Serving up wild beaches, lush landscapes and majestic views, Lucy Pavia falls for the Inner Hebrides’ crown jewel
I recently asked a retired flight attendant where she would fly if she had one last trip. ‘The Isle of Skye,’ she replied, instantly. ‘I have been almost everywhere, but that place tops it for me.’ On Scotland’s north-west coast, where the land breaks off into thousands of tiny, craggy islands and skerries, you’ll find the Isle of Skye. The largest piece of the Inner Hebrides archipelago (which also includes Mull and Islay), Skye’s heathery hillsides and wild, empty beaches have captured the imagination of artists, singers and writers over the centuries, including Virginia Woolf, Harry Styles, and, yes, even Kanye West.
My own visit falls on a sunny stretch in late May. But early autumn, when the sun is still strong and the crowds have dispersed, is also a popular time to book. My husband Will and I fly to Inverness from Gatwick airport in
50 minutes and we start our trip on the mainland in a blissfully quiet woodland cabin at the Macdonald Lochanhully Resort. The following day, we take a scenic drive north along the edge of Loch Ness, stopping to visit Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition – opened in 1999 by Sir Ranulph Fiennes – and walk around the ruins of Urquhart Castle.
Later, the highlands give way to the edge of Loch Alsh and the Skye Bridge crossing over the sea. Our destination for the night is Kinloch Lodge in Sleat – the southernmost tip of the island known as ‘the garden of Skye’ thanks
to its lush, wooded landscape. On the banks of Loch Hourn, this 16th-century former hunting lodge has been run by the Macdonalds for over four decades and, despite a Soho House-style update, its squashy fireside armchairs and family portraits ensure the place feels more home than a hotel. After a walk around the grounds, we feast on the five-course tasting menu by Roux brothers-trained chef Marcello Tully that’s made Kinloch a top destination restaurant, too. I’m still dreaming of his slightly spicy pea soup.
The following day, we head north to explore the middle of the island and the Talisker Distillery in the village of Carbost, which opened in 1830 by the waters of Loch Harport. Talisker is the only single malt made in Skye, with tasting notes that reflect its seaside location, and a smokiness from the peat burned during the malting process.
Just up the hill, at The Oyster Shed, we buy a tray of 12 fresh oysters grown in the waters of Loch Harport, which we eat outside with views over the loch. It’s a warm, cloudless day, so after lunch we take a wiggly drive over the hill to the Fairy Pools – one of Skye’s favourite tourist spots. Running down the foothills of the Black Cuillin mountains is a series of natural pools that sparkle a deep blue-green colour. Once you’ve worked up a sweat climbing the path, you can pick one for a refreshing dip.
Next stop: a bothy on the northern tip of Skye. Bearing the brunt of the weather, it’s all treeless, windswept hills and a rugged coastline, where uninterrupted views up to the majestic Quiraing give you a real sense of the island’s scale. The Bealach Uige Bothy is a self-catered cottage run by Staffin local, Joanna. This cosy, wood-clad retreat done up in Scandinavian-inspired greys, opens up to views that sweep from Trotternish Ridge to the east coast. Other than the occasional ‘baa’ of nearby sheep, our two-night stay here is incredibly quiet. Being so far north of the equator, the summer days are also almost eerily long and after a hike at 7pm, we still have three hours of sun to enjoy on the deck with a book and a glass of wine.
In the morning, we drive down to the island’s capital, Portree, to meet Mitchell Partridge, who runs a range of wilderness adventures. Today he’s showing us some of the island’s nature spots – starting in a valley where rare white-tailed eagles are nesting. We forage for the Gwyneth Paltrow-approved coffee alternative, dandelion tea, which he boils up in a little tin, and explore clifftop castle ruins. In the autumn, Partridge says the hills turn purple and there’s a humming noise as millions of bees work on the heather.
We’ll just have to come back to see it for ourselves next year…
See visitscotland.com for details on Skye. To book a stay at the Macdonald Lochanhully Resort, visit resorts.macdonaldhotels.co.uk. Kinloch Lodge starts from £140 per night; kinloch-lodge.co.uk. Book Bealach Uige Bothy on airbnb.co.uk from £110.