Isle of Skye tour
Zaineb Al-Hassani spends a long weekend away on a backpacker bus tour of Skye and finds herself falling in love with this picture perfect countryside
This Midgie writer is not a morning person. But I am a welly boots, fleecey jacket, two-pairs-of-socks and thermal underwear person. Because, even as spring begins to blossom in Scotland, at this tiny hour in the morning extra layers are still essential. So, as I trek down Edinburgh’s North Bridge I am snug as a bug in a rug.
Joining my fellow travellers, we are ushered onto a small but comfy bus before setting off on our three day journey into the Highlands of Scotland. The drive up to Skye normally takes just over five hours, but with our packed itinerary it means we do it in a leisurely ten.
Our guide Neil has a cheery smile plastered across his face and throughout the whole expedition he keeps conversation flowing with his infectious enthusiasm and plethora of stories connected to each of our stops.
First on our list is the Hermitage by Dunkeld, Perthshire - a small woodland area which may have been the inspiration behind the forest where Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ comes across the three witches. In this beautiful setting Neil explains all about Scotland’s early history, in particular the Viking era and tells us the legend that turned the thistle into our national flower. It’s spiky thorns sinking into bare footed warriors warned the Scots of the Viking approach (they yelped like a bunch of girls and we heard them a mile off). We stroll around this magical forest before heading to our next port of call.
A blustery wind and slight peppering of rain are all we have to contend with on day one, and from Pitlochry we head further North; taking solace in the Tomatin distillery for a quick dram of their malt whisky, to quench our thirsty travelling palates.
A definite highlight is the visit to Culloden Moor, where, in 1746, Bonnie Prince Charlie and his army of Jacobites were defeated by the Duke of Cumberland and his followers. A vast and barren landscape, bar the multiple gravestones marking the clans who fought and died in battle, Culloden is not traditionally beautiful, but is steeped in enough history to make it worthy of a visit.
What Culloden lacks in beauty, Loch Ness more than makes up for. A large freshwater loch which holds more water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined, it is simply breath-taking and, of course, it is also home to the mysterious and ever elusive ‘Nessie’, the famous underwater beastie.
Finally we arrive in the village of Kyleakin and Skye Backpackers Hostel, our little home-away-from-home, after one last stop at Eilean Donan castle (yes, the castle from Highlander) whose beauty is astonishing, set against a perfect Scottish backdrop of huge mountains and lush greenery.
One of the best things about a trip like this is making new acquaintances. Any fears I had about travelling on my own are quickly dissolved when the group congregate for dinner at the King Haakon Bar, a stone’s throw from our lovely wee hostel. The warm and easy-going atmosphere makes for a wonderful place to unwind from the day’s activities and gives the group a chance to chat with each other and the locals. Coming from large cities - as most of the people on the tour do - it is lovely to sit in a small pub where everyone knows each other and be entertained by musicians playing traditional highland tunes.
An early rise on Saturday sees us heading for Sligachan and the faerie river, where visitors are invited to submerge their faces for seven seconds in order to retain their youthful good looks and achieve eternal beauty (Crème De La Mer eat your heart out) as well as stops at Portree, Kilt Rock, Duntulum, and Faerie Glen; each one more beautiful and historical than the last.
Highlights of the second day of touring include a visit to Uig, a small port which saw many Highlanders take their last step on Scottish soil before being forced to leave during the Highland clearances. MacCurdie’s Exhibition, which is nothing short of genius, needs to be seen to be believed. It’s a weird little museum that’s always open and is filled with random comical things; like a bag of currants with a sign saying ‘Look out for strong currents’ (it’s childish and cheeky and therefore I love it). A large part of day two is also taken up by the Old Man of Storr, a huge stone pinnacle which takes a short and slightly strenuous hike to reach, but is more than worth it for the frankly stunning view.
Full to the brim with history, but charged with Highland energy, we are cordially invited to islander Billy Bob’s 21st birthday shenanigans later on that evening, held again in the Haakon and yet another indication of the island’s hospitality.
Day three brings with it some unfortunate weather, but this is simply pushed out of our collective psyche by the time we reach Glencoe. It’s hard to imagine such astounding scenery being the site of such awful history (the infamous Massacre of Glencoe took place here in 1692) but words cannot even come close to describing its beauty. The final stop on the tour includes a quick trip to the Wallace monument, in honour of our most famous hero, William Wallace, and is a fitting end to a wonderful weekend away.
A bus tour is a must for any traveller who finds themselves in Scotland with days to spare, and is just as much fun for any Scots among you who fancy seeing what all the fuss is about. The trip will stay in my memory for many years to come and, as Mary Todd Lincoln (wife of US President Abe) aptly said, “Beautiful, glorious, Scotland has spoilt me for every other country!”; it’s no wonder why.
Zaineb did her tour with MacBackpackers but there are several other tour companies offering similar experiences and varying itineraries. If you are thinking about taking a tour we recommend you check out the following websites: