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Skye - Eilean a'Cheo

Skye with its well-trodden paths and popular (iconic) locations guarantee that, as well as climbers, walkers and general outdoor enthusiasts there are plenty of photographers on the island.

We worked out that it’s been over 10 years since I was last on Skye, in some respects it doesn’t feel that long, in others it does. The island has changed quite a bit in that time and it seems to have even more tourists flocking to its shores than I ever recall. With these increases it’s becoming harder to find locations where you have it all to yourself, finding something new and different is the challenge rather than hoping the weather will be kind at the more popular spots. I know the island quite well with the best of my knowledge around the Broadford area as this is where I generally stayed for any visit – previous visits were to see relatives and they stayed in Broadford.

As this was our first holiday as a family I was content with taking whatever opportunities presented themselves, the main agenda was to relax and show Anna the island – this would include seeing a few places that were new to me. We arrived early evening on the Saturday, our home for the week was the Boat Builders Cottage on the shore at Waterloo, just a few minutes’ drive from what can be classed as the centre of Broadford. From the cottage we had stunning views across to the Applecross Peninsula and toward Raasay with Broadford tucked further round the bay, the imposing peak of Beinn Na Caillich dominating the immediate skyline.

I stayed up a little later as the sky was clearing and the stars were filling the sky, normally in these situations I find myself trying to work out what I can include as a foreground with the stars (and hopefully Milky Way) filling the sky. On this occasion I didn’t have to think too much as I had a tractor and trailer (used for taking boats out of the water) sitting down by the shoreline. So, with headtorch for some light painting and camera in hand I wandered to the bottom of the driveway and played around for about 45 minutes.

The Milky Way over Waterloo, Breakish.

On Sunday we woke to a clear day, a near cloudless sky and not a breath of wind. With Seb sorted and back asleep I wandered down to the shore and out on to the sand to await the sunrise. With the sun now south of the azimuth the only place that would light up would be the peak and sides of Beinn Na Caillich. A little bit of patience was rewarded with a red glow on the hills as the sun crept above the surrounding countryside warming the higher slopes as I watched.

First light on the tops of Beinn Na Caillich from Breakish beach.

The forecast for our first few days was to be excellent, sunny and clear with no wind – a highly unusual pattern for the Scottish West Coast in late October. In order to make the most of this weather I planned to take us north through Portree and up to see the Old Man of Storr, from there we would then head to Neist Point for sunset (a place I had never been until this holiday). After a lunch stop and wander in Portree we drove the few miles up the road to see the Storr and a very busy car park. As we weren’t really in a position to walk very far with Seb We headed back down toward Portree and stopped by Loch Fada, the very well-known view looking across the loch to the Old Man.

The Old Man of Storr viewed across Loch Fada under blue skies.

With a few photos captured we then set off for Neist in order to be there in plenty of time for sunset. It was about an hour’s drive to Neist Point from Portree and we arrived with about 30 minutes to spare. What I wasn’t prepared for was the sheer number of photographers… Over the last 2.5 years that I’ve been back into photography I’ve rarely shared any location with more than 1 or 2 others (or any at all), and these are usually friends! The cliffs at Neist were lined with cameras, all there with the same intention – to capture the sunset with the light on the cliffs. Despite being a busy place it I was able to move along the cliffs and try different viewpoints/locations before the sun fully disappeared behind the Uists.

Sunset at Neist Point.

My only regret while on Skye was missing the aurora on the Sunday night, but after a long day and having an 11 week old to sort out a midnight adventure wasn’t high on the priority list!

Monday was another day that turned out as forecast, sunny and warm! We found ourselves back up in the north of the island, this time further up the coast to the Quirang. With its views across Staffin to the mainland and along the well-known ridge to the north and south it is a spectacular place to be, it has the ability to make you feel small and insignificant in this ancient land. From the top of the Quirang we continued across the peninsula to Uig, here we had a brief stop and a wander in the sun. It was hard to believe that this was the last week of October, the weather couldn’t have been better if we’d been able to request it! As the sun started to dip in the sky we headed off back to Portree for a fish supper at the harbour while I faffed about on the shoreline with the camera.

The Quirang, looking south along the Trotternish Ridge.

Looking across Uig Bay, Loch Snizort toward Idrigill.

Portree Harbour with the last of the days sun lighting the hill.

With the first two days behind us and Seb proving easier to deal with then either of us had anticipated I wanted to try and visit Glen Brittle - to see the Fairy Pools on the river, Allt Coir’ a’ Tairneilear. Unfortunately the weather was starting to turn against us, the sunshine of the previous days was giving way to showers and a definite dampening of spirits. In the end we didn’t leave the car as I didn’t want to drag everyone out into the rain that had started and I wasn’t really looking for a soaking if the weather should turn for the worse. Instead we drove back over to Carbost and went for a wander in the Talisker Distillery shop before deciding to start to make our way home. 

