Portree, Isle of Skye, Scotland
The Isle of Skye ranks near the top of most visitors' priority lists: the romance of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, combined with the misty Cuillin Hills and their proximity to the mainland all contribute to its popularity. Today Skye remains mysterious and mountainous, an island of sunsets that linger brilliantly until late at night and of beautiful, soft mists. Much photographed are the really old crofts, one or two of which are still inhabited, with their thick stone walls and thatch roofs. Orientation on Skye is easy: follow the only roads around the loops on the northern part of the island and enjoy the road running the length of the Sleat Peninsula in southern Skye, taking the loop roads that exit to the north and south as you please. There are some stretches of single-lane road, but none poses a problem.
Portree, the population center of the island, is a pleasant place clustered around a small and sheltered bay. Although not overburdened by historical features, it's a good touring base. On the outskirts of town is Tigh na Coille: Aros (Tigh na Coille is Gaelic for "house of the forest," and Aros means "home" or "homestead"), which provides an excellent account of Skye's often turbulent history over the centuries. It's also a great place to peep at the island's abundant wildlife. Park rangers regularly enthrall visitors by revealing the lives of Skye's sea eagles and sparrow hawks by way of nifty nest cams. You can find a gift shop, restaurant, and theater, which hosts musical events. Viewfield Rd.
Armadale. Rolling moorlands, scattered with rivers and lochans, give way to enchanting hidden coves and scattered waterside communities here in Sleat, the southernmost part of Skye. Sleat well rewards those who take the time to explore its side roads and its many craft outlets.
Armadale Castle Gardens and the Museum of the Isles. Walk the lush, extensive gardens and you take in magnificent view across the Sound of Sleat to Knoydart and the Mallaig Pennisula. The Clan Donald Centre tells the story of the Macdonalds and their proud title-the Lords of the Isles-with the help of an excellent audiovisual presentation. In the 15th century the clan was powerful enough to threaten the authority of the Stuart monarchs of Scotland. There's a gift shop, restaurant, library, and center for genealogy research. Off A851, ½ mi north of Armadale Pier, Armadale. Admission charged.
Borreraig Park Museum. The fascinating museum-rightly described by the owner as "a unique gallimaufry for your delight and edification"-includes a detailed series of panels on the making of bagpipes and on the history of the MacCrimmons, hereditary pipers to the Clan MacLeod. A superb gift shop stocks unique island-made sweaters (the exact sheep can be named), bagpipes, silver and gold jewelry in Celtic designs, and recordings of traditional music. Borreraig Park, B884, Glendale. Admission charged.
Broadford. One of the island's larger settlements, Broadford lies along the shore of Broadford Bay, which has occasionally welcomed whales to its sheltered waters. You can observe and handle snakes, frogs, lizards, and tortoises at the Serpentarium, in the town center. The Old Mill, Harrapool.
Dunvegan Castle. In a commanding position above a sea loch, Dunvegan Castle has been the seat of the chiefs of Clan MacLeod for more than 700 years. Though the structure has been greatly changed over the centuries, a gloomy ambience prevails, and there's plenty of family history on display, notably the Fairy Flag-a silk banner, thought to be originally from Rhodes or Syria and believed to have magically saved the clan from danger. The banner's powers are said to suffice for only one more use. Make time to visit the gardens, with their water garden and falls, fern house, a walled garden, and various viewing points. Junction of A850 and A863, Dunvegan. Admission charged.
Eilean Donan Castle. Guarding the confluence of lochs Long, Alsh, and Duich stands that most picturesque of all Scottish castles, Eilean Donan Castle, perched on an islet connected to the mainland by a stone-arched bridge. Dating from the 14th century, this romantic icon has all the massive stone walls, timber ceilings, and winding stairs that you could ask for. Empty and neglected for years after being bombarded by frigates of the Royal Navy during an abortive Spanish-Jacobite landing in 1719, it was almost entirely rebuilt from a ruin in the early 20th century. The kitchen re-creates the busy scene before a grand banquet. Now the hero of travel brochures, Eilean Donan has appeared in many Hollywood movies and TV shows. A87, Dornie. Admission charged.
Glendale. The Glendale Visitor Route, a signed driving trail off the A863 through the westernmost area of northwest Skye, leads past crafts outlets, museums, and other attractions.
Trotternish Peninsula. As A855, the main road, goes north from Portree, cliffs rise to the left. They're actually the edge of an ancient lava flow, running for miles as your rugged companion. In some places the hardened lava has created spectacular features, including a curious pinnacle called the Old Man of Storr.
Kilt Rock. From Portree, the A855 travels past neat white croft houses and forestry plantings to Kilt Rock. Everyone on the tour circuit stops here to peep over the edge (there's a safe viewing platform). Columns of two types (and colors) of rock create a folded, pleated effect, just like a kilt.
Quiraing. The spectacular Quiraing dominates the horizon 5 mi past Kilt Rock. For a closer view of this area's strange pinnacles and rock forms, make a left onto a small road at Brogaig by Staffin Bay. There's a parking lot near the point where this road breaches the ever-present cliff line. The trail is on uneven, stony ground, and it's a steep scramble up to the rock formations. In ages past, stolen cattle were hidden deep within the Quiraing's rocky jaws.
Skye Museum of Island Life. Not far from the tip of Trotternish, the Skye Museum of Island Life lets you see the old crofting ways brought to life. Included in the displays and exhibits are documents and photographs, reconstructed interiors, and implements. Flora Macdonald, who assisted Bonnie Prince Charlie, is buried nearby. Off A855, Kilmuir. Admission charged.
Waternish Peninsula. The northwest corner of Skye has scattered crofting communities, magnificent coastal views, and a few good restaurants well worth the trip in themselves. In the Hallin area look westward for an islet-scattered sea loch with small cliffs rising from the water, looking like miniature models of full-size islands.
Edinbane Pottery Workshop and Gallery. Stoneware pottery is fired in a wood-fired kiln at the Edinbane Pottery Workshop and Gallery. You can watch the potters work, then buy from the showroom. Off A850, Edinbane.
In Portree, An Tuireann Arts Centre (Struan Rd.) is a showcase for locally made crafts and is a good place to look for unusual gifts or greetings cards. Croft Comforts (2 Wentworth St.) has a wonderful selection of silver, antique and modern jewelry, porcelain, and pottery, as well as larger items. Skye Batiks (The Green) stocks unique Celtic-influenced batik clothing, cushion covers, and wall hangings; chunky handwoven cotton smocks, jackets, and skirts; silver jewelry; wood carvings; and much more. Skye Original Prints (1 Wentworth St.) sells works by local artist Tom Mackenzie. Craft Encounters (A850) in Broadford stocks local crafts, including pottery and jewelry.
Skye Silver. Gold and silver jewelry with Celtic themes are a specialty of Skye Silver. More unusual pieces that reflect the natural forms of the seashore and countryside: silver-coral earrings, silver-leaf pendants, and starfish earrings. It's near Dunvegan. The Old School, B884, Colbost.