Things to do.
Making the most of your stay.
About The Isle of Skye
The Isle of Skye is the largest island in the Inner Hebrides and the second largest in Scotland after Lewis and Harris. Known for its picturesque harbour with colourful houses, Portree is the island’s capital and largest settlement. Many people therefore base themselves in Portree when touring around the island.
The island’s landscape to the south and central areas is dominated by the stunning Cuillin Range. The main range is called the Black Cuillin whereas the eastern hills are called the Red Cuillin. To the north of Portree is the Trotternish Peninsula. Both areas offer some fantastic walking and hiking routes with the Cuillins alone offering 12 Munros. Munros are mountains in Scotland that are over 3,000 ft (914.4 m). These Munros are part of the ‘Munro bagging’ challenge where climbers try to conquer all 282 Munros.
Skye also has a rich history which is full of Dinosaur Fossils, Clan Wars, Highland Clearances, Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite Rising. Without digging too deeply into the island’s history, I think it’s worth mentioning the two most powerful clans on Skye: Clan MacLeod and Clan Macdonald that had a long-term feud. The clan system came to an end in the 18th century after the Jacobite risings. This was followed by the Highland Clearances that replaced many communities with sheep farms.
The island’s population has declined with only about 10,000 people living there in 2011. According to the 2001 Census data, approximately one third of Skye’s residents are Gaelic speakers. Whilst their number is declining, it’s still an important part of their culture.
I guess it comes as no surprise that Skye’s leading industries are tourism, agriculture, forestry, and fishing.
The Lealt Falls are a popular stop on any road trip around Skye’s Trotternish peninsula. A newish suspended viewing platform has made the upper falls more accessible than ever – but it’s the thundering lower falls that are really worth getting excited about. These are accessed via a steep descent of nearly 100 metres vertical (uphill on the way back), and are therefore omitted by most visitors. As a result, you’ve a reasonable chance of getting one of the island’s most impressive waterfalls entirely to yourself.
Lealt waterfall is one of the most beautiful waterfalls of the United Kingdom.
Lealt waterfall lies in a gorge and is easy to reach.
Located 7 kilometres south of Staffin, south of Culnacnoc on the Isle of Skye in Scotland (United Kingdom). After Culnacnoc, along road A855, you pass a river where Lealt gorge is located, there is a small parking.
Mealt Falls (Kilt Rock)
Mealt Falls, sometimes known as Kilt Rock Waterfall, is probably Skye’s most famous waterfall – and certainly one of the most accessible. The outflow from Loch Mealt plunges 50 metres over basalt cliffs directly onto jagged rocks at sea level, with a concrete platform built right on the rim of the cliff providing an excellent and safe viewpoint.
The even higher Kilt Rock headland to the north makes for a spectacular backdrop (yes, it does look a bit like a kilt), and the view south towards Rubha nam Brathairean isn’t bad either.
If the weather is sunny, we recommend visiting during the first half of the day, as the cliffs cast a long shadow over the falls as evening approaches. Not to be confused with the similarly-named Lealt Falls nearby to the south.
Falls of Rha
Most people heading to Uig on Skye are bound either for the famous Fairy Glen, or for the Western Isles by ferry from the village harbour.
This scattered port settlement is no beauty, but it does boast a second nearby beauty spot in the form of Rha waterfall.
This double fall on the wooded River Rha looks spectacular after heavy rain, and you might get it to yourself even in high season. Keep an eye on the skies while you’re visiting – we’ve seen eagles lazily circling above Uig Bay on two separate occasions. People have been known to swim in the falls.
Brides Veil Falls
We are quite taken with this wee waterfall a few miles north of Portree. Situated next to the busy tourist road to the Old Man of Storr guarantees it – for better, for worse – an obvious but rather boggy path and plenty of visitors heading up the Isle. One look at the web of white rivulets after heavy rain and it’s easy to see how the noisy cascade was christened. Hop across to the opposite bank of the burn to get a shot of the Old Man with an unusual foreground.
