It’s simply not true that the Isle of Skye is jam-packed with tourists, it just depends on where you choose to go.
Headlines purporting over-tourism may have taken a little of the shine off, but you’d be a fool to fall for the lie that the Isle of Skye, off Scotland’s west coast, is busy.
Yes, if you want to visit the same five or six sights (the Quiraing, the Old Man of Storr, Fairy Pools, etc.) as everyone else, then you’ll find yourself admiring beauty spots surrounded by strangers, but it really doesn’t take much to find peace and serenity on this most varied of islands.
Here are my top tips for beating the crowds on Skye.
Hike to the cleared village of Boreraig
On this walk, which sets off from the ruins of Kilchrist Church on the Broadford to Elgol road (park in the layby opposite) and climbs high into the hills before descending on to the shores of Loch Eishort, you can visit one of the cut-off communities that suffered at the hands of the Highland Clearances.
To start the walk, head back in the direction of Broadford and take the first right after the cattle grid. A well-worn path crosses a field and then leads you up a grassy slope, where you turn right onto the main path.
The walk takes around two hours (each way) up through an old quarry, crossing several stiles with lots of mud underfoot. Follow the path as it skirts the valley below before you reach the remains of the first house marking the entry into the hauntingly deserted village of Boreraig. From here, it’s a direct route down into the township where you can explore the stone outlines of former homes and imagine what once was. Head to the waterfall at the far left end of the village as you look out to sea. You can swim in the pools at the bottom – a lovely way to refresh yourself before starting the walk back.
Climb a munro
As you approach Loch Slapin from Broadford, the hulk of Bla Bheinn, one of Britain’s mightiest mountains, glares down at you. It marks the entry to the Black Cuillin proper and is separated from the rest of the range by Glen Sligachan, making it the only one of Skye’s munros not to be part of the Black Cuillin. Nevertheless, its mass of gabbro displays all the characteristics of the nearby mountain range, and it’s relatively easy to ascend—as long as you are prepared for a fair bit of scrambling— though inexperienced walkers are advised to go with a guide.
En route you’ll pass mountain streams and surprise corries (steep-sided hollows). The higher you go, the more spectacular the views become. For the best views, go past the vertical rock wall of the Great Prow as you near the top to see the Cuillin range to the northwest and the Red Cuillin to the northeast.
Visit a sheep tannery
One of the only sheep tanneries in the United Kingdom, Skye Skyns, hidden away on the Waternish peninsula, is a must for anyone interested in seeing how time-old traditions of leather-making are used to make beautiful sheepskin rugs and clothing. Free tours of the workshop (no need to book, just turn up; they last around 20 minutes) show the implements used and describe the process from start to finish, including the laborious Highland tradition of hand-combing fleeces. Upstairs in the showroom you can buy rugs mittens, and slippers, and in summer there is a very cosy pop-up yurt outside where you can have a cup of tea and slice of cake on sheepskin-covered seats.
Swim in a private pool
The route to the hidden-away pool of Coir’ a’ Ghrunda is not too hard to follow, but it can take some organising to find. First up, grab yourself a copy of Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 411: Skye—Cuillin Hills, which you can buy online or from Inside Out in Portree, and only attempt this trek on a fine day. Setting off from Glenbrittle Campsite, follow the main path that goes up behind the toilet block and then take the path that branches right across the burn. From here the path is relatively straightforward as it takes you up, rising steeply to the left (cairns are there to help mark the way) into the lower corrie. Once in the lower corrie the ground becomes trickier, with scree and large boulders to navigate. Stick left and high as much as possible; once you reach the waterfall you should be able to scramble up it and over into the upper corrie. And there you have it, your own private pool, with no other tourists spoiling your view. Inexperienced walkers should have no problem finding a local guide to take them there.
Go whisky tasting in Skye’s newest distillery
Skye’s newest distillery and part of the new Hebridean Whisky Trail, Torabhaig in the under-visited south of Skye has only been making whisky since January 2017 so there’s not much to taste . . . yet. Housed in an old farmstead, the water necessary to make the whisky comes from the nearby Allt Breacach burn. Visitors can learn all about the whisky-making process—from the mashing to the fermenting to the distilling—as well as try a dram of Mossburn Island Blend, a whisky similar to the finish and flavor the distillery is going for: a well-tempered peat. Only time will tell the quality of the whisky produced—the earliest it will be available is 2020, but until then the 45-minute tour is an interesting way to spend an hour, get good insight into the distilling process, and have lunch in the nice café. Plus, it’s a lot quieter than Skye’s other distillery of Talisker.
Sally Coffey is the author of Moon Edinburgh, Glasgow & The Isle of Skye: copyright Avalon Travel.