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Isle of Skye: Scotland’s Top Bucket List Destination

The Isle of Skye is Scotland’s top bucket list destination. One thing about Skye that will leave a lasting impression on you is the scenery. Just driving around, you can see many of Skye’s most majestic geological features, such as the Quiraing and Cuillin.  But be sure to take your sturdiest of boots and explore these unique sights on foot for real rewards.

[01:13] Isle of Skye Overview-Where is it and what is there to see

  • Hebrides
  • Cuillin Hills
  • Cairngorms National Park

[06:47] What’s so important about the Isle of Skye

[08:52] The Must Sees

[14:42] Historical & Cultural Aspects

[21:51] Pop Culture Connection

  • Jessica Brockmole’s ‘Letters from Skye’
  • Virginia Woolf’s ‘To the Lighthouse’
  • Outlander Television Program
  • Highlander Movie

Dream. Learn. Plan. Prepare. Go to Guidester/Virtual-Vacation

Season 1: Episode 11

Transcript
Arnold:

The Isle of Skye, a place in Scotland where the ancient collides with the modern; stunning scenery castles museum, cozy pubs and restaurants. Oh, did I tell you about the wild swimming that can take place in the fairy pools if you're brave enough to enter the cold water?, What's the history of Skye and is there a connection to pop culture? Travel to Europe is off limits for the time being, but we can still keep the flame of wanderlust alive through the Virtual Vacation with Guidester, the weekly podcast where host Jack Baumann, founder of Guidester and travel enthusiast Arnold Stricker, dive into new destinations, exploring their unique history, culture and special vibe. You'll also get insider tips about these destinations. You won't get from other sources. Let's join our hosts, the Guidester himself, Jack Baumann. When I saw we were doing this particular podcast on the Isle of Skye, and I saw Hebrides, I immediately thought of Felix Mendelssohn. He wrote a composition called the Hebrides and he wrote it after he had visited this very area that you're talking about. But to be specific, let's outline the Hebrides and the Isle of Skye.

Jack:

Absolutely. The Isle of Skye I think really Scotland's top bucket-list destination. If you're going to go to Scotland, you got to see the Isle of Skye. You're going to see Edinburgh and there's so many other things to see which we'll do in another podcast, but the Isle of Skye is Scotland's natural wonder. The landscape's beautiful, so much so that it inspired a song and many songs actually. We'll get into the pop culture of that; but the Isle of Skye, it's located in Western Highlands of Scotland about a five-hour drive from Edinburgh. It takes its name from the old Norse Skyah meaning cloud island. So you've got inner Hebrides and outer Hebrides, island chains off the coast of Western Scotland, and Skyah is a Viking reference to the often mist enshrouded vast hills; the Cuillin Hills. So Skye is the largest of the inner Hebrides islands in Northwest Ireland. It's a patchwork of velvet moors, jagged mountains, sparkling lochs and towering sea cliffs. It's absolutely spectacular.

Arnold:

So you've got hills and peaks and valleys, what else do you have as a topography?

Jack:

As I mentioned Isle of Skye, it's dominated by the Cuillin Hills. It's full of strange peaks, peculiar rock formations, vast green, rich green, the richest green landscapes you'll ever see and fairytale waterfalls. The climate is mild, wet, and often very windy. But with an abundant wildlife that includes Golden Eagle, red deer and Atlantic salmon.

Arnold:

A couple of things really stuck out in my mind, as you were talking. The reference to Highland. Here in the states, you think of a high land or a low land, things that are in a valley, highlands up on a mountain. This isn't more mountainous than Britain or England. So do they call it the Highland because it's farther north?

Jack:

It's a great question. There is no exact demarcation of the Highlands, but you're right. The Highlands is a region of Scotland. You might talk to someone that says anything north of the Cairngorms is the Highlands. The Cairngorms is a mountainous region north of Edinburgh and anything north like Inverness would be considered the Highlands. In fact, Inverness is considered the capital of the Highlands, but Inverness is at sea-level. As you said, that's not very Highlands. So the Highland region of Scotland is really just a loose term that describes the region, I would say north and west of Sterling. There's three regions in Scotland: you've got the Highlands, the lowlands and the central belt. The Highlands are what we just described. They are geographically higher and that's where the most mountainous region of Scotland lies but it's not all Highlands like Aberdeen, Inverness, or cities in these regions...

Arnold:

Are they north of the mountains?

Jack:

Yes

Arnold:

So maybe they used the mountains as the demarcation point to say everything north of that's the Highlands.