Reference point: Waterfalls & gorges | Scotland Off the Beaten Track (sobt.co.uk)
The Fairy Glen near Uig
On the West side of Trotternish at Balnacnoc (which means – the village or township in the hills) above Uig, is the Fairy Glen – a Quirang-like landslip in miniature.
The road winds around small round-topped grassy hills with lochans (ponds) in between which gives the glen an otherworldly feel.
Skye has a long history involving the Fairys, most of which is related to Dunvegan Castle and their ‘Fairy Flag’. The Fairy Glen (much like the Fairy Pools in Glenbrittle) has no real legends or stories involving fairys that can be traced. The simple fact that the location is unusual so it has been given the nickname Fairy Glen.
One of the hills still has its basalt topping intact which, from a distance, looks like a ruin and has been called (inexplicably) Castle Ewan. It is possible to climb to the top where there is not much room, but does have wonderful views. In the low cliff behind Castle Ewan there is a very small cave where it has been said pressing coins into cracks in the rock will bring Good Luck.
In recent years’ visitors have started to move the rocks to create spirals on the ground. We have been told that some of the bus tour guides have made up and encouraged some rituals involving walking the spirals then leaving a coin or token in the centre as an offering to the fairies for good luck.
The locals on Skye have repeatedly removed these stone spirals in an attempt to keep the Glen in its natural state.
We hope that all visitors would respect the country code. To visit & enjoy, but not make adjustments and certainly not leave anything behind, even if you think it may give you good luck.
Reference point: Fairy Glen | Uig | Isle of Skye, Scotland
History of the dinosaur footprints on the Isle of Skye
Species that have been discovered on Skye include: Stegosaurus, Megalosaurus, Cetiosaurus, Hadrosaurus, and Ceolophysis.
Discovering the Dinosaur Footprints on Skye
Although the discovery of any kind of dinosaur tracks is exciting, the footprints on Skye are even more so. This is because they date back from the Jurassic Period (around 170 million years ago), of which there is very little known. 15% of the world’s mid-Jurrasic discoveries have been made on the Isle of Skye, which demonstrates why the island is so important for researchers.
During the Jurassic Age, dinosaur evolution went into overdrive. The smaller dinosaurs that roamed the earth quickly (by evolutionary standards) became the monsters we now see in Hollywood films (except maybe with a few more feathers)!
Whilst it was originally thought that most of the dinosaur footprints discovered on Skye could be attributed to herbivorous dinosaurs, the recent uncovering of more prints at Rubha nam Braithrean (Brothers’ Point) confirmed that the island was home to more carnivores than originally thought. That’s right – the kind of scary dinosaurs that stalk Jeff Goldblum!
The majority of footprints on Skye are believed to have belonged to sauropods. These dinosaurs would have been the largest land creatures on earth at the time. It is thought that they could be as long as 130 feet and as tall as 60 feet, however, research has suggested the ones that lived on Skye were likely much smaller, around 6 feet tall.
As mentioned earlier, footprints from carnivorous Theropods have also been discovered. These three-toed prints would have belonged to bipedal dinosaurs, much like the menacing Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Skye also has footprints which are believed to have belonged to Ornithopods. They are characterised by their bipedal stance and a plant-based diet.
Where to Find the Dinosaur Footprints on the Isle of Skye
There are three famous sets of dinosaur footprints on Skye, all on the Trotternish Peninsula.
- An Corran beach
The most well-known place to hunt for dinosaur footprints on Skye is at An Corran beach. This beach is located in Staffin and is easy to reach by car. Situated on the famous Trotternish Loop, head north out of Portree and follow the A855.
The dinosaur footprints located here are believed to have mainly been from Ornithopods. There are also prints from Megalosaurus, Cetiosaurus and Stegosaurus in this area.
There is a decent covering of footprints situated on a bed of sandstone at An Corran beach. These are only viewable at low tide and are sometimes covered by sand in the summer. The main prints are located fairly close to the beach ramp.
