Over the sea to Skye!

When you drive towards the Kyle of Lochalsh on the NC500 from Lochcarron, you arrive at a T-junction. Left takes you back up towards Inverness to complete the NC500 loop. Right takes you to the Kyle of Lochalsh and if you so wish, over the bridge onto Skye.

Dom and I first visited Skye 12 years ago. Royal Wedding fever had swept the nation and we wanted to go somewhere peaceful and tranquil with our extra day off. Our visit was idyllic with glorious weather and scenery which didn’t fail to impress us. Although I’ve always wanted to return, part of me was worried that it wouldn’t live up to that fabulous first trip but we now had an opportunity to go back. While we were parked up in Ardmair we’d realised that completing the journey so far hadn’t taken as long as we thought. We had a couple of options – break up the journey between there and Lochcarron or drive over to Skye. Last time we only got as high as Portree so there was still a lot of the island we’d yet to see. There was no contest when we arrived at the T-junction, we turned right.

First stop, fuel at the Picadilly Circus like filling station at Broadford. Despite the pumps being mad busy and the stream of customers pulling onto the forecourt heading both from and towards the bridge, some drivers opted to wait in their cars by the pump while their fuel payer strolled around the shop getting their weekly groceries in. One people carrier which was clearly doing a guided tour waited by the pump as each of the 6 passengers went and bought snacks. All the while the queue of vehicles waiting to fill their cars snaked back towards the road. For some reason it didn’t occur to them to move their vehicle into the more than adequate parking bays that had been thoughtfully provided. Common sense didn’t seem so common!

Finally full of fuel we immediately got stuck behind the tourist otherwise known as “I hate driving. I hate hills and I hate bends bends but I’m going on a driving holiday around Scotland which has loads of hills and bends”. I don’t know why they put themselves through it if it fills them with such terror. Every bend, every road sign or slightly tall tree caused this person to slow down from 20mph to 15 mph even in the open speed limits. Driving uphill in a vintage van behind drivers like this is torture. You have to leave as big a gap as possible so that you can give yourself enough room to get the revs and speed up to maintain any kind of momentum. We lost track of the people who overtook our old van only to realise we were not the issue. And then, we hit the single track road with passing places and ‘please allow others to overtake’ signs. They didn’t. Too terrified to take their eye off the road and look in the rearview mirror to see the stream of traffic behind them, this continued through Portree and on and on and on until we reached the car park for the Old Man of Storr. Originally we thought we might stop and climb up to the top but we decided to get away while we could.

The coastline is so pretty here and we found a brilliant viewpoint where we could sit and dangle our legs over the sea and take it all in.

On we trucked. Campsites are few and far between on Skye and we had our eye on the one at Staffin. When we drove through the gates they had a ‘sorry we’re full’ sign but we thought we’d ask on the off chance. When we pulled in there was only one other van in the electric hook up area nearest the reception so we were feeling more optimistic. Turns out they just hadn’t brought the sign in so we parked up, hooked up the electric and had a chat with the couple in the other van (also a VW but much newer and with a high top). They told us about a walk from the back of the campsite down to the little harbour. But first we planned to walk to Kilt Rock – a waterfall about two miles back up the road.

Unfortunately, the walk along the road wasn’t very inspiring and the waterfall itself left us a bit underwhelmed. There was a man playing bagpipes and although he was very good neither of us had brought any cash so we didn’t feel it right to film him if we couldn’t leave him some money. Take our word for it, he was very good and he covered all the classics including Over the Sea to Skye or the Skye Boat Song to give it its correct name.

After a late lunch back at the van we decided to walk down to the harbour. As we walked through the campsite we noticed a few more vans and motorhomes had arrived. The walk across the patch of land behind the campsite was a bit boggy but it soon gave way to a very well defined path which zig-zagged down to Staffin Harbour or Ob Nan Ron (place of seals). The sign told us that the path we’d come down had been constructed in the 1840’s to make access easier for the locals going from the beach to their homes No doubt following long days catching and carrying fish rather than a pleasant day trip. The harbour was a surprisingly busy place providing day trips, boat trips and diving trips. It was also a turning point for all the vehicles which had parked further up the road near An Carron Beach.

We strolled up to An Carron beach which was really busy (well for Skye). There were groups listening to talks about dinosaurs, wild swimmers and general tourists. The beach is well known for its dinosaur footprints and although Dom and I looked we weren’t convinced we found any. The beach is classed as a black sand beach but the sand had more of a soft ash gray tinge to it and it felt quite clay like. I could imagine it being used for mud packs in beauty spas. Although we didn’t dip our toes in (wet sand on wet feet and walking shoes don’t really mix) there were plenty of people who were doing more than that and two of them swam across to the little island opposite. This is known as Staffin Island where there are the remains of two salmon bothies clearly seen from our side of the water. During the salmon season, up to four men would live there catching salmon until the season ended. You’d have to get on with each other or it must have been a nightmare.

This was a lovely spot and we’re glad we found out about it from our neighbours at the campsite. By the time we’d climbed back up the hill our little section was full of vans (mostly VW) and the campsite was getting fuller by the minute. We’d definitely done the right thing by checking in early. Camping along the NC500 is a totally different experience to normal campsites. Firstly there are very few groups, nomally solo travellers, couples or small families. People aren’t here to sit around a fire with a beer or five to the wee small hours. Midges make this option less palatable but also people are on a mission to continue on the route. We were the last to leave the next morning and we were on the road before 10.00am. Plus this kind of holiday is actually pretty tiring. Driving, lots of walking and hill climbing plus fresh air by the bucket load with sea air throw in for good measure all add up to most people turning out their lights by 10.00 – 10.30 at the latest. It may not be rock and roll but we like it!

Midge Bite Count – Jude 20 (conservative guess), Dom 7

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