Jack:

But I've seen maps of Scotland that demarcate the Highlands north of Sterling. Sterling's not that far from Edinburgh and I've seen maps going as far south as Sterling. And then I've seen other maps that go further north to the Cairngorms, which is a very popular ski and hiking; the Cairngorms National Park in Scotland, and I've seen ones going up there. I've even seen maps of Scotland that demarcated at the loch. So there's four great lochs. Inverness in this very Northern region, and then south I think eight miles from the city of Inverness is Loch Ness and Loch Ness is like a long, skinny, almost like a pencil. Very long and skinny. West of that is definitely 100% Highlands; it goes at a diagonal south by southwest to north, by northeast, it goes at a diagonal. Anything to the left of that to the north and the west is the Highlands. Anything to the south is, it's not really lowlands, but it's not the deep Highlands. The deep Highlands are when you get past Inverness. So Skye is deep Highlands. I was frustrated for a long time, where are the Highlands? There is no hard and fast answer, but generally speaking, north of Sterling, but getting into the Cairngorms is Highlands. Then you've got the central belt; the two biggest cities at Edinburgh and Glasgow. Then you've got the lowlands, which is the border between England and Scotland.

Arnold:

I noticed the temperature range, maybe 75 for the high and maybe 32 for the low, which seems very nice. And I can see why it would be lush and green being on the coast there and having a lot of fog and cloudy kind of areas and the richness that you see of that area in pictures.

Jack:

But the 70 or 60 or any temperature is misleading because it doesn't tell you the wind factor. It'll be there in the meteorological report, but you're probably not paying attention to it. The wind adds a bite. Let me tell you, and it's anywhere in Scotland, Scotland is just a windy country, but particularly on the Isles and the Western parts of Scotland. Sometimes the wind is so strong it could keep you up. You're on like a little hillside and you just lean back and the wind will keep you up. Yes. Now that's somewhat of an exaggeration, but I've actually seen wind gusts that powerful. It's not gonna always be that windy and you will get less windy days and more windy days, but generally speaking, if it's 70, it's going to feel like 60.

Arnold:

Well, that's good to know because the wind chill factor is going to kick in.

Jack:

Huge, it gets into your bones. The Scottish wind just has this bite to it that really gets through your clothes and into your bones. So definitely, dress warm when you go out hiking, but also keep in mind your body's going to get warmer as you move. Really one of the best things is wind jackets, windbreakers; just something to just cut that wind. But never, ever underestimate the wind of Scotland, especially in the islands and the Isle of Skye.

Arnold:

Now you got this on the bucket list, what's so important about it?

Jack:

The scenery like I said is stunning. That's the main attraction. So the lush green, the Hills, the crags, the moors it's a beautiful, I would say fairytale landscape and actually one of the attractions is the fairy pools. So the landscape, the scenery is the main attraction, but there's also castles old ancient castles, museums, cozy pubs, great restaurants to enjoy. The Isle of Skye to me is a place where the ancient collides with the modern. It's a place where after a long day of hiking wild terrain, you can stop in and taste seared pigeon at a Michelin starred restaurant. Skye has become a microcosm of a broader cultural shift taking place across Scotland at this very moment. The ancient and modern learning to live together, moving into an unknown future. You didn't ask this, but I think the best time to visit Skye for the best all around experience will be late spring early fall. So late spring, early fall, it's an exceptional time to visit due to lower crowds and decent weather. I say decent because again,

Arnold:

The wind.

Jack:

And the rain; and don't forget the rain and you can never underestimate the rain in Scotland. They don't get a hold of torrential downpours. You and I are from Missouri so we're no stranger to giant thunderstorms. Britain, the island of Britain in general, England, Scotland, Wales; they don't get as many frequent giant thunderstorms the way we do, but they get a lot of frequent misty days. You'll have days where it's just mist. It's not raining, but everything around you is misty. But it adds to the charm and the character of Skye. You've got these lush green landscapes, which are so lush because you mentioned they get a lot of moisture, a lot of rain, but it's not down pouring. They're going to get your downpours occasionally, but more often than not, you're going to get some mist, some sun, some more mist, a little bit of sun, some cloud cover, some more mist. So it's very good to bring a wind jacket but then also like maybe a little plastic throw over like a poncho that you can throw over. So it really is worth seeing, probably one of the top bucket-list things in Scotland to see.

Arnold:

So what are the must sees in Skye?

