suggestions into account in our planning, but they are allowing us quite a bit of input regarding how to spend the day, so … I am hoping some feedback from those among you here will allow us to make better decisions for our limited time on Skye.

I would like to use our day with Skye Jeeps to reach less accessible locations or “must-see” sites that are more squirrelly to navigate—even when it comes to parking. My husband did not relish the driving on a trip to Ireland a couple of years ago (though I thought he handled it fine and we had no mishaps, and we will have an automatic transmission this time). Still, this is one of the primary reasons I’ve booked a day with Skye Jeep Tours.

On our first day we will be arriving on Skye via an early morning ferry from Mallaig (the 7:40 or 9:40?—I haven’t reserved yet). Thus, we will have that travel day and then two more full days on Skye before heading, at our leisure, over to Inverness via the Skye Bridge. We do need to check in with our B&B hosts on our first day between 4:00 and 6:00 PM, so whatever we do on this day, we have to be mindful of arriving at our B&B within this window of time. Skye Jeep Tours leave from Broadford (if that might be important).

For a bit of context, my husband and I are in our 50s and active. We’d like to take some short walks on Skye (five miles or less, such as the Quiraing Circuit), are interested in history of all eras (but don’t consider ourselves to be “buffs”), and enjoy whisky, but don’t want to spend a lot of time on distillery tours unless one is going to be markedly different from those we will have experienced elsewhere or are just really interesting. (A bit of time in a tasting room will generally suffice quite nicely.) We enjoy landscapes and views, and people. Good food and drink are always a bonus, but we are not gourmands. We live near the coast in North Carolina and are recreational boaters, but neither of us are “beach people.” Waterways, ferries, and the sea itself, however, are very appealing.

These are the general, flexible itineraries Skye Jeeps has suggested for our consideration:

Trotternish Tour: Sligachan and the Cuillin Mountains, Portree, Old Man of Storr, Lealt Falls, Kilt Rock, Dinosaur/Fossil Museum, Staffin Bay, Quiraing, Duntulm Castle, Museum of Island Life, Uig, a “secret” waterfall, and the Fairy Glen.

Way out West Tour: Broadford, Sligachan, and the Cuillin Mountains; the Fairy Pools; Talisker Distillery; Dunvegan Castle; Angus McKaskill Museum or the Coral Beaches; Neist Point; and then possibly at visit to Skye Weavers, Skye Skyns tannery, the Waternish Peninsula, the ruined church at Trumpan, and the Fairy Bridge (depending upon the route taken).

South Skye: Broadford, Armadale, the Tarskavaig Road, Gaelic whiskies at Eilean Iarmain, Torabhaig Distillery, Cill Chriosd Church, Duncan House, Elgo, and maybe a boat trip on the Bella Jane or the Misty Isle.

Otter Tour/Ring of Bright Water: Kyle of Lochalsh (or Kyleakin), Kylerhea Pass, Wildlife Hide, Glenelg Ferry, Pictish, Sandaig Islands, Loch Hourn, Sheena's Tea Hut. Options on return that could include Mam Ratagan mountain pass, Carr Brae, and/or Eilean Donan.

A day on Raasay which could include a whisky distillery tour, Calum’s Road, etc.

Suggestions? Thoughts? Your advice appreciated.

Posted by
462 posts

Wow. All the itineraries suggested by Skye Jeep Tours sound amazing. But personally I would go for either the day on Raasay or the Otter Tour which will also take you on the historic ferry to Glenelg.

All of the other things are accessible with a rental car, and if you follow the suggestions of things to see that you've already got from Skye Jeep Tours then you really will be seeing everything. I bet they would even tell you where the secret waterfall is and if they won't then send me a private message and I will tell you if you promise not to publicise it widely!

If you do the Raasay trip then you could include the distillery there and make that your one distillery stop.

Hope this helps.
Best wishes
Jacqui

Posted by
3287 posts

Our visit 3 years ago was by rental car the whole time. We came over gia the Skye Bridge (in pouring rain) and went back to the mainland on the cool Glenelg ferry, driving less than 2 miles to twin ancient broch towers after the crossing.

The Skye drive, compared to our driving in Ireland, included narrower paved roadways at times, but with “Passing Places,” wide spots where the closest car pulls over so the oncoming car can get by. Sometimes we pulled over, and sometimes the car coming towards us did, but we all got moving with little fanfare or delay. Fellow motorists all cooperated with each other. Also, in August, lots of other tourists in rental cars, plus motor homes with Italian or Belgian license plates, with steering wheels on the k ok eft side of the vehicle. These folks were driving their own motorhomes, on the “other” side of the road like us, but unfortunately, some of them weren’t staying completely on their side of the road. So watch out for the other guy. Also, occasionally sheep on the road, sometimes lying down and sleeping!

Posted by
462 posts

Just a thought re your arrival on Skye and which ferry to get. If you are staying near Mallaig the night before then definitely reserve onto the first ferry and then you can make the most of your first day on Skye.