Whilst Brothers’ Point (Rubha nam Braithrean in Gaelic) is an impressive spot to visit in its own right, it is also a must-see place for fossil enthusiasts. In 2018, new dinosaur tracks were discovered here and are believed to have belonged to both sauropods and theropods.
The Edinburgh University researchers found around 50 prints in the tidal area and some are very large. Unlike some of the other locations where it is possible to see prints on Skye, Brothers’ Point will require a short walk.
The prints are located south of Duntulm Castle on the limestone slab.
Duntulm Castle, located on the Trotternish peninsula is also near to a spot where dinosaur footprints have been found. Much like the prints at Staffin, the footprints at Duntulm can only be seen at low tide. Rather impressively, they actually make up the biggest dinosaur trackway in Scotland and are arguably some of the best tracks of their kind in the entire world.
The footprints are believed to have come from a group of sauropods.
A 5 minute walk from the Coastguard cottages past Duntulm Castle brings you to Score Bay. Walk to the telegraph pole and then out at the lowest possible tide (check tide times) and there is a flatter patch of limestone rock. On here you will be rewarded with clear circles in the rock which are some of the best Sauropod prints you will ever see. They can really be imagined!
Staffin Ecomuseum Staffin Dinosaur Museum
Staffin Ecomuseum is a must-visit for dinosaur fantatics!
Established by Dugald Ross in 1976, this museum is home to an impressive, internally recognised collection of dinosaur fossils. Don’t be fooled by its small size, this place is jam-packed full of dinosaur fossils and the curator is hugely knowledgeable. As well as many fossils, you can also see a dinosaur leg bone and the world’s smallest dino footprint here.
Be aware that the museum is not heated so you’ll need to wrap up warm on a cold day! If you are struggling to find the dinosaur prints, this is the place to go for tips. However, if you’re short on time, you can take a tour of the prints from the Staffin Ecomuseum.
The Rubha Hunish walk takes you to the most northerly tip of the Trotternish peninsula on Skye. The views from the high cliff top are outstanding allowing you look out to sea for miles. On a clear day you can see most of the Outer Isles of Lewis, Harris and Uist. The return route along the shore offers an alternative view of Duntulm Castle.
Rubha Hunish walk starts at Shulista which is a 5/10 minute walk from the Coastguard Cottages. There is an old style red phone box at the Shulista road end.
The walk is loop totalling 6.2km and takes an average of 2hrs to complete. The walk to the Coastguard Lookout affords you with very rewarding views.
Parts of the path do get muddy after wet weather. Be very careful near the high cliff tops if it is particularly windy.
The walk starts over a cattle grid where there is a small green sign for Rubha Hunish on the left.
Follow the stony path over the heather moorland, where you will see an old stone fank used to sort sheep. The track can be muddy in places. There are a few white posts along the route marking the path. Sections of the path are made from large slabs of rock in the ground.
The track breaks up slightly on the way over the grassy bank but the general direct remains clear. Below the path on the left are the Erisco ruins. Erisco was used to re-settle villagers during the Highland Clearances. Crofters built the small cottages near the township wall.
The path drops down and continues over more stone slabs. Then changes to a grassy path for a short section and down to a small river which is easy to step over. Follow the trail on the grassy section until you reach a gate (1.6km).
Once through the gate follow the stony path. This next section can be wet and rough as you cross the hillside and on to a small ‘u’ shapped valley. Through the heather the path breaks into multiple tracks though the direction is clear. As you reach the clifftop you will see a gate and two stiles.
Coast Guard Lookout
From the gate turn right and follow the rough track up the hill to visit the Coast Guard lookout bothy. It was used as a lookout station for the Coast Guard as it offers panoramic views out to sea. It is now maintained and used as a bothy making it a intresting place to stop for lunch on a wet day. There is also a bench near the bothy to stop and enjoy the views. Once ready head back down to the gate and stiles to continue the walk. You can return on the same route or…
Though not included in our walk it is possible to go through the gate and take the steep cliffside path down to the point. We have not included this as there is a particularly challenging section on the path. For the more adventurous there is an impressive sea stack on the right of the point. Due to the tidal flow and depth this is also a good place to watch whales at the right time of year (late summer).