Jack:

I would say the must sees starting with the landscapes the Quiraing is what it's called. It's a dramatic landslip on the Northern most summit of Skye's Trotternish peninsula. It's this little slip of land on the one of the peninsulas there. It just blew me away. The landscape of this area just blew me away. I did one of the half-day walks with a local tour Luckily it was a semi clear day. I just couldn't believe my eyes. It's one of the most stunning natural beauties you'll ever see in the world, but definitely in Europe. Top five in my book. You can do a loop, an easy loop returning the same point covers about a distance of four miles taking an average two to three hours to do so if you want to do a walk. The Quiraing is one of the most famous landscape features of Skye. When you Google Skye, when you look at the books of Skye, the Quiraing is going to be what you're going to see first

Arnold:

That's probably what I was looking at.

Jack:

Almost certainly, like this vast landscape with some really nice ponds and hills off in the distance. It just looks like something out of a Viking fairy tale.

Arnold:

Okay.

Jack:

Moving on to Dunvegan Castle. It's the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland serving as the ancestral home of the Chiefs of Clan MacLeod for 800 years. It's an extraordinary castle and Highland estate just steeped in really rich history and clan legend. Scotland, probably more than any country in Europe is steeped in history and legend and mythology. History and mythology, in Scotland is one in the same. You cannot separate mythology, folklore and real history in Scotland. It's almost impossible. And literally, probably than any other country in Europe, the mythology and the folklore intertwine into the history that actually happens so much so that you don't know if mermaids exist or not. Or Selkies which is half seal, half person, that's a Scottish thing. The Isle of Skye really puts a spotlight on this fusion, well intertwining, if you will, of mythology, folklore and in history.

Arnold:

You think that's because of the Norse or the Viking influence there? Or is it something that's a combination of all those things, or?

Jack:

Scotland is a very ancient land. It's been inhabited for thousands of years. It has very beautiful landscapes that engage the imagination. It also has a lot of sea; the Loch Ness. There very well could have been ancient sea creatures lurking in these locks. We don't know. Think about dinosaurs and these beings that have been around before that are extinct now. There is a reality that these, they were called Picts and Caledonians before Scots became on the scene; but these people that didn't have modern understandings and sciences and a paleontology, they would have seen these creatures and created this folklore around it. So I do think part of it's like you said, the Viking influence certainly played a role. This hodgepodge of rich cultural history there's no history stops here and mythology folklore begin here. It just blends into the reality. So adding into all of that, just the general nature of the Scotsmen and the Scotswoman.

Arnold:

And maybe stories passed down orally?

Jack:

Absolutely that oral history is a big part of Scottish culture, just like it is in Welsh and Irish. Scotland definitely has a very rich Celtic past and Gaelic past just like Wales and Ireland does. There used to be a Celtic, I'm going to use the word nation, but really it was a culture for thousands of years. The Celtic nations, the Celtic cultures spread from France. Gaul Julius Caesar conquered it was a Celtic nation, a Celtic land, and pretty much from France all the way over from England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, it was all a larger Celtic community. Very distinct per region, but there was an overlap and a blend and we're learning as we discover more and more history that there was a real, tangible Celtic culture that perpetuated for thousands of years and Scotland was part of that.

Arnold:

Wow.

Jack:

Okay. So we were talking about main sites, right? We did Dunvegan Castle the Black Cuillins at the foot of the Black Cuillin Hills are crystal clear blue pools called the fairy pools. The famous pools, entice visitors from all over the world for great photos or "wild swimming".

Arnold:

You go swimming in them?

Jack:

You can it's...

Arnold:

Must be very cold.

Jack:

...very cold. I haven't swam in these, but I swam in Lochness and I swam in the North Sea. Swimming in the waters of Scotland is one of the coolest things you'll do.

Arnold:

Is it a must do?

Jack:

I think so, but you gotta be brave and you gotta just go for it. You can't dip your toe in and think you're going get used to it and then jump in. No, just take off the clothes or put on the swimsuit and just jump right in. Oh man. It is so invigorating. And then you have that invigorating feeling this wave going through your body of this shock to your system. When you get out, it's fresh air and it's beautiful hills and rolling, lush, green countryside and then the wildlife. So it's that sort of shock to the system and then you emerge from the water and you've got this really beautiful scene at your...

Arnold:

And you forget that you're cold.

Jack:

And you forget that you're cold. Hey, if you're going to be cold you might as well be cold in Scotland.

Arnold:

And have a great view.