Earlier in the day, as we drove to Glen Brittle, I had spotted a few fishing boats abandoned on the shore of Loch Harport at Carbostmore. It was the something different I mentioned earlier, something a bit more unusual. I spent about 45-60 minutes working my way around the hulls while keeping an eye on the clouds that were arriving from Glen Brittle…

Abandoned, Loch Harport.

A little later when we were further down the road I stopped to photograph the waterfall Eas a’ Bhradain. This waterfall can be found off the main road at the head of Loch Ainort. I had it to myself and while the flow was much reduced due to the dry weather it held enough interest to have nearly an hour disappear!

Eas a’ Bhradain.

Wednesday arrived and with it the half way point in our holiday. We woke to yet more rain through the morning but the forecast said there was a chance of it brightening in the afternoon, it had also been quite windy overnight and into the early part of the day.

Our plan for Wednesday was to go and visit Elgol on the shores of Loch Scavaig, the fact we had a bit of weather overnight pretty much guaranteed there would be a nice swell running into the loch, along with decent waves breaking on the shore. Elgol is known for its pebble beach and views into the Black Cuillins, the peaks of Gars-Beinn and Sgurr Na Stri flanking the entrance to the bay leading to Loch Coruisk. To the south west the views open up out to sea with the hills of the Isle of Rum in the distance.

The weather in Elgol was a good mix of a soaking (in a passing heavy rain shower) and the sun breaking through gaps in the clouds, fleetingly lighting up the surrounding slopes and treating us to crepuscular rays over Rum. 

Crepuscular Rays over Rum, Elgol.

Sunlight on Gars-Bheinn from across Loch Scavaig.

I wasn’t alone with a camera here, there were maybe another 4-5 photographers and a few tourists with their phones. As the rain came on I watched everyone make a dash for shelter whereas I decided to just cover the camera and wait it out, I did wish I had my waterproofs on but the rain didn’t last for long. Working my way back toward the car I was looking for one last shot – I was looking for a view looking along the beach and into the mist shrouded Cuillins - when I was caught by a larger wave, as I hastily moved out the way I watched my phone go for a swim in the chilly Atlantic. My heart sank but I can now testify to the waterproof claims of Samsung and their S7… Phone was retrieved as the wave receded and I’m happy to say it’s still working perfectly!

Elgol Beach, looking to the misty Black Cuillins - Gars-Bheinn & Sgùrr Dubh Beag.

The weather for Thursday wasn’t looking at all promising, it turned out as forecast with low cloud and rain for most of the day. So, rather than venture too far we settled for a lazier day of doing a bit of shopping in the various craft shops around Broadford. Friday was our last full day and the weather was to turn dry and mild again - we only had one area left to go and explore, the Sleat Peninsula. This is Skye’s most southerly peninsula and where you would arrive on the island should you choose to sail from Mallaig rather than drive to the bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh.

Crepuscular Rays over Mallaig, looking from Armadale Pier.

A late morning start saw us in Armadale around noon for a walk around the pier and a nosey in the various shops before heading to the Clan Donald centre for some lunch. The day was still overcast but the odd chink could be seen in the clouds, we were treated to more crepuscular rays as we looked across the Sound toward Mallaig from the pier. After lunch we drove round the single track road that loops to the northern coast of Sleat, passing though the little townships of Tarskavaig, Tokavaig and Ord. The road around here is much like a roller coaster, lots of twists, turns and guesswork as to where the road will go next… As we passed through Tarskavaig the wind was still quite strong with cloud low on the hills to the north.

Looking toward the Black Cuillins from Tarskavaig with the Elgol Peninsula in the middle distance.

As we progressed toward Tokavaig the weather was starting to show signs of improvement with patches of blue sky and sunlight appearing on the hills. A longer stop at the bay at Tokavaig for a stretch of the legs gave me a few opportunities on the pebble beach. The views from here are across Loch Eishort toward the Elgol Peninsula. On the headland to the north of the bay you can see the ruins of Dunscaith Castle, the walls can just be made out with the prominent feature being the remains of the arch linking the surrounding land with the castle.

Looking across Loch Eishort to the Elgol Peninsula and the Black Cuillins.

Once we were back on the main road heading home we had one last brief stop at Isleornsay, with the views across to Loch Hourn, Knoydart and Kintail. This was to be our last stop on our last day trip on Skye. Unfortunately it was the end of our holiday and we would be starting the trip home the following day. It was a great week, spectacular views and weather that was kind to us on the whole.

Isle Ornsay Lighthouse and the hills surrounding Loch Hourn.

As we said goodbye to Skye we know we will be back. We had one last stop on the road home – Dornie. I just had to photograph the iconic Eilean Donan Castle…

Eilean Donan Castle with autumnal colours and mist shrouded hills of Lochalsh.