Take the two stiles over the fence and walk up the hill where there are a few large rocks to step around.
Take care along the next section as you are near high cliffs. From here you can see over to Lewis and Harris to the north, to the west Waternish Head and to the east Gairloch and the mainland.
The trail turns left and drops steeply downhill over wet and muddy ground. You are now looking over Hunish Bay to Duntulm Castle. Follow the path down to the shore until you reach the next gate.
Follow the path along the shore towards the castle.
You will see the Erisco ruins to the left of the path – feel free to stop and explore.
The path here is a mix of grass and stone with a few streams which are easily crossed.
As you work your way along the shore path, passing Tulm Island, you will reach a large stone wall. Turn left and follow the wall up the field away from the shore.
At the next corner of the wall there is a fence which must be crossed using a stile. Follow the wall on your right-hand side as you work your way around the field. There may be farm animals grazing in the field.
At the top of the field you will reach some houses and a small loch where there is a fence to step over. The section by the loch can get very wet. Cross the boggy section, through the gate and you are back to the Coastguard Cottages.
Unveiling the Secrets of Duntulm Castle, Isle of Skye
Situated at the top of the Trotternish Loop lies Duntulm Castle. This haunting ruin sits atop a crumbling cliff and offers a commanding view northwest to the outer Hebrides. The castle draws thousands of visitors every year, partly because of its ideal position on the tourist loop and also because of the ghostly happenings that it has become famous for.
If you’re planning on visiting some of the castles on the Isle of Skye, this guide to Duntulm will help put some colour into the once-proud fortress. I’ll share a bit of the castle’s history and logistics of planning your visit, as well as a few ghost stories!
History of Duntulm Castle
Historians believe that Duntulm Castle was built across the 14th and 15th centuries, on the site of a former Iron Age broch. Brochs would have been used by Norsemen to display their wealth and were usually located in important, strategic positions. Despite this, it is not believed that they were used for defence.
The castle was built on the site of a former Iron Age broch.
Most of the ruin of Duntulm Castle dates from the 17th century and it is believed that the first castle construction could be attributed to the MacLeod clan. The castle was long a landmark of contention between them and the rival Clan MacDonald. While the castle was under MacLeod control, James V visited, stating that he was impressed by both the castle’s strength and the hospitality he received during his visit.
Duntulm became the seat of the MacDonalds of Sleat early in the 17th century when they moved from Dunscaith Castle after being offered lands by the king. They renovated the castle and made a number of improvements to the structure, including the addition of a second tower. It is thought that much of the remaining ruins are from this period.
In around 1730, the MacDonalds abandoned Duntulm Castle. Legend has it that this was because of the tragic death of a baby falling from a window. Although this is unproven, it has sparked a rather spooky ghost story but more on that later.
From Duntulm, the MacDonalds moved to Monkstadt House which was built by Sir Alexander MacDonald. This is located just a little further south on the Trotternish peninsula and has since played host to a wealth of history, including being located nearby to the hiding place of Bonnie Prince Charlie. The ruins of Monkstadt House have since been developed into a wonderful luxury accommodation option.
To build Monkstadt House, Sir Alexander MacDonald took much of the stone from Duntulm Castle. Eventually, the MacDonalds would abandon this location too and finally settle at Armadale Castle in the south of the island.
Duntulm Castle Features
The castle is around 25 x 9 metres and sits on a basalt cliff with steep drops on three sides. This would have been the ideal location for the castle because of its natural defensives and strategic views out to sea towards the Isles of Lewis and Harris.
