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Travel: Why Skye remains one of Scotland’s most visited islands

© Shutterstock / AeypixPortree on Skye.
Portree on Skye.

Complaining about rain on a staycation is a bit like complaining about mud at Glastonbury.

Why grumble when surrendering to the mists, gusts and rain is all part of the experience – especially when there is somewhere luxurious to dry off.

A quick check of the weather app the night before the journey north shows the weather gods are indeed planning a hissy fit over Skye, the enchanting Hebridean island which astonishingly now attracts up to 650,000 visitors a year.

At least conditions remain dry long enough for the four-hour trip along the A84 and A82, the highlights including jawdropping Glencoe, a quick stop to visit family in Glen Shiel, and Eilean Donan Castle (if you don’t stop to visit, or at least take a picture, then you’re not doing the Highlands right).

Once over the Skye Bridge a fir-lined road leads to Isleornsay, in the Sleat peninsula. Four-star Duisdale House Hotel is surrounded by sculptured gardens, faces on to Loch Hourn, and is cloaked on three sides by woodland.

A converted Victorian hunting lodge which is about eight miles from Broadford, Skye’s second-largest town, Duisdale House is one of three Skye hotels run by award-winning hotelier Anne Gracie Gunn.

© Shutterstock / essevu
Scenic landscape in Point of Sleat, the southernmost point of Skye.

The hallways and corridors are adorned with classy touches: a grandfather clock on the landing, a tall ship on the stairside window ledge.

Comfy armchairs and plush sofas line the first-floor corridor (the selfless staff happily take all items of luggage upstairs, but if you do happen to be weighed down by bags and find even the short walk to your room a bit of a struggle, there are plenty of places to stop for a rest halfway).

Our twin room comes with LCD TV, safe, and wifi, while the en suite boasts waffle robes and slippers, and rainfall shower. With ample room to sit back and stretch out, the bath feels more like a private hot tub.

There’s a relaxed feel as guests gather in the lounge pre-dinner to enjoy canapes and drinks while browsing the menu near the calming low rumble of a log fire, while tables are prepared in the two AA rosette restaurant.

The menu showcases Skye’s natural larder, and changes daily to include the freshest ingredients, many foraged for near the hotel.

I start with scallops, pea puree and black pudding, with venison, braised red cabbage, chestnut puree and elderberry for main, and chocolate and coconut tart for dessert (on night two, I plump for pigeon, braised red cabbage and brown butter followed by lamb rack, pea, buttermilk and salsa verde, then cherry sponge cake).

Every dish is impeccably presented and delicious.

The next day brings the expected downpours but, also, the first chance to explore.

From the hotel, a path leads to a bay where I find I have a shingle beach to myself. Thin layers of mist fold over Loch Hourn and enrobe the view to the mainland, and it all feels beautifully secluded.

Seven miles south of Duisdale lies Armadale Castle, once the seat of the Macdonalds of Sleat, and now a major attraction in the south of Skye. The ruins of the castle itself are closed for safety reasons.

© Shutterstock / Stephen Bridger
The Cuillins on Skye are lashed by rain

One of several woodland trails leads uphill to a clearing with sight of Beinn A’ Chapaill, Beinn Sgritheall and Ladhar Bheinn but, sadly, today they aren’t very visible.

Still, the castle’s grounds are vast and beautiful, with ponds, arboretum, adventure playground and sculptures.

The museum is top-class, telling the story of the Clan Donald and covering 1,500 years of history and culture.

Among the artefacts are a firearm named Gunna Breac dating from the Battle of Culloden, and passed down through generations of MacDonalds; and the sculpture used by William Brodie as a model for the statue of Skye terrier Greyfriars Bobby.

A visit to Armadale eats up time, with so much to pore over at the museum but there’s still time for a quickfire road trip to Portree, albeit it’s a good 45-minute drive from Isleornsay.

Hands up, it’s the candy-coloured row of houses by the harbour which this visitor can’t wait to lay eyes on for the first time. But there is also a fine array of galleries, gift shops and cafes to explore.

Time quickly runs out, and a return visit is inevitable, with so much more to catch sight of on the Misty Isle.


Skye is derived from the Norse word ski meaning “cloud” and ey, or “island”. It is home to Scotland’s oldest inhabited castle. Dunvegan has been the Clan MacLeod seat for 800 years. Visitors can tour the castle, gardens and woodlands.