So, you’re in Scotland, and you’ve already visited the sites in Edinburgh – even went to Loch Ness (read about the first half of our road trip here), Now you need to really get out of town, have a little more adventure and see what makes the country so beautiful. At least, that’s what I wanted to do when I was there. And that’s why I was sitting in a car with three strangers (now great friends) headed toward an island off the Northern coast of Scotland.
After two days of driving toward our destination, spotting the only bridge connecting Isle of Skye to the mainland was an exciting moment. We were there – we’d arrived!
Isle of Skye – Portree
At a population of about 2,500 people, Portree is the largest town on Skye. And, like most villages on the island, it’s a small cluster of whitewashed houses perched on a cliff.
There is also a nearby whiskey distillery that apparently attracts a rowdy crowd. Normally, I’d check it out, taste a little and then grab a pint in Portree before turning in. Or – more likely – party all night and catch the sunrise in the harbor.
But we were there on a serious mission, so we uncharacteristically opted out of drinks in order to take a nap until midnight. Then, we set out on the loop to take some night photography.
The owner of the hostel called the island’s only road ‘the loop’ and so the name stuck. It takes about two hours to drive if you don’t stop to look around – he assured us we would, though, if only to wait for the free-roaming sheep to amble across the road. He turned out to be right.
We did the route twice: once at night to see if we could glimpse the Aurora Borealis (no such luck), and again in the morning to see the waterfalls and cliff-top trails that make Skye popular with adventure seekers.
As soon as we started driving through the unspoiled wilderness, saturated colors, and dramatic waterfalls, I instantly regretted not having enough time to rent some mountain bikes and explore more. I loved this island instantly.
The Fairy Pools
This is a real name, I promise. Believed to have healing qualities, there are a series of waterfalls and pools situated at the foot of the Black Cuillins. I’m not sure if the rumors are true, but I do know that standing amidst the pools is pure magic.
There’s no replacement for standing between two lush, green mountains as you see the crystal clear blue of the pools, hear the peaceful sounds of water spilling over the rocks and the occasional squeal from swimmers as they hit the surface of the cold water for some world-class wild swimming.
It’s pretty easy to see why the pools are a source of local folklore. As we continued on the trail, it was hard to tell which was more appropriate: to yell out in the wild expanse that surrounded us, or to whisper quietly so as not to disrupt the sleeping fairies.
Harry Potter’s Bridge
Looking back, the day seemed to have quite a magical theme; our next stop was the iconic bridge from Harry Potter. The nerdy child in me would have been very let down if we hadn’t stopped.
You know the one? At the beginning of the first Harry Potter movie, the kids take a train to Hogwarts and the screen pans out to show green countryside and a dramatic, multi-arched bridge with the black train on it, puffing smoke into the air as it took Harry to his future, and made us all want to be wizards. Please, tell me I’m not the only one who wanted to be sitting on that train eating strange flavored Jelly Beans.
Anyway, we had a blast running around under the arches yelling: “You’re a wizard, Harry!” in our best (read: worst) British accents. Only a few people saw us and stared questioningly.
The final stop we made was also in a movie: Skyfall. Glencoe makes an appearance several times, but most notably it’s where Bond drives through a valley surrounded by huge mountains to his childhood home (Fun fact: Glencoe was also voted Scotland’s most romantic glen).
We drove through the deep glen following the winding road for a while before stopping to hike up to a good vantage point. And then, all too soon, it was time to take one last look at the Highlands before turning our backs on the strange, beautiful, mystical place and heading back to our hostel in Edinburgh.