Travel Tuesday: Skye High

Photography and words from Samantha Ku

Having heard magical stories about Scotland’s famed Isle of Skye, I knew it was high on my priority list of places to see while studying abroad here in St Andrews. I was able to visit Skye a few weeks ago with a friend, though we specifically visited Sligachan and the Fairy Pools. 

Since we left Leuchars early Tuesday morning and returned at midnight on Thursday, we technically only spent one full day in Skye. The train ride took over seven hours with multiple changes, so we only had the late evening on Tuesday and early Thursday morning to spend in Eilean Donan Castle. Naturally, there is not much one can do on a seven-hour train ride other than revise and do our readings, so yes - we did manage to be good students! The train from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh, the last leg of our train journey, was particularly gorgeous as we rolled through beautiful valleys crossed by sparkling streams, and rocky mountains dotted with waterfalls. The forests were beginning to change colour for the season. 

As the train and bus schedules were strangely timed, we arrived at Kyle of Lochalsh two minutes after the bus. We didn’t want to wait three hours for the next bus at 7pm, so we decided to walk around two miles across the Skye Bridge to Kyleakin, the first town in Skye where our hostel was located. The rain was tapering off, so we took a gorgeous walk in the setting sun. The landscape of Skye behind the bridge was stunning in the golden light. 

When we stepped onto the first part of the Skye Bridge, however, the wind suddenly picked up. It felt as if the wind would blow the contact lenses from my eyes! We hadn’t even made it onto the high and curved section of the bridge, and I was beginning to worry that we wouldn’t be able to haul our luggage up. As we struggled across, I noticed a white van drive past us, pause, and slowly begin to reverse back. My first reaction was of course, panic. Great, I thought. This is how we get kidnapped and murdered. Didn’t even make it to Skye. Wasn’t even trying to hitchhike. I skirted to the far side of the pavement, and began to quickly walk away when my friend called me to stop. The lady inside the van waved and offered us a ride to Kyleakin, and though I was really hesitant, she didn’t give off any creepy vibes while promising that she wasn’t an axe-wielding murderer! (In hindsight, I suppose this is what axe-wielding murderers would say...) 

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As it turns out, she was local to the area, but had been living in Edinburgh, and had just returned from her band’s tour of Europe. She dropped us off right at our hostel, and though the adrenaline was still pumping, I was grateful for the lift. That is my first memory of Skye – getting into a car with a stranger. 

After checking into our hostel, we took a short hike to Caisteal Maol, the crumbling ruins of the ancient seat of the Mackinnon clan. While the tide was still mostly out, the hike was fairly boggy, and it was getting dark. By the time we made it across the harbour and up the hill, the sun had set, and we were treated to the twinkling lights of Kyleakin and Kyle of Lochalsh. We headed back to town and stopped for dinner, where I promptly got food poisoning. Even with the minor mishap, it was a really enjoyable night and I went to bed excited for our next day in Skye. 

On Wednesday, we set off after breakfast for Sligachan, a small settlement a little under 45 minutes away by bus. Arriving in Sligachan, we first took some photos by the bridge, and then followed the river up in search of the Sligachan waterfall. While it was a lovely hike, what with the dramatic Cuillin Mountains in the background, we couldn’t find the waterfall, and decided to head back. Our phones had no signal, so the hotel phoned a taxi for us to get to the Fairy Pools. Our taxi driver was extremely funny and even though it cost quite a bit, it saved us a lot of precious time, as we could not be late for the last bus that was headed back to our hostel. We hiked down into the Fairy Pools, and it was stunning. I always assumed the photos of the blue-green water were Photoshopped to some degree but, even in October, the water was a gorgeous, deep aquamarine. We saw the underwater arch and the many, many waterfalls. There were also pretty silvery-branched trees with red berries that clung onto the rocks over the falls that I thought were really lovely. Though the eather was no longer purple, the burnt ochre set off the blue-green of the water beautifully. I could truly believe that fairies lived here! 

We hiked around for about two hours before heading back to Sligachan. We climbed back up to the beginning of the hike to the Pools and took the forked path for Glen Sligachan. Google had mentioned that it wasn’t a particularly difficult hike and would only take two hours, so I started out fairly confident in our walk. 

Google lies. 

In the end, the hike took nearly three hours and even though we left almost an hour in advance, we caught our bus by a mere two minutes. We climbed up a mountain and got so close to the Black Cuillins that framed the Fairy Pools. The ascent was incredibly rocky and steep. I never thought I would feel hot in Skye in October: even though the sun was setting, the heat was unbearable. The descent was slightly better as the sun was less oppressive, but it was beginning to rain. 

In our panic back to Sligachan, I think we actually passed the Sligachan waterfall. We were too hurried to take photos, but it was pretty in the dying light. We began running towards the hotel, and just caught our bus. The sunset was a vibrant pink on the lochs which we drove along - a perfect ending to an almost perfect day in Skye. We woke up early the next morning for the bus back to the mainland. We spent the entire day at Eilean Donan Castle, which had beautiful views of the three lochs it sits upon. I could definitely see how it is considered Scotland’s most romantic castle. We couldn’t leave any earlier, because there weren’t many buses, so one negative thing about the Highlands is that it is difficult to travel without a car. At any rate, Dornie and Eilean Donan were lovely. We had a quick lunch before running for our train, and commencing the seven-hour journey back to St Andrews. We arrived in St Andrews just before midnight, and walked back into Sallies under the chimes of St Salvator’s Chapel. I was never more excited to see my bed again! It was an amazing week in a gorgeous place, but there’s really nothing like coming home to the Bubble.

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