A loop around the northern half of Skye, based around the capital of the island, Portree.
Words and photographs: Dave Manning
Aside from the fact that part of the fun in travelling to the Isle of Skye is delivered with the roads that take you there, there’s also some amazing riding to be had amongst the stunning scenery of the largest of the Inner Hebrides.
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Leaving the island’s capital of Portree and heading northwards on the A855, it’s a nadgery little road as it climbs out of town, becoming a bumpy stretch of single track after the temporarily-closed Portree campsite. The road then smooths out and widens to two lanes – albeit for a rather short time – before the viewpoint over Loch Fada, at which the road narrows again, back to the single lane that you quickly get used to while traversing the island. Loch Fada flows into Loch Leathan, and while there’s a worthwhile stop between the two at Bride’s Veil Falls, we pressed on a wee while further, to the northern end of Loch Leathan for a view up to the Old Man of Storr and, in the opposite direction, the northernmost tip of Raasay.
The road is more open here, and sweeps alongside the coast yet with no real indication of how close you are to the sea, just magnificent views eastward with the thought that maybe, just maybe, you could see Applecross on a good day.
Rigg viewpoint, just north of Storr, is a good place to stop for pics, thanks to an off-road parking area, but we carried northward, also neglecting to stop at Lealt Falls (with little to no rainfall in the preceding week, I figured that there wouldn’t be much flow) or at Culnacnoc for the walk to The Brothers Point (two of the group aren’t enthusiastic walkers!), but we did pull over at Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls viewpoint, and were greeted by a bagpiper in full wail!
The thought of seeing a bagpiper at a tourist spot may sound a little clichéd and naff to some folk, but the truth is that when you’re there, in the moment, it sounds just right, raises the hair on the back of your neck and makes you want to be a Scot, and a patriotic one at that! The lilting wail of the ’pipes is just so fitting to the landscape.
Looking to the east, one overlooks the isle of Rona and, further in the distance, Loch Torridon and the peaks of Beinn Aligin and Beinn Eighe, and this truly epic vista is one to be savoured, but you do need to be a little lucky with the weather.
Shortly after Kilt Rock, at Staffin Bay, there is the option to turn left off the A855 and head into the spectacular Quairaing on a narrow, twisting track that crosses the island and ends near Uig, from where ferries can be caught to the Outer Hebrides, but for more incredible coastal views, stay on the main road around the northern edge of Skye, although the very northernmost tip is avoided as the road clips across country through Kilmaluag, although for the more adventurous there are some very small roads (very small!) that can be explored to find some remote crofts, holiday cottages and camp sites.
Although wild camping is allowed, it’s nice to have some amenities, and these more remote sites still feel like you’re camped out in the true middle of nowhere – after all, they’re just about as remote as you can get in the British Isles.
From there, you drop in height, finally reaching the western coast of Skye at Duntulm, where I was to return to later that day. We rode straight through, and missed the fact that there are dinosaur footprints on the coast there – actually exactly where I returned to for my sunset photographs…
It is still the A855 here, and the road runs parallel to the coast, meandering back and forth in a mendearing way that encourages enthusiastic riding, but wind it in a bit and enjoy the scenery, mindful of the fact that you are very likely to come head-to-head with a camper van around the next corner…
After the Skye Museum of Island Life the road heads inland, before spectacularly dropping down to Uig, from where a ferry can be caught to the Outer Hebrides, but we carried on, with the road now the A87, a faster, swoopier stretch of Tarmac that is equally as endearing as the tighter going beforehand. Further exploration of the western side of Skye can be had by taking a right on to the A850 and heading for Dunvegan, but a couple of our group were thirsty for an adult beverage, so we continued onwards, dropping back down into Portree and its varied selection of drinking establishments.
Despite this being labelled as a Day Ride, it would have been perfectly easy to have done the round trip twice, especially if you didn’t stop as often as we did to admire the scenery, take photos, and rabbit on incessantly about how amazing it all was. In fact, I did do the route twice, going back in the reverse direction in order to arrive at the most north-westerly point of the circuit just before sunset, to watch the sun disappear behind the isles of Lewis and Harris. Epic!
We were lucky enough to be on Skye (and then Mull) in the most amazing weather, and it was certainly the best week north of the border through 2021 (and, yes, occasionally it does take us quite a while to get the routes we’ve ridden into print!). And, while many of the locals said that it was incredibly busy, and that they’d never seen so many campers, caravans and vans parked around the island, we found it refreshingly quiet!