One proud local told me that the Isle of Skye is Scotland’s second-most popular destination, after Edinburgh. While that seems like a stretch, Skye was certainly packed when I was there at the peak of summer. And for good reason: The biggest of the Hebrides Islands offers some of the best scenery in all of Scotland.
Skye’s “capital” is Portree. Apart from its stunning pastel harbor, I love all of the endearingly quirky stories that bubble through little island towns like this one. Portree first hit it big thanks to its rich deposits of kelp…yes, seaweed (they’d burn it to create an ash that was rich in soda — apparently a big industry in the 18th century). The island has just one high school (some kids get bussed in from an hour away) and two hospitals — but no obstetricians. Mothers-to-be are sent three hours away to Inverness a week before their due date. Babies are born on the Isle of Skye only by accident.
The Trotternish Peninsula, north of Portree, has some of my favorite views in all of Scotland (right up there with Glencoe). These jagged formations — called the Quiraing — show up frequently in movies that call for an otherworldly location, from Flash Gordon to Prometheus.
Driving up into the Quiraing on a single-track road, I slammed on the brakes when I found myself immersed in a traffic jam of sheep. Just ahead of me, the truck of a farmer was just pulling away after moving the flock to a new grazing patch. While I waited for the sheep to clear out, I looked up on the ridge to see this hoofed couple, who seemed to be posing just for me.
In summer, Scotland enjoys long hours of daylight. I have a lot of guidebook-research chores to squeeze into every day. So on Skye, I did the two-hour Trotternish Peninsula driving loop after dinner. After a socked-in day, the sky opened up as I headed north out of Portree…and I had the roads all to myself. As I crested the tip of Trotternish, the setting sun lit up the cliffs like a spotlight.
For our new Rick Steves Scotland guidebook, I’m adding some new hiking tips. And in the dramatic Cuillin Hills — in a different part of the Isle of Skye — I tried out the glorious hike to the “Fairy Pools.” As a stream of mountain runoff trickles out of the Cuillin, it carves a canyon deep into the bald turf. The water tumbles down several cascades, creating stunning pools where you really could imagine supernatural sprites hanging out. Even on a chilly day, people were taking a dip. I overheard a tourist say, with her delightful Scottish lilt, “Despite the fact that it’s so cold, it’s so invitin’!”