The Scottish Highlands and the Isle of Skye

Five days and 1400 miles

July 2023

 

I’m too old for camping, I thought to myself as I struggled out of my sleeping bag with a stiff neck. Rain poured as my friend Monika and I packed up our tent and hurried to the crowded campsite cafe to dry off and grab a strong coffee.

Our naive enthusiasm for the idea of camping the day before was swiftly blown away with the pervasive wind and rain that persisted throughout the night. Despite the lack of sleep, nothing could dampen our excitement about the otherworldly beauty of the secluded and idyllic beach campsite at Glenbrittle on the Isle of Skye.

A view of the Glenbrittle campsite and Loch Brittle beach on the Isle of Skye in Scotland.

A few days earlier, we’d loaded up a small rental car and headed north from Swansea in South Wales to Edinburgh in Scotland.

After an all too brief visit to the majestic city of Edinburgh, we continued our journey the following morning towards Glencoe, passing through what is known to be some of the world’s most picturesque and dramatic scenery. With so much to look at, we struggled to find space to pull over in any of the road’s surprisingly congested lay-bys to take it all in from outside the confines of the car.

Still, we managed to stop at several of the area’s mystical lochs, adding hours to an already long journey to stare in wonder at our spectacular surroundings.

The road through Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands
A loch near the town of Fort William in the Scottish Highlands.

As Google Maps informed us that we would soon be approaching the Skye Bridge – a road bridge that connects the Isle of Skye with mainland Scotland – my excitement grew at the idea of setting foot on the island I’d dreamed of visiting for many years.

Within minutes of crossing the bridge, we pulled over to breathe in the fresh sea air and admire the view of the rugged coastline. We also made a quick phone call to the campsite to make sure there was a pitch available before we began our drive down to Glenbritte where we knew there would be no phone service. We were in luck.

Set on the west coast of the Isle of Skye at the base of the imposing Cuillin mountains and alongside Loch Brittle beach, we reached our destination at the Glenbrittle campsite just in time for a short hike before sunset.

Luckily, we’d already planned to camp on Skye – we would have had little choice otherwise since every guest house we passed had ‘no vacancy’. Fortunately, there are many campsites on Skye, which often have even better views and offer a more rugged and authentic Skye adventure.

Th next morning, we drove towards the famous Dunvegan Castle, where we were disappointed to find a full car park and a long line of people standing in the rain waiting to buy tickets to enter the castle.

We decided to stay dry in the car and continue our drive north to the Quairing, an iconic area of striking rock formations formed by an ancient landslip, located on the west coast of the Trotternish Peninsula.

As we pulled in to the pay and display car park, rain continued to pour and the area was covered in a dense fog, reducing the visibility to little beyond the parking bays.

Pointless to set foot outside the car in this weather, I said to Monika. Thankfully, Monika had a much more positive outlook and insisted we get out and go for at least a short walk. Covered head to toe in waterproof clothes, we set off towards something that looked vaguely like a snaking trail. Within minutes, we’d left behind the few people who had ventured out of their cars or tour buses to look out into the fog from the easily accessible viewpoint.

As the path grew narrower, the craggy mountains began to appear directly in front of us. Like a scene from the Lord of the Rings, the curtain of fog slowly lifted, exposing the steep green slopes and staggering rock formations that jutted from the ground like over-sized stalagmites.

We were no longer bothered by the rain in our faces. On the contrary, it made our experience more interesting and somehow more visceral, and we were delighted to have the path almost entirely to ourselves.

Deviating from the main trail, we decided to climb a smaller hill opposite the famous rock formation called The Needle, in the hope of getting a better view of it from a distance. We scrambled up the muddy mountain side, reaching the top to enjoy the jaw-dropping view for just a few seconds before the fog descended once again.

Ecstatic after witnessing such a spectacular sight, and feeling quite pleased with ourselves for making the effort despite the driving rain, we headed back towards the car, soaked through but happy.

The Quairing walk was certainly a highlight of our trip and is well worth a visit, whatever the weather.

Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls on the Isle of Skye in Scotland.

From there we looped south towards Portree, a quaint, bustling port town and main hub of the island. The clouds finally parted, giving way to a glimmer of sunshine, and suddenly every turn offered irresistible photo-worthy views of lochs, cliffs, mountains, beaches, waterfalls, and more.

After a brief but spectacular visit to Skye, we began our long journey back towards Wales. Departing from Portree after a late lunch, we planned to drive as far as our sleep deprived eyes would allow us before finding a place to spend the night. Needless to say, we weren’t keen on the idea of camping again and hoped to find a hotel or guest house somewhere en route.

As we drove from Skye back onto the mainland heading east towards the town of Fort William, we were delighted to discover that the roads were empty – an entirely different experience to our drive there – and we were once again struck by the extraordinary views.

We stopped briefly in a village called Dornie to visit the picturesque Eilean Donan Castle in the Western Highlands of Scotland.

At sunset we reached Fort William where we were extremely lucky to find a hotel room thanks to a last-minute cancellation. I’m ashamed to say I wasn’t aware that Fort William is the gateway to Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest peak, so naturally the town is packed with climbers and outdoor enthusiasts during the summer.

On our last day in the Scottish Highlands, we headed south to the cathedral city of Chester in England, on the England-Wales border, retracing our journey through the spellbinding Glencoe.

Dotted along the narrow, winding road are conveniently located pull outs, or lay-bys. We were lucky to find space in one lay-by, which allowed us to take a short walk to enjoy a view of the surrounding mountains from higher ground.

The Scottish landscape made a big impression on me. I’ve been lucky to travel to several beautiful parts of the world, and Scotland is now firmly one of my favorites.

In five days we drove approximately 1,400 miles. Of course any visit to the Scottish Highlands and the Isle of Skye warrants a lot more time than we had available. Nevertheless, it was an incredibly enjoyable and memorable road trip.

This trip was just a taster, and I can’t wait to go back for more!