Once you've decided which jeep tour to do then I'd be happy to help work out how to make the best of the rest of your time on Skye. Just a thought in the meantime, as Elgol and the Bella Jane was mentioned on the potential jeep tour itineraries..... You could (and I would!) do a half day boat trip with Bella Jane, to the 'Small Isles'. This would see you leave Elgol either early morning or at lunchtime, and then head out towards the island of Canna, passing the island of Soay and getting a close up view of the Cullin Hills (mountains, but called hills here). The boat (either a cruiser or a rib if you prefer the speed) will stop if they spot dolphins, whales, porpoises or other interesting marine or bird life. Reaching Canna the boat will get up close to some high cliffs, where puffins nest (and they should be there in May I think), before docking at the only settlement on Canna, where you can have an hour ashore exploring and sampling the yummy delights at the local community run café. Back on the boat, it's off to the island of Rhum, where you will see a shipwreck, visit a bay favoured by the Royal Family back in the day when they had a yacht 'The Britannia' paid for by the British taxpayers (now moored in Edinburgh and available to visit). There are always red deer and stags on or near the beach. Before heading back to Elgol and the chance to see more dolphins. We have done this tour several times on our own and with friends and everyone we have taken has loved it. The drive to Elgol is extremely scenic too and there's a spot where there are usually quite a few highland cattle (coos) on the road. Good for photos!

Best wishes
Jacqui (Skyegirl)

Posted by
57 posts

Wow, Jacqui. This is fantastic advice. I don't think Rick Steves could find anyone (paid or otherwise) to provide more helpful and thoughtful advice than you and Mike (Auchterless).

Based on your suggestion, I booked the 7:40 ferry from Mallaig to Armadale this morning as my husband and I will be staying in town the night prior (at the West Highland Hotel), which appears to be a less than five minute drive to the ferry terminal. (Google Maps says "1 minute," but I'm mindful of its slight inaccuracy based on the remarks of others on these forums.) I'm looking forward to visiting Mallaig actually and seeing a bit of the work that goes on in an active port town in southwest Scotland.

I am now leaning towards taking the Otter Tour with Skye Jeep and absolutely love your suggestion for taking the Bella Jane on a half-day trip to the Small Isles. (This portion of our trip--our visit on Skye--has been the most difficult for me to visualize in terms of scheduling/planning.) I am going to spend some time reading and clicking around online to learn more about each of the places listed in the various itineraries with the goal of putting together a workable plan and will definitely take you up on your offer to help with that. If you are ever in eastern North Carolina, I will try to return your kindness with an offer of the same. 😊

Sincere best wishes.

Posted by
906 posts

Hi, AVogan,

Allow me to add a couple of bits of advice. As you are taking the 7:40 a.m. ferry from Mallaig, you need to be at the ferry slip by 7:10 a.m. It's less than five minutes drive from the West Highland Hotel, and extremely easy to find. As you'll be leaving the hotel very early, before most guests are up and about, you need to make sure to position your car the night before for an easy getaway.

Parking is pretty tight at the West Highland. There's room for about four or five cars out front, in front of the patio. There is room in the back, but it's easy to get hemmed in. If you can't find a space in their car park, you can park in one of the spaces across the street that is perpendicular to the kerb. There are also a few spaces on Victoria Road, which is the residential street just below those perpendicular spaces. Disregard the sign for residential parking. No one pays any attention to it.

There are several very good restaurants in Mallaig, although the hotel does evening meals as well. If they're still selling Scottish tablet at the hotel, you have to try it! It's almost pure sugar, but damn, it's good!

About the Bella Jane. The six hour tours are operated by AquaXplore, which is part of the same company. They have a launch and an RIB. If either of you have a bad back, you probably want to avoid the RIB, as it often goes very fast and bounces over the waves. Also, there is no toilet on board. There is one on the launch. You'll be ashore at Canna long enough for a snack and a toilet visit, if necessary.

Glad to see another Gavin Maxwell fan. He spent his last years on Eilean Ban, which is the small island below the Skye Bridge. I think that you have to make arrangements in Kyle of Lochalsh to visit the island. To visit the site of Camusfearna, and see the Sandaig islands, you need to take the Glenelg ferry back to the mainland, then turn south toward Arnisdale. There is a small layby at the top of the jeep track, where you can park and hike down to the shore. There are memorials there to Maxwell and Edal. The walk is a lot easier now than when Mrs. A and I took it back in the 70s. (1970s, I should add!) Back then it was a rough stony path. The walk is on the WalkHighlands website - www.walkhighlands.co.uk/kintail/Sandaig.shtml It doesn't feel as isolated now as it did then, but you certainly can get a feeling for what life must have been like for Maxwell and his human and animal companions.

Once you've visited Camusfearna, you can continue down the road to Arnisdale, for an excellent view of Loch Hourn. Arnisdale used to be the ferry terminal which the postie (mailman) used for the trip across Loch Hourn to the settlement at Barrisdale on the Knoydart Peninsula. If it's a clear day, you should be able to see Ladhar Bheinn, the highest point on the peninsula.