The entrance to the castle was likely to have been via a drawbridge but this has not survived the years. There were two towers and the tallest of these was believed to have stood four storeys high. This has been eroded over the years and is now just a shadow of its former glory. The other tower collapsed into the sea during the 20th century.
Much of the castle structure has been destroyed but the cellar remains.
Little is left of the site and the walls are no longer stable. There is a locked gate and sign warning of danger, to deter visitors from entering the site. If you do choose to visit, take care.
The ground is uneven and it is not safe to scramble on the castle walls because of the structural instability. There’s nothing but sharp rocks and the sea below the castle walls.
Duntulm Castle Ghost Stories
Duntulm Castle has been the site of many a ghostly going on. In the 16th century, Hugh MacDonald, owner of Casiteal Uisdean (Hugh’s Castle) and nephew of Clan MacDonald chief Donald Gorm Mor, devised a plot to kill his uncle and take control of the clan. The plot was foiled and he was imprisoned in Duntulm Castle.
While he was imprisoned, Hugh was fed only salted fish and beef and given no water. He died an awful death in the castle dungeon. It is said that his groans and wails can still be heard around the ruins today.
Duntulm Castle can be a spooky place!
Donald Gorm himself had a bit of a reputation and often stayed up late drinking with his companions in the castle. Some tales claim that this hobby is still a favourite of his in the afterlife and he spends his days brawling with his comrades in the ruins. Hopefully, he hasn’t run into Hugh MacDonald… I don’t think it would be a very amicable meeting!
Perhaps the most famous ghostly tale of the castle pertains to a nursemaid who is believed to have worked there. It is said she accidentally dropped a baby out of one of the windows which led to the MacDonald’s abandoning the castle. The nursemaid was said to have been murdered in recrimination and her screams still carry on the wind…
The castle is home to a variety of ghost stories!
The one-eyed spectre of Margaret MacDonald, sister of the chief of Clan MacLeod, is also said to haunt the ruins. Margaret was married to one of the MacDonalds who lived at Duntulm Castle. She lost an eye in an accident and her husband threw her out. She was ordered back to Dunvegan atop a one-eyed horse with a one-eyed servant and one-eyed dog in tow. It is believed her sobbing apparition still haunts the ruins.
Duntulm Castle Walk
The out and back trail to Duntulm Castle begins at the parking bay on the road in Duntulm. It is a short easy hike which totals just one kilometre in total. Head down to the gate before crossing into a field. There is a short and well-beaten track ahead, this will take you directly to the castle.
Duntulm Castle Dinosaur Footprints
The tidal area close to Duntulm Castle is home to some of the most famous Isle of Skye dinosaur footprints. They can only be viewed at low tide and are located on the sandstone and limestone slab close to the shore. They are the largest collection of tracks in the whole of Scotland!
What is the Trotternish Loop?
The Trotternish Loop runs around the TrotternishPeninsula on the North-East of Skye. This part of Skye is without doubt home to some of the most beautiful landscapes that can be found on the entire island.
The peninsula’s most iconic feature is the Trotternish landslip, which runs for about 30km (20 miles), making it the largest landslide in the UK. The result of the landslide is the TrotternishRidgewhich was created about 11,500 years ago. The ridge is made of soft sandstone below and harder volcanic basalt on the top. The pressure from the hard rock made the soft rock underneath collapse and move. The entire landslip is considered a Special Area of Conservation.
There are 3 major settlements on the peninsula: Portree, Uig and Staffin.
Based on the 2001 Census data, 61% of the population is Gaelic-speaking, making Trotternish the strongest Gaelic-speaking area of Skye.
Luckily, you’ll be able to see most of the peninsula’s main attractions by completing the Trotternish Loop. The loop starts from Portree then circles around the peninsula by following the A855 next to the coast. In Uig, the road joins with the A87 which is the major road that runs through Skye. It takes at least 2 – 2.5 hours to drive around the entire peninsula which isn’t including any stops.
Bonnie Prince Charlie
The Story of Bonnie Prince Charlie and Flora MacDonald is regarded as one of the most romantic in Scottish History.
