WILD SWIMMING & SKYE-HIGH HIKES
After breakfast in the shadows of the CUILLIN MOUNTAINS, don your swimming cozzies and follow the sign on the opposite side of the road to the Fairy Pools car park towards the FAIRY POOLS themselves. This is one of the easiest but most rewarding walks on SKYE, a fairly straightforward ramble across a kilometre or so of moorland, with a few river crossings (over stepping stones) along the way. You can see the river from where you set off, wiggling up into the Black Cuillin, but it’s only as you get closer that you can start to make out the series of waterfalls it cascades over on its way down the hill and the invitingly clear pools they empty into. No-one knows how the pools got their name, but there’s certainly a mystical quality to their vivid colour, a supernatural turquoise that will let you get away with all sorts of far-fetched stories. There are several pools to explore: the pool at the base of the first waterfall is the deepest of the lot and probably the best for swimming (it’s a good idea to bring a rash vest or a shorty wetsuit, as the water is predictably chilly); the next pool along is the best for more adventurous children, with a rock arch to swim through.
Once you’ve dried off back in the van, follow the road back to Slighachan and then left onto the A87 to PORTREE, Skye’s cutesy capital and a lovely spot to grab an early lunch of fish and chips down by its working harbour. From here, the A855 runs north into the rugged TROTTERNISH PENINSULA, the scenic setting for this afternoon’s walk, either into the Quiraing or round the Fairy Glen, depending on the age of your children. En route to both, the road passes the OLD MAN OF STORR, a rocky pinnacle that is allegedly the thumb of a giant that lies buried beneath the ridge, and KILT ROCK, named for the way its basalt columns drop sheer into the sea in skirt-like pleats; the Old Man is visible from the A855, but you’ll need to make a brief stop to get up close to the cliff-face “kilt”.
Around 18.5 miles from Portree, turn left onto the single-track road (signed “Quiraing”). There’s a car park after 2 miles, opposite which a path leads up to the QUIRAING itself; the name translates as “Fold”, an apt description for a dramatic landscape that looks like something out of The Lord of the Rings and The Game of Thrones rolled into one. It’s a demanding hike, taking 3 to 4 hours if you complete the whole loop, and with some steep climbs on some fairly rocky slopes (part of it loose underfoot), so is probably best suited for older teenagers who are confident walkers – it makes for a busy day after the early morning stroll to the Fairy Pools, but the scenery is some of the finest in all of Scotland. If your kids fit the bill, set off for rocky outcrops and landslip plateaus of the Prison, the Needle and the Table, the first of which is clearly visible from the car park.
If they don’t, you’re better off pushing on a further 7 miles to the FAIRY GLEN, another fantastical setting. Follow the road as it forks left down into Uig, then turn left onto the A87 and left again just after the Uig Hotel (signed for Sheadar); the glen is a mile along this single-track road, but there’s no official parking here, just a couple of wider places by the side of the road. The Tolkienesque scene of cone-shaped grassy knolls and glistening lochans is ripe for exploration – and a game of hide and seek.
Back on the A87, complete your circuit of the Trotternish Peninsula by heading south back to Portree, and then carry on to SLIGACHAN (23.5 miles from the Fairy Glen turn-off). The hamlet’s campsite ticks all the necessary boxes: a nice flat motorhome pitch with electric hook-ups; views of the distant Cuillins one side and the River Sligachan running out into its lock the other; and a homely pub (and playground) just across the way.
TOP TIP At some point during your time in the Scottish Highlands and Islands (and on several routes detailed in this itinerary), you’ll find yourself driving along a SINGLE-TRACK ROAD. These are not one-way roads, so drive carefully and be prepared to pull over into one of the regular passing places – signed as such or indicated with a black-and-white striped post – to allow traffic coming in the opposite direction to pass by or to let faster vehicles behind you overtake. There are three handy things to remember: uphill traffic has the right of way; if the passing place is on the right, stop and wait opposite it; and, most importantly of all, NEVER park in a passing place.
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