One place in Scotland I get asked to write about more than anywhere else is the Isle of Skye. Despite visiting numerous times, there are many reasons why I have never got round to publishing a blog post about Scotland's most popular island until now! I thought it was time to share my top recommendations for things to do on the Sleat Peninsula which is at the lesser visited southern end of the island.
There are a zillion articles out there already that list the top attractions on the Isle of Skye and the last thing the world needs is yet another blog about the Quairaing, Fairy Pools or Old Man of Storr, although I'm sure there will be many more to come! However, despite what numerous other travel blogs might lead you to believe, there is way more to see in Skye than the cliched list posts of must see attractions that swamp the internet. If you follow my Scotland travel blog, it is hopefully because you want to explore beyond the typical Scottish tourist attractions.
On my last two trips I have based myself in the Sleat Peninsula in South Skye which is known as 'The Garden of Skye' due to its relative greenness. There is no shortage of ruined castles, picturesque villages and stunning scenery to keep you occupied and a new whisky distillery is bound to make the Sleat Peninsula a more tempting destination, although there is not yet the same hectic crowds that you will find further north
Despite The Isle of Skye bursting at the seams with visitors at certain times of year, it is still possible to find quiet corners away from the crowds. My two biggest pieces of advice if you want to have the attractions and wild beauty of Skye all to yourself, is to visit off-season (April and October are good times as many attractions are open for the season although check individual listings for exact dates) and secondly, to explore the lesser visited parts of the island.
If you want to visit the Isle of Skye but don't want to be caught up in traffic queues and tour buses or just want to experience a different side of the island, you definitely need to check out my list of top things to do on the Isle of Skye's Sleat Peninsula!
Take the ferry to Armadale
Armadale Bay is home to the ferry terminal which connects the Isle of Skye with Mallaig on the mainland. Although you could drive across the Skye Bridge, following the stunning 'Road to the Isles' from Fort William and boarding a ferry feels like you are going on a proper island adventure. This is my preferred way to travel to Skye, although another unique way to travel to South Skye is via the world's last manually operated turntable ferry from Glenelg.
Armadale Bay has a few pretty shops and Rhuba Phoil has a short circular woodland walk which is a fairly easy leg stretcher. Look out for the viewpoints as you follow the winding path through the trees and take some time to enjoy the coastal panorama surrounding this permaculture community.
Another one of my favourite things to do is grab a coffee from The Shed and enjoy the views to Knoydart.
Visit - Armadale Castle and Museum of the Isles
On my most recent trip to the Isle of Skye I rented a Clan Donald Holiday Lodge within the estate at Armadale Castle on the Sleat Peninsula. The 20,000 acre estate in the South of Skye was once the traditional lands of Clan Donald and was purchased by the Clan Donald Lands Trust in 1971.
The estate is home to a range of walking trails, historic gardens and the stately remains of Armadale Castle, however the highlight of my visit was a tour of the Museum of the Isles. I highly recommend setting 1 - 2 hours aside to follow the audio guide through the 7 galleries full of fascinating objects, spanning 1500 years of history. This is definitely one of my top things to do on the Sleat Peninsula.
For those looking to research their ancestry, there are also genealogical resources in the library and after all that exploring I also recommend stopping by their ornate coffee shop for tea and a fresh baked scone.
Unfortunately there is not much left of Armadale Castle itself, a stately mansion house that was largely destroyed by a fire in 1855. The house was abandoned in 1925 and it is pretty much just the facade that is left today, although it is still an imposing sight.
If, like me, you stay at one of the lodges on the estate, entry to the castle grounds, museum and gardens is free.
This is one attraction on the Sleat Peninsula which can definitely get very busy, however when I visited in April I pretty much had it all to myself!
Visit - Dunscaith Castle
When it comes to Scottish castles I quite often find that less is more and Dunscaith Castle on the Sleat Peninsula is the perfect example of this.
To reach Dunscaith, park in the layby on the main road at Tokavaig and walk along the track towards the single white cottage before following the shore towards the obvious castle remains.
The ruins of what once must have been an impressive coastal structure are perched dramatically on a big lump of rock on the shores of Loch Eishort. Dunscaith Castle is thought to date back to the 13th or 14th century and once served as the MacDonald Clan's principle seat on the Isle of Skye. It was abandoned in the 17th century and has been at the mercy of the elements since.
The stone bridge which links the castle to the mainland can still be seen, although it is missing some vital pieces and I definitely wouldn't recommend trying to cross it! It is best to visit when the tide is out so you can walk under the bridge and around the rock base. Head up to the cliff top to take in some pretty breathtaking vistas towards the Cuillin Hills.
Visit - Kilmore Church
As regular readers of my blog will know, I do love a good nosy around an old church and if you're also that way inclined, then a visit to Kilmore Church should be on your list of top things to do on the Sleat Peninsula and South Skye.
The current whitewashed church was built in 1876 and stands next to the ruins of the previous church which was built around 1681 and used until 1874.
This churchyard in Sleat has a long religious connection, said to have been an earlier site of Pagan worship, it is also said St Columba landed and preached on the adjacent shore when he visited the Isle of Skye around 585 AD.
However, it is the macabre history surrounding the first church built here that had the hairs prickling on the back of my neck as I wandered through the undergrowth and historic headstones - cue the good old days of Scottish clan feuds and massacres!
