As I stood staring out across the roaring water of Mealt Falls it seemed impossible that just the day before I had been sat at home, sipping away on a cup of tea whilst flicking through photos of the Isle of Skye on Instagram. It was just a mere twenty-four hours later, and there I was stood staring out at the real thing having taken a road trip to the Isle of Skye that morning. And let’s just say, not even the most professional of photos had done it justice.
Rewind a few weeks and I had just recently gone freelance. To say I had experienced a chaotic few weeks would be an understatement – I was riding the wave that comes with going self-employed, flicking between elation and sheer terror. So the short trip to Scotland that I was about to embark on was well and truly needed. Time for some natural R & R.
Little did I know that booking a trip to Scotland would land me in a place as vast and as steeped with folklore tales as the Isle of Skye is. Nor did I know just how much I would fall in love with Scotland itself, or that just a few hours after arriving I would find myself dreamily flicking through the pages of an estate agents website. But there I was, doing all of that, and so after an evening of gawking at the four-bed houses I could buy for the same price as a two bed back at home, I fell asleep on my first night in Scotland, dreaming of what beauties the next day would bring.
But no dreams could have lived up to what I actually experienced that next day, on my road trip to the Isle of Skye. At a stupidly early hour that morning I had groggily switched off my alarm and opened the curtains to find a thick layer of fog had descended upon Scotland during the night. Long gone was the mountainous landscape that I had witnessed the day before and in its place was a thick layer of white that seemed entirely impenetrable. After a lot of faffing my travel companion, Emma, and I finally worked out how to turn the fog lights on in our rental car and we were off. Driving along the winding roads, with the morning giving us no clue as to what to expect, as I drove us away from our Airbnb in Strathpeffer back to Inverness. The city that we had only flown into just the day before. We weren’t heading home just yet, however, but were instead being taken on a whirlwind tour across the Highlands to the Isle of Skye by Highland Experience Tours.
We were slightly disheartened by the fact that we couldn’t even see a metre ahead of the car, (I say disheartened, as I was driving along what I actually felt was more akin to terror than sadness) let alone out across at the landscape we were meant to be taking in. But when our tour guide, Vicky, arrived in high spirits, she soon lifted ours. After jumping down from the driver's seat she exclaimed “this always happens, but it will be clear before we get out of the city!” as she ushered us into the van and before we knew it, our day trip to the Isle of Skye was underway. Slightly dubious, I settled in for what I admittedly thought would be a very long day. Tours are rarely of interest to me as I generally find them a bit awkward and cheesy, and I often prefer to find the places that are off the beaten track. But just five minutes into the journey Vicky had Emma and I creasing up, and just as she had predicted and as if she had orchestrated it herself, by the time we had left Inverness the fog had lifted.
Once I could see out of the window, I couldn’t help but feel a bit more intrigued by where we were being taken. For miles ahead of us, and to either side, all I could see was mountains and lochs and it was quite simply breathtaking. Long road trips in Scotland are not to be dismissed, as the beauty of the country is that there is so much to see simply as you travel from place to place. At one point we even came head to head with a herd of red deer – a sight that I hadn’t expected to be lucky enough to see during my trip to Scotland.
As Vicky drove us along, the city of Inverness dropped away behind us and we all settled in, with a tea in one hand and camera in the other, to listen to her tell us about the land’s many myths and legends. With her stories set against the backdrop that we could see out of the window, I started to wonder if I had, in fact, landed on another planet, not into Scotland. I couldn’t help but feel in awe of what I was seeing and listening to, yet simultaneously I felt slightly ashamed that I had put off visiting Scotland for so many years, despite only living a few hours away. A tropical destination had always won out and yet, right here on my doorstep, was a country with enough beauty to rival those of far-off countries.
Vicky told us tales on everything from Selkies (half seal, half human creatures) to the legendary Old Man of Storr. And for me, a girl who had grown up on a heavy dose of fiction books, it made the entire trip magical and I almost started to feel as though I had stepped into my very own adventure story.
We followed winding road after winding road through the Scottish Highlands, even joining onto the North Coast 500 at one point and to be honest, I loved the drive as much as I did the stop offs. Vicky was an endless stream of information, and she relayed it in such a hilarious manner that we never once felt as though we were being lectured.