Jack:

And have a great view. One last thing I'll mention on Skye is Eilean Donan. Eilean Donan Castle is actually not on the Isle of Skye, it's on the entryway in the Kyle of Lochalsh. So Kyle's just a bay if you will. So the Eilean Donan Castle, it's probably the most photographed castle scene in Scotland. It's a little castle on a tidal island at the entryway of three lochs of three little areas. It is beautiful and it's on your way over to the Isle of Skye. So definitely take time to stop and visit Eilean Donan Castle.

Arnold:

Is that one that's used in a lot of movies?

Jack:

Absolutely, it's in Outlander. Or I was going to say Highlander with Sean Connery. So it's in that movie. It's been in tons of films. It's been immortalized in folklore and song and yes it's been used in a lot of pop culture.

Arnold:

Let's go back. We haven't talked about the history, we've talked a lot of the cultural kinds of things and how maybe the Vikings moved in and the Celtic culture, Celtic nation, but Skye specifically, what is the history?

Jack:

Yeah, it's a good question. The history of Skye is rich so I'll just do a quick thumbnail sketch of Skye. The early inhabitants were known as Picts or Caledonians. They were stone age farmers thought to have built these round stone fortifications called Brochs which can still be seen today. You'll see these here and elsewhere throughout Scotland. Around 500 A.D. settlers arrived from Ireland and brought Christianity to Skye. Then came the Viking invasion of the eighth century, late seven hundreds. The Vikings stayed for about 400 years and actually many of the villages and hills have Viking origins. The name Skyah is a Viking name means cloud island. The defeat of the Vikings at the Battle of Largs in 1263 ended the Norwegian rule and Skye became part of Scotland That's medieval history. The Vikings had a foothold in Scotland for well into the medieval period, but this ended the Norwegian rule Skye also has strong links to clan battles. The Jacobite uprising, the subsequent Highland clearances, providing inspiration for poetry, songs, novels, and movies.

Arnold:

And clans you're talking about families.

Jack:

Yeah. So a clan is a community run by a clan chief, a chieftain and a clan is just like a big extended family, but you don't have to be related. It usually started out that way, but these clans could be thousands and thousands of people. The Clan McKinsey is one of the biggest clans of Scotland and that's a huge swath of population. The clan culture is a very integral part of Scottish history, Scottish culture even to this day. And Skye really plays a big part into that.

Arnold:

Somebody who would defend and represent a group of people.

Jack:

Think of an extended family run by a patriarch, if you will. And it was going to be, it was going to be a man and his family and actually the Mac MAC, like MacDonald, MacLeod,, the clan MacLeod, right on the island Skye the Mac just means son of. So what it meant was if I were as part of clan MacLeod, or clan MacKinsey, I was the son of Leod. I was the son of Kinsey.

Arnold:

Son of Donald

Jack:

Son of Donald that's right MacDonald. Over many generations that became like a surname, but it originated Donald was the chief and I, everybody that is under his banner is a MacDonald or a MacLeod or MacKinsey or whatever. Mac just means son of.

Arnold:

That's why you need to listen to this podcast folks.

Jack:

There's a lot of good stuff, a lot of rich cultural history and info. So the clans of Skye overwhelming were Gaelic speaking which is the Celtic old language of Scotland until the early 20th century when English or rather a version of English called Scots came onto the scene and that's what people still speak today. The Scots is a really fun language; is technically English, but it's very diverse and they have their own words. It's a dreek day; that's a word you'll hear a lot, dreek. It means rainy. It's a dreek day. Why don't you quit havering? It means like you're talking too much. So if I were in school, I would have gotten that a lot. Jack you're havering. The parents might say this to the kids, or you say this to your friend. They have all these words. If you said that in England, that wouldn't mean anything, or it's a dreek day. So they do speak English and I'm doing air quotes here, but they have a vast vocabulary of their own words. So the main clans on Skye were the Macleods and the MacDonalds. Dunvegan Castle, oldest castle in Scotland has been the seat of clan McCloud since the 13th century, as we mentioned. After the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie; for you Outlander fans out there, Skye's a place you got to visit cause it's mentioned in Outlander when Bonnie Prince Charlie is defeated. He goes to Skye after the Battle of Culloden, the Battle of Culloden in 1746 was like the end of Highland culture. After that the Prince retreated to the Isle of Skye pursued by government troops, and he was helped by Flora MacDonald. One of the famous clans, powerful clans on Skye took him over the sea disguised as a maid and this historic event is immortalized in the Skye Boat Song which is the intro song in the show Outlander. So people that watch it will be like, oh my gosh.