The original church was built here in the early 13th century and was in use until the 17th century when it was burnt to the ground after a nearby battle between the MacIntyres and the MacLeods. When the MacIntyres fled to take sanctuary in the church, the MacLeods duly barricaded them in before setting fire to the building, killing everyone inside. As I am descended from MacIntyres, visiting this spot was even more poignant.
Despite its tragic past, Kilmore Church makes an atmospheric and interesting stop-off when you are exploring the Sleat Peninsula.
Visit - Knock Castle
Not much remains of Knock Castle on Skye's Sleat Peninsula, however its setting makes a visit more than worthwhile. Another former MacDonald Clan stronghold, Knock Castle dates back to the 14th century and the original castle was built by the MacLeod Clan before being taken over by their rivals, the MacDonalds. It was subsequently abandoned in the 1600s and the stone was used for nearby buildings including Knock Farm.
To reach the castle, follow the track from the new Torabhaig Distillery towards the picturesque Knock Bay. The views across the Sound of Sleat with Knoydart in the distance are superb and this is the perfect spot to take in the surrounding vistas. This is another castle that I would recommend visiting when the tide is out and spending some time on Knock Bay is the perfect way to relax on a sunny day on the Isle of Skye.
Visit - Torabhaig Distillery
Although not yet open to the public at the time of writing this blog, I have no doubt a visit to Torabhaig Distillery will be on my future list of top things to do when visiting the Isle of Skye's Sleat Peninsula.
The distillery has been making whisky since January 2017 which means there will be a few years to wait before you can sample a dram but as the saying goes, all good things are worth waiting for.
I couldn't write a list of top things to do on the Sleat Peninsula without including some walks. Although I've only listed two, there are countless options and far too many for me to write about here. However, I've chosen to include an easy walk past the Black Lochs, and a longer more challenging walk to the Point of Sleat, providing a choice of an accessible option or a trail suitable for the more seasoned walker.
Walk - Point of Sleat
It is possible to walk to the very southern tip of the Isle of Skye at the Point of Sleat, which passes a beautiful beach before reaching a lighthouse with views out to The Small Isles.
I didn't have time to complete the whole walk which takes about 3 - 4 hours, however the section that I did complete felt wild and rugged and the fact that I didn't pass another person could make this an ideal walk to escape the crowds of tourists at the better known beauty spots.
The single track road to the car parking area at the start of the walk is worth the drive even if you don't intend on walking at the end as the scenery is very bonnie. If you're lucky you might even come across an honest box full of cake, it would be rude not to stop and buy some!
Walk - Black Lochs
The A851 is the modern road that leads you to the Sleat Peninsula, however the old single track road still runs alongside and is perfect for walking or cycling as it is now traffic free. The well maintained tarmac track takes you past the picturesque Black Lochs, their dark waters the result of the underlying peat deposits.
This is an easy walk along a smooth path and you can walk for as long or as little as you like although parking along the route is limited.
Explore - Isleornsay
Isleornsay is a picturesque little harbour village on the Sleat Peninsula and a beautiful spot to sit and de-stress.
Formerly a thriving herring fishing port and home to the Isle of Skye's first public toilet, it is a rather more sedate place today.
Several Skye locals recommended I visit Hotel Eilean Iarmain when they found out I was staying in South Skye as it has a great reputation for food and whisky. After a walk around the village I took refuge in the hotel's cosy Praban Bar, unfortunately I had to forgo the whisky as I was driving, but a mug of hot chocolate was a yummy alternative. The hotel and bar had a nice relaxed atmosphere, with a mixture of chatty locals and tourists, I could see why it was recommended.
If you time your visit to Isleornsay right, you can also walk out to the nearby tidal island of Ornsay (confusing, I know!), just be sure to return before the tide does!
Drive - The circular road through Tarskavaig and Ord
Scotland is brimming with scenic road-trips and perhaps not unsurprisingly, the Isle of Skye has its fair share of jaw dropping drives. The Sleat Peninula has its own little gem of a circular route that veers away from the main road through the picture postcard scenery around the small crofting townships of Tarskavaig and Ord.
Beware, as the road is one of those twisting and turning single tracks that Scotland is notorious for. Keeping one eye on the road and one eye on the scenery can be a challenge so I recommend taking it slow and making frequent stops to savour the views.
The landscape along this detour is spectacular with Ord being a popular spot to capture the sunset, this is also the road you need to take if you want to visit Dunscaith Castle, just a few reasons why this is one of my top things to do in the area
Enjoy a Night Out - Sabhal Mor Ostaig
Established in 1991, the Skye Events for All (Seall) runs lively community led events for locals and visitors. All the events take place in South Skye with many of them taking place within Sabhal Mor Ostaig on the Sleat Peninsula, which was founded in 1973 and is a National Centre for the Gaelic language and culture.
Check out their programme of regular events which include music and theatre nights, you can find their current listings at www.seall.co.uk.
Stay - Clan Donald Lodges
On my most recent trip I stayed in a Clan Donald Lodge with amazing views across to Knoydart as you can see from the photo below taken from my bedroom window.
I got a great deal on our self-catering lodge through 5pm and it is worth keeping an eye out as they seem to run regular discounted promotions on the site.
Our lodge was well equipped, had fantastic views and is ideally located for exploring the Sleat Peninsula so I would recommend checking them out if you plan to stay in the area.
Whether it is your first visit to the Isle of Skye or you have already ticked off all the popular attractions, I hope this blog has given you some fresh ideas for your next trip to the island.
If you are interested in visiting other Scottish islands be sure to check out my island blog posts.
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