14 April 2023
Former Editor, Pat, tours the Isle of Skye with his son, Isaac, during the height of summer. Despite the crowds and midges, it was an uplifting experience
One of the great things about travelling the UK and the world to report on Land Rovers is that often you find yourself off the beaten track, away from the maddening holiday crowds. This all changed nine years ago when my son Isaac was born. I am not complaining, he’s the biggest blessing in my life.
While some fly to Spanish or Greek isles for summer holidays, I normally fire up the Land Rover and look for a camping adventure somewhere. This is exactly what I did during the now all too distant summer holidays. The general advice is don’t go to the north of Scotland because of the crowds and midges, but I decided to see if I could avoid both while doing a week-long tour of the Isle of Skye. It’s a place I’ve been to several times, but it would be Isaac’s first visit.
To save two days of driving, we flew up to Inverness on good old EasyJet; I booked way in advance so the flights were much cheaper than the cost of fuel if driving.
Stopping in to see the famous Eilean Donan castle on the way to Skye
We then picked up our rental Defender 90 from Inverness-based WildTrax (see details on p82). Most of its rental fleet are low-mileage late old-style Defenders. While ours had every expedition accessory known to mankind, what it didn’t have was food, so before leaving Inverness, we stocked up at a big Tesco store. The Isle of Skye does have supermarkets, but once you get to its really remote parts you pay pretty high prices for commodities such as a bag of firewood or a block of cheese.
When travelling with a nine-year-old the key is lots of stops and activities. On a previous trip we did everything Loch Ness monster-related, including boat trips. This time we hugged the loch’s southern shoreline, stopping first at Dores Beach so that I could test the camp stove (there were two in the back of the 90) and brew a cup of tea. The sun might have been out, but the cold wind meant Isaac’s activities were reduced to skimming stones on the water. Once I had a travel mug full of tea, we continued.
The Puma-engined 90 is much perkier than a 110 with the same engine, thanks to its smaller size and lower weight. We passed several impressive viewpoints, all with several camper vans admiring the vista.
Our next stop was at the Falls of Foyers, another great opportunity for a leg stretch as we hiked down into the gorge for the best view. It had been the hottest summer on record so far in the UK, so the falls were more of a narrow trickle than the expected wide, white-water cascade. Still, they were without a doubt worthy of a stop and look.
Gateway to adventure: The impressive Skye bridge
From the village of Fort Augustus we headed west, to cover the 50 miles or so to the Isle of Skye. We knew we’d arrived when crossing the impressive Skye Bridge. The building of the bridge in 1992 was privately funded, and investors controversially then charged users a toll when in first opened; it was one of the most expensive toll bridges in Europe. Fortunately sanity prevailed when the Scottish government purchased it in 2004 and the tolls were scrapped.
Not long after crossing the bridge we left the main road (A87) and headed south on the A851. Straight away there seemed to be less traffic. We had a few days to explore Skye and I wanted to see as much of it as possible. This southern peninsula is known as Sleat. It’s also referred to as the Garden of Skye and we could see why – the green peninsula’s lush vegetation seemed to stretch all the way down to its craggy coastline and white sandy beaches.
A room with a view
Our first night on Skye was spent at the posh Duisdale House, a boutique hotel surrounded by mature woodland. Before dinner we took a walk to the nearby rocky beach, although it was too cold and cloudy for a swim. When we retired to our comfortable room after our world-class dinner, I couldn’t help but dream about the four nights of camping which lay ahead.
After breakfast our 90 continued in a southwesterly direction along the Sleat Peninsula. While we took the touristy bridge to get onto the largest of the Inner Hebrides islands, there are other more adventurous ways. One of these includes taking the ferry from Mallaig to Armadale, which was our next port of call. As we had enough supplies for a month, we didn’t have to stop at the shops and instead headed straight for Armadale Castle with its very impressive gardens, stocked with plants from all around the world.
This is what a hairy cow looks like after a shave and bleach
The further south we headed from Armadale the fewer vehicles we saw. Eventually the road finished at the Aird Old Church Gallery. A Discovery 4 stood in the driveway so Isaac and I went in for a look-see. The gallery is run by the friendly Peter and Jane McDermott who moved here with their kids in 1996. What a place to live!