Arnold:

I'll have to check that out when I get home.

Jack:

It's a good show. So following the Jacobite uprisings, the Scottish clan culture underwent a period of organized sanctioned destruction by the English government called the Highland Clearances. Many lost their lands and were really reduced to poverty. The wearing of the plaid kilt was outlawed, playing of the bagpipes, carrying of arms, speaking Gaelic their native language, and gatherings for games where all banned under the Act of Proscription. Now the act was eventually repealed and the Highland culture did begin a resurgence under Queen Victoria in the late 1800s. Queen Victoria did much to encourage a romantic Highland ideal, essentially reinventing the idea of the clan to fit the ideas and union of the British Empire. So it was a very smart move on her part but there was a very brutal suppression of the Highland culture and Skye was a part of that. Today the Island Skye really owes its wealth and fame, mostly to tourism and tourists who come from every corner of the globe to experience Scotland's majestic natural wonder and a taste for this rich Highland culture. So if you're looking to delve deeper into Skye's history, the island life museum situated north of Uig keeps it on display the old way of life. So there's a lot more to learn if you're interested in delving into the Highland culture and the clan culture on Skye.

Arnold:

So what's the origin of the kilt. You also mentioned kilts.

Jack:

Yes. That goes back to the clan. I'm not a kilt expert, The kilts were part of the fabric of the culture and designated, but it was affiliated to the clan. So the Clan MacKinsey, the Clan MacCloud's, they had their own style of kilt. The argyle black and traditional black watches like a traditional kilt used in a lot of the kilt schemes. So again, I'm no expert, but I'm certain that the kilt and the clan colors were tied together.

Arnold:

Okay.

Jack:

Just another cultural thing and these things evolve over generations. One thing to mention the tartan. The kilts are made of tartan, the tartan is a style of pattern. The tartans were so powerful that after the Highland Clearances, The Act of Proscription, you couldn't be seen wearing it because it was tied to your clan. So if you had a tartan, MacKinsey tartan, or argyle or whatever, you had to hide it away, or you could get arrested.

Arnold:

I was wondering why they would wear a kilt in that weather anyway,

Jack:

Well their kilts are much thicker than you would imagine. I have a kilt of my own and I got the cheap man's version cause you could spend thousands on kilts. It actually is a very thick wool. The material that they used for traditional kilts is actually very thick and so not only is it warm, it's not breezy. It'll move around a little bit, but a very high quality kilt is like putting on a really big rug. It's very thick. Then you've got high socks that go up almost to the knee. So you've got these wool socks and this very thick kilt and then you've got your over garments, so you keep warmer than you think.

Arnold:

Okay. Okay. So the pop culture connection. I know there's. Several, what are they?

Jack:

The Isle of Skye has provided inspiration for many, a famous novel, poetry, feature films, TV series, and it continues to be celebrated in song like the Skye Boat Song. Novels like Jessica Brockmole's Letters from Skye, Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse. Skye, has a very strong music tradition famous for Celtic and folk music. Modern songs, several of Jethro Tull's, if you're a Jethro Tull fan, are written about Skye, including Dun Ringil, Broadford Bazaar, Acres Wild that contain the lines, "Come with me to the Winged Isle, Northern father's western child" in reference to the island itself. Perhaps the most famous connection is with the Starz series, the TV series Outlander. It's a drama love story set in the 18th century time travel kind of thing. It's Highland Scotland covering parts of Bonnie Prince Charlie's rebellion. But the opening credits roll with the famous Skye Boat Song, which we ran through. The movie Highlander with Sean Connery at Eilean Donan Castle. So yeah, there is a rich connection to TV, movie, literature, song, and poetry.

Arnold:

Wow. So, I didn't know that was going to be as bucket listy as it was.

Jack:

You wouldn't think it, it's just an island with some beautiful scenery. You've got the history of the castles, the waterfalls, the natural scenery, the food. You can get the best parts of Scotland in this one little island, all wrapped in one, you can get the full Scottish, immersive experience in this one island.

Arnold:

That's unbelievable. So if I take that trip, I should say, when I take that trip to England, I need to make sure that I go to Skye and catch the rich cultural heritage that Scotland has to offer.

Jack:

Oi, go to Skye.

Arnold:

We hope you enjoyed listening to this episode of Virtual Vacation with Guidester. Take time to look at the show notes on the website for everything that was mentioned on this episode. Virtual Vacation with Guidester is produced by Motif Media Group. For Jack Baumann and Virtual Vacation with Guidester I'm Arnold Stricker.

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