Flora MacDonald is famously known for helping Bonnie Prince Charlie escape from Scotland after the defeat of the Jacobite’s in the Battle of Culloden in 1746.
Bonnie Prince Charlie [Prince Charles Edward Stuart] led the second Jacobite Uprising of 1745 to overthrow King George II. The part that Flora played in the escape of Bonnie Prince Charlie ‘over the sea to Skye’ is immortalised in the ‘Skye Boat Song’, published in 1884:
“ Speed bonnie boat like a bird on the wing,
Over the sea to Skye,
Carry the lad that’s born to be King,
Over the sea to Skye…”
A STORY LIKE NO OTHER…
So goes the famous Skye Boat Song, which owes its origins to the daring mission of mercy undertaken by Flora MacDonald, a young Highland woman who risked her life out of compassion for a fugitive Prince who had staked everything on a bid to win a kingdom and lost.
Flora MacDonald’s adventure with ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ began in 1764 on the Outer Hebridean island of South Uist. Flora’s benefactor, Lady Clanranald, was a Jacobite sympathiser, so Flora was kept closely informed of the Prince’s whereabouts after the defeat of his troops at Culloden. Although not an ardent Jacobite supporter herself, Flora was touched by the unfortunate plight of the Prince, who now had a price of £30,000 on his head, was being hunted all over the Highlands and Islands by government soldiers. So when a plan was hatched to smuggle the Prince to the relative safety of Skye, Flora agreed to play a part in it.
In June 1746, Bonnie Prince Charlie finally landed on South Uist with a couple of loyal supporters. There they met Flora, and arrangements were made to disguise the Prince as ‘Betty Burke’, an Irish maidservant, and conduct him to Skye. The Prince was dressed in a calico gown, quilted petticoat and headdress to disguise his face.
They set sail in a small boat from Benbecula on 27th June 1746, not to the mainland but to Skye, landing in Kilmuir at what is today called Rudha Phrionnsa (Prince’s Point).
After landing safely on Skye they hid overnight in a cottage near to Flodigarry Hotel (Flora MacDonalds Cottage), they made their way overland to Portree where the Prince was able to get a boat to the island of Raasay and from there, passage back to France. Charles is said to have presented Flora with a locket containing his portrait. They never met again. Charles died in Rome on 31 January 1788.
When news of the escape broke, Flora was arrested and imprisoned at Dunstaffnage Castle, Oban and then briefly in the Tower of London. She was released in 1747 and returned to Scotland.
But this was not the end of Flora’s adventures. In 1750 she married Allan MacDonald. Her fame was already spreading; in 1773 she was visited by the celebrated poet and critic Samuel Johnson. However with her husband in debt, in 1774 the family emigrated to North Carolina with their elder children, leaving the younger ones behind in Scotland.
The MacDonalds arrived in the New World just as the American Revolution was brewing. Flora and her family, like many Highlanders, took the side of the British. Flora’s husband Allan joined a regiment of Royal Highland Emigrants but was captured at the battle of Moore’s Creek. Flora was forced into hiding while the American rebels destroyed the family plantation and she lost everything.
In 1779 Flora was persuaded to return with her daughter to Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye. But her adventures continued; the ship she was travelling on was attacked by French privateers. This remarkable lady is said to have refused to go below during the fighting and was wounded in the arm.
On his release in 1783 her husband Allan followed her back to Scotland. Flora MacDonald died on 5th March 1790 and is buried at Kilmuir on Skye, her body wrapped in a sheet in which Bonnie Prince Charlie had slept. Samuel Johnson’s tribute to her is engraved on her memorial:
‘Flora MacDonald. Preserver of Prince Charles Edward Stuart. Her name will be mentioned in history and if courage and fidelity be virtues, mentioned with honour.’
Her grave can be seen today at Kilmuir (10 minute drive from the Coastguard Cottages) , not far from the place where she first landed with ‘the lad who was born to be King’.