We left the Defender in the car park, packed a picnic and put on our hiking boots. Sandy Beach lay a few miles away at the end of the peninsula. The scenic walk was well worth it – despite the beach being covered in thousands of blue bottles, it was still the most idyllic and remote picnic spot.
Once back at the 90 we headed back along the road we came but took a detour towards Tarskavaig, a crofting village on the western side of the peninsula. Our plan was to wild camp on the beach at Tokaivaig, something that was recommended to me by knowledgeable Lauren Eaton, formerly of GLASS (Green Lane Association).
This was our perfect camping spot at Tokavaig
Our little campsite was heaven on earth, a grassy patch right next to the beach, and I positioned the 90 behind a small rocky outcrop for protection against the wind. We had the whole beach to ourselves, although a few local cows did pop in for a visit. The 270-degree awning and hard-shell tent only took about a minute to set up, and the bedding (and towels) were already in the tent. This was the way man was meant to camp.
Isaac helped me get a fire started and on the menu for the night was his favourite meal, chicken tikka masala. Little places like this are what makes wild camping in Scotland so special. That night we fell asleep to the sound of the sea and just before sunrise the sound was obviously still there. From my bed I could see the sea and the orange skies. Some pay hundreds of quid for experiences like this; we had just camped there for free. The most important thing, though, is to leave the place in better condition than how you found it.
The Isle of Skye is very kid-friendly with lots for them to see and do
It was tempting to stay another night, but after a morning walk to the nearby Dunscaith Castle ruins, we decided to push on. Craig and Cheries from WildTrax had told us about a wonderful family-friendly campsite at Glenbrittle which was next on our list. So we said goodbye to Sleat and rejoined the A87. The rugged landscapes all around us left Isaac and I at a loss for words. He soon found his voice again when we stopped at Eas a’ Bhraidan and took a swim in the waterfall. I decided to pass, as did everyone else in attendance.
At the Sligachan Old Bridge we left the main road and took the A683 and, as is often the case in Scotland, the weather turned on us for the worse, necessitating the deployment of the Defender’s heater. As we passed the Fairy Pools it looked as if LRM was hosting a Spares Day in the car park, as the place was rammed to overflowing.
The Glenbrittle campsite shop serves great coffee and treats
I don’t do craziness or crowds, so we pushed on to the campsite. Our tip-off proved to be correct; there was a lovely café and coffee shop at the campsite and we are able to bag a seafront pitch. Despite the rain we still made a fire to cook on. Eventually after dinner it stopped, but then so too did the wind and we got our first taste of midges on the trip.
Quickly, on went the bug spray. It helped a little but the nasty little bugs took a liking to me and started to eat me alive. Even so, we took a sunset walk on the beach and it seemed the right way to end the day. One blessing was that our tent was 100 per cent midge-proof and so we both got a good night’s rest. Well, sort of…
I woke poor Isaac up at 4:00am so that we could pack away and get back to the Fairy Pools before the crowds. It worked a charm and we had the whole place to ourselves. I could see why they are on all of the ‘best things to do on Skye’ lists. I bet on a warm sunny day the series of beautiful blue pools running down the hillside are a great place to cool down in.
The problem with starting early is that we arrived at our next stop, the nearby Talisker Distillery, before it had opened. So we inflated our paddle boards and headed out on Talisker Bay for an early morning paddle. Talisker is one of my favourite single malts and so I was in whisky heaven when we eventually got in and I was able to purchase a few bottles plus an enamel camping mug.
Isaac plays a Macleod at Dunvegan Castle
From the distillery we headed north to the must-visit Dunvegan Castle, which is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland. It has also been the ancestral home of the Chiefs of the Clan Macleod for several years. There was lots to see in the castle and its gardens including the clan’s famous Fairy Flag, so do stop there if you’re in the area.
We headed north further still after lunch and after reaching Uig I could tell that the early start was getting to the both of us. We took the steep track out of town and pulled into a layby. I popped the tent up and Isaac and I took an afternoon nap. From our prime spot we could see the ferries come and go to the Outer Hebrides.
By now we weren’t too far from the northern most part of the Isle of Skye, also known as tourism central. How did I know this? More cars and people than ever before.
