Skye's Clans, Clearances, Castles And… Cycling?
The Isle of Skye has become increasingly popular in recent years and it’s no surprise why. The dramatic scenery is breath-taking, the coastal, winding roads are a wonder and the picturesque medieval castles are magical. While the famous, unpredictable weather has earned the largest island in the Inner Hebrides, the adage: The Misty Isle; Skye is a natural treasure island and perfect for a cycling tour.
As someone who has a passion for history, particularly Scottish history, I was determined to fit in as many castles, museums and ‘popular tourist destination’ visits as possible during my seven-day cycle. Sounds easy right?
After taking the West Highland Line train from Glasgow to Mallaig, and getting on the ferry over to Skye, I caught a glimpse of the ruins of Armadale Castle dominating the approach. An intimidating sight this must have been for any intruder but not for the ferry full of tourists armed with their Go-pros and DSLR Cameras – modern weaponry ready to take on Skye.
All checked in at the first night’s accommodation, I decided to cycle down the road to visit the castle and museum to learn about the islands’ rival clans: the MacLeods, MacDonalds and the Nicolsons. The splendid gardens, ruins and history of Armadale Castle are well worth the visit and can be easily added into any itinerary.
The next day was my first day’s cycle and it took me from Armadale to Broadford. A nice warm-up for the rest of the weeks cycling as there were only a few tough hills, followed by some quiet roads. On the way into Broadford, you will start to hit the traffic coming in over the Skye bridge (which connects the island to the mainland) but with many cyclists on Skye, cars give plenty of space when overtaking which was a relief!
Day three of cycling from Broadford to Dunvegan is a long, tough day and the infamous Skye weather unleashed its torrent of abuse. Battling through the stormy wind and rain I made it safely to Sligachan! Despite the bad weather, the journey this day was still a fantastic one. I was warmed with the sight of the cascading waterfalls, foggy mountains and the view of the Old Sligachan Bridge – I even managed to stop and take a photo of a highland cow, bonus!
Deciding against the visit to Dunvegan Castle, the ancestral home of Clan Macleod, but never one to let the weather stop me from doing something, I opted instead to visit a small museum, run by the famous trials cyclist Danny MacAskill’s father, and learn the story of the giant – Angus MacAskill. Impressed with my cycling trip but not satisfied that I wasn’t attempting to cycle up the Old Man of Storr, like his son, he wished me well on my trip and I headed off to continue my cycling adventure.
Dunvegan to Uig was a nice, relaxing cycle after a slightly stressful day prior. Taking you through winding roads with great views over the hills, you enter Uig with the sight of the harbour below. Uig has a fantastic end of the world feeling, tucked into the west coast of the Trotternish Peninsula. Having an extra night in Uig would be ideal for those looking to give their legs a rest day or to take a trip over to Harris for some more island exploring. The Isle of Skye has a long-running history with fairies, relating to Dunvegan Castle and its Fairy Flag, so it seemed only appropriate on this day to take a trip to the Fairy Glen, situated behind the Uig Hotel. I was not disappointed. The glen is enchanting with its gentle green hills and miniature mounds of rocks, it almost felt as though I was in Middle-earth! Sadly, there were no fairies to be seen (I’d most likely been snubbed by the fairies for not visiting the castle the day before) but perhaps a visit to the Fairy Pools at Glenbrittle or the Fairy Bridge outside of Dunvegan will be worth stopping at on my next visit to Skye.
My fifth day of cycling took me from Uig, around the Trotternish Peninsula, following the coast. This was by far, the best day of cycling but also the toughest. Leaving Uig you are directed up a very steep hill but the fantastic panoramic views over the harbour made the struggle up to the top worth it. Over the hill, and on the quiet single-track roads, I made my way towards the ruins of Duntulm Castle, situated on the northern tip of Skye itself. Leaving my bike, I walked across the cliff-edge to the castle and was rewarded with, yes, you’ve guessed it, another amazing view, this time of Harris. Topping up on the sun cream (a sunny day for once), I continued my journey; next stop Staffin.
Cycling through the Trotternish Peninsula was one of the best experiences of the whole trip. The striking landscape meant I was stopping for photos every few miles attempting to capture its unique beauty. Onwards to Staffin Bay, I had a lovely rest-stop down by the beach before cycling the hill to Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls. The geological formation, resembling that of a pleated Kilt, is a must-see when visiting Skye – so long as you watch out for the midges! I was mistaken for thinking that the hills would be over for this day, after cycling the Trotternish Peninsula, but I was so wrong.
The most difficult part of this thirty-five-mile day was between Staffin and Portree; it felt as though there was no end to the hills. Motivating myself to ‘keep calm and carry on’, I was thankful for the view emerging out from behind the clouds in front of me – the Old Man of Storr. What a sight! Stopping again to take some more photos (or just an excuse to get my energy back), I slowly made it to Portree. You will never find yourself bored in the largest town – and the capital – of Skye with plenty to do from walking routes to boat trips. There was a lovely traditional band playing some music in the square, a bagpiper by the pier and plenty of seagulls making enough noise to make you feel truly Scottish in this harbour town.
Well rested, I made my way back to South Skye for another night in Broadford. Along the busy, main road and back up the hill at Sconser, I eventually arrived. Broadford is the second largest town on Skye, after Portree, and is a great place to stay with some great views of the sea and the mainland.
My final day of cycling was from Broadford back down to Armadale. The same journey as the first day, just the opposite direction, provided a nice rest for my tired legs. Travelling the island by bike is quite possibly the best way to see Skye. Stopping by the side of a road for a quick photo opportunity or hopping off for a half-hour or so to walk to some derelict castles on the cliff edges, will never be easier. While the uphill stints may be challenging, you are never far from a breath-taking view; whether that be coastal, rugged hills or domineering mountains – making cycling around the Isle of Skye an incredibly rewarding and memorable experience.