Escapism need not come in the shape of monastic mindfulness retreats on far-flung shores. Escaping tedium and tiredness can be as simple as hitting the road north. Eminently reachable Scotland, with its well-documented excesses and dialled-up cosiness is as restorative as it comes. The Isle of Skye is the holy grail when it comes to drop-everything escapism, and with a population that would struggle to fill a large ship, spellbinding solitude comes easily.
Nature reigns supreme, dictating daily plans and delivering dopamine rushes in abundance. The observation of ‘four seasons in one day’ has never been truer, and there’s schadenfreude to be found in the ill-prepared tour-busers clinging onto their caps. Jagged rock formations, thick forests and abandoned lighthouses are fair game for film location bingo and as evidenced by #isleofskye, it’s nigh on impossible to botch a photo.
If Skye is starting to sound like a daydream in the mist then you’re only getting half a tale. The island’s rich history is floating in the balance, kept aloft by an energised troop of islanders intent on dragging Skye into a new era, albeit warily. Gram-ready coffee shops, contemporary art galleries and design shrines to Kevin McLeod punctuate the winding roads, attracting an entirely new coachless visitor to Skye.
There’s no sneaking up on Skye. Flying is out of the question (Inverness airport is a good two hours away and Glasgow is more than five) and there’s no railway to speak of. So, wherever your start point, it’s a given that you’re going to end up behind the wheel - a blessing disguised as a 4x4. Scotland tops every Greatest Road Trips list with good reason, there is no lousy route to Skye but the best will take you from Glasgow through Loch Lomond and Glencoe. After crossing the bridge onto Skye and stocking up on supplies in Broadford, the roads start to wind more tightly, leaning left and right between bogs and bluffs. Traffic takes the form of sheep and tractors, and despite its diminutive size, you could cross the entire island without meeting another car.
True to the well-worn vision of Skye we’ve conjured, lodges, cabins and cottages litter the island, each offering a different take on the Scottish sojourn. Pared back and quietly confident, The Black Shed stands out. Floor-to-ceiling windows frame the Skye you’re searching for, with new showings every hour. A wood-burning stove takes centre stage in the living room and there’s a kitchen that’s stocked with supplies. Owners Blair and Tim have been perfecting the place for over ten years and have also taken their insights and love for all things local to The Dunvegan. Formerly a much-loved drinking den, it’s now a boutique hotel that’s still at the heart of the community.
Criss-crossing the island in pursuit of postcard landmarks (the Old Man of Storr, the Fairy Pools) it’s clear the big hitters are simply gateways to unsung heroes. While Neist Point’s lighthouse is a formidable silhouette, the sweeping views from nearby Waterstein Head steal its thunder. Blustery beaching is an obligatory pastime and Coral Beach is a must for its views, back across Dunvegan Castle. With its vast rocky bay and a waterfall that flows upwards on windy days (which is most days), Talisker Beach is a standout.
Once confined to firesides, talk of the town now takes place in coffee shops. Where once you’d find neeps you can now expect bags of ethically sourced beans. Leading the charge is Caora Dhubh Coffee Company in Carbost, the polished take-out spot is a favourite of bands who’d flinch at the word indie. Single Track Gallery and Espresso serve up soup with a side of art. This Kickstarter-born café garners rave reviews for its killer coffee. It’s hard to reach and harder to leave.
Swing a left as you pass the Talisker Distillery, head up the hill and The Oyster Shed awaits. As the name suggests, it’s a no-frills, plenty of thrills shed overlooking Loch Harport. BYOB, grab a table and shuck the breeze with the oyster farmer himself whose produce is all plucked from the water below. For a more refined take, make for Loch Bay - an intimate restaurant that chef Michael Smith has already steered for a star (after doing the same at nearby Three Chimneys). If you want to see how the locals let their hair down, the aforementioned Dunvegan comes alive at night with live music and livelier tales, there’s no better place to sink whisky while the moon rises.
Before social media the only way to unsubtly signal that you’d had a Scottish stopover was to return plastered in tweed. If you’re a traditionalist then the pedal-powered Skye Weavers has you covered, and for the more modest, they’re equally adept at quieter colour combinations. A trip to the Talisker Distillery is worth its weight in whisky, though just to warn, the gift shop blends dangerously with the bar, and so afternoon plans can go awry. If for some reason you find yourself craving crowds then aim for the comparably bustling Portree where you’ll find artisanal boutiques like ÒR, home to locally thrown ceramics and coffee table books.
All photographs by Louis A. W. Sheridan
Louis drove a Volvo XC90 c/o Volvo
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