But it was the myths, legends and fairy tales that truly captivated me. The tour with Highland Experience Tours gave me the opportunity to dive into my childish imagination once more. As many young girls had, I had grown up in awe of the idea of fairies, mythical creatures, and knights in shining armour, so to envision them out on the Scottish landscape that we were winding our way through on the way to the Isle of Skye was truly magical. We stopped off at several places of interest on our way to the Isle, all of which were beautiful in their own rights, but it was as we crossed to the bridge to Skye that I really felt my stomach do an excited somersault.
Ahead of us sat the curiously shaped, 634-square miles island with all of its peninsulas, ruins, ancient castles, fairy glens, waterfalls and, of course, the pastel homes of Portree, Skye’s most popular harbour town.
After a stop off at Mealt Falls and a drive by of the Old Man of Storr, Emma and I sat, on a recommendation by Vicky, eating fish and chips on the beach at Portree (well away from the boats where the seagulls were loitering). As we gazed out across the water, and over to the famous colourful houses that line the seafront, we did little else other than gush about all of the beautiful things that we had seen that day. And our tour of Scotland and the Isle of Skye wasn’t even over yet. I still don’t know whether it’s the scenery (which is enough to captivate any outdoor lover), the stories (which will entrance any literature fan) or if Scotland and its Hebrides really are just magical but something about the day felt entirely enchanting. For whatever reason, Scotland and the Isle of Skye had stolen our hearts that day. And it was only our first full day in the country.
We honestly didn’t think that it could get any better. We had enjoyed food by the sea, had a tea while gazing out across at the bridge that would lead us to the Isle of Skye, we had seen glens, waterfalls, lochs, a herd of Red Deer. But it did. As we left the Isle of Skye behind, we drove on until Eilean Donan Castle appeared on the horizon. We had to pay a little extra to go into the castle itself but it was worth it as it was as captivating inside as it is on the outside.
I still remain adamant that organised tours aren’t always the best, as they don’t show the areas that the locals hold dear – the places that are off the beaten track and aren’t frequented by tourists. However, I do now believe that it’s possible for tours to combine the two and to show you the best of both worlds. Vicky took us to the popular attractions of Mealt Falls, the Old Man of Storr and even showed us around Eilean Donan Castle but what she also did was bring those places to life for us. And then, on the way home, she did what I had been wanting to do all day. She veered off track and took us to a quaint little cabin hidden away in the Highlands. She pulled up and instructed us to speak to the man at the door, so we did, and after a quick exchange Emma and I were excitedly running across the field with a bag full of food in our hands. We were about to meet a herd of Highland Cows. Their tongues were rough, they were bulshy and somewhat noisy, but that little detour made our day as we were able to meet the stars of the show. It was a part of the tour that we hadn’t been expecting and it was a very welcome surprise.
There were no other tourists around, and that one little element of the Isle of Skye Highland Experience Tour pulled the entire thing together for me.
After ten minutes of gushing over the fluffy creatures, and taking plenty of photos of them, we clambered back into the van. With huge smiles on our faces, we settled back into our seats, ready for the final element of the tour – monster spotting during the slow drive along the edge of Loch Ness back to Inverness.
While I wasn’t lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Nessie, it’s safe to say that the Highland Experience Tour delivered in every other way possible. It did far more than I had ever expected it to but more than anything, it gave us an insight into the land we were set to be exploring for the next four days that we would not have gained any other way. I had always been dubious about guided tours, but this one may have just changed my opinion. Maybe it isn’t all tours that are the problem, maybe it is just about finding the right one. Maybe it is about finding one that will take you to the popular areas (after all, they are popular for a reason), but also to the areas that aren’t so well frequented by tourists. But then again, maybe it’s more about the tour guide and how well they sell their country to you. In this case, I would say that it was a solid combination of all three factors, but either way, I can say with certainty that our day-trip to the Isle of Skye was the perfect way to start our holiday.
Isle of Skye Tour Details:
Isle of Skye Road Trip Itinerary:
- Isle of Skye
- Old Man of Storr, Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls
- Eilean Donan Castle
- Loch Ness
Daily 7th May – 30th Sep
Mon/Wed/Fri/Sun 9th Apr – 14th Oct
Departs 8am – Returns 7.30pm (approx)
*We were invited along for a tour by Highland Experience Tours but all opinions on the tour itself, the beauty of Scotland and the cuteness of Highland Cows remain entirely my own, as always.
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