Isaac walking into the mist at the Quiraing
Our next stop was at the Quiraing, a very scenic landslip on the eastern face of Meall na Suiramach, the northernmost summit on the Trotternish peninsula. As it was probably one of the most beautiful places to hike on the Isle of Skye, the car park was pricey and packed. Isaac and I headed out on a hike just as the mist moved in, so visibility was not very good and we weren’t able to see the Needle, a jagged 120 foot rock pinnacle. Still, we got the sense that we were somewhere special thanks to the bits of the dramatic landscape that we could see.
There were hundreds of campervans wild camping along this eastern side of the Isle of Skye’s most northern finger. I had another tip-off about an isolated wild camping spot towards the interior. It was the Loch Cuithir picnic spot and it took us about 30 minutes to get there from the tar road.
However, I spotted bits of white toilet paper everywhere, plus the midges were out of control, so I decided to backtrack to the main road. We made our way to a deserted churchyard that I had seen earlier and camped up there for the night. No one disturbed us, not even the ghosts.
Our final night was spent at the stunning Sligachan campsite
We had done several memorable hikes already on our trip and to motivate Isaac for one last outing, I dangled the carrot of a meal in Portree, the capital of Skye, in front of him. He bit that dangling carrot and off we went, an early morning hike of The Storr, a rocky hill the steep eastern face of which overlooks the picturesque Sound of Raasay.
It was as if Skye had saved the best for last. The sun was shining bright as we made our way up the steep path of this Trotternish landslip. Our target, some of the several pinnacles off in the distance. We trekked upwards for the best part of an hour, before making our way around one of the pinnacles. Below us was the Sound of Raasay, but we couldn’t see the sea because of the low-lying clouds which we stood above.
Portree is a proper coastal tourist village and Isaac got his sit-down meal, a curry, followed by a walk around the colourful capital of the Isle of Skye. Before night fell we headed towards the campsite at Sligachan, one of the remaining few with vacancies. It was the perfect place to spend our last night on the isle. The towering peak of Glamaig stood guard over the campsite. All around us people were smiling, the smell of BBQs filled the air, while kids ran around playing tag or football. Isaac was in heaven and so was I.
The Isle of Skye is a happy place thanks to its unique landscapes and the abundance of fresh, clean air that seems to intoxicate its visitors. Our 90, which ticked over the 100,000 mile mark on our trip, had been absolutely faultless.
It had been the summer trip of a lifetime for Isaac and I. Yes, there were more midges and people than we would have liked, but at times it did feel as if we were the only people on Skye. It is one of those places where after you’ve been once you just keep on coming back. This was my fifth visit and it won’t be my last.
Rent a Land Rover
Wildtrax HQ has some serious kit on offer
WildTrax is based in Inverness and runs a rather large fleet of fully-kitted Defenders. All you have to take care of are your clothes, food and self. Our Defender 90 had it all: stoves, sheets, duvets, cutlery, crockery and anything else you could think of for an expedition. These guys have been in the business for several years and know what their clients need when exploring remote Scotland.
Craig and Cheries Dutton did a very professional handover of the vehicle, explaining in great detail how everything works. Cheries was also willing to discuss our trip and offer tips on where to stay and what not to miss out on. I would highly recommend WildTrax.
For more details see wildtrax.co.uk. For those who don’t like the cold or camping, WildTrax does great combo deals with its lodge – instead of a tent you get a lodge with a log burner, flush toilet and proper bed.
Where we stayed
Duisdale Hotel: What a way to spend our first night on Skye. Wonderful staff, top-quality food and a comfortable night’s rest. For more see skyehotel.co.uk/duisdale.
Glenbrittle campsite and café: Fabulous setting, with the beach and foothills of Cuillin mountains. Come for a day and stay for a week. To book call 01478 640404.
Sligachan campsite: A newish campsite with everything you need, clean toilets and showers and a wonderful setting. Bar across the road. To book call 07786 435 294.
We flew from London Luton Airport on Easyjet. Book well in advance for great deals.
LIKE TO READ MORE? Try our Budget Digital Subscription. You'll get access to over 7 years of Land Rover Monthly – that’s more than 100 issues plus the latest digital issue. The issues are fully searchable so you can easily find what you are looking for and what’s more it’s less than 10p a day to subscribe. Click here to find out more details and start enjoying all the benefits now.