You could possibly save the trip to Camusfearna and Loch Hourn for your departure date from Skye, and take the Glenelg ferry instead of the Skye Bridge. You could then take the Mam Ratagan pass over to Shiel Bridge, and pick up the A87 from there. The views from the top of the pass, over the Five Sisters, are definitely a scenic highlight.

My very best wishes for your adventures on Skye and on the mainland! I wish that I could stow away in your luggage!

Slainte!

Mike (Auchterless)

p.s.: If the weather is right, the sunsets from the car park and the patio at the West Highland are absolutely magnificent! I was there a few years ago, and the dark red sky behind Eigg and Rum was just amazing.

Posted by
462 posts

Hi again AVogan
I am blushing! Once again Mike has hit the nail on the head with his suggestions. In terms of the Glenelg ferry and the fantastic tips from Mike, then I think the Otter based Jeep Tour should take in all of those site. You could even cut and paste Mike's comments and send them to the folks at Skye Jeep Tours so they can ensure you do see these things (but I am pretty sure you would anyway if you do that tour).

Mike is also right about the RIB on the Bella Jane/Aqua Explore trip. I am quite short and had to cling on to the hand rail provided when we were travelling at speed, but found it OK as far as my back is concerned. I have been on their cruiser boat on a shorter trip and much preferred the excitement of the RIB. I have been lucky to have very calm seas when I've done the trip, but see it could be bouncy if there was more of a swell.

Best wishes
Jacqui (Skyegirl)

Posted by
57 posts

Thank you so much again, Mike and Jacqui. I am going to use every word of your advice. --The information about the parking at the West Highlands Hotel, alone, is invaluable. (I can just imagine my husband's frustration--and mine--if we found we could not get the car out to get to the ferry on time on the day of our crossing.)

Currently, at the hotel, I don't see the Scottish tablet on the menu, but it appears that they shift things around quite often, so I'll remain hopeful it might appear.

Everything you have provided is just fantastic. I'll definitely include your suggestions when I next am in contact with the folks at Skye Jeep Tours.

Best, best wishes.

Posted by
906 posts

Hi again, AVogan,

The Scottish tablet is on sale at the check-in at the West Highland, so it wouldn't be on the menu. However, if they don't still have it there, you can find it at many small shops and filling stations. Look for the homemade tablet, which will come in a small clear plastic bag or in cling wrap (similar to Saran Wrap). Don't get the major brand tablet (usually Mrs. Tilly's) that's sold on supermarket shelves. It's not the same!

Many places now sell Scottish tablet flavored ice cream, which is delicious, and I see that the An Cala restaurant in Mallaig even has a Scottish tablet cheesecake.

Bon appetit!

Mike (Auchterless)

p.s.: If you do end up taking the Glenelg ferry, either as part of the Skye Jeeps tour or on your own, you should serioulsly consider visiting the Iron Age brochs near Glenelg. They are among the best preserved brochs on the mainland. Also, the no longer existing small ferry from Arnisdale to Barrisdale on Knoydart was used by Munro baggers on their way to Ladhar Bheinn. I think that the ferry is mentioned in older tourist guides. I know that one holiday in the area will not be enough, so think about Knoydart for your next holiday. :)

Posted by
906 posts

@Jacqui:

Hi, Jacqui,

I read somewhere recently, perhaps on this forum, about someone paying five pounds to park at the Fairy Pools. Is this something that has been established by the local Council, or was it an enterprising local taking advantage of the tourists?

Thanks!

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
462 posts

Hi Mike
I'm glad you asked! ;-)

The much expanded parking facilities at the Fairy Pools were up and running in time for the 2019 season and to my mind have proved a great success. The road down to Glenbrittle is now free from inconsiderately parked rental cars (well mostly at least), so emergency service and other large vehicles (like the refuse collection truck) can get through. The car park charge (£5 as you say), will be used to further develop the on site facilities including the building of a much needed toilet block. One of the main concerns of local residents last summer was a worrying increase in the amount of 'solid' human waste that was being left by visitors.

Here is a magazine article from 2017/8 that explains the rationale behind the new car park, and it hints at the money being used to develop other community projects too. Magazine

My husband (let's call him Skyegrump) wants me to add the following based on a recent visit he made to the Fairy Pools. "Believe it or not there are still some tight fisted b******s who try to dodge the parking charge by attempting to enter via the exit, or who continue to park on the verges and in the passing places. They wouldn't think twice of buying a couple of fancy coffees for about £7, but a fiver for the parking is gonna kill them?"

All the best
Jacqui (Skyegirl)

Posted by
906 posts

Hi, Jacqui,

Thanks for the update! I hadn't been up that way since 2016, so good to know that I need to bring a fiver if I go that way and decide to park.

Any true Scot would park at the Sligachan Hotel and hike in by way of the Bealach a Mhaim to save five pounds! :)

Best wishes,

Mike

Posted by
462 posts

Hi Mike
My husband (a true Scot) did exactly that! Although actually he did it in reverse, I dropped him at the Fairy Pools end and then picked up later at the Slig Hotel. In the meantime I had a spot of lunch at the Oyster Shed!

Jacqui